Viking Dress and Overgown

Viking dress and overdress modelled by Julie
Viking dress and overdress modelled by Julie (American Girl)

Viking Dress can Cover
After the intense frustration and hassle of the gauze gown, I decided to do something completely different. For this outfit I used Viking dress and cover by Read Creations. The pattern doesn’t specify a date but clothing styles changed extremely slowly at that time and something of this sort could have been worn anytime from roughly 500-1100 AD. I’m calling it 1000 for indexing purposes.

It’s actually been finished for a week, but I decided I needed beads to complete the outfit so the post was on hold until I picked them up yesterday.

Brown solid quilting cotton for the dress (not sure of brand but a bit too thin for imitating wool) and a light mushroomy / lavendar warm grey solid for the overdress (also too thin). I had less than a half-metre of each so there wasn’t much room for error, as I found to my cost.

Seams were stitched in 100-wt silk thread and overcast in blanket stitch with single strand embroidery floss as usual.

If you haven’t been to your local Lincraft store in a while it might be worth while checking it out — there are lots of jewellery findings there now that are ideal for doll accessories. For this outfit I bought jump rings, thin leather cord (which I didn’t use in the end because it wasn’t supple enough at this scale) and knitting cotton (originally bought for hem decoration but I ended up using it for the lacings).

I was able to find some small-scale beads on etsy that were ideal for the bead string on the overdress. I was going to use oval beads to simulate turtle brooches, but from what I’ve read they were restricted to married women so I’ve left them off this outfit. The string of beads is a little long for the width but it looks pretty good and it’s sewn onto the shoulder straps so I’m not changing it now.

I cut the gores first and found that instead of four identical isosceles triangles I had three (almost) identical ones and one that was significantly smaller. I still don’t know how that happened. Given that they were supposed to be applied in pairs at the side that was a big problem. I didn’t have enough fabric to cut another triangle so I decided to use the three identical ones at front and sides, and add the two end triangles (which were almost the same size as each other, though smaller than the other gores) to the back. This was not a wise decision — I should have cut down the three bigger triangles to the size of the fourth — as it led to a further issue (see below). Since I was going to add a front gore I decided to split the front into two halves because I hate inserting triangles into a point — there is always a wrinkle, no matter how much you try to hide it. Because I was adding gores to the back I had to reduce the length of the opening at centre back, so the ability to add a larger slash at centre front was a bonus.

Actual construction went fairly well. I found my white chalk pencil a couple of days earlier so I was able to draw seam lines on pieces as I needed them. It turned out that two of the triangles weren’t symmetrical (which I should have predicted with one of the four being wonky) but luckily (or possibly subconsciously) I had attached the shorter sides first so I was able to trim the long sides. I was pleased that the front gore had no wrinkles at the top — it was worth sewing the extra seam at centre front. Once all the seams were done I smoothed out the hemline curve and did a 3/8″ double turned hem (the pattern said 1/4″ for the first turn and 1/2″ for the second but I prefer to have both turns the same size). The hem is a little wobbly on the inside because of the difference in circumference — I should have adjusted the seam line or added a gathering line to help pull in the fullness. It doesn’t look too bad on the outside.
Hem of the undergown
I used my hera tool to make eyelets — nine on each side at the back of the underdress, spaced at half-inch intervals. They were secured with quilting thread in blanket stitch. (Sorry, I didn’t get a photo of the eyelets.)

The overdress was even more simple — five panels (back was split) and four gores (all of which were actually identical this time). The top hem was a double-turned quarter inch and the hem was a single-turned quarter inch with the raw edge overcast. The back opening was also supposed to be a single turn but I really didn’t want that so I made it a double-turned eighth of an inch. The shoulder straps were way too long — I didn’t want to waste effort sewing two when one would do so after checking the fit I cut one in half and used a half on each side. I’m sure I’ll find some use for the other one. I did think about doubling them up and making loops, as some of the original dresses had, but that requires functional pins and/or brooches and would be bulky, so I stitched both ends instead. The overdress is just large enough to pull on over the feet and hips but not over the head and shoulders and the shoulder straps are long enough to go over the hands.
Inside the overgown
For the closure I sewed jump rings to the back. I don’t have any jeweller’s pliers at the moment (my old set went to my cousins a few years ago and the new ones I’ve bought are still in transit) so I ended up using scissor-action eyebrow tweezers to get the jump rings closed properly. I was very close to giving up and sewing eyelets instead but I persevered. The rings are at one-inch intervals instead of half, though. I may add the rest of the rings later on when I have the proper tools.

