Counting down

It’s only a week until the Jane Austen Festival Australia starts. I’ve been flat out with another project for the past few months and only squeezing in JAFA sewing for a few hours here and there, but I’ve (mostly) cleared this next week to sew. Five days, really, since I fly to Canberra on Wednesday. Of course I already have a number of outfits that I’ve made for last year and 2015, but would like to have some new things, too, and to expand my skills.

Lauren came up a couple of weeks ago and we did achieve some things – both on our respective PhDs, and in planning and sewing. A big thing for me was starting a couple of buckram and wire-based hats – I’ve not made one before so it’s all new. I bought three Lyn McMasters patterns and so we worked using those. And watched Sense and Sensibility while stitching!

Lauren and I bonnet making

Some of the plans I made in December have shifted and changed. So here’s an update of where I’m at – I’ll post more detailed posts on each project when they’re finished.

Morning Robe

A morning outfit for Breakfast with the Bennetts on Sunday morning.

1816 Fashion plate - Morning dress

Ackermann, Morning Dress, May 1816

I’ve made the robe, and it’s all finished except for the sleeve frills, and the sewing on the metres and metres of frill – which I have started.

Morning Robe in progress  Morning robe frill detail

I have a bodiced petticoat cut out, which I may wear under the robe, with a chemisette. Or, I could wear the first muslin dress I made, back in 2015, which has frills edging a v-neck. I’ll have to check how well it goes under the robe.

I have hopes of making the cornet, too – how delightfully over the top it is!


Red polka-dot dress

This dress wasn’t in my original plan, but I bought the book for the DAR Agreeable Tyrant Exhibition, and fell in love with the dress. 

Polka dot dress 1810-1815 Polka-dot dress 1810-1815

Spotlight happened to have a suitable red-spotted muslin, so the dress is now underway. I’m not trying to make it an exact copy – the extant dress has been altered a least once, anyway – but my version anti anxiety will be inspired by it. I have the bodice sewn up, the frill ready to be applied, the sleeves cut out, and I’ll be cutting out the skirt today. My existing chemisette should work under it, and I have coral beads to make the necklace.

I also have fabric for a red twill spencer to go with it, and a half-made bonnet in crimson satin that needs finishing. I’m not sure whether I’ll wear this dress for the Saturday, where I can wear it all day, or for the Sunday promenade – but Sunday has three outifts (morning dress, promenade, and Waverley Ball) so I wouldn’t get to wear it as long – I’ll decide when I see how it looks on me!

Pink Overgown

1798 fashion plate

I’m planning to make the pink overgown on the left, to wear on the Friday (Georgian) evening over my muslin dress. I have some satin in a salmony pink, and Lauren helped me to work out how to drape the pattern while she was here. Now I just have to make it – but as it doesn’t involve layers of frills or much decoration, it shouldn’t take too lone – I hope!

Blue Opera Dress

Blue opera dress from Ackermann, 1817

This is the big project, and yes, I have made a start. I haven’t cut out the dress (that’s on today’s list of tasks!) but I’ve starting making the flowers and have made good progress on the hat – I just have to add the side piece, do the lining, bind the edges, and add All The Decorations.

Blue satin opera hat in progress

I have the blue satin fabric and after much hunting in town and online I found a suitable lace for the frill. Ideally, I’d like to make a satin slip to wear under it, but if I run out of time I’ll wear one of my cotton petticoats.

There are a couple of other things I’d like to make, but time is pretty tight, and I’ll be doing well to get these all done. Just as well there is a fine tradition of last-minute stitching at JAFA . . .


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JAFA 2017 Planning

With the Jane Austen Festival Australia now less than four months away, it’s time for some serious planning!

Dresses from previous years I can wear again:

Newly made since JAFA 2016:

I can get by with what I have, but of course I’d like some new outfits! As I learn more about the fashion of the period and how to make it for me, I’d like to extend my skills – and use up some of the fabrics that I have accumulated!

I have a number of projects in mind, most based on either extant costumes, or fashion plates.

Blue opera dress from Ackermann, 1817

An Opera Dress, from Ackermann’s Repository for March 1817. The bodice may be a challenge, although I think I’ve worked out how to do it. All those flowers and greenery may be a challenge, too – I may tone that down a bit as I am a short person and I don’t want to overload it. The hat . . .  I have no idea yet how to do that!

