Land of eternal sundresses

To the sewers out there – do you have one pattern that you keep coming back to time and time again?

I used to buy patterns with the idea of using them once, perhaps twice.  I never really looked at the variations on the cover, because I knew that I only liked ONE of them, and that would be the one I would make (if I made it up at all….).  When I started drafting my own patterns, it was a similar fate.  The empire waist, ruffled front long dress was made in tone-on-tone black striped spandex stretch velvet.  It was never made up in a short version, never made with long sleeves instead of the cute cap/puff sleeves that I originally intended.  The crossover blouse was made up in soft grey knit, never extended to a dress length, never made up in alternating colour blocks.  With the exception of my super-simple dress pants (which I’ve made up in about ten different solid and pinstriped fabrics over the years), my ‘perfect’ t-shirt (which has never once been made up in anything that resembles an RTW store-bought t-shirt) and my corset patterns (which each have been made up multiple times) it’s pretty rare for me to use a pattern more than once or twice.  (Three times if we’re counting a muslin version too…)

McCalls 5659

But… then I found McCalls 5659.  It’s just a simple sundress.  Nothing all that special really.  It has a front and back yoke, with a pleated dress section that hangs in an a-line.  It’s short, but not too short, and even the variations on the pattern themselves are minimal.  It offers inseam pockets or patch pockets (which I’ve never added).  It shows an embellished yoke and a plain yoke (I’ve only ever done the plain version).  There is a hem border on one variation (which I’ve also never done).  Yet, I’ve made this dress up a number of times.

The first variation added an extra pleat to the back, and subsequently all of the following versions have adopted that pleat, but in the first variation I enlarged the hem, adding black godets to the hem.  I didn’t end up repeating that, though I do love this first dress – made up in a fabulous grey, white, black and pink print.  Every time I get a compliment on this dress, I point out that the print is girls with tattoos.

The second variation was a black, ivory, and two shades of grey geometric flower print.  I trimmed the hem in super-wide rick rack, and loved the weight the trim gave to the hem.  (Big wide hems like this do tend to get floaty on a windy summer day!)

The third was a bold red/pink/white/green poppy floral print.  I loved this fabric (and still do!).  The hem got more super-wide rick rack, but this time on the inside, so it looks like a little black scalloped edge.  One of those things that I’m sure only I can see.  The second and third dress variations have gone on vacation with me to a few warm places, and have regularly been far preferable than standard shorts-and-a-tank-top that make up the majority of my warm-weather travel wardrobe.  (Plus, being simple cotton, they wash up in a hotel sink nicely!)

At Dressew in Vancouver I picked up some ‘must touch me’ purple striped silk.  Shades of grey and mauve and purple and pink all muddle together in this fabric.  I also picked up some brighter solid purple silk – which became the lining for this dres and the accent piping and bias trim around the armsyce.  I’ll admit, I’ve only worn this one a few times – it’s so precious feeling, that I tend to reserve it for special occasions.

I’m almost finished the fifth and sixth variations as well – the fifth is another poppy print, this time bright red poppies on a red background.  It’s bold and bright and happy – just right for summer.  Since I liked the rick-rack hem so much, I repeated it here too. I couldn’t decide until the last moment if I wanted a contrast yoke or a yoke in the same fabric – so cut both.  This way, the black yoke is lined with the fashion fabric.

The sixth is a black and purple Hawaiian border print I brought back from my first trip to Hawaii.  I found the fabric among a few others in a very old and worn-out looking fabric shop on the side of a road in a small town.  There were rolls and rolls of fabric to choose from, but I stayed away from the bolder, more garish Hawaiian prints in favor of this one which has large leaves on one end (the hem) and small flowers on the other (the neckline).  I love the way the fabric pieces together to form almost a necklace of flowers in the yoke of the dress.  The hem on this one is more black rick-rack.  I think I’m really the only one that notices…

That’s not all though… I also have cut out a mauve embroidered silk (just waiting for the right lining) and a blue-on-blue Hawaiian print rayon (waiting for it’s solid yoke).  They’re both sitting, nicely labeled in the dining room right now – waiting for their respective parts to join, and move from their pile on a chair to under my needle, and then up into my closet.  They will be versions seven and then eight of this dress… more, I think, than any other pattern I’ve used before.