Both the gown and overgown are tied with knitting cotton rather than leather cord — the cord just didn’t work at this scale.

Viking dress undergown Julie with arms up
Below the waist is fine, but the undergown is very baggy above the waist and the sleeves are too long. I know that underarm gores are a real part of these gowns, but the in extant garments the armscye is usually a lot smaller so it’s needed. Doll sleeves and armscyes have to be fairly wide to allow the hands to go through, and reaching overhead isn’t essential, so the gores don’t add much to the fit. The slope of the shoulders was good though.

I’m not sure why the front opening is slightly longer on one side — I’m sure I lined it up properly when I did the seam. Oh well, I’m sure there were similar errors in the viking era, and a brooch would hide it. I also note that it was quite difficult to get the undergown on and off the dolls. I had allowed 6 times the length of the opening for the lace, but it was still too short and the ends got a bit messy having to re-thread the tapestry needle I was using. I need to re-do the laces to be a little longer and also seal the ends with glue. (Leather cord wouldn’t have frayed but, as I said earlier, it was too stiff and didn’t close the dress properly.)

Because the sleeves are a bit long on Julie I decided to try the outfit on Pearl (Our Generation) and Matilda (Australian Girl), who both have longer arms.
Undergown front
Undergown side
Undergown back
Overgown front
Overgown side
Overgown back
Pearl has the hair button at the back so the fit around the middle isn’t great. Her shoulders are flatter than AG so the top of the gown doesn’t sit very well. The sleeve length is a little better though.

In spite of being 2″ taller Matilda has much the same chest and arm measurements so I figured the dress would fit her too. I was very wrong. Her shoulders are actually quite narrow — the straps of the overgown barely cover the joint — while the point of the upper arm (where the acromial process/origin of the deltoid would be in a human) is quite wide, so the gown looks remarkably odd on her. I’m glad I found this out, though, because I’m planning on making a 16th century dress for her and now I know I’ll have to do a mock-up of the bodice first.

Lessons Learned:
1. “Measure twice, cut once” applies to sewing as well as carpentry.
2. Quilting cotton really doesn’t pass for wool very well. Stock up on plain flannelette when you find it, as you can be sure there will be none available in stores when you need it. Cotton drill or canvas would also be good options.

Notes for future versions:
1. Make the dress and overdress gores a little narrower.
2. Make the back seam of both dress and overdress half an inch wide or add a placket.
3. Reduce the size of the underarm gores to 1″ or leave them out.
4. Shorten the sleeves by ¼” for American Girl dolls.
5. Deepen the facing at the front if you want a keyhole neck opening.
6. Only cut one length for the shoulder straps.
7. For the undergown, cut lacing 8 x the length of the opening and trim afterwards.

A Tiny Sleeve Ham

Tiny sleeve ham

As I said in the last post, I improvised a small ham out of an old cotton sock so that I could press puff sleeves on doll dresses. When I was last in Lincraft I found 35 mm wooden beads and realised immediately that they would make a perfect base for something more permanent.

The resultant ham has five layers of cotton batting and is almost two inches across, which is a bit fatter than I intended, mainly because as a supposedly intelligent person it took me far too long to work out the circumference of a sphere (which, for your reference, is the same as the circumference of a circle, that is, 2πr or πd (where r is the radius and d the diameter). Then, once I had got the size right, it took me another two layers to work out how best to avoid huge folds. For the final layer I ended up cutting a circle the with a diameter of the circumference (close enough to five inches at this stage), marking another circle with about 75-80% the diameter of the sphere, cutting 8 slashes from the edge to the inner circle, stitching down the centre of each flap and then trimming to shape and overstitching the resultant seams. It’s close enough to spherical now, with minimal bulging over the previous layers’ mistakes, so I’m calling it done. The “handle” is a short piece of inch-wide cotton twill that I’ve had forever and was very close to being thrown out as useless.

I’d like a cotton fabric cover, but it wouldn’t stretch over the sphere without folds, and if I cut and trimmed the same way I did the batting there would be frayed edges everywhere, even with overcasting. I figure if I can keep it safe from the cats it shouldn’t pick up too much in the way of dust and fluff.

I am tempted to make another one with only two or three layers of batting because I think this one might actually be a little large for some of the smaller sleeves. If I do I’ll take photos as I go and post the method as well as the results.

1790 Round Gown in Gauze

… or, “How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways.”

1790 round gown modelled by Caroline
1790 round gown modelled by Caroline

Before I go any further, I have a piece of advice for anyone who is contemplating making a similar doll dress out of gauze: DON’T DO IT. It was never-ending hassle and frustration and absolutely not worth it. I have come to hate this project and am only posting it because I need closure.