Blue redingote from Costume Parisen 1817

A gorgeous blue redingote from Costume Parisien for 1817. The plate describes it as being merino – i.e., fine woollen cloth – but I do have a fine-wale corduroy of a similar shade of blue, so I plan to use that. The hat is glorious, but my hat-making skills are currently pre-novice (I’ve never made one!), and yellow is definitely not my colour. So, much though I love the look of the yellow with the blue, if I attempt that hat, I will have to come up with a non-yellow contrasting colour.

Teal gren block print gown from Museum of London

I’ve loved this dress from the Museum of London ever since I first saw the image on Pinterest. I’ve now tracked down the museum record , which includes a slightly more detailed photo of the bodice front. It’s an apron-front dress – the bodice front buttons at the shoulder. I’ve emailed the museum asking if they have higher resolution photographs or more construction information. I’ve also just ordered a block-print cotton voile from ebay which, although not an exact match, is similar in colour and style:

Block print cotton form ebay

I’d also like to make an outfit for the Sunday Breakfast with the Bennetts, which I can easily change a layer or so to wear for the picnic and promenade. But I am so far undecided. There are some possible inspiration plates, from 1815 and 1817:

Fashion plate from Ackermann's Repository October 1815

I love the jacket of this one (Ackermann 1815)  but the frills at neck and on the cap do seem to be channelling our dear Mrs Bennett! (I see myself more as Mrs Gardiner, the sensible aunt . . .)

Ackermann Promenade dress August 1815

This Promenade dress from 1815 has been on my list since the first JAFA I attended. I have some blue and white striped cotton. I have a ruff, partly made . . .

Walking Dress August 1817

I rather like this Walking Dress from Ackermann August 1817 – perhaps I could use it as a base with an long jacket over the top for breakfast, and then drape the scarf for the promenade if it’s not too cold. Or wear the redingote over it if the weather is chilly – April in Canberra can be unpredictable.

I also have several lovely saris just begging to be made into evening dresses . . . but with a PhD to finish during these next four months as well, I’m not sure how much I’ll get done! there’s always 2018 . . .!

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HSM10 – Heroes: Linen Apron

The Historical Sew Monthly Challenge for October is to make a garment inspired by our historical hero, or our historical costuming hero.

I have so, so many heroes in historical costuming; from the very first Janet Arnold book I bought in the 1980s, through hundreds of costume curators and costume makers who share their knowledge so willingly, through to  Leimomi the Dreamstress herself, who through the HSF/M and her thoughtful and well-researched blog posts inspires and challenges so many of us.

I also have historical heroes, although my interest in history focuses on the everyday and the ‘ordinary’ more so than the rich and famous.

My plain linen apron is a working garment inspired by the millions of ordinary women  in history who worked day in, day out, in household work, family care, agricultural work, textiles work, and factory work.

It’s also inspired, in part, by Leimomi’s Fortnight in 1916; which challenged me to think more about a deeper engagement with costume and how I might explore that further. I’m not planning to do a week in 1916, or in 1816/17, anytime soon. Even next year’s Jane Austen Festival Australia, wonderful though it will be, won’t be a weekend weight loss entirely in 1817, although I expect to help out in the kitchen for some meals. I wanted to make an apron (or two) for that – and as I can be a klutz at times, I wanted it to cover a decent amount of the front of my dresses.

White linen Regency apron

Hand sewn button holes and shell buttons close the back:

Hand sewn button holes and shell buttons

The Challenge: #10 – Heroes: A linen apron, honouring all the women who have worked behind the scenes through history to care for others

Commenced: 25/10/2016

Completed: 10/11/2016

Material: White linen IL019 from – approx 1 metre from stash

Pattern: drafted myself

Year: 1800-1820ish

Notions: Gutermann 100% cotton thread; Aurifil 100% cotton thread; two shell buttons

How historically accurate is it? Entirely handsewn, including the buttonholes. The shape is historically accurate, although the particular style seems more often made in black taffeta than white linen. I wanted a working apron, though, not a lady’s apron, and black taffeta is better suited to protecting the dress from stray needlework threads than from household dust.

