martedì 24 novembre 2015

Sewing an ancient Roman dress: a short tutorial.

If you had the chance to read my entries for a while, you should have noticed I'm an ancient Roman reenactor and fanatic. I studied Roman History at University and since then I'm totally crazy about that. As reenactor I need to have accurate outfits to be worn during events and as seamstress I love to take care of the details. 
Sewing an ancient Roman dress is not difficult but requires a little bit of historical research. I wrote about Roman fashion in the past and I don't wanna repeat myself, so I hope you'll enjoy this short summary. The basic garments of an ancient Roman woman were three layers, a tunic, a stola (if married) and a palla, an outer garment which was worn in public by respectable women and could be carried on the head as veil. The tunic, as you can imagine, was the foundation of their wardrobe. 
Building a Roman tunic is not hard, there are several images and tutorials on the web but be careful, most of them talk about the ancient Greek fashion, which is similar but not the same thing. Forget the lascivious costumes worn in movies and fictions, Roman women were more modest you can think! 

So, for the last event in Acqui Terme I needed a new and more historically accurate outfit, which included a palla and a veil. I was out of budget so I couldn't sew a stola, but it's ok if you wanna portrait a young and unmarried woman (smart solution!). I wore the outfit again last week for a nice shooting with the guys of Light&ART studio. 

Before talking about the construction, let's see some references: 

The most accurate form of tunic is a wide, long, rectangle of cloth which is sewn at sides and open above, to let your head and arms get out. It looks simple, uh? The tunic was draped around the body with a long belt, which was tied under the bust before and around the waist later, giving the dress the classical puffy shape. Ancient roman fashion didn't have supporting garments as corsets so the belt under the bust is a help to keep everything in place. To obtain this famous shape you need a long tunic, almost the double of your height from shoulders to feet. 
So, after determining the height of your tunic all you have to do is sew at sides, from selvage to selvage. Here there's a scheme for the ionic chiton, but the process is the same: 

You should have at this point something like this: 

Once you're done you have to wear the tunic and mark your fastenings with the help of a friend. An accurate solution would be pins to close your sleeves but I went for some decorative buttons. My tunic has been dyed in light blue but you can choose other colours. Don't leave it white! When your tunic is fastened you can proceed with the belt (a piece of cord or a braid would be perfect). The palla was the equivalent of male toga, so sew a continuous piece of fabric of oval shape; my palla is in red linen and matches my hair band. 

To give you an idea of the finished outfit, look at the following photos or read my previous entry about Acqui & Sapori (there are other photos of the costume in action). For my tunic I sewn all hems by hand, this decision it's up to you. 

The veil is a small rectangle of fabric handsewn to a hair comb. Even in this case, I sewn all hems by hand. The hairstyle will help you to keep the veil up so it's important to choose a lightweight fabric. For the hairstyle you can use bobby pins or - more accurate - wooden forks. A tip for your hair: curls, curls  and more curls! Use extensions if your natural hair are not long enough, Roman women did the same with real human hair or wigs. 

Photo by Raffaele Boni Photographer

 The whole outfit was finally completed with lot of jewels - bronze, gold or silver are acceptable materials. If you have some questions about this kind of costume, leave a comment!

mercoledì 11 novembre 2015

A White Civil War Day Dress

Hello there! Today I have some spare time to talk you about one of my recent creations!
Last September I sewn a new civil war costume (ok, I'm two months late, as usual) 'cause my first outfit needs a complete restyling. Since I had a little bit of budget I decided to sew a quite historically accurate costume in cotton and you know, sometimes natural fibres are not so cheap. I took my inspiration from a very famous extant gown, displayed at MET museum:

I immediately felt in love with it, the contrast between black and white is so classy! Alas, I knew I wouldn't be able to sew all that trim (I was out of time) and to achieve the double pointed bodice. So I started to think about my costume. My boyfriend found Simplicity #1818 on eBay and ok, I accepted the compromise: I was a little bit disappointed 'cause I no longer use commercial patterns but the envelope showed a nice day dress with trimmed lapels...I couldn't resist. There's a old Simplicity pattern which shows the white dress of MET but it's discontinued and really hard to find.

mmm red and black, my favourite! 
My dress would have been very simple, I wanted it to be authentic and elegant. The pattern includes some underpinnings as chemisette, undersleeves and neck wear. I worked on my costumes for 10 days but I had to sew the petticoat as well. The fabric is 100% cotton, nothing luxury but a good price for an accurate look (about 7€/mt for 2.80 mt height).
I started with the petticoat. The pattern includes the front skirt only, the rest of the garment has to be done by yourself cutting three rectangles of fabric and pleating them following the pattern directions. I marked the pleats with a disappearing marker. The skirt has been faced inwards and I added some interfacing to the waistband. Facing the skirt is a good way to keep the skirt in place and it helps to hide your hoops.

The chemisette and the neck wear have been really easy. The chemisette took a few hours to be done, I spent more time in looking for buttons but unfortunately I found plastic buttons only (don't tell anyone!). I put interfacing again in the collar and  the neck band, trimming it with black bias tape. The beautiful cammeo you can see is by Red Rose Creation. 

The chemisette has to be worn over your corset cover and ties at sides. It's a good way to wear something modest without the bulk of a true chemise and guess?, it's accurate! Collars are a must as well, remember these gowns weren't created to be washed every day so wearing collars is a smart choice to keep your gown safe and cleaner. And yes, collars are fashionable!

Then I started to work on the bodice. I started with the lining, adding all the necessary boning at centre back, sides and front. I did my boning channels using white bias tape. I had to reshape the centre back panel 'cause it was too wide for my back, so next time I'll use a size 6 instead of a 8. The front of the bodice fitted very well so I added the sleeves trimmed with white lace. I trimmed then the lapels with black trim and started to sew the buttonholes by hand. My boyfriend helped me making those lovely satin ribbons and the fabric buttons.
I didn't make any piping in my bodice. Wrong choice. Dresses of this era were piped. Piping is an accurate technique and is quite simple to do: all you need is a cord, bias tape and a sewing machine. You sew the cord into the bias tape, apply it on the right side of your garment and, if your garment is lined, you sandwich it between the main fabric and the garment. You sew everything in place, turn the garment inside out, and voilà, your piping is done! Piping is usually used on seams and hems of bodices but not in skirts. You can find a very good explanation at Historical Sewing

Then the skirt. I did the same process of the petticoat, facing the hem inwards, cutting the rectangles and knife pleating them; I trimmed the hem with black bias tape and I hide the facing seam with a long black lace strip. The last step have been the under sleeves, made of the same cotton of the gown with interfaced wrist. Unfortunately the back of the bodice kept on being too large with wrinkles. 

I did a bonnet as well from an old hat, trimmed with bias tape and lined in cotton. 

And now some photos of the finished ensemble: 

Back-view of the dress. Look at the wrinkles.

What do you think? I'm always happy to hear your impressions! 

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