Although this resembles a chemise à la reine from the front it’s not. The chemise is basically a tent dress open at the front, with three drawstrings (neck, under bust and waist) and usually has long sleeves and one or two deep ruffles over the neck and at the hem. This dress has short sleeves and a fitted bodice back with gathers on the back of the skirt.

The pattern I used as a base was the 1790 Open Pelisse and Regency Dress by Thimbles and Acorns, purchased through Pixie Faire. I know I had issues with this pattern when I made it in March but they don’t apply here because I made several modifications for this dress. All the new issues are due to the modifications I made and the fabric I chose.
1790 round gown pattern modifications
I wanted to avoid a closure for the bodice because the fabric is so sheer that any snaps or Velcro would stand out like the proverbial sore thumb. Given that the neck and waist were going to be gathered, I re-drew the pattern, adding about 5″ to the centre front of the gauze overlay pattern piece and cutting one bodice back on the fold. This yielded a neckline of 17″ circumference and a waistline of 26″ which allows the dress to be lowered over the head and arms of a doll (it actually helps if the strings are a little loose so that the arms can be more vertical). The front skirt was a rectangle that matched the bodice width, while the skirt back was both widened and lengthened with a train. Both front and back skirt pieces were allocated a half-inch seam allowance at the waistline to enable a casing to be made (more on that later).

1790 round gown trial bodice back
The fabric I used was a gauze-like “muslin” from Lincraft — much looser in weave than the muslin from Spotlight that I have used previously. After a trial run of stitching the back and side pieces to check the pattern (wise decision, as I did need to make an adjustment to the bodice back) I found that it moved around constantly and I knew that I would never be able to cut or sew it without some from of stiffening. I didn’t want to treat the whole 2 metres so I tore off a strip.
1790 round gown - torn gauze
Pro-tip: don’t do this with gauze. The weave is too loose and many threads will pull. I managed to straighten out most of the pulls but it was one more hassle I didn’t need.
 1790 round gown - stiffened gauze
I knew that my fabric stiffener was pretty strong so I diluted it by half in tap water (1:1) but the gauze ended up much too stiff all the same — I would have been better off diluting it 1:3 or weaker (but see below for more issues). However, it made marking and cutting the gauze a breeze. I used an old rotary cutter blade and paper scissors as I wasn’t sure if it would dull the blades. I rinsed some of the stiffener out before stitching down the gathers on the sleeves and skirt back. Even so, the stiffness affected my wrists so I was only able to stitch for about 1-1½ hours a day (as opposed to 2-3 hours on a normal day — I have issues with my scapho-metacarpal joints in both wrists).

For the sash I used 80 cm of red organza ribbon.

As usual, all stitching was by hand. All seams and seam allowances were stitched with Superior Threads Kimono 100-wt silk thread (no cotton floss in this dress).

1790 round gown bodice
I first stitched the bodice back and side seams together. Given the transparency of the fabric I elected to trim the side back seam allowance to 1/8″ and fold the bodice back seam allowance over it. The raw edge was secured by herringbone stitch. For the shoulder seams (and the side seams at the waist) I did the same trimming of one side but stitched the folded seam allowance down to the dress so that there would be no loose pocket to catch the gathering cord when it was inserted. It looked a little messier because of the pull on the threads, but it had to be done. There are no photos of the seam treatments because white silk thread on white gauze is almost invisible (even with a 5x magnifying lamp I had difficulty seeing the stitches at times).

I faced the neckline with a bias strip to make a casing for a drawstring. Once it was stitched on I made two eyelet holes with a hera at centre front and secured them with white coton à broder (50 wt) from DMC. The facing was narrow enough that I couldn’t make the eyelets big enough for my bodkin but I managed to get around that (see below). I discovered when basting down the turn that I had applied the facing to the wrong side of the bodice, not the right side. Oh well, it doesn’t look too bad and it’s all going to be obscured by the gathers. It was also at this point that I realised I would have to rinse the remaining pieces to remove some stiffening as there was no way I was going to be able to stitch down gathers with the fabric literally as stiff as a board.

I inserted the gathering stitches on the sleeves (both top and bottom) and then rinsed them in cold water. This enabled the gathers to be stitched down more securely. It proved impossible to turn the gathered seam allowances so they were trimmed to 1/8″ and overcast with blanket stitch using coton à broder. The binding was stitched on and then, after the side seams were sewn, turned and basted in place and left until after the hem.