Hours to complete: I didn’t count.

First worn: Only for photos

Total cost: Linen from stash, about1 metre, $15 worth (including postage from US)

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HSM8 – Pattern: Hand-sewn day dress

This is somewhat late for the Historical Sew Monthly August challenge, but I did have good intentions of getting it done in time! Challenge details are below.

I didn’t exactly start out to hand-sew an entire dress. This was supposed to be finished in time for the quill workshop I taught in August. Alas, it wasn’t.

I’ve done a bit of travelling in the past two months, so each time I took the bodice pieces and stitched on them here and there. When I’ve been home, I’ve been concentrating on writing, and I like to have something simple to do with my hands while I’m staring at the screen trying to think of words. So I hand-stitched the sleeves, and set them into the bodice, and after dithering about how to finish the armhole seams, I decided to trim them and overcast them, because that was simple to do while I was staring at the screen. So were the skirt seams. I was going to sew the bodice to the skirt by machine, because all the layers of pleats at centre back are very thick . . . but the sewing machine table has stuff piled on it so I did that seam by hand, too. Although that was something of a challenge:

Needle sewing thick pleats

Once I’d done that, the dress was so close to being entirely sewn by hand that I added the waistband casing and other finishing touches by hand, too. I still have the hem to go, but I always sew hems by hand, and I needed to try the dress on, and it was a lovely day for photos, so here it is:

Dress front

I’m wearing it with a fichu – although my kind photographer  is not a stylist and didn’t tell me it was bunched up wrong at the back.

Side view of blockprint dress Back view of block-print dress

And here’s a detail of the block print pattern:

Fabric print detail

The Challenge: Challenge 8: Pattern

Material: Block print cotton voile, purchased from Trade Star Exports on Ebay

Pattern: Adapted from the S&S drawstring dress, adding additional fullness to the front bodice and skirt, an additional width of fabric to the back skirt, and increasing the size of the sleeves at the top by about 1″. (I did the same changes as detailed for my previous block-print dress, for HSM challenge 2)

Year: c. 1795

Notions: Aurifil white cotton thread

How historically accurate is it? Maybe 90%? The fabric and pattern is fairly close, the style I think is reasonably accurate, and it is entirely hand-sewn, although not necessarily with correct period techniques.

Hours to complete: I didn’t count. Quite a few, over 2 months.

First worn: Today, for photographs. I’m not sure when it will have it’s first outing – maybe for a Regency picnic in December, otherwise for the Australian Jane Austen Festival in April next year.

Total cost: About $50AUD for 10yards of the fabric, of which I used about 6.5. The fabric for the cotton lining and bias strips came from stash, as did the thread, and the cord for the drawstring at the neckline.


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Open robe and muslin gown

I’ve been slow in blogging about this outfit as I don’t have good photos, but I’ll go with what I have and maybe get to do better photos later!

The muslin dress was very loosely inspired by this Danish wedding dress. The pattern diagram provided by the museum has detailed pleats running from the back bodice to the front, and I’d love to do these sometime, but I didn’t have time on this occasion to draft and fit them without assistance. So, I adapted the Sense and Sensibility wrap-front dress, making the shoulder wider and gathering it instead of pleating it, and reshaping the front for a centre-front closure instead of a crossover. I cut the front skirt as one width of fabric and cut and narrowly hemmed a slit in the centre-front. The dress closes with a drawstinr channel in the front.

The fabric is the premium muslin from Spotlight – it is a lovely fabric, with a sheer even weave. It is very sheer – here it is, over my petticoat, stays etc. I decided, as a result of this photo, that I needed a sleeveless chemise! (Yes, I also need to tidy my work room . . .!)

Regency muslin gown - front view

As with the block-print round gown, I used two widths of fabric for the back skirt and tightly pleated the centre back – here are the pleats sewn in before the lining is turned over and stitched down. I put a (wonky) row of tacking (basting) i below the seam line to hold the pleats in place while the dress is being made.

Detail of back pleats

And here is a side-view of the dress, anti inflammatories showing that full back (it’s not just my butt!)

Side view of muslin gown

Next up was making an open robe to go over the dress. By this stage, it was the day before I had to fly out . . .

