Jessamyn's Regency Costume Companion: Florentine gown

The Kirtle.

Pattern Drafting

Although I didn't have my kirtle fabric decided, I got going on the garment anyway. I don't have a Renaissance corset to work from, but I do have an 18th-century one I made a few years ago from the Period Costume for Stage & Screen pattern that fits quite well. Although it's cut slightly differently than a 16th-century corset, and in more pieces, it has a similar effect on the body and, like the earlier one, lies flat on a table when unlaced because the pieces have no curved shaping. So I plopped it down on a big sheet of paper and traced around it.

I then knocked off the waist tabs and drew in a seam line that followed outer edge of the back strap - in other words, the back of the armhole ran straight down into a side-back seam. I also altered the neckline and pushed the straps out a bit farther. I was eyeballing these changes from the under-bodies in which Eleanora of Toledo was buried in 1562, as shown in Patterns of Fashion.

Mine is different in a few particulars: I didn't want the shoulder-strap seams of the under- and over-bodies, nor the side-back seams, to lie on top of each other, as I was afraid this would get bulky; so I moved the strap seam to the top of the shoulder and the side seams a little further out under the back of the arms. Also, the original fastens up the front with hooks and eyes, but I might want to use mine under the French gown, in which case it should have an unseamed skirt-front to show under the split overskirt. So I moved my opening to center back.

Those of you who've been following my 1880s diary will recognize this lovely curtain fabric. I do think this is the last of it! It does make excellent mockups, though, because it's quite stiff for its weight. I cut my new pattern pieces out, laid them on the curtain fabric, drew around them with chalk, and cut about an inch around that line. I then basted up the side-back seams and the straps, stuck a boning channel down the front to keep the bodice from buckling at the waist, and pulled it on. Yes, I'm so confident, or perhaps lazy would be a better word, that I didn't even sew lacing strips in - I just left extra fabric at the back and, since my shoulders are double-jointed, was able to pull it in at the top and bottom and determine that they were pulling in evenly and to a seam-line I'd put in as a reference.

I had to make an adjustment to the angle that the strap was taking from the front of the bodice, but that was not surprising since the 18th-century corset strap was simply tied to the front, so I'd had to completely guess about the angle.

After altering my pattern pieces, I used them to cut out the bodies in both a white silk twill lining material I had around, and a fairly heavy cotton duck. Above you can see what the pieces look like, complete with chalk lines. I basted the two layers together all around the chalk lines, and then started on the boning.

I bought a pack of 100 14" cable ties at Lowe's for about $7, and I wound up using almost all of them. I'm sure I could have only partially boned the bodies and gotten plenty of support, but I hate the puckering and pulling that you get in the unboned areas of heavily boned garments, and the cable ties were so flexible and comfortable and above all CHEAP, that it seemed better just to do the whole darned thing. I even boned the shoulder straps, in an effort to make sure they wouldn't fall off my shoulders.

I must say, I am now a complete cable-tie-boning convert. Those things are amazing. Rather a pain to trim and shape - my wrist was very stiff from wielding the scissors on 95 of those things, both ends - but well worth it. Above you can see a tie as it comes out of the package, and another one turned into boning: cut to length and with its ends rounded off. It is important not to leave sharp edges when you're cutting, as they'll tear right through thin fabric such as my silk.

At first I started laying the ties down inside my fabric sandwich and stitching next to them with the zipper foot, but after doing about ten of them I realized that while the cotton duck was behaving fine, the thin silk was being drawn up a bit over each tie, with the result that the silk layer was starting to pull at the basted-together sides. It wasn't bad enough to pull the stitching out, but after releasing the basting I switched to stitching the channels with a regular foot and then stuffing the bones in. This was more efficient anyway. If you click on the picture at left and look closely, you can see the difference between the centermost boning channels and the rest: on this, the duck side, the center channels are perfectly flat, whereas all the other channels are curving to accommodate half the depth of the boning.

