Saturday, April 1, 2017

FO: Medieval Garb For A Madrigal Feast, Part 1

Sub title for this post: The Dress The Thrift Store Built.
If anyone has wondered what I've been up to the past month and a half or so, this is it, lol. This was shaping up to be a huge post with all the work that went into this project, so I decided to split it into two parts. This is actually how I went about making the dress too, so it works out :) So this post will have a very normal looking outfit, but don't you worry - this baby got a lot more costumey looking by the end, lol.

Anyway, the singing groups I am a part of, Soliloquy and Broadstreet, are performing in a Madrigal Feast at a local church. Having never done singing other than broadway style in high school, I had heard the term "madrigals" talked about by the chorus students, but I didn't really have any idea what it meant. So don't feel alone if you don't know what I'm talking about, lol. According to noun
  1. a secular part song without instrumental accompaniment, usually for four to six voices, making abundant use of contrapuntal imitation, popular especially in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Basically it's a medieval party with people singing difficult multi-part songs. And guys, this music is hard. Like you have to pay really close attention and you are the only one singing your part, and no one really has the melody because it is shared between the group, and if you get lost there is no real point you can jump back in because everyone is doing something different, lol. It's been an experience just to learn the music, but I also had to make myself a costume. I'll confess: I've always wanted to make a medieval costume. Back in the 90s, they were "the thing", and I always begged my mom to sew me one. Being a sane woman, she always said no, lol, but I've always appreciated the styles and the intricate patterns Andrea Schewe put out for Simplicity back then. I didn't have any of those patterns in my collection, and I wasn't about to spend $25 for their on demand printing service, so I hunted my pattern stash for something else I could manipulate into the medieval style.

Before I could pick a pattern, I had to figure out my fabric. I dug through my stash and set aside anything and everything that could work, but nothing really jumped out and inspired me. I decided to go thrifting and see what I could find, and over the course of a few weeks (and a few trips to different stores) I was able to find almost everything I needed for this outfit. I Know! Crazy. The biggest find was the fabric you see in this post. A local thrift store was having a clear out sale and marked everything in their back room at 50% off, plus they had a bag sale going on for their cut pieces of fabric (of which they had tubs and tubs full) where you got a grocery bag stuffed full of your choices of fabric for $5. I hunted through the tubs and managed to find some neat things, but nothing big enough for this project. That is always the issue with any dress of this time period - it takes a lot of fabric. Most patterns called for 5 to 7 yards just of your main fabric, some even more. There were a few rolls of fabric in the corner, so I walked over to check out that situation and what should I find but 2 rolls of real raw silk! I Know! I couldn't snatch them up fast enough. I walked out with 7 yards of tealy green and 2 yards (marked as 3 yards, but whatever) of white silk for $17.50. For 9 yards of silk! lol I'm still a bit in disbelief. The fabrics are very slubby and textured, particularly the white. I'm not sure what type of silk it is, but I didn't care. I knew they would be perfect for this project. So now I was able to make a medieval dress in fabric that was true to the time period - pretty cool :)

