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 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 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 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 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 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 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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HSM8: Heritage and Heirlooms – 1908 Chemise

I’m way behind on the Historical Sew Monthly challenges, but I have (finally) completed the one for August: Heritage and Heirlooms. Okay, so it’s only one layer of an overall project, but the layer is done, and the project fits the challenge, so I’ll claim it, as I’m way behind on a book deadline so there’s no way I’m going to get the entire outfit sewn any time soon.

This is a photo of an original photographic portrait of my great grandmother, Elizabeth Anne Whitla, née Bawden Bryar. She was born in Breage in Cornwall in 1853 and emigrated with her parents to Australia when she was a child, first to the tin mines in South Australia and then to the goldfields in Victoria. She married at 16, and died in 1932.

Portrait of Elizabeth Ann Whitla, nee Bawden Bryar

Her father, Thomas Bawden Bryar, died in Bendigo in 1908, and I’m guessing that this may have been a mourning portrait taken at that time. Elizabeth lived all of her adult life in rural Victoria, and wasn’t wealthy, so fashions may have been a year or two behind.

My ultimate aim is to recreate the outfit, although perhaps with a lighter-coloured blouse. However, I have nothing in the way of Edwardian wardrobe yet, so I’ve had to start right from the very beginning, with a chemise. And as the chemise is simple, I could hand-stitch it while staring at the screen, trying to think of words to write.

Chemise neckline detail

What the item is: 1908 chemise, the foundation garment for an eventual recreation of an outfit my Great-grandmother was photographed in in 1908.

The Challenge: HSM 8  – Heritage and Heirlooms

Fabric: Cotton voile from my stash

Pattern: Adapted from the Wearing History Camisole/Corset Cover pattern. My grandmother was not wealthy, so I made the chemise with a simple eyelet lace and ribbon decoration. Note: If I ever make another one, I’ll make the shoulders narrower.

Year: c. 1908.

Notions: White cotton thread, white cotton eyelet lace from my stash, narrow polyester ribbon – because it was impossible to get silk ribbon in my small town, and I didn’t have time or $$ to buy online. The lace on the hem is wider than the lace on the neckline and armholes, although similar in design. I was not able to get any cotton eyelet lace in town, but fortunately had just enough in my (small) lace stash.

How historically accurate is it? About 90%. The fabric, thread and lace are all correct for the period; only the ribbon isn’t. It’s entirely hand-stitched; yes, sewing machines were available then and my great-grandmother might have had one, but she would have hand-stitched many items of clothing for herself and her thirteen children.

Hours to complete: I didn’t count.

First worn: Not yet.

Total cost: $1 for 6m of polyester ribbon; about $10 for pattern; everything else from stash.

1908 Chemise 20150911HSM8ChemiseHem

 Chemise, shown full length Neck and armhole detail

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Cotton Sari Gown

This is another catch-up post – a dress I made and wore at the Jane Austen Festival in Canberra in April.

Fabric: a ‘vintage’ cotton blend sari, with trailing machine-embroidered flowers, that I purchased on eBay for the grand sum of $15, including postage.

Pattern: The Sense and Sensibility Regency Gown, with some adaptations of the skirt for my pear shape.

The front half of the sari had the floral machine embroidery across the width of the fabric, but the back end of the sari had it only on the bottom twelve inches or so of the width.

As I’m short, I cut the skirt across the width of the fabric. I used the all-over part for the front skirt, and the back of the skirt was cut from the back end of the sari. I also used the back end for the bodice; the main bodice pieces cut from the embroidered edge, and the lining from the plain part.

Front bodice detail sari dress

Bodice detail, sari dress

The front and back bodice – the fabric is very fine, and although I originally was planning to have a button closure at the back, I would have needed to add some interlining for strength and I didn’t want to do that – so I ended up using ties supplemented with some hooks and eyes.

Although I machine-sewed the bodice, I did flat-fell the seams and I hand-stitched those where it showed.

Here’s the all-over embroidered end laid out to cut the skirt. I cut it with a flare, because my hips are much bigger than my bust – but not as much flare as the tape-measure position suggests!

Cutting the front skirt


Some quick photos of the finished dress (worn over frankenstays, and bodiced petticoat) taken outside one morning before G rushed off to work:

20150405SariDressFront2 20150405SariDressSideFront1 Sari dress - back

You can see the gaping back, to which I later added several hooks and eyes.

The Sense and Sensibility Regency Gown pattern does have a lower-cut back than other Regency patterns, and this is exacerbated on me with my very short waist. If I made this again, I’d cut the back higher.

On my list of things to make for next year is new stays, because although the Frankenstays are an improvement, I’m still not getting enough lift for my droopy girls – or enough firmness around my *ahem* soft body.

Overall, though, I was happy with the dress, and I wore it on the Friday evening at JAFA – the Georgian Variety Night. I ended up wearing it again on the Saturday night, for the Battle of Waterloo Ball, because of major costume fail with the ball dress I was madly trying to finish.

Here’s the official portrait from Friday night:

Portrait in sari dress

And here’s a photo from Saturday night, when I wore the dress with pearls instead of the ‘sapphire’ necklace:

Sari dress with pearls


(Things were pretty rushed on the Saturday so my curls are not curly, and my contact lenses are not in – but we had fun, anyway!)

I have some detachable long sleeves cut out for this dress and might wear it in the future as a day dress, with the long sleeves and a chemisette. But for my first evening dress on a budget it worked okay.


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Blue wrap dress redo

I actually did this back in March, but things were frantic before the Jane Austen Festival, and illness and other distractions have meant I haven’t caught up with blogging!

I made the dress last year, for the workshop Beverley Eikli and I presented for the Romance Writers of Australia conference. However, there were a few issues with it. To start with, I put the sleeves in the wrong way around. Yep, stupid mistake. The other main issues though was that the straight-cut wrap skirt in the front, with all the fullness in the centre back, did not work for my pear-shaped body, and the wrap panel pulled way across. I really do need some flare from underbust to (wide) hips.

Fortunately, I had some material left over, so I cut some flared side panels and added them to the skirt on each side, between the front and back pieces (obviously.) While this added only a few inches at the waist – countered by gathering the back some more – it gave more inches over my tum and hips, and has resulted in a much better drape and look for the skirt:

Regency style wrap dress

Regency style wrap dress


It’s still not perfect but it’s much better than it was, and it was done in time for me to wear at the Jane Austen Festival – although I didn’t get any photos of me wearing it there.

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