At this point I basted the side and shoulder seams together, basted a pair of lacing strips into the back, and checked the bodies for fit. Pretty good! The following pics are silk-lining-side-out on the mannequin, interlining-side-out on me. The seam allowances on the interlining side make it looks strangely wide on me, but otherwise it fits me better than the mannequin, since I'm a bit more malleable!

At this point I was stuck, since I still needed to choose an outer fabric. However, my linen arrived, so I turned instead to working on my camicia.

January 28, 2004: Sanity Check
It seems that in every dress diary there is a moment at which the seamstress realizes she has lost her mind. For me, that moment is now.

As I stated in the opening page of this Florentine dress diary, I have not been finding the quantity of cream damask I would like, at a price I can afford, for this kirtle. Other materials just weren't doing it for me. I even googled myself into oblivion in an effort to discover a full version of the frescoed woman at left, since I was dying to know what color the underskirt was, only to discover it in this PDF - and it's creamy white. So I stared at the forepart in the Coello portrait (below right) awaiting inspiration, and I looked carefully through all the extant garments in the front of Patterns of Fashion, and at last, as I was going to bed, the Muse of Costuming banged me over the head with her bodkin.

Now, as I've noted before, applied decoration was extremely common in period, even applied decoration that imitated brocades or cutting techniques. And the more closely I look at the Coello portrait, the more certain I am that although it is a damask, it's a damask with the major design elements picked out in beading (click on the detail for a closeup). And I have a little over 4 - 1/3 yards of a very lovely 54" creamy-white silk-face satin (it's a little thin, but it has a crisp back rather than being drapey). So how does all this add up?

Obviously, the thing to do is to go ahead and make the kirtle up in my silk satin, and apply a damask design to it. This is where the lost-my-mind moment occurs: this was supposed to be the easy, get-it-done-by-March-without-sweating costume, and I've just made it waayyyyy more complicated.

However, I plead in my defense that, firstly, I'm not planning on beading all those elements, just appliqueing them; and secondly, that I can do the appliqueing in installments. Even if I don't get any pattern applied before March, at least I'll have a completed kirtle. And because only the bottom of the kirtle will show under my Italian gown, I can start with a border design around the bottom, and worry about the part that would show only under the French gown, which will have a split overskirt, later.

So, since I still liked this idea by the clear light of morning, I ordered two yards of pure silk velvet, white, from an eBay seller. Not the rayon-pile-on-silk-back velvet, but the real silk-pile-on-silk thing. I'm very curious to see and handle it in person! My plan is that since I'm looking for a subtle tone-on-tone effect, and since I saw several velvet garments in Patterns of Fashion with silk satin appliques, it makes sense for me to applique white velvet onto my white satin. I think I'll have to find some sort of soutache or braid to edge the velvet, so it doesn't fray. I suppose if I find the white-on-white to be too subtle, I can always do the edging in a soft gold or something.

Oh, and as you can see at right, I also tried my kirtle bodies on over my newly-finished camicia to make sure the camicia didn't add so much bulk that it didn't fit any more. Fortunately, it was all systems go.

Cutting the Silk

Since I only have 4-1/3 yards of 54" silk satin, I had to plan my cutting carefully. I've been thinking about this anyway since I have about the same amount of the silk damask for the gown. In some ways the gown will be much more complicated, since I have pattern-matching to worry about. But since I also want to wear this kirtle over a farthingale as part of a French costume, I had to be sure that there would be enough volume in the skirt.

Jean Hunnisett's pattern for a skirt of this period (in Period Costume for Stage & Screen) requires four widths of 36" or 40" fabric, plus a forepart. I decided that this meant that it was safe to take 160" as a minimum bottom circumference for the kirtle. However, I wanted to follow the Eleanora of Toledo cutting diagram from Patterns of Fashion, partly because it is more likely accurate for the period and partly because it was cleverly cut so that the gores left minimum waste. The two front side gores are simply one width of fabric split diagonally, and the side back gores are the off-cuts of the back pieces, turned upside down! There is an incredibly tiny amount of scrap left over.