1790 round gown skirt
I stitched the side seams first and finished the seam allowances with herringbone stitch as for the bodice. For the top inch I stitched the seam allowance down so that it wouldn’t catch the bodkin later on (a wasted effort, as it turned out). Next I started on the hem. I had drafted a half-inch hem allowance (a quarter-inch turned twice). Because of the curve around the train I inserted a gathering stitch at a quarter-inch from the edge. When the hem was turned twice this thread allowed me to ease in the excess without much puckering. A steam iron greatly helped with the turning as it softened the fabric temporarily. I basted the hem in place then left it while I attended to the waistline. The gathering stitch along the top of the skirt back was inserted and then the skirt was gently rinsed. Once I had attached the skirt to the bodice I realised that my original plan of turning it down to make a casing wasn’t going to work for the back as it was all gathered. I didn’t want to make a separate casing so I decided that because the back bodice wasn’t gathered I could get away with only having the drawstrings run from the side seams to centre front. The front skirt seam allowance was turned over the bodice; two eyelets were inserted at centre and then it was stitched down to make a casing (I didn’t want the eyelets to show on the bodice so the waistline has to be tied from the inside, but the skirt has plenty of fullness so it isn’t too fiddly).

I tried to find some very fine cording but was unsuccessful. Instead I made my own from white cotton floss. (Oops — I lied. There is cotton floss in this dress!). The finished waist cords had to be about 20 cm / 8″ long and I wanted them to be four-ply so I cut two lengths of 1.2 metres which gave me a comfortable margin in case twisting took up too much length or the swing point wasn’t exactly in the centre. I folded the cords in half and marked the centre of the doubled length. Then I hooked the floss through a door handle and started twisting. There was a lot of twisting — about ten minutes for each one — and my wrists definitely did not like it. The cords ended up around 9″ so there wasn’t that much excess.

Of course, three days later I found a YouTube video on making rope using a marlinspike — that definitely would have made things a lot easier. Unfortunately that particular design (with the crossbar) isn’t common at all but I’ll keep looking. I’ll probably end up with a normal marlinspike and an improvised crossbar … or basically anything vaguely cylindrical with a neck and a freely moving crossbar.

In order to get the cord through the casings I had to resort to an intermediate line because the cord wouldn’t fit through a needle and the eyelets were too small for a bodkin or safety pin. Instead I threaded a tapestry needle with some leftover basting thread and looped it through the end of the cording. I had to massage the cording through the eyelet but after that it was fairly easy. Once the leading edge of the cord reached the side seams I stitched it down — luckily the twisted end made it easy as I could poke the needle through the loop. Once that was done I trimmed the back bodice and skirt seam allowances to 1/8″ and overcast them as one.

I started to make a drawstring for the neck using the same method, but my starting length was 4 metres and I figured it was going to take forever. I made the very stupid decision to double it before twisting and use a single twist. Those of you who have ever attempted this will know what happened next: as soon as I cut it free it started unrolling so the whole thing was useless. Instead I opted for 3 mm white ribbon — given the previous mistake with the neckline casing it was probably a better choice anyway, as the ribbon is visible at centre front of the bodice.

Even though I had rinsed pieces of the gown while working on them, there was still a lot of stiffening in the fabric and I wasn’t able to get it to fit well enough to be confident of placing the petticoat neckline correctly. Since I had some white flannelette to wash I put the finished gown in a lingerie bag and threw it into the hot wash with the fabric. It came out as a tiny ball which took me a while to straighten out but most of the stiffness was gone and I thought it would be fine when it dried. Unfortunately, it wasn’t — it was still very much stiffer than the original gauze. A second wash produced no further improvement. I’m not sure if the stiffener reacted with the fibre itself or was fixed into the fabric when I pressed it, but either way it’s now there to stay.
1790 round gown - pressing
When it came to pressing, I was able to use my Clover mini iron on the bodice, and I improvised a tiny ham for the sleeves by using an old cotton sock. I also have a miniature sleeve board that I made from a 6″ wooden ruler so I used that for the sleeve bindings. For the skirt I used my normal iron on the standard sleeve board.

1790 round gown front
1790 round gown side
1790 round gown back
Although the dress looks a lot better than it deserves, there are still issues that are clear to see. The neckline casing is too thick and bulky and doesn’t sit right. The waist seam is a lot bulkier than I like, too. The skirt back doesn’t flare out as I intended because the front panel is too narrow at the base — I should have made it a trapezoid instead of a rectangle. The back and sleeves are good but they are the pieces I didn’t change (well, I took a quarter inch out of the centre back but that’s all). The petticoat doesn’t sit just inside the bodice as I hoped it would and the margins are clearly visible under the gauze.

