I also turned 21 this January, so I thought it would be a cute item to wear when visiting a prohibition-style museum in Louisville for prolonging the birthday celebrations.
Oh, but wait... I know nothing about the 20's!
I knew there were sewing machines, that the styles went kinda crazy and kinda loose, but that's about it. I had been inspired by amazing seamstresses like Katherine, Samantha, Ginger, and Amy-Lee who made beautiful Robe de Styles and knew that I could do it. I asked Katherine for help and she guided me towards some really helpful info about patterns, construction, and Robe de Style history. Together (though I didn't help very much) we figured out that this style was likely darted on the front and the back, had no shoulder seam, closed on the side, and was likely worn without the classic Robe de Style pocket hoops (yay, less work for me!)
Originally I was going to cheat and use a modern bra and vintage girdle to approximate the 1920's shape but after asking my friends I realized that I was never going to be happy with that and I didn't want to make a silk gown based off of an improper silhouette for the period. So I took a slight detour and drafted a brassiere from a 1922 manual, made of cotton twill.
Silly face costume pictures are my forte!
After that finished (and still isn't really finished, I need to bind the edges) I could get on to the main event. I began by drafting up a pattern for a 1929 Robe de Style in Women's Wear of the 1920's. It wasn't too far from my measurements so it didn't take much work. Unfortunately though, this style of gown had a bust dart, a shoulder seam, and no sleeves so I had to change it a lot before it would work for my Robe de Style.
The first mock up went well. It was a little tighter than I had hoped for and there was still the no-sleeves issue, but all in all the first try fit decently well.
I then went on to try and fix the no-sleeves issue. I lined up the two pattern pieces on paper so that the shoulder seams touched and the CF seams were even, and redrew the pieces so that there was no shoulder seam and also a short sleeve.
Other than slight fixes on the side seams and neckline, I really liked how it turned out. Since I had a week to make it, at that point, I fixed a few things as I altered the old pattern (added a dip in front, narrowed the neckline, shortened the sleeves) and didn't mock up again. And boy, hindsight is 20/20... but we'll get to that later.
I purchased the cream silk taffeta from Renaissance Fabrics and decided to shop for silks for the flowers from my own stash since I wasn't dead-set on being nitpicky about the colors of the flowers for my new gown. I chose the four on the left since the colors worked well together and they were all shot silks. I also used black silk for some of the flowers and green/black shot silk for the leaves.
So, by the end of Sunday evening the cream silk and muslin lining were both cut out, and by the end of Monday evening the bodice was complete and the skirt panels had been sewn together. Talk about relief! That was exactly the confidence boost I needed to keep me going. I tried on the bodice after I finished it and the neckline was a lot higher than I anticipated, so I cut it down about two inches and it was a very quick fix.
Pre-neckline fix, and it doesn't much look like the original!
Tuesday's job was attaching the skirt to the bodice, and I wasn't looking forward to this because gathering is my least favorite thing in the sewing universe! I will pleat any day, hundreds of yards of fabric, but gathering? Don't make me do it!
To help, I used my pressing ham. I stuck pins directly into the ham once I got the gathering to a fullness I liked, and then carefully repositioned them when I was finished gathering that section.
I tried to do stroked gathers but then I half-assed it and they ended up being just like regular gathers. Oh well. For time's sake, at least the skirt was on the gown!
For the flower petals, I figured out that the petals on the original were basically a heart with the point cut off, so I used this to design mine. I measured the skirt to figure out how large the flowers needed to be and cut the petals accordingly. For ages and ages I cut those petals that I didn't have any energy left in me on Tuesday night to sew them together. I decided I would leave those for Wednesday morning/afternoon... and of course I did maybe 10% of all of the petals I needed to do. My machine started acting up as well and I decided to take a break from sewing on Wednesday night and start anew on Thursday.
Except Thursday was the last day I really had to work on it, since Friday I had to drive to Louisville right after class and Saturday was the event! I buckled down and sewed all the flower petals together first (my machine was threaded with that color thread), then went about finishing the rest of the gown. I finished the waist edge of the bodice and made the placket with snap tape, then tried on the gown.
That in my hand? That's bunches of excess fabric.
Yep... it didn't fit! And not only didn't it fit, it REALLY didn't fit. This was way far outside of normal 1920's looseness and ended up just being bad planning on my part. I should have made that muslin!! I'm attempting to figure out what caused the fit to be so bad. I might have added a little too much when I redrew the pattern pieces, and I also haven't been in excellent health lately so I could have lost some weight in between fitting the muslin and trying the dress on. It was likely a combination of the two.
After that initial freak out, I pulled some fabric near the back darts and realized that I could easily make those larger and fix the shape of the dress without ruining the front. Success!! I still kept it a little loose, since even the Robe de Style wasn't super tight on the figure.
The back doesn't look perfect, but hey, in comparison... After the sleeves were hemmed I went on to flip out the flower petals and assemble them. That took forever (it's a theme!). I ended up zig-zagging the petals onto a circle of felt, then hand stitching a center over the stitches.
By the end of Thursday night, I had a dress almost complete and trim almost complete! I was worried that it wouldn't be done in time but everything went so well. I didn't get to sleep until terrifyingly late on Thursday but it was definitely worth it.
On Friday I hemmed the gown and finished the flowers, then pinned them onto the dress. I basted the flowers onto the gown on Saturday (it's not a Melissa project if I'm not working right before the event) and went out in search of chicken noodle soup.
The event itself was lovely! I didn't dance much, and in fact spent most of my time in the whist room with my friends. I accessorized the gown with some jewelry my dear friend Toni lended to me, gloves from Toni as well, seamed stockings, character shoes from ye olde days of musical theater, and a lovely tiara that I won in a giveaway from Julie - The Fat Reenactress. Please enjoy the pictures!
Sam went in his usual 1816 garb.
I'm so happy with how this gown turned out!
Awesome tiara and crazy makeup - I would never do this makeup out of a period setting but in the 1920's, it's an absolute must!
Toni, the Accessory Queen herself, and her adorable pups Bingley and Tilney!
The Challenge: February: Blue
Fabric: Cream silk taffeta and silk taffeta in cool colors - blues, purples, and green. Some black, as well, for good measure.
Pattern: 1929 Robe de Style from Women's Wear of the 1920's with massive alterations.
Notions: Cream cotton thread, cream silk thread, cotton muslin for lining, black polyester thread, polyester felt.
How historically accurate is it? I did use polyester felt and polyester thread because it was what I already had, and the cotton muslin lining is not entirely perfect (they would have used a better quality cotton than what I had on hand). The placket was also entirely baffling and I probably got that wrong. Therefore, I'd give it about 85%.
Hours to complete: I'd guess about 30, start to finish.
First worn: Locust Grove Historical Ball, 7 February, 2015
Total cost: Around $70, accounting for the amount of cream silk and the trace amounts of colored silks I used.