The Dress of Not Enough Fabric

June 17, 2003

This all started with a small piece of fabric I bought on E-Bay, wanting to turn it into a forepart. However, the more I looked at it, the more it refused to become a plain, boring forepart. It wanted to be a dress. But there was only 2.5 yards of it.

There's a nice website here explaining how she managed to cut a skirt out of 3.5 yards of fabric. Still more than I have. And she could cut across the grain, but I can't, because of the design on it. My pieces all have to be cut the same way.

My fabric is just wide enough to go around me and my farthingale once, and just long enough to reach the bottom of my farthingale. With wide guards and trim, and worn open, it shouldn't look too bad. It will be hard to find fabric to make a bodice, but I think I can manage. Diagrams to come.

So, I started searching. Tudor style often has a brocade on the outside and plain velvet on the inside. That would be an ideal solution. However, that would require cutting sleeves, or at least upper sleeves, in the main fabric as well, and I don't have enough to do that.

I originally planned on just inventing a style using Wide black guards at the bottom and sides, black sleeves, black shoulder and waist treatments. But I have a hard time trusting myself to invent a style from scratch.

Then I found Isabel de Valois, c.1560s by Alonso Sanchez Coello.

I suddenly became much more satisfied with the project. I think I can save enough fabric by using angled panels in the skirt to make shoulder rolls and a bodice. And if need be, I can make the shoulder rolls in a matching fabric, they don't need to be made of the original brocade. Since I'll not be needing shoulder straps (they're so small they can be made out of anything) with this style, it also cuts back the amount of fabric I need for the bodice. There is also the extra saving of having no waist treatment.

Also, the skirt really doesn't seem to be wide at the bottom. It seems to lie flat against the farthingale. I'll need to stiffen the fabric and make sure I have a nice, thick underskirt so the hoops don't show, but I'm happy I could find something that doesn't look very wide at the bottom. I gain even more if I wear it open.

The guards and trim might need to be made a little wider than the ones on this portrait, but since I'm very likely to be making them myself, that's not an issue. I noticed the beige piping on the edge of the skirt, and I'll assume there is some on the bodice also.

What's more, I'll be able to reuse Laudomia's forepart and undersleeves. I don't care much for the sleeves on the portrait, anyway.

I had originally planned on using very contrasting (black or very dark) guards, but I think I'll follow the look of this portrait and find a nice matching fabric (silk, anyone?) and find a way of doing embroidery or couching on it. My new Viking sewing machine should be able to handle some amount of couching with the new foot I bought.

I originally thought the bodice was front hooked, but the trim at the upper edge of the bodice doesn't seem to be cut. That might just be the excuse I was waiting for to make a side back laced bodice. I think they're *so* sexy.

There will be thinking to do about the partlet, headdress and jewelry, but I don't feel an urge to recreate the whole thing, so I might just let them be for now.

The good news is I now have hope of being able to pull it off!


Here's the basic draft. I used the dial-a-dress wonderful website to get the image. When I try to draft it myself, it just doesn't look like a dress anymore!

Of course, this is the hyper-simplified version. But it's a good guide to let me know where I'm trying to go.

I'll need to save every little small scrap of fabric I can, this means I need to calculate my trim carefully because there will be no fabric underneath it. This is a case of think four times, measure three times, then think again, then measure again, cross your fingers, cut, and hope everything goes together in the end.

June 18, 2003

Someone pointed out that the Alcega pattern uses very little fabric - and that Margo's farthingale pattern is basically an Alcega pattern... So, I think I'll just be reusing the farthingale pattern as a base for the overdress. I'll probably skip the side front seams, but the rest should stay as is. I'll make the top as wide as possible, so I can have something close to a pleated waistline.

I inherited a bunch of raw cotton a while ago. I think I'll be using that for interfacing. It's stiff enough and it was free, so if I mess up I won't mind as much as if I messed up with, say, linen or silk.

June 19, 2003

Considering the most probable layout diagram, I need to be able to cut one piece in the A space (one full front or one full back bodice) and two pieces in B (two half fronts or two half backs). This doesn't seem practical for a side back laced bodice, but because of the trim placement it really doesn't matter if there is piecing in front.

However, since there is trim in the front, I can't see the logic of not using it for closing the bodice. Furthermore, the more I look at the skirt, the more I wonder if it would not be easier to sew it directly onto the bodice, or at least to tie it to the bodice, because of the absence of waist treatment, which might produce a gap, and because of the small yardage I'll have for pleating. If it's fixed to the bodice, I think it'll be easier to handle.

So, front hooked bodice it is! I'll cut the back in space A and the two front halves in space B.

I should be able to fit the bodice muslin (which, if there are not too many alterations, will also be the flatlining) tonight.

