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Sewing Journey: Renaissance Costume

Sewing Journey: Renaissance Costume

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Sewing… It’s a journey. You never know what you’ll be inspired to make next! You probably remember my first foray into a “very easy” Vogue pattern this summer. Several days and two dresses later, I had a wearable fit-and-flare dress that you can see in this post.

After all that time spent figuring out princess seams, lining, and zippers, you can bet I wanted to use that pattern in additional ways! My craziest idea was to turn it into a Regency-inspired dress. You can view that adventure in this post!

I also envisioned modifying the pattern to create a Renaissance-inspired overdress. Neither my cotton fabric nor the princess-seamed design were historically accurate, but hey, if the bodice fits, wear it! As the dress began to take shape, I conspired with Lindee to attend our first Renaissance faire together! While she got busy thrifting her outfit, I turned my crazy sewing ideas into a costume! The Renaissance fair adventure that we had been planning for years was finally happening! Here is my collection of fabric awaiting transformation.

My major modifications to the pattern included opening the bodice in the front instead of the back, closing the bodice with lacing instead of a zipper, and lengthening the skirt. No problem, right? 😉 Here’s the skirt lengthening process.

Since I didn’t need the zipper in the back of the bodice, I didn’t also need the seam allowance for the zipper. Accordingly, I reduced the back bodice piece a bit and cut it out on the fold, making one rather than two pieces.

On the flip side, I needed to fold the bodice pattern in half and make two of those instead of one. I then extended each of the 2 new bodice pieces to create seam allowance for the open front.

New bodice in progress!

Once the outside of the bodice was finished, I sewed it to the lengthened skirt.

When the lining was sewn to the bodice, it created a seam that finished the open bodice edges. The open edges of the skirt were hemmed to match.

Ta-da- the almost finished outer dress!

With the dress sewn, I planned to close the dress bodice with laces. I made a mock-up out of paper to help me determine the number and placement of grommets needed to created the desired effect.

The addition of small grommets to the bodice proved to be surprisingly problematic. In the past, I have used larger grommets that consisted of two metal pieces bent into each other, encapsulating a small hole in the fabric. These tiny grommets, however, had only one piece which, when bent, bent into the fabric itself. (Yes, I followed the directions!)

The sharp metal edges of the grommets dug into the fabric and caused rips in several places! Even if I had added an iron-in lining to the front of the bodice (as I probably should have), the grommets would still have dug into the fabric. I’m not sure if this is just a problem with small grommets, but you can image I will never use those of this design again! In addition to damaging my fabric, the grommets began shedding their color- coating as soon as I began hammering. This produced the ugly bright silver color that I had been careful to avoid… Being thoroughly “over it” by this time, I added small patches on the underside of the rips in the bodice, and told myself not to worry too much, as this was “just” a costume…

Another day, another dress… Next I needed to make an under dress or chemise to layer beneath my over dress. I was originally very excited to find a historically-based pattern for said under dress. I later found the historical pattern difficult to follow, in part because historical garment construction methods differ from how we sew today. Being a “student” seamstress, I also found that I needed far more pictures, diagrams, and directions than the pattern contained. At least one step even seemed to be missing… Accordingly, I will summarize the underdress making somewhat briefly, since I can’t be sure I did things correctly. (Nor would I make this pattern as is again! Growl)

The body/skirt of the dress was made up of large rectangles.

Knife pleating created the neckline and back of the now tube-like dress. I had to adjust the size of the pleats to fit me… a couple of times.

The sleeves were very large…

And here is where the difficulty began. The part of the sleeve that was to stay on the shoulder was supposed to be knife pleated. I didn’t know how big the shoulders needed to be, so I loosely gathered them, as you can see in the picture to the left. The little square sewn to the sleeve was an underarm gusset that would look like a diamond once inserted into the underarm.

That little square-turned-diamond fit into an opening in the sleeve seam and an opening in the dress. (In this picture, the gusset is folded in half and looks like a triangle.)

With sleeves raised high, here is how they looked attached.

Interestingly, this seemed to be the only way that “shoulders” were to be created in the dress. Of course, those large heavy sleeves would NOT stay on my shoulders, no matter how tightly I made the shoulder gathering….

Before solving the shoulder problem, I followed the directions and enclosed the neck and back edges in seam binding.

As no directions were given for finishing the “shoulders that wouldn’t stay on shoulders,” I made more seam binding…

And made it too short, so had to add…

I sewed the seam binding to the shoulders, then inserted thin elastic into the tube made by the binding. Perhaps stretchy gathered “shoulders” would stay on my shoulders?

Nope. Wishful thinking. Accordingly, I added ties to the back of the dress to keep the dratted sleeves somewhat on my shoulders and the dress on my body. Again, this is just a costume, right?!

Thankfully, the straps and the outer dress were enough to keep the under dress from falling off me! (yay!) I was finally able to turn my attention to accessories! In lieu of a purse, I hung a drawstring bag from a thrifted leather belt around my waist. I created a small shawl from scrap wool and made a snood to cover my short hair. (Check out our super easy snood diy here!) Lindee scored an amazing Renaissance bodice at her Goodwill, which she wore with a thrifted crochet dress and belt! She made a wrap from a large piece of fabric and crafted her crown and elf ears from wire and beads!

We loved the contrasts between our costumes- homemade vs. thrifted, historically- inspired vs. fantasy! Lindee and I felt that we represented our costume genres well and were proud to strut our stuff amid the well-costumed throng!

So much to see at the faire!

Of course, we couldn’t pass up a good photo opportunity! 😉

Lindee and I came away totally inspired by the love for costuming we saw all around us! Admittedly, creating our own costumes and then wearing them among fellow enthusiasts was half the fun! We can’t wait for our next faire! We have a whole year to work on our costumes… 😉



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