Ghirlandaio Gown Dress Diary-Weeks 5-8
Well, here it is, almost a whole month wrapped into one post. Me Made May has kind of been kicking my butt, since I pledged to either work on a contemporary piece of my wardrobe or wear something me-made every day in May, and historical sewing doesn't really count as contemporary! Combine the demands of that with a very busy 2 weeks at work between a huge event we hosted and then me traveling to another state for a whole week (away from my sewing machine, so I was scrambling to get more me-mades finished before my trip), and some personal travel that's had to happen for both fun and non-fun reasons, means I haven't had as much of a chance to spend time on the marathon drafting and sewing sessions I prefer to do.
Most of the month I've been working on simply adding metal sequins (spangles) to my giornea pieces, and I'm currently clocking in at around 12-15 minutes for a set of 4 spangles. Multiply that times the 200 spangles I've already sewn on and you can see where most of my time has gone this month (that's a bit more than 11 hours in case you didn't do the math). I estimate there will total somewhere between 500 and 600 spangles on the giornea once this is finished, so I still have a long way to go! Not to mention I recently realized the motif calls for a set of five dots instead of 4, I have to go back and add in one more spangle in the middle of every motif I've done so far!
I did get some time to work more on my handkerchief on the plane rides for my work trip. I actually finished all the hem stitching to create my fringe about halfway into my flight there! So that means I'm done, right? Of course not. Facing another hour of potential boredom (and on my two return flights, as this was all I brought with me to do on the plane), I decided to start another row of drawn thread embroidery inside the first, and since this one isn't on the hem of the piece I needed to actually spend time re-weaving the cut ends of the yarn back into the fabric to reinforce the corners of the embroidery. Which is very difficult to do on a poorly lit, bumpy plane.
Why do I do this to myself? Oh yeah, because it looks really pretty! This time around I'm using my ivory silk thread which is much thinner than the ivory perle cotton I used for the border to give it a very delicate look and it's already looking so good! I'm going to be hem stitching both sides of the gaps I created in the fabric but offset, so it will look like the exposed yarns are zig-zagging across the opening. The slightly bigger bundles I'm grabbing combined with the slightly smaller area I'm working in makes it feel like it's already going much faster than the fringe area, although that's probably just my experience now in doing this stitch. I do have to do it twice as much because I have to do both sides of the drawn thread void.
The surprise time suck on this project though? Fringing it! I thought pulling out all the extra yarns would be easy but it took a surprisingly long time (like, almost an hour!). I had to pull out a LOT of crosswise yarn from all 4 sides, but in the end I'm left with beautiful long fringe! Before I fringed it I did a quick hand wash (with my favorite handwash detergent, Soak) and threw it in the dryer with some towels in a last-ditch effort to soften it up, and it totally worked! Now I have the drape down and this piece is finished, right in time for my next IRCC update.
When I returned from my trip, I finally got my first marathon historical sewing session in! Since I've been devoting a lot of time to the giornea, I decided it was finally time to get crackin' on the gamurra. I started with the pattern I used to make my last gamurra, for my Italian Renaissance Wonder Woman costume. I cut the pieces out of two layers each of cotton muslin, and only added seam allowances where there would be seams. This is such a huge help when prototyping because you don't have to worry about all the extra fabric around the arms, neck, and waist. It also lets you keep your patterns sans seam allowance, which makes them easy to alter. This gamurra pattern is side lacing while my new one needs to be front lacing, and I've also lost a few inches around my waist since I made it (because apparently I've been allergic to dairy and that's the major cause of my gastric distress and bloating? Goodbye cheese, I miss you! Cheese is the one dairy product I LOVE that I haven't been able to find a good dairy-free replacement for).
So the resulting garment was a bit big, obviously. And while the bust shaping on the side works for a side lacing garment, not so much for a front lacing one. I will also need to factor in a gap in the front lacing like in the inspiration picture.
I took both the front and back in at the waist a bit, and basically chopped off the shaping on the side and moved it to the center front (with some space shaved off to achieve a gap) for my next round of prototyping. It fit me a lot better in the waist now, but still closed too much in the center. I also had gaping in my armpit that I needed to fix. You can see in the picture below where I'm drawing right onto the muslin to mark the areas I need to make changes. I've also decided the neckline is a bit too low and needs to come up more to look like the inspiration.
I traced my changes from the pattern onto the muslin, and also cut a wedge out of my strap to rotate it out and get rid of the excess fabric. By pivoting it like this, I'm removing length from the armpit and adding length to the neckline to get rid of the excess without taking a dart.
The result is much better, but I'm still not getting a nice straight 'V' in the middle! I traced off where I wanted the line to be and basically chopped off everything else on the pattern, and the result is just basically a straight line. :shrug: Guess the illusion that I actually had boobs was just wishful thinking! At this point I was very happy with the pattern and ready to move on.
