Diary of a Titanic Dress: Part Two

By Jennie Chancey

I have to admit I am still surprised from time to time to receive emails from customers who are disappointed with the fit of a vintage-style gown but did not bother to make a fitting toile to check important areas like neckline depth and dart placement before cutting into their fashion material. Making a muslin isn’t just an optional step when it comes to a perfect fit; it is, rather, the most important step in constructing a beautiful garment. So, as you’ll see here, even though I had pin-fitted my interfacing pattern pieces at the start, I still went ahead and cut out muslin pieces for a test-fit. Because my fashion material is very drapey, I wanted to see how the pieces “behaved” with fabric, because interfacing is rather stiff. So I cut out muslin bodice halves, basted up the center back seam, and proceeded to test the placement of the darts over my corseted mannequin.

It’s tempting to look at dart markings on pattern pieces and try so hard to “obey” them that the process becomes frustrating. That needn’t be. No two ladies have exactly the same shape, so customizing darts is perfectly kosher. This pattern’s dart markings were created for a more modern bustline (lower bust point and fuller bust), so if you’re going to wear the gown over a corset, the darts will pin up differently:

My corset pushes the bustline in and up just a bit, making for a slightly longer vertical dart. The side dart (used on sizes 18 and up) actually didn’t need much adjustment at all. The goal here is to achieve a snug, smooth fit over the corset to provide a good foundation for the outer material (a silk saree in this case).

After I double-checked the placement of the darts, I marked along the pin lines with pencil:

Here are the darts opened out with markings in place:

Note that my markings do not exactly follow the lines on the pattern piece, and that’s perfectly fine. When I repinned the darts to fit my corset, I found I needed to reposition the vertical darts to make a nicer line in front. This resulted in the following “leftover” material at the lower end of the dart:

The point is the center of the dart as originally marked, but I moved it over toward the side seam. Because I am short-waisted and don’t need the extra length anyway, I just trimmed away the excess at the lower edge. If you are longer in the waist, you can just move the dart marking over as needed and cut a new toile/lining.

To complete the test fit of the bodice, it was time to check the inset. I cut an interfacing inset out for my size and pinned it to the interfacing “toile” for the bodice front, lining up the top of the inset 5/8″ above the dot marking the top of the inset on the neckline:

Then I checked the fit of the rest of the inset to make sure there was a 5/8″ seam all the way down to the bottom:

Serendipity: a perfect fit the first time! Now it was time to move on.

Gowns from this time period often had carefully structured linings designed to support comparatively flimsy drapery on top, like the black chiffon you see on the 1912 Paul Poiret gown below (from the Met’s costume collection):

I like the delicate look of the sleeves without the lining, so I chose to alter my pattern to cut away the kimono sleeves on the interlining (a dark peacock blue China silk) and lining (the muslin I used for my toile). To mark the armholes for the lining, I put the interfacing “toile” on my mannequin and marked a new cutting line:

You’ll see two faint lines. That’s because I took the toile off and double-checked it on myself. Armless mannequins don’t always accurately show how you need to cut an armhole! After testing the cutting line, I went ahead and cut away the “sleeve,” then put the bodice back on the mannequin to check once again:

With the bodice toile fitted nicely, I went cut along the armscye I marked to make my lining:

Then I cut out the interlining in China silk, lining up the center back with the selvedge:

Finally, I used the original kimono-sleeve piece (the other interfacing piece from my first pin-fit) to cut out the bodice halves. Instead of lining up the center back on the saree’s decorative selvedge, I lined up the sleeve to give me a finished, decorative edge:

Here’s a detail shot:

Now it was time to cut out the bodice inset with its overlay and interlining. I am using the coppery spun silk for the interlining and have two candidates for the overlay–the Battenberg-style lace medallion remnant and the “burnout” organdy. I cut one of each:

Now, you’re going to help me decide which one to use! I pinned all the bodice pieces in place on my mannequin for a preview. Below is Option 1: The Lace Medallion Inset:

And here’s Option 2: The Burnout Organdy:

Here are what I perceive as the pros and cons of each option:

  1. The lace medallion inset is obviously a much larger design and makes the inset take center stage. The “vine” design at the top within the half-circle is quite striking and beautifully showcases the coppery spun silk beneath. But this could also be a “con,” as the inset definitely draws the eye more than the rest of the bodice.
  2. This option is the “blander” of the two, in my opinion, but the color is closer to the gold leaf pattern on the saree silk. I could bead the leaves on the inset to give it more “oomph,” but being on a tight schedule here (with frequent power outages, no less!) makes this a stress-inducing option. However, the smaller vine design doesn’t compete with the saree silk for attention, which is a pro.

