Every costume starts somewhere . . .either with a picture, a vision in your head, or an inspiration.
This post is about a costume that started with an inspiration. I was browsing a thrift store one day and found this set of four awesome valances:
They were a little faded here and there, but overall, in decent shape. The patchwork part was actual sewn pieces (not a print). I loved the diamond edge.
Originally, my thought was that this would make a prairie skirt . . maybe something Aunt Eller would wear in “Oklahoma”, or maybe something one of the chorus members might wear to the clambake in “Carousel”. Once I started playing with them, my costume morphed into a “folk” outfit of dubious Ethnic origin, loosely inspired by the outfit worn by the Baker’s Wife in the Broadway version of “Into the Woods”. (And when I say loosely, I definitely mean loosely!) This is part of the fun of making costumes with no particular purpose–you can do whatever you want!
I thought that if I wanted more than just a skirt, I would need to make some sort of matching/coordinating top. The valances were quite long, and using all four of them to make a skirt would have made it VERY full. Playing around, it did seem like some sort of jacket/vest could be fashioned without too much difficulty.
Fortuitously, the valances had mirror images on each end. I lined them up, and cut off equal lengths from two of the valances, and set these pieces aside.
It worked surprisingly well to line the patchwork sections up, and then just zig-zag them together with the edges butting up against one another. I was sewing with white and thought I might need to color the thread with a black sharpie on the navy blue sections, but from a distance, the stitching just blends in to the fabric.
I sewed all of the pieces together in a circle. In retrospect, it would have been easier to add to the valances if they had been left straight, but at the time I was more focused on matching up the patchwork part.
I found a couple of pieces of fabric that I thought would blend to make a larger border at the bottom. As these were scraps they had pieces cut out of them and an uneven edge. I wanted to make a straight edge, and the easiest way to do that on a woven fabric is to try and tear it along the grain.
I then tore enough strips to equal the length of the valances. I just randomly cut the first one at a width–no grand plan to begin with. I sewed the red strips together in one long strip. THIS one I left straight, and then joined the ends when I made it around the valance circle. I sewed along the diamond edge. It was time consuming. As I was sewing I wondered if it would have worked to sew across the points (bottom) instead of the way I did it (top).
I didn’t pin the whole thing at once, instead I roughly lined up the edge of the red material at a certain point on the patchwork, and I would pin 8-10″ at a time and then sew and repeat. It was a lot of starting and stopping, but, better than pinning the whole thing to begin with. Once the red strip was sewn on, I added a second narrower strip of blue.
Originally, I had thought to make the top of the skirt cream, but at this point in the project that didn’t inspire me. I decided I would make the skirt ankle-ish length, and that maybe I would make a matching blouse. I looked through my stash, and found a length of blue polyester with a linen-look texture. It is perhaps a bit heavier than ideal, but, it was cheap.
After determining the final desired skirt length, I subtracted with height of by bottom border, and then cut strips of the base fabric to make the top of the skirt. These were sewn together, and then sewn to the top of the blue strip
I wanted this outfit have flexible sizing, and so at this point in the project I took a pause. I knew I wanted to make a waistband, because there was a lot of skirt to just gather on elastic. I considered making an adjustable tie skirt (like the underskirt of this costume), but I know that high school kids tend to have difficulties with this sort. I like the look of a waistband that is flat in the front, and then has elastic across the back, but I wasn’t sure that would be variable enough in size. I needed a thinking break!
When I came back to the project I did a cross between a fitted waistband and a casing with elastic. 🙂
To make a simple waistband, first you need to decide on the desired waist size. In this case, I measured my size 4 dress form, and then added extra (I don’t know how much) because I wanted the finished skirt to fit a variety of sizes. If you were making a fitted waistband, you would take the desired waist size, plus seam allowances, plus any overlap for closure (button, hook & bar, snap, velcro, etc), and this makes the length. The width of the piece is determined by the desired height of the waistband x 2 (front & back) plus two seam allowances. This is probably clear as mud.
Once the waistband was cut, I folded it in half and pressed in the crease.
If you had a really lighweight fabric, or the waistband was particularly wide, you might consider adding some interfacing at this point. Typically it will just be added to 1/2 of the fabric, and typically it would be on the back section. Either sew in or iron on is fine, or even a stiffer piece of fabric would work.
I marked of the desired waist size (minus seam allowances and overlap), and divided that into four sections. I then divided the skirt into quarters, and pinned the matching 1/4 marks. I pleated the skirt in between the pins, right sides together, and then sewed the skirt on to the waistband.
The waistband then flips up and over. I pinned it in place, and then topstitched it on from the front.