As you can see in the diagram at right, Eleanora's skirt is made of four more-or-less 21" widths, plus two gores that taper from nothing at the top to 21" at the bottom, plus two more half-height gores that taper to 12" at bottom. (Please note that in my version I've eliminated the train.) Allowing for loss in the seams, this gives a hemline circumference of only about 144".

However, my fabric width is not 21", it's 54". So if I draw an imaginary line down the center of my fabric, creating 27" wide panels, and use the same cutting plan but spread out to this wider width, I wind up with a hemline circumference of more than 180". Plenty!

You've been seeing my 54" cutting diagram along the left. By using this layout, I was left with a perfectly adequate remainder from which to cut the bodice and perhaps future sleeves. This layout also avoided placing a seam down the center front of the skirt as Eleanora's does, which is great since I want the front unsullied to act as a forepart.

In the end, I've reached two conclusions that I hope will be helpful to others:

1) If you made your sleeves of a different fabric, you could cut what is probably a period-accurate 1560s English or French gown (for wear over a farthingale) from just 4 yards of 54" material.

2) You could cut a period-accurate 1560s Italian gown, with matching sleeves, from just 4-1/2 yards of 44" material.

Okay, the lecture series is over now. At left you can see my boned kirtle pieces, with their basted seams ripped and the lacing strips removed, laid out on the satin. I did this rather than go back to the pattern pieces because who knows how much the thing has changed from being boned. The nuts and washers are glued together, and make great sewing weights - a nifty Christmas present! I just placed the three pieces on the straight grain, as efficiently as possible, weighted them to keep them still, and cut around them.

I've always had a problem with fitted garments, and boned ones particularly, not really matching up right at the side seams when I attach the lining to the shell. Also, those side seams get really bulky. So I wanted to use the old method of making three completely finished pieces - one front and two side backs - and then whipstitch them together at the side and shoulder seams.

This was all well and good, but I quickly realized I couldn't sew around multiple sides of the pieces and then turn them, because the boning prevented the pieces from folding in on themselves. This meant that I could only machine-sew two sides, and then had to turn the pieces and sew the remaining sides by hand. For example, on the front piece I could either machine-sew the neckline and top of the shoulder straps, then turn it and handsew the armholes and sides, or I could machine-sew the armholes and sides, then turn it and handsew the neckline. (The bottom I could leave raw because it will be hidden in the skirt. I may finish it anyway, though, since that seems to be the period practice.)

I'm not that averse to handsewing, but there were two problems: getting the slippery silk shell and lining to play nicely with the heavy cotton interlining was a huge pain, and, more importantly, you have to clip the corners before you can fold them in and stitch them down, and meanwhile they start raveling.

Not to mention the fact that I initially chose the wrong seams to machine sew, realized it when I turned them, and had to turn them back, rip them, and start over. It all took ages. However, the result was very nice. Above right, you can see one of the backs finished and the other machine-sewn and turned, waiting to be hand-finished. The most important rule about this is, use the machine on the curves. They're virtually impossible to clip and turn under once the piece is right-side-out. Tucking and whipstitching is much more manageable on the straight runs!

Once I finally got the pieces nicely finished on all sides, it was relatively simple to whip the seams together. You can see the whipping in progress at left (as well as the whipstitching holding the lining in place). To stitch up the pieces, you put them right sides together and whip just the shell fabric together; if you've turned your lining under properly, the shell fabric should be sticking out just a hair past the lining. This is always good practice because it prevents the lining from showing, and in this case allows just the shell fabric to be whipstitched. Oh, and be sure to double your thread or use quilting thread, as these seams will be under strain!

What you wind up with for all this labor is an inside and outside that line up perfectly with no gapping, pulling, or shifting, plus exceptionally flat side- and shoulder-seams that have no bulk to them at all. Below you can see the finished side seams, and how flat it all is, although only handling it really makes that clear.

