Friday, December 31, 2010


I love finding new blogs to explore. I thought I'd share a few of those I follow with you. It's nice to have some new directions to follow when you have some time to look at them. One blog leads to another and so on, but you already know that! Enjoy!

Fashion is My Muse
Commentary on the intersection of fashion, art, books, history and life. I enjoy reading about this unique look at what is happening in the world of fashion, history and books. There is always something to explore on this blog.

American Duchess
A fan of 18th century costume writes this site, which also has an Etsy store. Many useful link share, too.

The Orchard House Wardrobe
This costumer has some fabulous projects to share!

Maggie Grey
Is an English textile artist that I just find so inspiring. You may know I also create textile art and art dolls, so that's why I like Maggie.
You can see my other sites on Etsy, my other blog and site.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Trains and ruffles

I love sitting down at my sewing machine, joining sections of fabric together. Stitch, stitch, the hum of the machine and pop! See how they come out, all joined together. I had to design someway to support a detachable train for the gown. It was decided a removable train was more practical than attaching it, as the original Mrs Abbott gown was done.

I shaped a yoke to match the back of the bodice. It was interfaced and lined to stiffen it and support the pleating. I hand sewed the gauged train to it. It worked! I shall use either whopper poppers (snaps) or a belt to secure it. It may need both, depending on the weight. I avoid Velcro whenever I can, since it can do so much damage when the rough side is left exposed in storage.

Assembling a modern gown using period techniques is a challenge, but it’s such a thrill to see it turn out right. Like the orginal, I have installed an organza and lace dust ruffle under the train. It will peek out as the bride walks down the aisle.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Friday, December 10, 2010

Washing day

The costume for Argenteuil has been on hold for a while, pending approval and vintage lace preparation. The Brussels lace is now washed. I soaked it in oxy wash and rinsed it well, laying it out in the sun to dry. I was told not to iron it, but to block it out with pins. I laid it out on a thick white towel. It came up very nicely, definitely whiter. The rust spots remained, however.

The next sunny day, I repeated the process, this time dripping lemon juice on the damp lace where the rust spots were. Then I sprinkled salt on the stains. I have used this successfully in the past. It did remove many of the spots, but not all. I'm not sure on my next move, but the lace is much brighter. I may decide to leave it as is. Given its age, this is the prudent thing to do.

I gave it one more rinse and carefully blocked it out once more. With careful placement, I'd say I'm ready to use the lace. I need to get some fine tulle to place under the sleeve lace.

The ladies from Argenteuil came by this week to see the costume and were well pleased with what they saw. We made some decisions as to final construction, according to their requirements.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Friday, December 3, 2010

Victorian Wedding?

I am currently having a new design created for my web site To this end, I have been looking at various sites and looking for some inspiring images. I found this one, which is a lovely image of a bridal party. In one site, it was labelled "Victorian Wedding."

Now, I may not be the world's foremost expert at costume dating, but this is surely an Edwardian style. Such inaccuracy bother s me. Does no-one care to be accurate? There are no bustles or crinolines here. The lady on the left is clearly wearing an Edwardian hat and dress. Think "Upstairs, Downstairs" here.

Enough of my rant. The new site will be up soon, divided into historic and Bridal. Some of my bridal gowns are historic, so I must decide whether to place them in one gallery or both.

Here's an image of a corset-style bodice I created a while back. It's based on a Victorian corset shape, which I adapted with straps to cover the breasts. I styled it with nylon boning and lacing at the back. It really cinches in the waist.
I had a client bring me a suit she wanted to wear. I was to make a bustier to go with it. The suit was a little tight in the waist, until I laced her into this style of bodice! She looked gorgeous and I didn't alter the suit at all!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Friday, November 19, 2010

Before and after

I have washed the antique lace I bought for the 1885 costume. In the pictures you can see the lace from the dress, untouched, and the washed lace beside it. I was amazed at the difference! The washed lace is now ready to be used on the bridal repro gown. I also have found some hand made buttons, but have yet to see them for myself. Stay tuned for that.

The picture also shows the decorations from the original dress. I took these to show my friend at the museum. the original dress will be de-accessioned, because of its condition. My friend, being a textile conservator, takes a different view of these things than I do. She would never dream of cleaning the lace as I did, but would give it a museum preservation-type treatment. Not that what I did was wrong, but just a different approach.

We could have a long discussion on this, comment if you want to and I'll be happy to discuss it. What I came away with was a great idea for the museum repro gown. I will use the original lace and medallions as they are and dye the silk to match. This will give the feel of the original costume and showcase the lace in the best way. Otherwise, the spanking new white silk with old lace on it will lose its meaning for the viewers at the museum.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Photo by edwina Sutherland

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Friday, October 29, 2010

Brussels lace

It's time now to think about the lace. Last week in Ottawa the Fabric Flea market was held. If I can get out of there without buying something, I am lucky. It's a great place to find my sewing and fiber friends. I went to see Margaret Ruhland, a lace collector and expert.