Prior to doing this I did zig-zag the top of the pleats and the waistband seam allowance together. Normally I wouldn’t do this because these raw edges are completely hidden by the waistband and won’t fray in there. However, it was my intention to run elastic through the waistband, and I didn’t want to have the pin I would use to pull it through get caught in all those pleat folds. You can see the little black marks I used to mark the center front. I use one line for the 1/4 and 3/4 marks, and two for the 1/2 mark.
This next step I’d like to pretend I planned ahead for, but, I didn’t. I ran some elastic through the waistband “tube” that I had at this point. When I had it all the way inserted into the waistband, I sewed down that end, and I gathered up the skirt as I continued to pull it through. Then I got to the other end and though “hmmmm”. If I sewed it down, the skirt wouldn’t be adjustable. If I left it unsecured, surely at some point, it would pull back down the waistband and be stuck in there (no doubt in the middle of a show).
I backtracked a bit and took out the stitching at the end of the waistband. Then I made a buttonhole-type rectangle over the top of a piece of bias tape. I did this because the blue fabric was proving to be prone to fray, and I knew this spot would get a lot of friction and tension.
I then cut a slit in my rectangle and pulled the elastic through. I sewed this end down to the waistband. The idea is that you can pull the elastic through the hole and tighten it, and either adjust it using a pin, or, you could baste it secure in whatever place you needed, and then later take the stitching out.
I finished the edges of the waistand with some gorgeous zig-zag to help with the fraying, and then added a couple snaps for closure.
I was pretty pleased with how this turned out. If this whole waistband process isn’t clear, I’d recommend looking for a better tutorial OR finding a commercial pattern (thrift stores have then for cheap) and reading those.
I decided to make a variation of the no-pattern shirt I made a couple of weeks ago. My sister had shared a picture of a shirt she had seen from a rental company. It was made with a single piece of fabric for the front & back (so no shoulder seams). I thought . . .let’s try it!
The first step was to decide how wide I wanted the shirt to be. I did want the sleeves to fall somewhat off the shoulder as I think this adds to the “period” feel, especially for a peasant top. This will certainly vary by the size of the person. For this project I made the width 24″. I merely cut a piece off the length of fabric.
I then folded the fabric in half (front-to-back) and then in half again (top to bottom). I cut a shallow curve out for the BACK neck (picture #1). I then refolded the fabric so that only the FRONT layer was left (picture #2), and then cut a slightly deeper curve (picture #3).
At this point, you can adjust the size if needed. Just remember when making your cuts that it is easier to cut a little more away than to put it back. My hole is fairly shallow as I am planning on making a slit in the center front.
I decided to finish the edge with a facing. Another option would be to use bias tape or some other form of binding.
To make the facing, I lay the shirt right-side-down on top of the facing fabric. In this case I used the same fabric as the shirt. The facing piece is larger than the hole by several inches, and extends down in the front below the length of my desired slit. I pinned this in place.
To determine where the slit would be, I folded the front of the shirt in half and drew a line the length of my desired opening.
Then I sewed around the hole, making a wedge shape around the slit. I should have made the slit one stitch wide at the bottom as the point I made pulls a bit.
This is what the other side looks like:
I trimmed away some of the facing fabric.
Then, I cut the center circle out and clipped the curves. I very, very carefully, with a small sharp scissors, cut down the slit to the very point. I put it against some white fabric to show a little better since my ironing board is also blue.
Then, just flip the facing to the inside, press, and topstitch (if desired) either right at the neck edge (as I did), or a bit farther out (which will help hold the facing down).
This is what it looks like on the dress model:
I thought it seemed a bit wide through the shoulders, so I added a pleat when I topstiched the neckline. I later thought that just a piece of elastic sewn in for a little bit of gathering might have been a better idea.
I have been playing with white shirts (a future post) and knew I wanted the sleeves much shorter than the previous no-pattern shirt I made, I also knew I wanted them narrower at the cuff, although I really didn’t want them much smaller at the shoulder (my original experimental shirt was 36″ x 36″). I decided to try a 26″ sleeve. I just used one width of fabric (which I have written down was 33″, although that doesn’t seem to make sense with respect to typical fabric widths). At any rate, I then folded the sleeves in half lengthwise, and on the OPEN edges (not the fold) I cut an angle so that the sleeve bottom would be narrower.
I made a simple elastic casing bottom at the bottom of the sleeve. I sewed the elastic in to the seam, so it is not adjustable.
To determine the size of the armscye, I held a tape measure up to the dressmaker form and guessed. The previous shirt I had made was 22″, and I had thought this shirt should maybe be a bit smaller. It ended up being 20″, which is really not that much different.