In the ultimate of stash-busting, I used a poly(?) satin damask that I’ve had in my stash since buying it in New Zealand in about December 1980 – yes, you read that right. I had made a skirt from some of it but there were still metres of it on a roll I had carried through numerous house-moves over 35+ years.

I didn’t base the open robe on any particular image or pattern, but I think it still works reasonably well for the 1790s. I did bring the skirts around a little further at the front than many open robes; that was a persona stylistic choice to increase the slimming effect.

Once again, I adapted the S&S pattern pieces, because I know how they fit on me and could adapt them relatively quickly. I lined the bodice with fine cotton voile. The pewter brooch I used to close the robe is a Celtic one I bought in Wales in 1983 – not an accurate closure, but a reasonable hurried make-shift one!

I wore the outfit for the Georgian evening on the Friday night of JAFA – but unfortunately didn’t get many photos. This one was upstairs in the Albert Hall, where the lighting was very strange.

Open robe over muslin gown

I’m very happy with the outfit and am looking forward to wearing it again next year! (Or maybe for Jane Austen’s birthday picnic later this year….)


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Drop-front dress

I made this drop-front dress for Lauren, for a photo-shoot for potential cover-images for a novella I’m writing. As I had to make most of it without fitting her – we live 800km apart – I used the S&S Elegant Lady’s Closet pattern that Lauren has used before as a base and adapted it for a drop front. I used the bodice back as-is, the bodice lining piece from the pattern to cut the front under-bodice, and I adapted the short sleeve pattern by adding a couple of inches of length at the centre of the sleeve and curving it around to the seams.

The fabric is just a poly satin (deluxe satin from Spotlight) but it does have a nice drape. We may add a little erectile dysfunction ribbon decoration to the neckline and sleeves.

I was in Canberra for a few days last weekend so we did the final fitting of the bodice, and sewed on and hemmed the skirt. The novella is set in Yorkshire in the cold, wet summer of 1816, so we had to hunt for a suitable location in Canberra spring that might look suitably English! We found a few spots in Yarralumla where the foliage wasn’t Australian (or bare, wintry oaks).

Lauren’s father (my brother-in-law) took most of these photos and I’m hoping I’ll be able to organise a book cover design using one of them. But whether they work for that or not, Lauren has a new dress for the Jane Austen Festival next year!

Back bodice view

Back view in woods

Front view

Back view blossoms

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Regency Narrow Fall Breeches

The second thing on my man’s wardrobe list was a pair of breeches. Again, they were 90% finished back in February, but have been waiting on the last few buttonholes for completion.

I used the Laughing Moon Mercantile Pattern #127, and mostly followed the instructions as closely as I could.

The back of the first mock up of the breeches. Made according to size 38 as given in the measurements, but a size 42 waistband.

The back of the first mock up of the breeches. Made according to size 38 as given in the measurements, but a size 42 waistband.

Mockup #2 of the breeches. Better. Now too big. Try again...

Mockup #2 of the breeches. Better. Now too big. Try again…

Pinned together...

Pinned together…

Starting the sewing process.

Starting the sewing process.

Beginning to look like breeches!

Beginning to look like breeches!

First try on. Not perfect, but pretty good for my first attempt.

First try on. Not perfect, but pretty good for my first attempt.

Back. I think it's a bit too loose here...

Back. I think it’s a bit too loose here…

Buttons! The fabric I used was so much thicker than recommended for the self cover buttons that they were very difficult to put together.

Buttons! The fabric I used was so much thicker than recommended for the self cover buttons that they were very difficult to put together.

Hand stitched buttonholes

Hand stitched buttonholes

Buttons in buttonholes. It's a good feeling when they fit.

Buttons in buttonholes. It’s a good feeling when they fit.

Closeup of two buttonholes You can see the difference <a style=

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Breeches finished - Modelled by SO

Breeches finished – Modelled by SO

Breeches finished - side - Modelled by SO

Breeches finished – side – Modelled by SO

Breeches finished - back - Modelled by SO

Breeches finished – back – Modelled by SO. Unfortunately you can’t see the buckle at centre back that cinches it tighter.

