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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JAFA sewing weekend

Lauren and Katie came up from Canberra – a 10-hour drive – for four days of JAFA sewing at the end of February. Emily was in town, too, and she joined us for the first two days.

Not many photos were taken, as we were full-on, having a great time, discussing fabrics and possibilities, drawing up patterns, fitting mock-ups, cutting out fabrics, sewing fine seams.

As we’re all tea drinkers, we started the 4-day weekend with morning tea, while we discussed plans. This was about the only time the dining table was tidy:
Morning tea table

Everyone pitched in for meals, Katie and Lauren making a delicious mango and chicken salad for Sunday lunch – so we had plenty of sustenance for marathon sewing!
Mango salad

And the sewing adhd room, set up with two sewing machines, two cutting tables, and fabrics and costumes everywhere . . .

Katie and Lauren sewing

We used trace and toile to make initial mockups of bodices and check (and adjust) fit. Emily in her two days made a bodice mockup to fit her. Lauren made a new bodiced petticoat, and partially finished a dress, to the point where the skirt was pleated and pinned on to the bodice. Katie, who is not yet very experienced in sewing, finished a dress except for the hems – a lovely blue print cotton draw-string dress, adapted from the S&S Elegant Lady’s Closet pattern.

All in all, a wonderful weekend (except for the heat!) and I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with them.

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Block print round gown progress

The second dress I made last year was a block print dress using the Sense and Sensibility draw-string dress pattern. I followed the pattern as written pretty much, although I did lengthen the back a little and add a waistband. The dress fitted reasonably. . . but it certainly didn’t flatter my short, round shape, and the off-white background didn’t flatter my skin colour, either.

First block print gown - front

First block print gown in 2015 – not enough fullness

First block print gown - back

Back of first block print gown – not enough fullness


The bodice front was too long, among other things – it fits my DD-E cup friend much better than my C-D cup self. I felt very dowdy in it the day I wore it at JAFA – although fortunately I was having fun, anyway, so I didn’t spend too much time contemplating my dowdiness!

A couple of weeks ago, Lauren and Katie visited for four days of JAFA sewing – a marvellous time! We used the draw-string gown pattern for Katie, but with significant modifications; we shortened the bodice front piece by several inches, so there was no blouson effect, and added fullness to the skirt. She had her dress finished except for hems by the last night, and it looked lovely on her, with soft gathering over the bust and enough fullness in the skirt to drape well.

I was thinking about the pattern grading/sizing and figured that probably in the original dress the pattern was based on, the front bodice piece might measure 1.5 or 2 times the front bodice bust, giving a nice gather. And I suspect that the pattern designer just did the standard pattern grading – e.g. 2 inches total extra per size. *But* if you want to keep the same proportion of gather, it needs to be 3.5 to 4 inches extra per size. I think. I haven’t gone back and looked at the pattern to check, but the way the dress finished on me – around 3 sizes mans health larger than Katie – certainly didn’t have an equivalent proportion of fullness.

I also took a good look at the photos of the Dutch block print dress I’d love to approximate, and noted the lovely gathering of the bodice front. I therefore shortened the bodice length, and added quite a few inches to the width of the front, using the width of the fabric so that the bottom edge measures about 42inch/110cm.

Here’s the bodice so far (entirely hand-stitched):
dress bodice in progress

I like the gathering across the bust, and that will be echoed when the bottom edge is gathered. I may need to shorten it a little further still, especially in the centre front.

I haven’t sewn the sleeves yet, but when cutting them out I added about an inch to the width at the top and underarm, as the pattern as is is a little tight. Lauren and Katie have found the same issue in their sizes, so the pattern is designed for a very slender arm, rather than one with extra muscle or ‘softness’.

For the skirt, I calculated measurements of skirt widths in similar 1790s dresses in Norah Waugh’s The Cut of Women’s Clothes, and the Danish muslin wedding dress pattern diagram. They’re around 320cm, which is 4 widths of the standard width of fabric of the time – 80cm or so. The S&S pattern skirt pieces use less than two widths of 42inch/110cm  wide fabric. Therefore I’m going to use one full width of 42 inch/110cm across the front, to continue the gathering from the bust through the skirt at centre front, and two widths for the skirt back, which will give a total skirt width of around 3.2-3.6yds/300-330cm, appropriate for the styles of the 1790s, and hopefully enough to drape more gracefully over my generously proportioned hips and tum!

JAFA is only 5 weeks away now and I still have a lot of sewing to do. However, major book deadlines are now out of the way so I should have a tad more time for sewing!


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Historical Sew Monthly 2016 – Lauren

So I plan to work on a large number of things this year. I’ve completed my wish list, and it is much much longer than I will be able to complete by April (and includes far too many items of clothing). But I have noticed that many of them fit into the themes of the Historical Sew Monthly for 2016. Below are the themes for each month, and what I plan to complete for each of them.

  • January –  Procrastination  My petticoat (posted in the Facebook group)
  • February – Tucks & Pleating – Petticoat for 1750s gown
  • March – Protection – A Bonnet or Parasol
  • April – Gender-Bender – Finish J’s coat
  • May – Holes – Probably make some lace edging
  • June – Travel – Coach cloak
  • July – Monochrome – White ball gown & black outfit for J
  • August – Pattern – Patterned waistcoat for J
  • September – Historicism – Make a historical garment that was itself inspired by the fashions of another historical period… Hopefully something modern with a regency twist
  • October – Heroes – Make a garment inspired by your historical hero, or your historical costuming hero… Unsure
  • November – Red – Another bonnet & red waistcoat for J
  • December – Special Occasion: A ballgown

Everything is of course dependant on how I go with things for the Jane Austen Festival Australia…

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Lauren’s plans for JAFA 2016

