I had another question asked of me when I talked about my assembly line method of sewing multiple costumes of the same pattern. How did I ever manage to do it?
At first my answer was easy: cut out multiples of the same pattern, with different fabrics. Once the pattern is cut to size, and the muslin fitted, you could cut out as many fabrics from it as you wanted and start sewing.
It’s not as easy as all that. It requires some thought and planning.
First, a disclaimer: I’ve only done this *four times. And they were fairly easy patterns. My reason for doing this is I wanted more than one dress of each era. And when I make something two or three times, I understand its construction better and it’s easier to make next time. You have to plan ahead of time by having all the fabrics and lining or flat lining fabrics on hand. You don’t need your finishing details until later when you decide to finish the individual gown. *I originally thought I’d only done this twice but after looking thru all my costume photos, I found I had done it two more times but with only making two at a time instead of the three I’d done before*.
My first time I did this was back in 2005 when I was fairly new to costuming. I wanted to have a couple Regency dresses to wear to Costume College, and the quickest way I could do it was cut three out at a time. All were going to be cotton day dresses. I used the Sense & Sensibility pattern which is easy to understand and explains construction in modern sewing terms.
My fabrics were all small printed floral cottons. Once I cut the pattern to my size and the muslin fit, I laid out each fabric, cut it out, and then laid out the next and cut it. Each also needed to have the bodice lined and I cut that portion out of white muslin. By that time your back is going to be killing you. You might want to take a couple hours break from this. Or a couple days.
So here was the assembly line: take all the bodice pieces (no sleeves yet), and sew all the side seams. These were bag lined (fabric and lining right sides together, sew with bottom parts open & turn right side out). Take all the skirt parts and sew all the side seams on those. Then sew the sleeve seams & finish the cuffs. Set those aside for when you’re rested and can battle with attaching the “Evil Sleevils”. Now gather and attach all the skirts to all the bottoms of the bodices. Sew the plackets to the back skirt opening, and finish. I did buttonholes on all my bodices. *I now do drawstring closures; much easier.* If you’re ready, begin battle with the “Evil Sleevils” by gathering the caps and attach to the armholes. You may be one of the lucky ones who don’t have problems with sleeves like many of us do. A handy tip from Historical Sewing- Jennifer Rosbrugh: mark the sleeve directly after you cut it so you know the front from back. Use a tiny mark or pin a safety pin on the front part. It will save you from sewing them backwards or putting the right arm in the left armhole. Believe me; I’ve done it more times than I can count.
At this point you can now hem and trim. If you only need one dress now, that’s all you need to finish. I wasn’t much into trimming at this point. I just wanted the dresses done. These are two of the Regency dresses I finished in 2005 back in my pre-Regency stays days. I made two with puffy sleeves, and one with a three quarter length sleeve, so at least I was trying to make them a little different from each other. I’ve since decided short puffy sleeves are not for ladies of a certain age. I don’t have construction photos of any of them, and I’ve since sold the gowns when they became too large.
Three years later I wanted to make a 1795 open robe, again for Costume College, using Butterick’s 4890, and had two lovely fabrics I couldn’t decide which I liked better. So I cut both out at the same time and decided to let the one that was finishing the prettiest be the winner. These were really easy to sew; no sleeves & no closures to speak of. The final finish on these were the trims I sewed on by hand. I made a white peau de soie gown that could be worn under them. As you can see, the periwinkle blue robe was the winner, and is still one of my favorite gowns to this day. Surprisingly, I still haven’t worn the pink one ANYWHERE. But it’s finished, and waiting for that perfect date.
Three years later I decided now I liked Civil War/1860s gowns after all, and other than wearing them to CW events, I could also wear them in the Riverside Dickens Festival fashion show. I fell in love with the Simplicity 4451 mainly because of the yellow fabric, which I haven’t found any yet, but also the gathered front bodice. Again, these were all made of cotton fabrics, and I flat lined both bodices first, then sewed the side seams, and so forth. CW gowns don’t have too many ways you can trim them but I think the different fabrics made them not so similar to each other.
I began my last set of three gowns on an assembly line back in 2009, and am today finishing the last one up that I’ll be wearing tomorrow to the 1870s Bustle Picnic in Los Angeles. This became a very popular pattern with costumers, Truly Victorian’s #410, the 1873 Polonaise. I sewed each one to the almost finished bodice stage, and none had their boning put in at this point. The green striped cotton would have a matching skirt but rather plain since I ran out of fabric. To make it different, I trimmed the front of the square neck and down the front of the bodice & skirt with a white beading eyelet w/ yellow ribbon running through it. I used yellow ribbons as my accent color. The purple and black floral fabric was a polyester blend that I put over a solid black skirt. This fabric lent itself to lot of trimming ideas, and all those black ribbons and buttons and bows and gee-gaws came out of the stash and had a glorious time being added to it. My favorite saying is, “You can’t just bake the cake; you have to decorate it too”. This gown has received more compliments than any gown I’ve made to date. And it’s polyester. Go poly! My final gown of a black and white polka dot cotton voile, that has been waiting three years to be completed, has slightly evolved a bit more into the 1880s with the addition of a ruffled apron that goes over the skirt. The skirt is a matching fabric but has a large ruffle along the hem. I tried to make it look different than the previous two.
So today the last one will be unveiled, and I will have photos of me wearing it, and another blog on its making.