I don't think I'll be wearing a bumroll. The skirt seems to be laying very flat on the portrait. Not using a bumroll will also save fabric, since it won't need to be quite as long. I'll need to try it with and without and see what seems better.

September 12, 2003

Well, it took a while, but I've just continued fitting the bodice. Even after using two different sizes to make up my pattern and removing the mandatory 1" in length, it still took darts in the upper back just outside the center boning, a lot of playing around with the seam allowances in the sides, tightening the seam that reaches right below the arms in the back, and adding about 1" in the center back to get something that looks about right. I also modified the center front neckline to curve it up and the shape of the upper neckline in the back to make it square... phew! Is it still Margo's pattern? :-)

I'm just about to cut a second piece of cotton for interlining. I think I'm going to do as with the corset and put the bones between the two layers of cotton instead of adding channels made of bias as suggested in the instructions.

September 14, 2003

My basic bodice structure is built. I'm not sure yet how to proceed, though. I'm almost tempted to add the boning and piping first, then tack the real fabric on afterwards, but that's probably not the best option. I'll have to test fit a final time with the boning in before I can really start thinking about that.

I've found some fabric in my stash that will go nicely with the brocade. There's a medium green cotton-linen blend (I think it was 65% linen) that I bought two years ago because it was on sale, and a really nice 100% linen, light weight, orangeish yellow that I fell in love with more than a year ago and never had a project in mind that I could use it for.

I'm playing around with ideas: the green will most likely be used for trimming and I'll embroider it, but I might also go for yellow piping. Maybe, then, yellow sleeves and green oversleeves. Maybe slashed green with yellow showing through? Now I can do paned cap sleeves, with green panes over yellow fabric. And all of that should still go nicely with white, unless I wear the skirt closed, in which case I wouldn't need a forepart. Lots of ideas to play around with!

I'm getting ready to cut into my fabric to separate it into two rectangles.

October 1, 2003

Well, the fabric is separated into two rectangles, but... I changed my mind. I want a back lacing bodice now. And I'll pipe it in green. I'll pipe the bands in yellow, though, so the bias I'm cutting to change it into piping isn't lost.

So, I'll have to start the bodice from scratch. Sorry :-)

October 3, 2003

I've made piping, I have around 11 yards now. My piping foot is a DREAM to work with! Stick the cord in the fold of the fabric, and let the machine do the rest! I didn't even need to guide it!

I've started tracing and modifying the bodice pattern. I want a square upper back, but I'll leave the front square. I won't curve it like I did for the first version of the bodice. Also, modifying the bodice pattern implies combining a size 2 upper back and size 6 hips, as well as removing 1" in length.

October 6, 2003

Green bias has been cut, and I'll turn it into piping soon. Bodice is cut and marked, and my fashion fabric is fixed to it in the right spots (those that won't be covered by guards). Right now, it's a cotton flatlining with homemade boning channels, a cotton duck base for the outer fabric, and that brocade (I never cared to burn test it - it's most likely 100% synthetic trash). I'm trying to decide if I want interlining or not.

I drew seam allowances on the outer hull, then calculated a 1 1/2 inch guard and drew it in blue, and then drew another guide inside this guard line, allowing a 5/8 inch overlap. My fashion fabric was tacked down onto this last line. Hurray for my double-feed foot! I did have to do some piecing in the front-and-sides piece, right under the arms. There was no trim line there and it extended much higher than anywhere else, so I didn't want to waste fabric on such a small area. I used scraps of fabric I had kept when evening out the ends of my brocade piece. They're probably upside down, but it's such a small area that it probably won't even show once everything is tacked together.

Pictures will be provided... eventually!

Right now, I'm trying to figure out the order in which I'll be fixing all the layers together. I think I'll pipe the outer fabrics, then, pushing the piping aside, machine sew the gards unto the outer "hull", and then put the piping back in its original state, baste all layers together, and turn the piping under. But that's a long time from now, since I won't dare sew the front and back bodice pieces together until I have a skirt to put under them - just in case it would need to be a little bigger.

I'm also thinking I might like a smoother look for this dress, and wear a simple petticoat instead of a farthingale. After all, I'm not aiming for richness. Nothing like the original painting I provided as a guide for the skirt shape. There's still time to think about it. It'll also depend how well the skirt goes together.

October 15, 2003

The fashion fabric has been sewn onto a cotton layer, to about 1/2 inch inside the areas where the trim will be.

I cut strips of green fabric, sewed yellow bias on both sides, then machine embroidered two bands in yellow. It's now turning into bands of trim! I ran out of thread, so I'll have to wait to finish everything.

October 20, 2003

The bands of trim are finished. The skirt panels have been cut out and edges have been finished.

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