January 30, 2004: Lacing holes and layouts
I got my lacing holes done. It takes me 15 minutes per hole, so you can do the math yourself: 16 holes, ergo four hours' work. That's a lot of BBC America! In the past I've used straightforward whipstitching, but I thought I'd try the method of buttonholing (with the fancy part of the buttonhole stitch in a purely decorative position, not near the edge of the hole where it will just fray). It does make a nice, neat finish; I think I'll continue with it in future. There's a bit of puckering but I haven't pressed it yet. Satin is such a fussy fabric to work with!

Before I could mark my eyelets I had to decide whether this would be spiral-laced (requiring offset holes) or ladder-laced (requiring side-by-side holes). It doesn't matter for the Italian costume, since the overgown will lace up the side backs so this center-back lacing will be completely invisible. But since I plan to wear this under the French gown, too, and that will be ladder-laced up the center back (due largely to this ca.-1556 woodcut of a Frenchwoman), I decided it would make sense to have the lacing on this the same; I thought that ladder-lacing over spiral-lacing might produce weird lumpiness. Of course, I may find that ladder over ladder produces a lumpiness of its own, but oh well! I had to make some kind of decision. Ladder is more of a pain to tighten up, I find, but those neat horizontal rows of lace look nice up the back of a gown.

So that's the bodies pretty much done, and it's time to move onto the petticoat. However, before I could start putting the skirt together I needed some interlining. My silk satin is fairly thin, offering neither the body nor the opacity that I'd like; and my thin habotai for lining won't help much. I need an inner layer, preferably something fairly stiff but lightweight.

At first I was thinking I would need to find 54" material so that my seams would line up, but then I had a bang-my-forehead moment: since my skirt panels are 45" long, I can of course place them side-by-side on 45" fabric instead of stacked on 54" fabric. Below you can see my cutting diagram:

This meant that I only needed 3-3/4 yards of 45" fabric for the skirt. Of course, it's important to note that this cutting diagram only works on fabric that has no grain direction. My satin, for example, could be cut with the pieces laid pointing up or down the warp, but not along the weft (the width of the fabric). My interlining, however, is a really cheap, heavily sized cotton/poly mixture that is pretty much the same in the warp and weft directions (and won't be seen anyway!).

February 9, 2004: Putting the petticoat together reveals an important layout correction
Oops! I'm usually pretty good at geometry, but I made a very silly error in my satin layout which was fortunately highly correctable. The way I originally laid out my side-front gores, I wound up with two identical triangles - two right side-fronts and no left! Fortunately, my layout had left plenty of slush-space, so it was easy to cut the correct left gore without a problem. (See revised layout above.) My second, 45" layout for the interlining worked fine because the fabric was reversible, so I could just flop one of the right gores over and declare it to be a left. Good thing, since I didn't have any extra of that!

The lining cutouts were okay too - neither twill nor habotai has a "right" side. (I wound up cutting most of my petticoat lining from some 55" silk twill I had; it has a little more body than the habotai. I had enough for the front and back but had to piece in the side gores with habotai. Besides the fact that it's a lining and therefore hidden, you almost can't tell the difference because they're both "natural white" silk, i.e. unbleached and meant for dyeing.)

When I made my kirtle bodice I first united the lining and interlining, then added the satin last. The petticoat construction operated almost in reverse. Because the interlining of the skirt is there to make the satin look like it's heavier and has more body than it really does, the satin and interlining need to be treated as a single layer.

I carefully squared up the satin pieces as much as possible and smoothed them out on the floor. I'm not usually fussy about removing selvages, but I realized that the satin selvages were woven too tightly and were pulling at the fabric, keeping it from lying truly flat. So I carefully cut the selvages away - see before-and-after pics above. (The cut-away selvages resemble very tough woven tapes, so I set them aside; they look as if they'll be useful for something.)