The lace on the dress is rather gray, so I was thinking I wouldn't be able to use it. However, after talking to Margaret, I have changed my mind. There is a debate in costuming circles about using old lace again, taking it off the original dress. One school of thought says that it should be left with the dress. The other camp says since the dress is in such bad shape, the silk being in shreds in many places, why not save the lace? I was in the first camp, but now, after talking to some colleagues I met at the sale, I have changed my mind. After all, the dress will be de-accessioned from the collection because of its condition. The lace, the unique medallions and buttons are in good condition.

Using them solves another problem: finding duplicates of these. If I use the originals, one search is over. I still have to find lace and buttons for the bridal reproduction. using the original lace on the museum copy will tie it to the original dress rather nicely. The other issue I was struggling with was that new laces are so stiff compared to the 1885 lace.

In the box with the original dress is a section of lace that is loose. it may have been used to fill in the neckline, as it has a hook on one tapered end. I took this to show Margaret. She identified it as Brussels lace, with needle lace additions. I am no specialist with lace, so this was news indeed! The lace is also made with linen thread. It is very fine. In the picture, you may observe the lace has been joined down the middle.

Margaret had brought along another piece of Brussels lace, also from the 1880's. It was pretty close in width and style. Naturally, I bought it. Margaret told me to soak it in Oxy Clean and set it out in the sun to dry. this I have done and it is whiter now. The lace has a few brownish spots which may be rust, so I will have a go at these with lemon juice and salt on the next sunny day. Not so many of those lately!

Another costume expert I know pointed out that this much hand made lace on a gown must have cost a pretty penny. I came away from the sale with much to ponder and do. If I get the rust spots out, I will use this on the bridal gown.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Double piping for Mrs Abbott

The costume is now cut in silk. I love making piping and this gown has double piping. I had to think through the application, as one layer is both piping and facing. The back has a very deep point, which is rounded slightly at the tip, to enable the piping to be turned to the wrong side with less bulk.

I'm very pleased with how it turned out. The bodice is now boned, the skirt is hemmed. I have re-cut the sleeves, to lower the sleeve heads.

I bought some lace from a collector. It's a Brussels lace from 1885, made with linen thread. She identified the lace on the original dress also as Brussels, with needle lace embellishing. It is exquisite, but rather gray. I am considering using the original lace, if it cleans up well.

I was told to soak it in Oxy Wash and then set it out to dry in the sun. I shall block it out with pins, rather than iron it. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

History in the making

Back to my journal on the dress from the Musee Argenteuil.

I am now working on the pattern for the modern reproduction of Mrs Abbott's dress. This one will fit a person with a 36" bust. Here you can see the bodice cut out in cotton sateen and pinned together. This will become the underlining of the bodice.

There are certain considerations to be made when adapting an 1885 dress to the modern figure. Firstly, the modern bride will probably not be wearing a corset, so the high bust line of the original must be brought down about 1". The darts will need to be shaped right to the bust point, unlike a modern dart, which ends about 1" away from the bust point. This will help give the illusion of the corset underneath and keep the period silhouette.

Secondly, the waistline of the original bodice cuts quite high at the sides. Again, fine if you are wearing a corset, but the bodice will rise above the skirt waistband on the un-corseted figure. Therefore, I made the decision to lower the waist at the sides somewhat. I had to keep the sharp points at front and back waist.

The three quarter sleeves may need further length adjustments, depending on what lace I find. I hope the wearer of this likes the sleeve gathers, which will be mostly at the back of the armhole, again, for accuracy to the era. the width of the lace will also determine if I will lower the neckline further. The original dress has a drawstring at the neckline. I like this touch, as it allows the bride to keep the neckline close to the chest if she wants.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Silk jersey wedding dress

This beautiful dress was created with a Vogue pattern. My client was going to make it herself, with her mother's help. the silk jersey, however, proved too tricky for them to work with, so they brought it to me.
Silk jersey needs careful handling. My table is covered with cotton fabric, so the silk sticks to it, which makes layout easier. It is very slippery! Then the pins need to be sharp, so you don't get any snags. I cut it out with a rotary cutter, after inserting a new blade. Silk is my favourite fabric, but it sure does blunt a blade! By the time I had done the cutting, the blade was dull. Who'd have thought?
Lots of pins helped with the sewing, plus a fine size 10 needle. new, of course. The first fitting showed the draping wasn't working well. The weight of the jersey had it falling to one side, so I shifted the gathers toward the center, which helped. I used a serged roll hem on the skirt, as I didn't want to add too much weight. The dress is surprisingly heavy.
Meghaan was pleased with her dress and gave me some of her beautiful jewellery as a gift. Please check out her web site and her etsy store:
and Little Studio on Etsy.
You can subscribe to this blog by filling in the form at the top right of the page. This way, you'll get updated entries whenever I make them.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Crystal's dream wedding

The big day arrived August 28! The happy couple looked wonderful. I went early with my daughter, to help the bride get dressed. We also helped the bridesmaids lace up their dresses and I fixed Mum's dress, too! Good job I brought my needle and thread. I was so honoured to be part of the big day.