I ran two rows of gathering threads along the top of the sleeve, and put a little mark in the center. I pinned the mark at the top of the shoulder, and lay that on a ruler at the 10″ mark. I then pinned one side at the 0″ mark, and the other end at the 20″ mark, and adjusted the gathers in between and pinned, then sewed.
The last step was to sew the underarm/side seam. I started at the bottom of the sleeve as I knew I would want the elastic to be even and I really didn’t care if the bottom of the shirt was a bit uneven.
I opted to close the shirt with a slight overlap and a snap.
The shirt is super long, and if you are putting it on a larger person there is not enough room in the hips.
I ended up opening the lower side seams and making slits/vents. This took care of the problem. At first I had second thoughts about leaving the shirt that long. However, I think that this makes the shirt more versatile as it could be worn on the outside of breeches with some form of belt, which would give it a whole new look. If, at some point, the length caused problems, you could always cut it off at that point. I did have a costuming friend call looking for long tunic shirts for a show she was costuming.
Top & Skirt together:
The vest actually proved amazingly easy to create. I messed around with the pieces of fabric and decided I liked a narrower look over the shoulders, so I folded in a pleat and stitched it down to just over the shoulder. Then, I decided I liked an overlap in the front, so I added two snaps.
On the sides I lined up some of the points and sewed them together, leaving the way bottom open to make space for the hips. I stitched the sides together on two of the points.
The center back is sewn together. You can see where the front pleat ends at the top of the shoulder, which gives a little extra fabric for ease across the upper back.
For shaping the back, I sewed in two strips of bias tape with a ribbon running through them which can be used to gather the back to size.
And one final snap was added for shaping the front for a smaller person:
And . . here we are at this point (size 4 dress form):
So . . . you are probably noticing a few other details . . .
I think pocket purses add a very “period” look. This is a very simple thing to make.
Take a rectangle of fabric and sew a casing on either end (this piece of fabric is pieced because I made it out of leftover strips from making the skirt).
Fold that in 1/2, matching the casings, right sides together and sew the sides, but do NOT sew the casings shut. Turn right side out.
Thread two ribbons through the casings and pull them out on opposite sides.
Ta Da! A pocket! Pin on your skirt and you are done!
I started with a thrift store hat:
I cut out the crown and then manipulated the hat on a head form. The hat had a nice firm wire on the brim, which helped to shape the back. The brim kept wanting to flop down, so I added some popsicle sticks (with hot glue) to help support it. The back is also hot glued to help keep the shape. With a different hat I might have cut out part of that overlap on the bottom, but, as I mentioned, this hat had quite a heavy wire.
I wanted the hat to be simple, without glitter or metallic braid, as this is supposed to be a peasant outfit, so I used some blue bias tape, and then bias cut strips of the red fabric, to trim the hat. I also added a row of pre-gathered cream fabric to the opening. I love this stuff, and have used it for hats, necklines and cuffs.
I used pieces of black felt to cover the sticks, and the gloppy gluey part at the back of the hat. At this point, I did not add anything else to help hold the hat on the head. You can get it to stay on pretty good with bobby pins. If the person had dark hair, I could consider making a criss-cross of elastic or felt in the opening to secure bobby pins. Transparent elastic (think bra straps) or possibly some ribbon or fabric that blends with the hair color of the person wearing the hat would also be options. Another option is elastic to go under the chin, or even ribbon ties. It would also help to have the front part of the hair pulled back to give a better foundation for pinning.
The previous pictures were taken on the size 4 dress form. These are taken on a med/lg adjustable dress from. You can see the gathers are taken out of the back of the vest, and the front of the vest is fastened with only one snap at the waist, and the top snap is left open.
This is a comparison of the shirt on two different sized people:
One last side-by-side view:
Cost: valances: $3, red fabric $1.50, blue fabric base fabric $5, blue strip (scraps), hat $1.89, cream trim 50 cents, additional items; 5 snaps, no-roll waist elastic in waistband, elastic in sleeve cuffs, bias tape, ribbon.
I think this is a fun outfit. (My daughter says “It is nice for what it is . . but I just can’t call it “cute”). I think just the shirt and skirt together could be used for a Prairie look, which was, after all, my original thought when I bought the valances. I could even see a young girl doing the Shipoopi in it. I also like the shape of the vest on top of the drop sleeved blouse, and with a little tweaking, I think those shapes could turn into a fairly convincing Civil War era day dress top.
I didn’t do a good job keeping track of time, but I estimate the whole outfit was 5-6 hours. Finding the valances with all that detail piece work turned out to be a fabulous find.