If you want to try this pattern too – I’ll give you a few hints:

  • I found adding the extra pleat at the back gives nice fullness and still stays within the fabric width for me.  ‘Your mileage may vary’ based on your size and the width of your fabric.
  • The pattern recommends self-bias for the under arms.  I don’t see the point of this generally, as it will rarely be seen, and since I’ve used cotton for most of these dresses, and solid yokes.  I’ve generally used purchased pre-made bias tape instead, except with the purple silk dress, where I used the lining fabric for the trim.
  • Easing the dress onto the yoke almost always ends up with weird shapes.  Instead, I sew the dress to the yoke starting at each shoulder and moving into the center.  When I get to the pleat area I stop and go to the other side.  Then I manipulate the pleat into shape, and sew it down to the yoke as well.  Smooth!
  • For the facing, I straight-stitch where the fold line will go – this makes it easier to gauge.  However, I don’t turn, press, and then hand-stitch the whole thing down – too fussy!  I turn the yoke right sides together, and sew from each shoulder as far towards the middle as I can. Then I turn back, and hand-stitch the small opening closed.
  • To keep the yoke clean and crisp – a nice contrast for the puffy, floaty skirt portion – I top stitch the neckline, as well as the yoke line from the right side.

I haven’t started an embellished yoke yet – perhaps that will end up being variation nine?  I also have some gorgeous black batiste with ivory embroidery that I’d love to make up in this dress as well, and think that a white eyelet one would be super-cute as well.   Ahh.. so many dresses, so little time to sew!

I thought I’d share with you sewing on the rick-rack trim to the hem to create the little scallops:

Sewing down the trim to the fabric.

Step 1: Serge the raw edge of the hem. With a straight stitch, sew the trim down in the center of the trim, to the RIGHT side of the fabric, along the hem fold-line.  If you don’t have a serger you can zig-zag this edge, finish it with french binding, finish it with hem tape, cut it with pinking sheers, turn-and-stitch, or whatever other seam-finish you prefer.  Ideally I would be a bit closer to the serged edge than in this photo.

With the hem folded back but the trim NOT folded back. I did this on one of the dresses I made, but prefer it the other way.

Step 2: Fold in the hem

With the hem and trim both folded back

Step 3: Flip the bottom half of the trim to the back.  Press the hem.

Top stitching the trim while also securing the hem in place.

Step 4: Top-stitch the very top edge of the trim to the hem allowance and body fabric – catching the trim and the hem in one.

Brooks Renaissance Faire

A few weekends ago I finally got to go to the Brooks Renaissance/Medieval Faire.  I had wanted to go last year, but missed out because of timing (not being a driving-sort makes a big difference as to which events I can go to – especially ones that are two hours out of town!).  This year, however, I got to go!

Years ago I was interested in the SCA – but when the friend I had in the SCA moved away, that interest waned.  But, that does mean I have boxes full of (reasonably) appropriate clothing!

So first up – what I wore…

  • White linen t-tunic with red yarn couching in a vaguely Turkish style (yes, underwear as outerwear – it was hot!)
  • Brown belt – in a pattern that is similar to what you could get using card weaving
  • Peach/green semi-sheer veil
  • Faux blackwork purse/reticule

All in all – NOTHING that would actually be worn together if I was aiming for period – rather than “feels period-ish”.   Since I had no idea how dressed-up guests would get, and very little access to my stash due to the never-ending reno project, I was happy with what I picked out.  Since the website talked about people dressing as gypsies and pirates and fairies…. I figured that my costume choices would have a pretty wide latitude. 🙂

The Faire itself

Having been to a few SCA events, I think that I had more of that in mind.  At my first event, 12th Night, there was a large banquet, loads of people (all in impressive dress) and it seemed like a lot of activity.  At Tavern it was less so on all counts, but still interesting. At the two war/camp events I went to – there were workshops, vendor areas, food areas, encampments, and just a lot of overall activity.  There were very few people in ‘mundane’ modern clothing, and everyone was dressed up.  Still, from reading online, I figured that the “Renaissance faire” model was a bit different – so while I sort of knew the overall mood of what to expect, I didn’t really know the details.


All in all, the Faire was somewhat underwhelming.  We arrived for the last few jousting matches – which was kind of cool, but I had expected more pageantry with that.  We wandered to the arts and crafts area which featured perhaps 5-6 artists – although some of the artwork was very nice, the overall selection felt as though it’s inclusion had been a bit of an afterthought.  Only a few of the artisans were working in styles that suited the event.  (One artist who was working with charcoal/pencil, doing sketches of dragons and knights.)  From there we pretty much blinked and missed a food area – hot dogs and ice cream… and went to the vendor area – with largely theme-appropriate offerings, and a few that weren’t so theme appropriate.  From there we wandered down to the locations of two encampments (the only ones on site), then watched two women do some cabaret-style belly dancing, and four guys (two at a time) do some heavy combat.  While we had a Hawaiian Shave Ice, we watched a woman do a little puppet show.  From there we were ready to go, and passed the petting zoo – comprised of two miniature horses, two sheep, and a goat.