I then laid out the skirt front, first the interlining and then the satin, right-side-up. I pinned them together at the sides and top to keep them from moving. Then I laid the side-front gores on top - first the satin, right sides together, and then the interlining. Again I carefully smoothed out the new layers and then pinned all four layers together at frequent intervals. I know this all seems very fussy, but satin is quite slippery and this material is not as dimensionally stable as I'd like - in other words, you can cut a perfect square of it but it'll rack out of square as soon as you breathe on it. And I hate those telltale "amateur sewer" seams with the little puckers that won't iron out. So it's very important to get the fabric as square as possible on the floor, and then nail it all together quite firmly before you try to pick it up and head for the machine.

I stitched the gores on, and I also stitched the satin to the interlining very close to the top.

Next I repeated the layout-and-smoothing technique on the back. I still had to cut the side gores from the back, and I decided it made sense to lay the back lining on top of the other two pieces and cut all three at once. I couldn't use the exact measurements from the Eleanora layout in Patterns of Fashion, since my back piece is wider, so I just fudged it. The starting point was obvious: exactly halfway up the side of the back. For the ending point at the top (waist) edge, I just added a couple of inches to the Eleanora measurement (about 11") to try to keep the proportions similar with my fabric width. I weighted the three fabrics to keep them from squirrelling around while I marked and cut, and then I pulled the lining fabric off the top and set it aside. Pin, place, smooth, pin again, stitch. Lay back on front and repeat on side seams. Then go back and stitch all the lining seams. Phew!

By the way, if I were smarter, I would have put the back slit in at this point and faced it. I waited until the skirt was attached, which made it much more difficult!

Before attaching the petticoat to the bodice, I decided I really needed to finish off the bottom of the bodice to be able to work with it properly. The extra inch of raw fabric at the waist was puckering and pulling whenever I tried it on my mannequin, and I couldn't snip it without the satin unraveling all over the place. Actually, finishing was a (relative) snap. I realized I needed to leave a little margin of fabric below the boning so I'd have something to sew the skirt to. I folded in the lining/interlining about 3/16ths below the boning line, and machine-stitched it in place. Then I pressed the raw edge of the satin under about 1/4", then folded it to the inside, over my topstitching, and whipstitched it down, pulling slightly to keep it smooth on the outside. It came out very nicely, and was now much easier to handle.

Good thing, too, as I then started on attaching the petticoat to the bodice. Argh! This took much longer than I expected. Slippery, racking fabric and a bodice point make a bad combination. Twice I put the bodice on the mannequin, pulled the skirt over it, pinned the pleats to fit, marked reference points (including the shape of the bodice point) onto the skirt, took it all off the mannequin, flipped the skirt upside down, and tried to match it up to the bodice. Nothing doing. There was just too much play in the material, and while on the mannequin the bodice was being stretched and gravity was pulling on the skirt, in my lap the dimensions were totally different.

Finally I decided the only way this was going to work was to pin the skirt directly to the mannequin, then pull the bodice down over it, handsew it into place with big tacking stitches (click on photo at right), take it off, flip it inside-out with the bodice folded down over the skirt, trim the triangle shape off the top of the center front of the skirt so it would lie flat in this inverted position, and stitch through my little margin at the bottom of the bodice. This, I am happy to report, did the trick. I left the last pleats out at the center back because I hadn't done the slit yet; I did this next, then folded in the remaining fabric and finished stitching. It's probably not period, but I left just a bit of the slit facing sticking past one edge of the bodice opening so that when the bodice is pulled shut, there's a wee bit of overlap on the skirt slit.

I tried it on and you know, I'm pretty happy with it. I think the petticoat shape is really attractive, and the pleats are quite handsome. I also like the fullness at the back. (Sorry for the crummy picture quality.) Thumbs up for the Eleanora petticoat pattern!

Oh, before I tried it on I pinned a line from center front to center back that represented a just-off-the-floor line when the kirtle was on the mannequin. The hem was pretty much even in the front and back, since I'd been careful to keep the fabric grain level when I pinned it to the mannequin's waist, but the side gores were much too long, especially where they met. I'd known that they would need to be rounded off, but felt it was best to leave that until I could do the shaping in situ. So anyway, after pinning what looked to be the right line, I checked it on myself and decided it was good to go. I trimmed the extra off and used it as a template to trim off the other side and also the sides of the lining (remember the lining? It's been draped over the ironing board, waiting its turn.)