Next step was to pick a design. I had a few actual costume patterns, but in the end I decided to use Kwik Sew 3381. I picked this pattern up at a thrift store a few months ago for 50¢, and it's a nice formal wear design with a top and a full length skirt. I liked the idea of separates, mostly because that way I could wear this skirt in a non-costume setting as well if I wanted to. A skirt like this is a bit fancy for everyday, but it's a versatile thing for other costumes or if I need a fancy dress for another event or something. I used the green silk for the skirt (since I had plenty for that) and the white for the top.
The skirt came first since I knew it would be easiest to fit. I had to add a little bit to the waistband since my waist is slightly bigger than the largest size of this pattern, but it was very straight forward to make. I added 1/2" to the sides at the waist and hip at each side and at the CB, angling down to nothing after the hips. I added 3.5" to the length so it would cover my feet and skim the floor. I also had to change the angle of the bottom of the skirt because my fabric was not quite wide enough. I followed the angle of the pattern (slightly a-line) until just before the selvage, and then just curved a bit to go straight down. This made hemming more complicated, but the skirt is so full you can't tell anything was changed in person.
I had to do a bit of easing to get the skirt to match the waistband (maybe I shouldn't have added to all the seams - oh well), so I kept the gathered sections to the back of the skirt. It's a bit puckery, but I knew my top would cover it, so I didn't bother to redo it. I did a lapped zipper just to keep things fancy with my fancy fabric (and to keep the illusion of not having a zipper since they didn't exist back then), and it turned out beautifully if I do say so myself :) The waistband was really skinny, so I just added a sewn in metal snap to the overlap piece and hand sewed the edges of the tab closed. I've never been able to figure out how to close up the overlap pieces after a zip insertion with the machine in any way that looked good. Anyone know the trick? Anyway, because of my finagling the angle of the hem, things got a bit wonky at my side seams. No matter what I tried I just could not get a nice looking hem with my machine, so I decided to hand sew it. I machined some 5/8" wide horsehair braid to the edge first to keep the shape of the hem, then I folded it over double and hand stitched with a blind catch stitch. This took almost 2 hours of hand sewing, but once pressed it looked so good! I'm really happy with it. The close up here looks a bit wavy, but this was after wearing the dress that day and then transporting it in the car. Trust me - it was smooth and wonderful :)
The top was much, much more complicated. I cut out a muslin in the largest size and did everything the "couture" way since I knew I'd have to make adjustments. I had to make so many adjustments I can't even remember them all, lol. Here's a list of what I remember:
  • I took it up at the shoulder joint of the neckline about 2.5" on each side for my hollow chest
  • took the shoulder seams in 1"
  • scooped out the neckline to compensate for raising the shoulder seam
  • added 3.5" in length at the hem, extending the darts
  • cut in armscye 1" on each side
  • took in sleeves 5/8" at seam
  • shortened sleeves by 4.5"
  • took a 3" wedge out of upper center back seam angling to nothing (for "dowager's hump", lol)
I'm sure there were a few other changes in there as well. Basically I put on the muslin inside out, pinned out an adjustment, ripped the old seam and resewed the new alteration, tried it on again and repeated the cycle over and over for each change. I spent about 2 hours just taking the thing on and off, trying different things - some worked, some didn't. I got things pretty good in the muslin, so I moved on to my real top a few days later.
Cutting out the white silk was a complete nightmare. I didn't want to use colored wax paper since it would show through as this silk is a bit sheer, but I had to mark 8 darts. I tried the "couture" way of using white wax paper, but this fabric is so slubby that I couldn't tell if the lines I was seeing were the wax or just the weave of the fabric. I marking the darts completely with pins, but then came the problem of how to pin the legs together with all those pins lining them already? I finally had enough after a few hours of trying to cut this out and mark it, so I just used friction pens, lol. I've heard a few horror stories of the pen showing up as a ghosty mark later on, but since this top is just a costume I wasn't too worried about it. As long as it looks good on the day I need it, I'm fine. Maybe I'll just hit it with the iron again later if the mark show up again, lol. Once everything was cut and marked, the sewing itself was a breeze.
Since the silk is fairly sheer, I lined the top with a white bridal muslin remnant I had on hand. It felt a bit silly to go to this effort for a costume, but it really needed the lining. After wearing the top once, I see now that I really needs boning too, but I'm not going to worry about it. Can't be bothered since it's all sewn up!
I did a lapped zipper on the side, which turned out great :) I really love lapped zippers. The insides look so pretty and enclosed from the lining! I didn't fuss with lining the sleeves, and I just set them in like normal and finished the inside with pinking shears. I knew I was going to add fancy bell sleeves at the elbow, but I also knew I wouldn't have them finished in time for when I needed to wear something as a little ad plug for the show, so I just double turned the sleeve hem and top stitched for that day.
I realized it was still loose on that day of the ad plug, so I keep pulling it toward the back to look a bit tighter. In my muslin I deliberately left some ease at the waist because when I sit down I need the extra space in the tummy and we will be sitting and standing, but it doesn't give the most flattering silhouette standing :/ I thought that this silk would be stiffer, but it has a much softer look all sewn up. It's kind of a bummer, but the entire top is lined and I even hand sewed the openings so it is completely sealed. Technically I think it needs boning in the seams to hold the shape, and possibly a stiffer fabric for the lining, but that's not going to happen at this point, lol. I'm probably going to safety pin the back tighter for the performance and then remove the pins for the rest of the night (which would look like the first picture at the top where I'm holding it back, lol). We'll see what works.
So that's the story with the base of my medieval outfit :) The top feels kind of boring at this stage, but you will see how that changed in Part 2 of this post (coming soon to a blog near you, lol). I am pleasantly surprised at how much fun the skirt is to wear, so I am really happy I chose to do the separates since I am sure I will be wearing that skirt again. It's so swishy and light. I definitely see why people like silk (having never really worn it much, this is a learning experience).

I'll be wearing the completed costume tonight, so I will be able to report how it wore in my next post. So check back soon to see how I jazzed this baby up to look like a costume!

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