I started with the support layer and cut my pattern pieces out of 2 layers of heavyweight linen, with the layers crossing grain to provide the most strength (that means one layer was cut on grain, and one was cut on the cross grain. The slight extra stretch a fabric has on the cross grain, which is the direction this piece will be pulled on if I cut both pieces on grain, will be counteracted by having one of the pieces on grain in that direction). All of these pieces I cut with the same seam allowances as my muslin pieces, so no SA around the neck, arms, or waist. You could just use your muslin pieces for this (and I've done that before) but I wanted to use the linen as it is stiffer than muslin! For the front pieces, I also cut two layers of cotton flannel as padding. Historical documents describe bodices being padded by quilting a layer of "cotton wool" which I can only assume would be like a thin cotton batting or felt, but I decided to use flannel because it is much easier to work with than just loose quilt batting! Which means it was time to add my pad stitching.
Here's a story. Once upon a time (or exactly a year ago but who's counting) I decided to do the historical thing and pad stitch the entire bodice of my green wool English Gown to add stiffness and structure to it. I used 2 layers of muslin because my muslin I used for prototyping was rather stiff, but the new order of muslin I got in was much floppier. "Oh well", I figured. "Pad stitching is what's supposed to add all the stiffness, right?". And I proceeded to cover the (very large) pattern pieces with tiny, meticulous pad stitching which took me about 2 months to do, including all of Me Made May (my pledge last year was just to sew every day, and I worked on that damn pad stitching every. single. day. That's why I made my pledge this year about contemporary clothing).
The result? Wasn't much stiffer than the muslin alone. I was pretty upset I spent all that time working on it and vowed to never do it again.
So what am I doing again?
I made promises to myself this year. First, I started with a much stiffer fabric (linen canvas). I also did more layers, and some of the layers were padded (a lot of people use wool fabric to pad their pad stitching). And I promised I wouldn't try to make every stitch perfectly small and straight and precise, because no one's going to see it anyways. Plus, these pattern pieces, being open necked and high waisted, are much smaller than the pieces of my collared, pointed waist English gown.
The good news to report is I'm DONE with all the pad stitching! I needed it to be stiffest in the front, which is why I added the padding there and also fully pad stitched those pieces. It probably took me an hour and a half to two hours per front piece. And they gained a lot of stiffness! It worked! For the back, I just kind of roughly pad stitched around the edges and a few lines in the middle to basically hold the pieces together rather than provide any measure of stiffness that won't come from the fabric alone, because the back doesn't have to support my bust. It was a quick weekend evening project instead of a two month event. Maybe I'm not so scared of pad stitching any more. (Stay tuned for next year, when I decide to pad stitch something else and decide I HATE it again!)
Support layers done, it was time for the dreaded part everyone hates in a big project: Cutting into your most expensive piece of fabric. I started with a water soluble marking pen and my final pattern piece, moving it around on the fabric and tracing so I could see how the motif looked. This motif is so large-scale that finding a perfectly matching or repeating area would mean me cutting feet apart on the fabric, which would mean cutting into the large area which is being reserved for my skirts. Piecing may be period, but having a mismatching bodice-shaped piece in the middle of your skirt while your bodice is perfectly pattern matched is probably not.
Once I decided on my motif placement, I added in my seam allowances and cut around them with pinking shears. I'm really worried about this fabric and the embroidery unraveling. And here are my pieces! Laid out to give priority to see how the pattern will look with the back pieces meeting up and the front pieces meeting up.
Since I added 1.5" SA on the center front to allow extra support for my eyelets, I also folded it in to see how the front will really look. Not sure my decision to match the location of those big red flowers was the best one, I may recut one of the pieces to give an overall more 'random' effect.
Especially since for my last 'historical' garment (my Italian Wonder Woman) I made it a point to 'cheat' on a lot of things to practice my quick costume sewing, I want to make this one really 'nice' so I decided to hand sew the face fabric together (the underlining and lining will both be machine stitched together, although in the end all 3 layers will be handsewn in place) and this will be my first time really sewing seams by hand! So what is the first thing I do? Cheat and machine baste all my seam lines.
Ok so it's not really cheating because all the lines will be removed in the end, but basically the idea is that I'm folding in my seam allowances and whip stitching the folded edges together to create a very strong seam. American Duchess calls this an English Seam (although that may not be accurate because apparently in France they call a French Seam an English Seam?), and that name makes since because it is the way you sew together pieces in English Paper Piecing (EPP) quilting. Machine basting the seam lines makes them easier to turn and iron, because the tension from the thread helps me to turn the seam over exactly.
Then I do lots of tiny whip stitches into the fold (I'm using two strands of silk thread) which results in a very strong seam for many reasons, but mainly the direction of the stitches allows you to easily pack more stitches per inch and helps to prevent the fabric from unraveling. The result is basically invisible from the right side if you haven't made your whip stitches too 'deep' into the fabric. Whipping together two 'finished' edges is also the way I attach almost all my skirts and also how I insert linings into my historical garments (as opposed to bag lining them) so it's a very versatile and easy skill to do!
I also machine sewed my pad-stitched underlining pieces together, and the resulting structure is nicely stiff and supportive! I'm very excited. I still need to cut my lining and after I finish stitching the outer bodice together (one more seam!) I'll be ready to join everything together.