Puppet Show

Perhaps my expectations were just overly high.  Am I putting unrealistic expectations coming from a ‘big city’ perspective onto an event planned by folks in smaller towns?  Do the camping events I have been to just by their nature have more “things” because of all the encampments (and thus, with all of those people staying on-site all weekend, more need for things like food vendors, taverns, etc)? Maybe the lack of workshops/classes is what helped me get more in the mood before? (Not to mention, make it possible to talk to people and socialize.)

Belly dancer

Overall, although it was interesting – I don’t think that I’d make it a destination again.  Perhaps fleshing it out as a day trip to include a visit to Dinosaur Provincial Park (with a chance to change in between!) might make the two hour drive each way more worthwhile?

What do you think?  Have you been to the Brooks Faire before?  How do you think it stacks up compared to other faires or SCA events?

More on Steampunk decorating

For more on the file of Steampunk home dec – I found this article on Geekologie, about a pre-decorated New York City loft.

From Geekologie - click to visit site.

I have to say – it’s not my taste at all – too overdone for my style. Still, I thought I’d share it for others. (And to go with the other articles in the “decorating” tag too!)

Still, the hidden rooms and secret passages might sell me, even if the “hey, let’s nail a bunch of cogs to the wall” doesn’t.

Steampunk – Garments

Steampunk – Garments

So, in thinking of all the different individual garments I would like to make  for a mini-steampunk wardrobe, it struck me that it might be a good idea to outline what I already have, to avoid duplication – or frankly – forgetting about things!


Skirts – for skirts, long and full seems to be the simplest way to go, although in later period the skirts did get narrower.  However, for the long and full category, I have:

    • Long, full black cotton (blend?) skirt (metallic stripe skirt) – purchased
    • Long full black and white striped cotton skirt with pleated striped edge and black piping –made
    • Long full red silk skirt with black lace overlay – this is more of a costume piece, but might work if there was enough other details going on over top of it to distract from the motif of the lace.  (Spiders) –made
    • Long full blue-shot-with-black taffeta skirt with pleated trim and lace overlay. – made
    • Long, full black polyester/taffeta skirt (grad skirt) – made
    • Long, not overly full, purple taffeta skirt (shot fabric) – made

Tops – The extreme fit of a lot of Victorian tops take them out of contention for me, and make them much less wearable for my body type, however there are a few I have which might work more for casual costume use, vs. anything approaching recreation.

  • Black sheered (gathered) top with satin collar – purchased
  • Black sheered (gathered) top with satin collar removed – purchased and altered
  • Purple sheered (gathered) top with satin collar – purchased
  • Red sheered (gathered) top with satin collar – purchased
  • Pinkish-purple sheered (gathered) top with satin collar – purchased
  • Ivory lace sheered (gathered) top with satin collar – purchased
  • Black lace sheered (gathered) top with satin collar – purchased

Corsets – most of the corsets I own are more art or fetish-related than “pretty” to be suitable for a Victorian or Steampunk costume, however the following might work.

  • Black cotton twill underbust corset with buckles, would work more for airship pirate/etc than for fancy dress. – made
  • Gold overbust silk corset with black soutache, is certainly the right cut and colour. – made
  • Purple and black brocade overbust, doesn’t fit as well as I would like. – made

Dresses – I think these dresses are most appropriate for the kind of costumes I have in mind, however they’re also the biggest investment for the least wearability.  That’s kind of a huge downside – on one hand they are difficult to alter if one part starts fitting worse, they require the most fabric and fitting expertise, and they also make the biggest impression- and thus can only be worn so often before becoming “tired”.  I’m a bit hesitant to make more at this point in time, especially considering how unsatisfied I am with my current body shape. Luckily, what I have thus far is minimal!

  • Silver taffeta gown – with pleated sleeve edges, black fringe. I made this to go with the blue skirt with black lace overlay.  Currently it doesn’t FIT the way it should, and I’ve got a blue and gold brocade false vest front in it instead to make it fit.  So disappointing – made.
  • Black PVC ballgown – obviously not appropriate for most wear – I can’t even really think of how to make it work, only that the cut is about right. – made


Cloaks, Capes, & Mantles

  • Long black cotton cape – made
  • Long black wool cape with mohair (etc) fulling – work in progress
  • Blue linen-like cape with hand-woven brown and navy wool collar – made
  • Brown/burgundy/navy cloak – made

Shrugs & Cardigans

  • Brown shrug –work in progress
  • Brown lace long sweater – made
  • Blue and ivory pinstripe shrug – work in progress


  • Black lace loose top – the one with the crystal dangles – made

Bustles & Aprons

  • Black unlined lace-trimmed bustle – made
  • Black unlined lace-trimmed apron – made
  • Purple and gold sari-fabric bustle – in progress


Hats – I have a number of hats, but not all of them go with all of my ideas for outfits.  Still, they certainly take an outfit from the mundane to the more interesting very quickly.