Next I put the kirtle back on the mannequin (okay, why did I want to do a gored petticoat? yeesh!) so I could carefully align the satin and the interlining with gravity's help, and pin them together. I took the kirtle back off, inverted the lining right-sides-together around the skirt, pinned, and sewed satin, interlining, and lining together at the hemline. Then I flipped the satin/interlining layer inside the lining (in other words, the kirtle was now inside-out) and pressed the new seam with the satin lapping just a bit to the inside, so the lining would not show at all from the outside.

And then, dear reader, I ran out of steam. The originals seem mostly to have had some sort of stiffener in the hem, especially if, like mine, they were not to be worn with a farthingale. I don't have any wool felt nor light buckram lying around, so I need to contemplate the possibilities. I have some heavily starched needlepoint canvas, which is reasonably lightweight and light-colored, but I'm a bit worried it might be too stiff. However, with my newly bagged-out lining I can just slip a band of stiffener into place for test purposes. Tomorrow. Maybe.

February 22, 2004: Fully Lined

Well, I pinned some needlepoint canvas into place and put it all together on the mannequin, and I really liked the result. But when I went back to put it in properly, I realized that the starch in the canvas was inadequate - in just a couple of days it had started forming into the waves the petticoat wanted to settle into. So that was no good. Nothing else I had on hand seemed to be giving a good effect, and I just really wanted to get something finished (my deadline is coming up quickly now, after all) - so I went ahead and finished the lining. If I'm not happy with the fullness of the skirt after wearing the whole outfit together, I can always run a band of something - I'm thinking maybe horsehair braid - on top of the lining, and cover it with a band of lining fabric or even velvet. Did they put guards on the inside of skirt hems in the 16th century, as they did in the 19th? It seems sensible, but I don't know.

To finish the lining, I put the kirtle on the mannequin inside-out and carefully smoothed the lining upward till I got to just below the waist, and then pinned it in place (see left). I put the pleats in roughly where they were on the outside, but I wasn't religious about it. I folded the raw edge under and began sewing it on in place, starting at center front (see below), but by the time I got around to the side front the angle was too steep to get my needle through without just running it into the mannequin, so I very carefully pinned the heck out of it, took the kirtle off the mannequin, and finished the job while sitting on the couch. More comfortable, anyway...

So yay! It's wearable! Of course I still want to applique velvet on, but at least it's now a complete garment.

March 8, 2004: Lessons from the Dress Rehearsal

As I mentioned in my gown update, I had a dress rehearsal on Saturday that was very instructive about what does and doesn't work with this outfit.

First of all, I have to say that I would never make a skirt out of white satin again. Even just in the process of pulling it on and off the mannequin I was starting to get marks and picks on the satin, and now I've found that it gets hopelessly grubby from touching the ground when I walk. Also, the satin frays rapidly at the hem. And I'm not a person who beats up her clothes, usually.

I decided it was too long to dance in without tripping myself up, so I'm hopeful that taking it up about an inch and a half will help with the dirt and fraying problems. But I also think it desperately needs a guard. I guess I'll make a fairly narrow one out of the white velvet, and wrap it around to the inside so the satin doesn't fray.

Another discovery was that I have too much boning in the shoulder straps. They stayed up beautifully, but they also bit into the crease where my arm meets my torso when I reached forward to drive - ouch! It's still tender today! I obviously need to take out the bone closest to the armscye at least, and possibly the next one as well.

On the plus side, I looked good, and the bodice didn't shift around at all. The coverciere stayed tucked in where it was put, too. Having all the skirts hanging from the bodies rather than a waistband was very comfortable, and made their weight negligible. The smock was extremely comfortable and stayed where it was put, too.

March 14, 2004: Aargh! White Satin!