All in all the dress is pretty much a failure … but I have learned some important lessons so it wasn’t a waste of time.

Lessons Learned:
1. Never use gauze for this scale of work. Just don’t.
2. Never tear gauze. Cut it instead.
3. Synthetic starch doesn’t wash out completely. If you need to stiffen fabric for clothing (human, animal or doll) use actual starch, preferably starch you make yourself from rice or cornflour.
4. Skirt backs with a train need a trapezoidal skirt front to avoid that dip above the ankles.
5. Casings at neck and waist need to be planned more carefully to ensure that the thickness is kept to a minimum.
6. A cord made from hand-wound floss is feasible for short lengths but if a long cord is needed I need some sort of two-axis spinning device to speed it up.

Notes for future versions:
Yeah, no.

Petticoat for 1790 gauze round gown

Petticoat for 1790 round gown modelled by Caroline
Petticoat for 1790 round gown modelled by Caroline
This petticoat was made specifically for the 1790 round gown in gauze, which I’ll post tomorrow, but should be compatible with other Regency/Empire style dresses.

1790 petticoat pattern pieces
For the petticoat I started with the bodice lining pattern pieces from 1790 Open Pelisse and Regency Dress by Thimbles and Acorns. I’ve noted previously that the bodice was very loose on Mattel AG dolls, but that was actually an advantage here. I trimmed 1/8″ from the neckline and armscyes so that the fabric would not be seen over the gauze, as well as taking 2 mm off the neck side of the front shoulder seam so that it would lie flat. The pattern pieces actually show further trimming of neckline which I’ll have to correct it I ever make this again.

I added 11″ long generic skirt pieces, adding extra width at the side seams because the original plan was to have open sides tied together with twill tape, but I realised once I basted the shoulder pieces together that there wasn’t enough room for the head so it changed to a shoulder fastening, which required more pattern adjustment. With the shoulder straps pinned in place (allowing enough overlap to accommodate the button closure) I put the gauze dress on over the petticoat, tied the drawstrings and then marked the neckline with a pencil. Luckily the armscye was low enough that it didn’t need any adjustment. I over-trimmed the shoulder straps, though, and ended up having to sew 1/8″ seams.

I used white voile which I found at Lincraft a couple of weeks ago — it’s the first time I’ve seen plain white voile so I bought 5 metres. That should last me a while! I toyed with the idea of adding a lace trim but decided it wasn’t in keeping with the simple style of the dress. I might add some white embroidery around the hem, though.

I dithered for quite a while as I couldn’t decide between simply turning the raw edges or making a facing. In my previous not-very-successful effort a couple of years ago I had turned and overstitched the edges, but it didn’t look very good, and since voile is quite thin I decided I could cope with the double thickness — it would help with the shoulder strap fastenings too. The facing came down to about half an inch below the natural waistline on the doll.
1790 petticoat side sems and hem
Actual construction was very simple. I stitched the front and front facing pieces together along the top edge from side to side, then clipped the curves, turned and pressed. I repeated this for the back and back facing.  I stitched the side seams and overcast them with blanket stitch and also overcast the bottom edge of the facing. Then I top-stitched very close to the edge on the neckline and armscye. I added some twill tape just under the armscye of the petticoat –I should have inserted it in the side seams, of course, but I forgot. The hem was a double-turned quarter inch secured with running stitch.
1790 petticoat shoulder fastening
Finally I attached a small button to the back shoulder strap and made a small thread loop on the front strap.

1790 petticoat -- Caroline v Addy front
1790 petticoat -- Caroline v Addy side
1790 petticoat -- Caroline v Addy back
There is a 4.5 cm difference between Addy and Caroline around the chest, but the twill ties allow a smooth flat front with all fullness pushed to the sides (or to the back, if that is preferred).

Lessons Learned:
1. It’s impossible to make a non-stretch, non-gathered closed neckline that fits over a doll’s head.
2. Don’t over trim — shoulder straps should be about half an inch finished, so at least 1″ before stitching — yes this looks very wide, you have to trust that it will end up the right size.
3. I could make it a little slimmer around the chest and waist without risking it being too small for pre-Mattel dolls.

Notes for future versions:
1. This could probably be done by machine in a fraction of the time as there are no tight curves.

A Teaser

I have one project finished but I’m not really happy with the result so I’m trying to fix it before posting it, probably tomorrow or Monday. I have another project that is three-quarters done and I’ll post that once it’s finished, in about ten days or so. The project after that is going to be something completely new and I’m both excited and apprehensive about it.

If you recognise this —
My next project
— you will know exactly what I’m attempting. Wish me luck!