JAFA this year is coming up very quickly… There’s now only 3 months left, and there’s quite a number of things to do already. My plans at this stage are as follows:

For SO:

  • Day wear outfit
    • Shirt (almost done)
    • Cravat
    • Waistcoat
    • Fall front breeches
    • Tailcoat

For me:

  • Long sleeved day gown
  • Two bonnets
  • Gauze over dress (for green ball gown)
  • Fix petticoats
  • Petticoats for Georgian gown
  • Pocket panniers for Georgian gown
  • Fix and finish all the bits and pieces not done antibiotics from last year (unfinished hems, hastily sewn eyelets, twisted binding etc.)
  • Finish fichu

I’m not sure if I will have much more time after all those things are completed, but there’s a few other things I’d like to do if I can. As for what I plan to wear each day… I’m nowhere near as organised as Bron is to have thought of that 😛

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Hello from Lauren

Hi there! Lauren here,

As Bron said, I’ve definitely got some big plans for JAFA this year. My wonderful SO will be coming to a couple of events, so he of course will need an outfit (or two). I’ve never attempted menswear before so it should be an interesting exercise… Aside from that, I of course have my own outfits to add to and tidy up and I’m helping a couple of friends with their preparations for the festival.

Aside from learning to sew historical clothing, I’m also a second year PhD student in Linguistics. I also enjoy hiking, reading, jewellery making, drawing, and a whole host of other crafting activities. If I want to try something, I always do. Words like ‘difficult’ and ‘inexperienced’ don’t really deter me.

Case in point: before I began working on my outfits for JAFA 2015, I had rarely sewn anticonvulsant anything wearable (perhaps 3 or 4 items in my lifetime) and had certainly never tried anything historical. Now, one year later, I’m attempting to do menswear. It will be a great challenge.

For JAFA 2015, I finished a enough items to get me through, despite imperfections. But we live and learn and some of those outfits will be improved upon this year.

For 2015 I had:
Strapped petticoat
1 white muslin drawstring gown
1 teal satin round gown
1 pale purple open robe
1 rust coloured pelisse
a reticule to match my open robe
a day cap
and a pale purple bonnet borrowed from Bron

Bron also gave me a lovely blue robe a l’anglaise for the Georgian evening.

For 2016, I’m still deciding what will need fixing, updating and making so I’ll do another post of that later. In the meantime, here’s a couple of additional photos from 2015 for you.

12583687_10153471442179405_1260541327_n IMG_5527IMG_5551IMG_5627

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Welcome to Lauren

I’m not the world’s most regular blogger . . . and my wonderful niece, Lauren is preparing for JAFA 2016 as well but doesn’t have a blog to record her sewing adventures. She’s definitely being adventurous this year (menswear!), so I’ve skin care invited her to blog with me here at A Lady’s Wardrobe.

Here she is at JAFA 2015, in one of the outfits she made herself:

Lauren at JAFA2015

We live about 800 kilometres apart, but it is fun preparing ‘together’ with many phone and Facebook conversations!

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JAFA 2016 Planning

Very little sewing occurred in the last few months of 2015. A difficult book and a book deadline, and about two months spent in Canberra with my mother’s illness and death definitely pushed sewing well down the priority list.

But 2016 is a new year, and the Jane Austen Festival is just 3 months away, so I’ve begun thinking about my wardrobe for this year. I have to be realistic, as time-wise I have many other things I must achieve in those three months as well, however, my outfits for JAFA last year were a long way short of ideal, and I’d love to do better this year.

First up – long stays. Yep, stays have been on ongoing challenge for me and my short dumpy figure. I was avoiding long stays – difficulty in fitting, difficulty in dressing by myself, claustrophic tendencies when I can’t get out of things quickly – but I’ve come to the conclusion that I really need them in order to get some firmness to my fluff.

I’ve so far adjusted the Laughing Moon Regency stays pattern to fit me, and have cut out the pieces of drill cotton. Hopefully I’ll get to work on them some more this weekend – and fingers crossed I can get them to work for me!

Over Christmas I did get the detachable sleeves added on to my light aqua poly-cotton sari dress, so that I can wear it with a chemisette as a day dress. My DH took some hurried photos – but I really should have checked that the upper sleeves were arranged properly before we did! The new sleeves are, I think, too long and perhaps too loose, so they’ll valium need some more work yet.

Aqua cotton Regency dress

As well as the sleeve issue,you can see why I need better stays. . . !

My possible plans for outfits are:

Thursday (workshops, pre-conference) – aqua cotton sari dress, chemisette, cap – already have

Friday – day (Georgian) – a mid 1790s block-print round gown (perhaps inspired by this one), perhaps with a mauve wool spencer; or I could wear my existing blue wrap dress.

Friday – evening (Georgian entertainment) – muslin gown based on Danish wedding dress, with an open robe based on a Janet Arnold pattern of an original.

Saturday – day – a day dress perhaps using the tan silk sari that I have; with a pelisse made from a darker brown, textured sari.

Saturday – evening – Napoleonic Ball – I could fix the mauve satin bib-front dress I stuffed up making last year, and wear it over my white broderie anglaise-edged petticoat. Or I could make something new . . .

Sunday – breakfast with the Bennetts – existing white muslin gown, with a new short muslin jacket based on an Ackermann fashion plate;

Sunday – morning workshops – breakfast gown with muslin jacket replaced by mauve spencer.

Sunday promenade – as for workshops, or perhaps make a pelisse out of the blue/purple wool I have?

Sunday Waverley Ball – probably the same outfit as above, but if I get super-organised I could make an 1820s dress (out of blue striped cotton from stash?) and wear it over a petticoat made from op-shop sheets with a wide embroidered border.

So that’s the current thinking, but it’s definitely subject to change! Stay tuned for developments . . .


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