Let me show you the bodice options again, this time with the spun silk used as a sash and the sequined “paisley” belt on top:

Okay, time to fire away! I covet your opinions, and I don’t plan to sew a stitch until I hear your take on these options. Which one would you go with and why? Thanks!

Click here to read Part Three
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27 Comments on Diary of a Titanic Dress: Part Two

  1. Cara G.
    April 1, 2012 at 1:56 pm (3 years ago)

    Both are beautiful, but I like the lace medallion best. Love that blue fabric too! :-)

    Reply
  2. Alison
    April 1, 2012 at 2:06 pm (3 years ago)

    I like the lace medallion. The larger pattern pulls things together more. It also stands up against the vibrant paisley belt. Beautiful!!

    Reply
  3. Alana Sheldahl
    April 1, 2012 at 2:12 pm (3 years ago)

    Burnout organdy.
    The top one just looks like you are making the gown out of sofa fabric, IMO.

    Reply
  4. Peggy Blanchard
    April 1, 2012 at 2:30 pm (3 years ago)

    I think both are attractive, but in my opinion the lace medallion will make the whole ensemble quite striking. The half circle at the top of the inset balances the paisley belt nicely, IMO, whereas the leaf pattern, while lovely, doesn’t really add anything. The first option displays all these beautiful fabrics in such a way as to make the most of the lovely pattern. Can’t wait to see the whole thing finished!

    Reply
  5. Gillian
    April 1, 2012 at 3:00 pm (3 years ago)

    Without the sash and the belt, I liked the second, viney option better, but with the bold colour of the sash I think the medallion option works better. I’m also curious – how would it look if you centred the medallion motif on the inset, to have one full medallion rather than two halves?

    Reply
    • Jennie Chancey
      April 1, 2012 at 4:12 pm (3 years ago)

      I would love to have tried that, Gillian, but I only have a remnant of the net lace, and there isn’t a full circle medallion on it — only halves. :P

      Reply
      • Gillian
        April 2, 2012 at 6:52 am (2 years ago)

        Aha! Well, that makes perfect sense, then :) I still like the medallion fabric best for the inset!

        Reply
  6. Katrina - Edelweiss Patterns
    April 1, 2012 at 3:02 pm (3 years ago)

    Option One wins hands down!

    While both versions are pretty in their own respect, option number one gives you a much more striking color combination! With the see-through lace that lets the copper shine through, the bodice and skirt blend together beautifully, and the lace from option one is much more period looking.

    The vine pattern from option two is a lovely piece, but it mutes the color in the bodice way too much and from far away almost looks like a print fabric.

    The copper and teal are such a gorgeous color combo, and it would really be a shame to cover up all that splendid color up top! With option two the eye is drawn down towards the skirt, rather than the focus being on the bodice which will be closer to the face. The only way I would go with option two is if you put some trim with copper color at the top of the inset panel – maybe some rosettes or a double ruffle made from the copper silk

    Just my two cents worth, but I think the bolder the better with this gown!

    Reply
  7. Audrey
    April 1, 2012 at 3:10 pm (3 years ago)

    The Lace Medallion; the color showing through works so much better. Gorgeous fabrics!

    Reply
  8. MegAnne
    April 1, 2012 at 3:12 pm (3 years ago)

    I rather like #2 better, it doesn’t take as much away from the dress, as you said, the medalion rather takes center stage.

    But that’s just my personal opinion. I tend to go with quieter gentler options anyways.

    absolutely LOVING it so far though! Great job!

    Reply
  9. Carol
    April 1, 2012 at 3:26 pm (3 years ago)

    As Gillian pointed out, is there anyway to center the lace medallion to have a whole instead of two halves? The two halves, to my eyes, look like pieces of a puzzle that do not fit together. Could you rotate the fabric so the medallion is longer, rather than wider?

    Like Katrina, I was trying to figure out what other materials you have to make the organdy panel have more of the copper colouring to it. I like Katrina’s suggestion of the rosettes or ruffles from the copper silk. Another option would be to take some of the finished sari trim, place it on the copper silk and trim the top portion of the inset, tying in the colours and trim.

    If you can’t centre the lace medallion, I would not use it.

    Reply
    • Jennie Chancey
      April 1, 2012 at 4:15 pm (3 years ago)

      What drew me to the half medallion were several similar extant gowns of the time period with a beaded motif or something else at the top of the inset. I don’t have the option of using the full circle, as this remnant (from a friend here in Kenya) doesn’t have one — they are all half circles set on the selvedge (the photo at http://sensibility.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/insetlayout1.jpg shows the largest part of this remnant–which had almost a whole medallion, but not enough for me to cut it centered). When the sash is properly sewn up and placed above the waistline, it will also end up covering most of the lower medallion. Maybe I need to take a picture with the skirt fabric pinned on the mannequin and the sash in place? I’ll see if I can do that tomorrow! Thanks!

