All In A Toile
Making the toile has finally come around. I have had a week and a half to cut and construct the mock up of the dress ready to bring it with me to my visit back to Berrington Hall in Herefordshire, to spend some more quality time with the original.
I was undecided for a few days as to what fabric to use for the mock up. I wondered whether it would be more beneficial to make up in a cheaper satin/ silky fabric. I took the concern to one of my tutors who advised to mock up in the traditional calico, their reasoning was that calico is easy to work with and cheap, the real dress will be costly enough without adding extras on top, and if a piece was cut wrong, calico is cheap enough to be replaced easily, not to mention the fact that it is easy to press sew and manipulate. So once that was cleared up I got on with the pattern cutting.
Now, I will happily admit that transferring patterns and adding seam allowance is my least favourite part of any costume making that I undertake. It takes a long time as it has to be accurate, and I find it fiddily and messy. I used a combination of blue and yellow transfer sheets- the yellow I could barely see and struggled when it came to following the line when sewing up the pieces. Also, because this is a practice run, I followed the method of adding a one inch seam allowance to all seams which is very common in costumes, as it leaves room for alterations. I then added some tacking along bottom/top design lines and CF/CB etc. so I can see the shape on the right side of the dress.
Sewing up the dress itself went very quickly. Supprisingly, most of the seams fitted together easily and there were only a few minor discrepancies in the pattern, this shows that Janet Arnold's pattern is quite accurate and furthermore, my scaling up of the pattern was a success. There are no real instructions for how the pieces fit together, aside from the drawings and my photographs of the original so I used a combination of my experience and common sense and I avoided trying to force anything that did not look right.
Considerations on Historical Shape
With the toile sewn together I can finally see the piece in 3D and certain things stick out a mile that I find fascinating about the historical aspects of the original garment.
Firstly, I can see how far back the shoulders are set, compared to my modern mannequin shape. This is in short the result of corsetry, creating an errect figure, from a young age, where the shoulders are pulled back, creating a narrow back and broad chest- quite different to the often quite rounded shoulders of modern women today.
Secondly, the proportion from the top half, waist, chest and shoulders is huge compared to the hips. This is a particular enigma. I already know, from looking at extant examples of corsets/ dresses of this period that corsets were long and tight at the waist, following down to encompass the low hipline; this supported the tight fitting cuirasse shape of the natural form era, by creating a long smooth line. Yet with my toile I can see that there is a huge difference between top and bottom halves of this dress, equivalent to being a modern size 8 at the bust and waist and then jumping to a size 14/16 at the hips. So does this mean the original wearer of the dress was very disproportionate, perhaps as a result of restrictive garments impeeding growth, or was this particular example garment not fitted tightly at the hips as I would have expected? Maybe there was extra garments/padding supporting the silhouette of this dress, giving the impression that it was tightly fitted to the hips, to give the wearer a more desireable and fashionable silhouette? I am inclined to guess the garment was fitted over a hip shape as the seams shape at the hip line supports this idea. Other than this though I may have to ask others with more knowledge than I have on the subject.
The mock up gave me a chance to try out the ruching at the front, I used silk thread but this turned out to be too thick, I also inserted the collar, pinned on the sleeves and tried out the cuffs, which came up too short(this will need adjusting). I also had a go at the decorative panels, seen above.
All the while I have been adding to a rather extensive list of questions that I will need to answer when I view the original, so that I can make sure that I am constructing and finishing the garment as close to the original period techniques as possible. I am quite pleased overall with the toile result and feel quite confident about tackling the reproduction of this garment in the expensive silks.
I have decided however, that once I make the slight changes to the pattern to make sure it all fits together correctly, that I will be re-tracing out all the pattern pieces, adding 1.5cm seam allowance and then cutting the top fabric out, without the need to tracte out all the seams. I will of course need to transfer other markings such as darts etc. but this will reduce the mess to the w/s of the fabric from the chalk and reduce the need for such large seam allowances, that are not period and will only need cutting down otherwise.