Sunday, August 26, 2018

Past Patterns 031 Experiences and Variations

This post is about my experiences making Past Patterns #031 Lewis & Clark Empire Gown. As with all of Sandra Altman's patterns, this comes with a wonderful trove of advice and research. This post will share my experiences making the pattern for my friend Edyth, who is pictured below. 

The cotton fabric was from Jubilee Fabrics

This pattern is meant to be a 1:1 copy of a specific gown, scaled to size for the wearer. The documentation on this garment is impressive, and well worth study. However it is important to remember that this was only one particular garment, and as such had its own unique aspects which it is not necessary to reproduce (unless you want to, in which case go for it!).

The dress is pieced in the sleeves and skirt. This was a common practice in the period to stretch the available fabric to fit the project at hand, however you do not need to do the same if you have enough fabric and wish to simplify the process. 

Photo by Hannah Zimmerman, many thanks!

Sleeves/ Shoulder Straps
The sleeves on the original gown were made in three separate pieces, and this pattern has faithfully reproduced each piece, however it is not necessary to do it this way. You can also combine these into one pattern piece, which will save you four seams total. If you do so, be sure to take out the seem allowance! 

Not the world's greatest picture, but if you are staring at the pattern hopefully it will make sense. I actually cut out all 3 pieces and taped them together here, remembering to take out the seam allowance as I created one pattern piece. 

If you can, it is also  worth it to adjust the shoulder straps on the wearer, instead of just making up the right size from the pattern chart. It's always a good idea to make adjustments to the body, and this is a period method of doing so. Like me, Edyth has uneven shoulders, and she also has some back issues. Fitting the shoulder straps on her in person made sure that this garment was made for her body. 

Follow the directions to ease the sleeves  into the bodice. These will tell you to ease it, but you will also notice that on the illustration it looks as though the sleeve has been gathered. This comes from the amount of ease, rather than having run a gathering stitch. This can be tricky, but go slowly, and take your time to really manipulate the fabric and distribute all the tension and ease before basting and sewing in place and they will fit. 

Edyth in the kitchen at Historic Locust Grove.

For the skirt, you may simply cut one piece (or more, depending the fabric you are working with) the correct length for your height, rather than piecing in the bottom. In this case, simply ignore the patterns’ directions for attaching the bottom piece, but still follow the directions for the pin tucks, pleats, etc.

As with any pattern, you MUST adjust this for the height of the wearer. This is ESPECIALLY important if you are making this as a working garment, which may be worn near an open fire.  In that case, you can actually bring it up at least two or three inches above the ankle bone for safety. We tend to believe that no woman showed her ankles before the 1920's, but this is simply not true, especially when it comes to working garments. As always, it is best to do some research and consult period images.

"What? You're looking at me like you've never seen ankles before...."

Front Lining Variation (Suggested by my friend Ellen Dressman) 
This dress has an underlining that pins in the front, separate from the bodice front which closes with a drawstring. This was very common during the whole period from work dresses to fashionable gowns.

If you want to simplify this, you can attach the front bodice lining to the front bodice and create the top and bottom drawstring channels with the lining. You will have to extend the side front lining piece to be as long as the bodice front.  Leave out the front bodice lining piece.

First attach the skirt to the bodice, then fell the font lining down over the seam. Next, run another line of stitching ¼ to ½ inch above to create the drawstring channel. Insert and tack down the drawstring as shown in the directions.

On the vertical edge of the opening in the front bodice, fold the fashion fabric and lining in and fell in place. 

Also not a bad idea to reinforce the bottom of that front-opening, now that I'm looking at it...

Overall, this is a great pattern, which is the  reason it is so tried and true out there. Now, as I have stated in previous posts, if you are part of a living history group, you may want to try and diversify what everyone is wearing. In that case, this would probably not be a great pattern to have people make variations off of. The back is just very distinctive, so without some very heavy alteration, it will always pretty much look like the same dress (though there is no reason you couldn't also add a long-sleeved variation).

If you are looking for alternative working garments for women, you may wish to consider a short gown and petticoat as well. If so, please see my previous entry here. 


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