Although I did take the skirt up, turning the previously damaged and dirtied part under and presenting a nice, clean, unsullied edge, I was only able to keep it nice at Saturday's first venue, a carpeted mini-auditorium. The second venue turned out to be a big, gymnasium-like building with absolutely filthy linoleum floors, and despite spending only about an hour and a half there, when I got home I had a disgusting ombre effect of dirt up several inches of skirt hem.

So it's official: There is absolutely no way for me to wear this thing out of the house and keep the white satin pristine, or even in any kind of state you'd want to see. I give up! I have a yard and a half of a very pretty golden-tan damask, 54" wide, and I hope it will be enough to put a deep border around the bottom of the kirtle - deep enough that the white won't show when I lift the gown skirt. Not only will the golden-tan coordinate with the gold in my gown damask, but it really won't show dirt. (I had a car that color once, and it was incredible how much dirt it could hide!)

Regarding the necessary depth of the border: I find that when I'm dancing I lift both skirts together in order to free my feet, although the overskirt always comes up a few inches higher than the underskirt. But I would also like to be able to lift the overskirt in a purely decorative manner, as shown in the portraits and woodcuts. I'll just have to see how much I can eke out of my material.

Of course, this plan means that I won't be applying velvet all over the underskirt. I still plan to use that technique for the French gown, but I will have to make a separate foreskirt and attach it to the kirtle rather than relying on the kirtle as is. Oh, well!

By the way, I did cut down the outermost bone in each front kirtle strap before the performances, and it did the trick perfectly. I forgot to even think about it, which is a testament to how thoroughly that fixed the problem of it digging into my flesh. Lesson: Bones do help straps stay up, but one or two alongside the neckline is plenty.

March 28, 2004: Guarding the Kirtle.

I've been working on the new, dust-colored kirtle guards. I had a yard and a half of 55" damask, or in other words about 55" square. To make it around the kirtle hem, I had to cut in into thirds. The repeat is so large I couldn't possibly match it, but it's tone-on-tone and pretty busy, so I don't think it will matter - especially since most of it will only be seen for brief moments when the gown is lifted. Besides, wacky piecing is period, right?

I'm doing the whole thing by hand, not in a benighted attempt to be period but just because it was the only way to work with what I had and not have it look terrible! Since I'm not about to take the skirt apart, and the skirt's hem is quite curvy on the sides due to the bias gores, and I didn't want to perform the quantum math required actually to cut my damask in the correctly shaped pieces to match the skirt perfectly - not to mention that that would have resulted in a much shallower guard, since there would have been a great deal of waste in the curved cuts...that left lots of pinning and tucking as the only way to get the thing on smoothly.

Basically, I seamed my three strips together and pinned them to the outside of the hem, starting at center front, following the curve around, and leaving a couple of inches hanging below. Then I went around again and turned that extra to the inside, folded it under, and whipstitched it down (see right). Then I smoothed the fabric out on the right side, tucked the top under, and pinned, folding the excess into big darts where the bias gores produced extra fabric at the top. I'm in the middle of stitching the top down now.

It's looking better than I expected, really. (Click on the pics below for larger images.) I suppose a benefit of doing this is that it's adding that extra bit of stiffening to the hem that I was thinking I might need. I didn't suspect I'd be putting it on the outside, though!

April 11, 2004: Gee, It's Done!

I finished stitching the guard on a week ago, but I didn't have time to take pictures and update this page. It took a while to sink in: Hey, it's done!

Here's a closeup of some of the darts I had to put in the guard to make it fit the curved hem of the gored skirt. I tried to line them up with balanced points in the design, and I think they look reasonable. Somehow, they look more subtle in person.

So, below are the final pictures. I don't know if these will look much different from the ones above, where I'd just started the sewing and it was still mostly pinned, but in person it looks amazingly better stitched than pinned. Please excuse the rumpling on the front of the skirt - I had it folded up for a week and figured if I waited to press it before taking pictures, it would be another week before I got this posted!

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Copyright 2004 by David and Jessamyn Reeves-Brown. All rights reserved.