Although the photos say that the breeches are finished, there’s actually a very little more to do – he will need a few buttonholes on the leg openings just to hold them closed. When they’re in his boots, you can’t see it, but better to have a finished piece. There may also be buttons attached at the top of the waistband for a pair of suspenders. If we can get the suspenders working…

I know that they aren’t perfect, and I know there’s a couple of fitting issues, but I am so very happy with them for my first attempt at tailoring something, and my first attempt at anything complicated. I have been told that the breeches are the most complicated I could make, and I’ve started with them. The rest must go well 😉

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Ball dress

Back in 2014, when I first started planning to attend JAFA 2015, I bought two saris from – new ones, not vintage, and artificial silk, not the real stuff. My budget doesn’t stretch far, and I didn’t want to invest heavily in silk until I had more experience costuming my short, round figure.

One of them turned out to be darker than the mid-blue in the listing photo, but a gorgeous rich blue, shot with a maroon that gives the effect of a deep purple. The woven band along the edge has flowers in various shades of golds, tans and cream, and the decorative piece at the end (I think that’s the pallau?) is richly woven.

Detail of sari woven edge Detail of sari decorative end

For this year’s JAFA, I needed a new gown for the Grand Napoleonic Ball, and pulled this sari out of the fabric stash.

I used the Sense and Sensibility drawstring gown as a base pattern, but adapted it as described here and here.This was the first time I’d used the short sleeve pattern and I lengthened it about an inch (2.5cm); next time I’ll lengthen it some more.

Being short has an advantage when it comes to using saris: the border ran along both edges of the fabric, but I cut off one edge and still had enough width to cut the skirt with a border along the bottom. I also used the border fabric for the sleeve band, and I have metres left – plus the decorative end – to do something else with.

As with the block-print dress, I cut the front bodice across almost the whole width of fabric (minus the borders), and with the equivalent amount of skirt attached it gathered fairly well across the front – albeit a little stiffly as this isn’t the drapiest of fabrics.

I pleated the back asthma tightly into the centre back – here you can see the pleats pinned. I tack (baste) them down and take the pins out before sewing the seam as it makes it much easier than dealing with a gazillion pins through the machine (you can only see half of the pins here!)

Detail of back pleats, pinned for sewing

Here’s the dress finished, in a hurried photo at home with hair only roughly pinned up.

Finished dress, at home

It’s okay, but there were a few issues: the fixable one was that the dress is quite see-through, and my white petticoat didn’t bring out the best of the colour.  The issues I didn’t have time to fix included:

1) although I measured for the sleeve band, the sleeves don’t allow a great deal of movement – I need some help getting into and out of the dress;

2) the fabric is, as mentioned above, a little stiff, so it doesn’t drape well (and this is compounded by the fact that I need new stays that keep my tummy under better control. Or less tummy. I’m working on that); and

3) there’s not quite enough gathering in the front skirt, which pulled the gathering in the back pleats across to the side – next time I’ll do a couple of pleats in the side front and a two less on each side of the centre back.

Sari ball dress - back view

I did fix the fixable issue, and made a sleeveless purple satin underdress, and that worked to bring out the rich colour of the fabric better:

Purple satin underdress

I didn’t get many photos at JAFA but here we are at the Grand Napoleonic Ball – Katie, Jeremy, Lauren and I. I’m happy enough with the dress and will wear it again – with better stays and a few less kilos it will be perfectly fine  🙂

Katie, Jeremy, Lauren and I at the Grand Napoleonic Ball



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A Man’s Shirt

The first priority for the JAFA outfits is my SO’s entire outfit. First of which is always a shirt. His shirt will be a bleached pure linen shirt, as he wants me to aim for historical accuracy where possible.

I started off with a pattern from another blog, but I couldn’t work out the sizing of the individual pieces at all. In the end, I used a combination of patterns from that blog, Everyday Dress of Rural America, 1783-1800 by Meredith Wright and Costume Closeup: Clothing Construction and Pattern 1750-1790 by Linda Baumgarten & John Watson

The construction was pieced together from instructions, descriptions and images of finished pieces, and a healthy dose of remembering how my chemise went together, as well as some “I guess it’ll look okay if I do this…” In the end, it has gone together fairly simply, although in hindsight I have made a few errors (such as the order of flat-felling) and there’s a few things that aren’t as neat as they could be. Live and learn.