The wedding was outdoors and the weather was perfect. Family and friends gathered by the pond to witness the ceremony and then wandered along to the marquee for the reception. We were entertained by Nancy's brother Jumping Jimmy Leroux, who was great. His siblings helped out on backing vocals! What a great day!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Upcycling comes to the studio!

Once in a while, I get to sew something for myself. I have been dying to try this and when a small window of opportunity arose, I took it!

I bought the t-shirts a few weeks ago, took them home and washed them, so they'd be ready. I didn't want to risk shrinkage after the fact. I began by putting the blue shirt on my dress form. I have pretty good pattern making skills, if I do say so myself, but this time I threw caution to the wind and winged it. I draped the whole thing on the mannequin.

Starting with the neckline, I chalked on the new line and began making darts to shape the bust. I used a tape to delineate the bust line and chalked that on. Then I trued up the top on the cutting table and cut away the rest.

Back on the form and I pinned the red in place, adding darts again. I tired it on, decided to reshape the hips a little, but keep it loose in the body.

Then it was off to the sewing machine, to stitch the darts, then serge the edges. another fitting and I decided to add another strip to the hem, to balance the design and add some length. The red band at the front tied it all together. I've worn it twice now and got compliments each time. That makes it a hit, in my books!!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Wedding belles!

My latest dress is for the oldest daughter of our oldest friends. She always said I would make her dress someday and the day is here. What a privilege that is. The wedding is in August.

I am at the design stage. The dress will be white stain. I had fun playing with light blue taffeta to get the full skirt.

I had played around with the idea of the fullness being gathered in by twists of fabric to form roses. That put a lot of fullness in the skirt. It was modified to reduce some of that and keep the fullness at the hem, with less at the waist.
The neat thing for me is that the skirt is one piece of fabric! 4 metres, straight round, well, with a little drape here and there...

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Making history

Another very interesting project has come to the studio. I thought you might enjoy following along with it as it develops.

I will be creating two reproductions of this dress. One is for the Musee Argenteuil in Quebec. It will be a faithful repro of the original. The second will be made to sell as a wedding gown, so will be modern in its fit and interpretation. It will be a challenging project, but one I am looking forward to . I have a year to complete it and I will need it!

All I have so far on the original is that Alice Elizabeth Abbott married Richard Susan Heneker, in January 1885. So the dress dates from that time. I have the dress stored in its acid free box at my studio. It is in very poor condition, with the silk shredded where it has been folded. I took it out to take photos and measure it, so that I should not have to disturb it again. Here are the first few pictures. I have some that show the skirt was lengthened, so perhaps it was worn by someone alse at a later date.

The first challenge is to find the fabric. 100% silk brocade is not so simple to find, as many brocades use rayon to create the designs. I want pure silk. I am a bit of a purist when it comes to my repros having natural fibres. Silk taffeta and sateen, used in the linings, is easy to find. Brocade, not so much.

This shot shows the front. It wouldn't fit the mannequin, being only 32" in the bust and 21" in the waist! Methinks Miss Abbott must have been about 15 when she married. Still doing research on that. She would have worn a corset, naturally!

Lace frames the U shaped neckline and sleeves.

The side view shows the train, which is attached to the bodice back. You can see the separate skirt at the front.

The back view, showing the classic shaping of the back
bodice seams.

The detail at the back waist is what makes this dress original. The large buttons are made in braid and in fabulous condition. We will probably remove these and re-use them on the repro for the museum. The edge of the bodice has double rows of fine corded piping and very long sharp points at center front and back.

So stay tuned, I'll keep taking photos as it grows. Now to find the fabric and make my tiny pattern...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Mother of the bride

Remember the Victorian silk gown? Well, here's the mother of the bride, ready for the wedding, which was last weekend.
She is wearing a silk charmeuse dress, with gold lace over lay The draped skirt has her looking very sophisticated. If you look to one side, you'll see the back view reflected in the mirror.
The lace came from C & M Textiles.
Recently, I have been away from the studio, teaching fitting skills. The first was a pants fitting class, followed by a jacket fitting class. I do enjoy helping home sewers get better results from their dressmaking.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Photo shoot with Alice

On Sunday I went out with Ruth Mills and our model, "Alice," to take some photos of her in the 1850 costume.
This was created for Watson's Mills. Alice will be part of their summer porgramme, telling the story of the mill and the family that lived there and helped in the founding of Manotick.