      Reply
      • Carol
        April 1, 2012 at 4:47 pm (3 years ago)

        The outline of the medallion has the look of ‘stitching’ such as on a baseball. :P It draws too much attention because it’s not a whole medallion. If you can, Jennie, is there a clever way to combine the two fabrics? It was very common of the era to use more than one type of lace fabric and trim on insets and sleeves. Try playing with the two and see if you can’t come up with a way to use the two. Just a thought…..I’ll check my files to see what I can find. :)

        Reply
        • Jennie Chancey
          April 2, 2012 at 11:16 am (2 years ago)

          That is totally amazing, Carol! I already bought enough of the coppery spun silk to do a train out the back (I love the rectangular trains from this period!), but I don’t have enough to do any “swag”-type drapery on the bodice front or back. It would have been fun to try that, though! Check out Part Three, and you’ll see I tried out an asymmetrical drape yesterday. So many fun ways to do 1912!

  10. Krista
    April 1, 2012 at 3:30 pm (3 years ago)

    I echo choosing number one, though I wasn’t thinking that until I saw the photos with the sash and belt. Those are what swayed my opinion!

    Reply
  11. Renie Ashley
    April 1, 2012 at 3:49 pm (3 years ago)

    Burnout Organdy – The design elements are a better match. Beading the leaves on the inset to give it more “oomph” is a great idea, if you have time. However, with either design choice, you are going to have a lovely dress! What beautiful turquoise fabric!

    Reply
  12. Emily Lenz
    April 1, 2012 at 6:01 pm (3 years ago)

    You identified the difficult nature of the question by detailing the advantages of both…I love your taste in color and pattern and the effect in both options is delightful!
    As a matter of personal taste, the first option is my choice, primarily because of the way I am trying to imagine it in its close proximity to your face, etc. Although that is difficult to “imagine”. :) It also gives a lovely impression as far as shapes/textures… makes the pattern in the silk “pop”.
    Just read an intriguing quote from the fashion designer, Worth, in 1877: “A dress should never overpower the wearer. It should merely be an appropriate frame for a charming picture…so few women understand this.”
    “…when I meet ladies who know that dressing is an art, I take very great satisfaction in having them as patrons.”
    Looking forward to enjoying your ongoing posts!

    Reply
  13. Kelly Albrecht
    April 1, 2012 at 8:08 pm (2 years ago)

    I like the second option just the way it is. I love the blues in the swash against the brown. Lovely as ever.

    Reply
  14. Lisa Hollinger
    April 1, 2012 at 8:56 pm (2 years ago)

    I really like Option 1: The Lace Medallion Inset. It looks very elegant, victorian and brings the dress to a higher level of beauty.

    Reply
  15. Ruth B.
    April 1, 2012 at 10:29 pm (2 years ago)

    The lace medallion is my favorite!

    Reply
  16. Lisa Darvin
    April 2, 2012 at 12:33 am (2 years ago)

    Option One is definitely my favorite! It’s jaw-dropping gorgeous and the perfect contrast to the sheer blue fabric! It almost reminds me of the cameo brooch my grandmother gave to me. It has a regal air, but it’s not pretentious! Once you get all the pieces together, I think each one will stand on it’s own with nothing being overshadowed. Go with the one that excites you the most! :-)

    Reply
  17. Jenny Venema
    April 2, 2012 at 12:42 am (2 years ago)

    Option #1! It is just so much more striking. It makes all the components shine. To me, the vine pattern detracts from the others. The lace medallion makes my eyes travel toward the other parts of the dress and not just want to look at the centre pattern.

    Reply
  18. Suzi
    April 2, 2012 at 2:28 am (2 years ago)

    I seem to be out of step here. I very much prefer the vine option, especially if you could add a border at the top. The medallion, to me, looks just what it is – a bit of left over lace.

    Reply
  19. Mrs. Higgins
    April 2, 2012 at 5:02 am (2 years ago)

    I like them both. I am going to an event on April 14 (Last Dinner on the Titanic). I could use a dress like this.

    Reply
  20. someone
    April 2, 2012 at 11:47 am (2 years ago)

    I have a question. Do you make a toile version, and use that as teh innermost liniing, and if not, what did you use as lining? I’m confused.

    Reply
    • Jennie Chancey
      April 2, 2012 at 12:39 pm (2 years ago)

      Hi, “someone!” When I post about sewing the bodice together, you’ll see how the layers go together. I’m using the original muslin toile as my lining. The China silk is the interlining. Hope this helps!

      Reply

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