  • Black mini top hat with veil and sequins – made
  • Black mini top hat with veil – purchased
  • Black mini wellington hat with black and red flowers, ribbons, buttons and peacock feather – made
  • Vintage black velvet caul-style facinator with zig-zag detail, pearls, and veil – purchased
  • Vintage brown feather hat (1940’s) – gift
  • Vintage black top hat (full sized)  – purchased
  • Silver taffeta mini tricorn with keyhole- made
  • Green shot with brown taffeta mini tricorn with cogs/gears – made

Jewelry – like some of the accessories, jewelry seems to finish off an outfit nicely.  Lucky for me it’s small, easy to make, and generally affordable.

  • Tudor-meets-Victorian jet, garnet, black pearl and cameo rosary-style draped necklace – made
  • Pearls – so many different styles… – made and gifts
  • “Key” pin with charms (more EGL style though) – made
  • Pearl and silver heart pin – gift
  • Cameo – traditional style – purchased
  • Cameos – bat, octopus, skeleton, various colours – made
  • Vintage pill-ring – gift
  • Green shot with brown taffeta flower pin with veil – made
  • White, silver, black and pink silk hair flower pins (2 each) – purchased
  • Copper octopus necklace – made

Other accessories – things I just can’t seem to fit anywhere else

  • Black stretch ruffled cuffs with antiqued brass snaps – made
  • Black and white brocade spats with lace trim – made
  • White lace parasol – gift
  • Black velvet Victorian style reticule-type purse – made
  • White jaquard Victorian-style reticule-type purse – made
  • Ruffled black and white plaid bustle-like purse – made

Like the other post, I’m sure I’ll have more to add to this one as time goes by, and I remember things, or see their potential!

Purple toga-like dress

Every year for a number of years (with one or two times I had to miss it) I attended a convention with a Roman theme.  The Friday evening festivities were particularly themed, with a toga party for the meet-and-great.  Each year I aimed to make a new costume – usually hoping to be somewhat in theme, but departing from the normal “bedsheet” which became a staple for the less ambitious.

I thought I’d share some of the process for the purple toga-like dress I made one year.

Initial sketch for the purple toga-like dress

The initial design sketch.

I wanted something that appeared to be one-shouldered, but wasn’t.  Simply because I can’t often get away with not wearing a bra unless I’m also wearing an overbust corset – so this design would have the impression of being one-shouldered, but was actually two.  I wanted a drape effect over the one arm too, and I wanted to take advantage of being able to bead and trim things as well.  My original design also had a silver waist band – but I thought this would end up being  too much fabric, so I skipped it for the final version.  The dress itself I wanted to make to coordinate with a beautiful purple velvet mask I have.

Purple fabrics for the purple toga-dress

The purple fabrics – the lining is just a plain purple silk, while the overlay fabric is a purple netting with attached clear/silver rhinestones.  Both of these fabrics were from Reena Fabric & Saree Centre – as an aside – I went to school with Reena!

Dress (on a way-to-small dressform)

The finished dress (on a too-small dressform, as usual).  The white fabric is an embroidered chiffon (I think from Fabricland, though I forget), while the arm-scarf is purple chiffon (also from Reena’s).  The silver fabric is dupioni silk – I think it was from an Indian fabric store as well.

Close up of the embroidered fabric

Close up photo of the embroidered chiffon, the netting with it’s lining, and the arm drape.

hand beaded on silver silk

On the silver I hand-sewed on silver bugle beads, silver lined clear seed beads, and purple “oil spill” seed beads – they have the effect of changing colours.


The arm drape is trimmed in the same beads, with the corners of the drape falling with tiny beaded tassels.

So, that was one year, another year I made a sheer white sheath (actually a Greek garment called a Chiton) with gold metallic threads running through it, (which I wore a sheer red, and then a red Indian Sari brocade scarf  – called a Stola) another year I made a similar one in a purple sheer with purple sequins (I had a purple sheer Stola for that one).  I actually loaned out the purple one, and still have to get it back!  I also made a one-shoulder gold silk dress with a gold corset to go over it, and have a steampunk-meets-gladiator costume in the ‘work in progress’ file.  Unfortunately, the event has changed a lot, and the time when it’s hosted I have some challenges to attend because of my current job’s annual schedule, so I don’t think I’ll be attending the next one in February 2012.  😦