We decided to go for a very simple shirt, so there are no ruffles on this one, and nothing special.

For an added personal touch, I have hand-sewn the entire shirt, and flat-felled every seam.

Shirt collar

First thing I did was to attach the collar and the neck antiviral gussets, and then flat-fell those seams.

Shirt sizing

Then I attached the sleeves and the gussets (and got so excited that I had to try it on… It is beyond massive on me)

Finished sleeve gusset

Then I flat-felled the sleeves and gussets (in the wrong order as it turned out, but hey, it doesn’t look bad)

And then attach the cuffs, and sew up the sleeves.

And then attach the cuffs, and sew up the sleeves.

From there, I stitched and flat-felled the side seams, and hemmed all the raw edges (cuffs, neck opening, and side openings) and finally hemmed the shirt around the bottom.

Then, I covered some buttons in linen, and sewed buttonholes at the cuffs, and at the throat. To finish, I hand washed the shirt and dried it in full sunlight, which sunbleached it for me. The above was written January 16, it has taken me until now to finally finish the last two buttonholes… there are so many buttonholes in my projects.

The finished shirt

The finished shirt

Closeup of the neck and collar - and button placement

Closeup of the neck and collar – and button placement

Here is the handsome recipient wearing the finished shirt.

My SO in his shirt. Showing the length of the shirt.

My SO in his shirt. Showing the length of the shirt.

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HSM Challenge 2 – Drawstring dress with pleats

My new drawstring, block-print, 1790s round gown is finished, and I’m very happy with it. My progress post from a few days ago explained my planning – an adaptation of the Sense and Sensibility drawstring dress pattern. I’d made a block-print dress last year from that pattern, without any adaptation, and wasn’t very happy with it. My main adaptations (more details below) were to 1) shorten the bodice front length; 2) make the bodice front significantly wider, for a gathered look: 3) significantly increase the skirt width, by using one full width in the front, and two full widths in the back – pleated tightly into the centre back. (HSM details a little further down the post).

First up, here’s a comparison of the two dresses – the 2015 one made from the pattern (in a slightly different block print), and my 2016 adaptation:

Firts block print gown - front

2015, pattern as is (daylight)


2016 adaptation (artificial light)

Here’s a comparison of the backs:

First block print gown - back

2015 – pattern as is

2016 - fuller, tightly pleated back

2016 – fuller, tightly pleated back

And a detail of all those stacked pleats in the centre back:
Stacked pleats in centre back

I’m definitely much happier with this dress than with the first version of the pattern. I think the proportions are much better on my short round body, and the fabric drapes much more elegantly. I will probably make another one in a different pharmacy fabric.

For details about the changes I made to the pattern, see below under the HSM challenge information.

New version front view 20160317FrontClose

Historical Sew Monthly Challenge details:

The Challenge: Challenge #2: Tucks & Pleats

Material: Block-print cotton, purchased on ebay. About 6.5 metres

Pattern: Significant adaptation of the drawstring gown from Sense and Sensibility’s Elegant Lady’s Closet.

Year: mid 1790s

Notions: white cotton for front lining and bias binding.

How historically accurate is it? Reasonably – the bodice is entirely handsewn. I did machine sew the skirt seams and the main seam attaching the bodice to the skirt, but everything else is handsewn.

Hours to complete: I didn’t count

First worn: For photographs. Will be worn at Jane Austen Festival Australia in April.

Total cost: About $40 for the fabric.

S&S Drawstring gown alterations

• Shortened front bodice length – very gentle curve from sides.
• Added to bodice width – total width at bottom edge of bodice of 43in/109cm
• Added 1inch to centre back measurement, sloping to 1/2inch at sides

  • Added c. 1 inch to side back bodice piece at top where it joins with back piece, so that the seam matches better.

• Added 1.5 inches to sleeve at top of underarm, grading out from top of sleeve for added fullness there.

• Shortened sleeves by 1.5 inches.
Alteration of sleeve pattern piece

• Three widths of fabric; one matched to front bodice, two for back skirt
• Back skirt – two panels, stacked pleats at centre back (1 inch pleats, overlapped for all but about 1/4inch)

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