It was a sunny windy day, perfect light for photos and we found this old tree and even a rabbit hole to shoot nearby! Alice knew her part and posed while we snapped away. Ruth created the hat for the costume, which completes the ensemble perfectly.

I found it amusing how naked our model felt, with her skirts so far from her legs! She had to put her shorts on to increase her sense of security! The hoop was responsible for that. The costume may get bloomers at some later date. It's all a matter of budget.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Repro woman!

Here's an 1885 historic costume that I created for Watson's Mill, in Manotick The outfit is complete, with a cage bustle. For ease of use, I made an under bodice, rather than the more complex insert used in 1885. It would have been attached at one side and hooked in on the other, inside the bodice. Quite the operation! By doing it this way, the outfit is easily worn and cared for .

The skirt is pleated and draped over an under skirt foundation.

It's a challenge to find the right fabrics for a reproduction costume and stay within your budget. I used a cotton/poly sateen for the bodice and a cotton woven stripe for the skirt. Dark red braid imitated the passementerie the original would have had on the collar.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Weavers guild talk

There's nothing I enjoy more than sharing the costumes that I make with people. On this evening, we dressed up a few volunteers in costumes. This 1890 outfit is complete with corset, bustle, petticoat and even a corset cover. The skirt and bodice are silk in a paisley design. This was one of those fabrics I just happened to find. It was so ugly, the store hadn't sold an inch of it! However, it was perfect for 1890! They must have been in a time warp when they bought it! It has at least 9 colours in the print.

This 1812 outfit looks lovely. Just ignore her black t-shirt in the neckline!
And there I am, in a very modern sweater and leggings! I like to dress in complete contrast to what I am discussing on these occasions. I like the juxtaposition.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Alice in Wonderland

It's not really Alice, but it certainly is what a child would have worn in 1850. Lewis Carroll wrote the story in 1865. So, let's imagine Alice wearing her best visiting dress, to go to tea and perhaps sit under that tree to read her book...You know what happens next.

This costume was made for Watson's Mill, for their Summer programming.

It has a short crinoline, typical of what a child would have worn. I used Rigilene for the boning, since it's easy to stitch right into the shaped cotton skirt.

The outfit is made in cotton, lined in cotton. No boning in this one! The original costume had swags of fringe on the skirt and bodice, but I felt it would look too upholstered to offer that now. You have to think how things will look to a modern eye. It would see fringe and think pillow or couch! So, I used eyelet and swagged the lace on the skirt, as the original was done. Black buttons complete the bodice.

I didn't make a pinafore for the outfit, as it smacks of Disney, even though girls often wore pinafores to keep their clothes clean.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Bride Revealed!

Now the 1850's gown is finished!
The bride came to try it on for a photo shoot, which was a lot of fun.The outfit is complete: chemise, corset, hoop, petticoat, gown and detachable train.
We went downstairs from my studio to my husband's office. More space for such a gown and better shots by the fireplace.
Since you saw it last, the bodice was made, with pleated sleeve caps, pearl buttons at center back and train. Initially, it was to be lined with coloured silk, but we kept it white and were pleased with the look.
It's so rewarding to work with a client like this, who is very involved in the look she is creating. It made my part all the more fun.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Ice Blue for a winter wedding

Every dressmaker loves silk because of the natural beauty of the fabric. It may fray, but that can be taken care of with our little tricks!
This silk gown is perfect for a February wedding. It has an Empire waist and flares out into an A line skirt with a small train just sweeping the floor. The neckline is a classic sweetheart shape and the fitted sleeves have a split cuff.
This lucky bride has her friends madly beading the bodice for her, so more pictures to come!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Corsets and silk

So this is what I am currently working on. The bride wants an authentic 1850's outfit, which is right up my alley, especially as I am also making an 1850 child's costume. I'm in the zone! More on that another time. The dress was designed by the bride's friend.

This was our first major fitting. The bodice is just in the toile stage, which is why you can see the corset underneath. The bride is also wearing a hoop, which has hoop steel for the bottom three layers. I used the hoop formula from Jean Hunnisett's book. Then there is a ruffled petticoat and finally the dress, which is duppioni silk.

The profile pictures show the extent of the skirt, which has a small train. A larger detachable train will finish the outfit beautifully. This is filling up my little studio!

It is such fun to create such a vision. Next time you see it, the bodice will be silk, with piping. It's already assembled, I just haven't photographed it yet. I'm waiting for my model to come again!