Pa assured her. "You've never failed anything you tried to do, have you?"
(These Happy Golden Years)
Last Monday (March 19th) I became Laura Ingalls for a half hour. I've been working on this project for almost a year now, but I feel like I've been working on it since I picked up the first Little House book. It was as if all my years of reading and studying this subject finally were coming together. And I was terrified.
I chose to perform for my homeschool co-op. This is a group of people who have known me for many years. In some ways this was great. It was all people who knew me very well and weren't going to be annoyed or unsupportive if I messed up. But it also made me more nervous because I knew every person in the room. I was worried that I wouldn't be able to stay in character when I looked at one of my friends, a parent, or a kid. Truthfully though, most of my worries were in the buildup. I'd put so much work into my costume and my research and now my vision was finally becoming real.
So here are a few things I learned:
My 1880s dress is complete!!! (See part one here) After I finished the mockup of the bodice, the process was rather straight forward. I cut the pieces out of my fabric, flatlined them, and sewed them all together. After I put the pieces together, I left it alone until I could finish the skirt. That way I could be sure that the bodice would fit over the skirt properly.
I cut out all the skirt pieces and sewed them together. It was pretty simple, almost all straight lines of sewing. The overskirt was the same, although the front draping was a little confusing at first. They are two different pieces, so they are put on separate.
After finishing the skirt (I left the hemming and adding ruffles until the end), I tried the whole thing on. My bodice didn't have sleeves yet, which made it easier to figure out where the bottom should lay. After I pinned it at my waist, I took it off and added the boning. My pattern didn't have instructions to add boning, but I decided to add it after doing some research. Most bodices from the time period were boned, and I know what a huge difference it makes in fit. I wanted to have a perfect fit for my bodice, that was my main goal. Nothing bothers me more than a victorian bodice with too much room (or the wrong shape)! So I ended up hunting the internet for what sort of boning would be best. I finally settled on German plastic boning, also called "artificial whalebone." (I was convinced mostly by this post) I used some leftover twill tape as boning channels and sewed it to my seam allowance. I will NOT be using twill tape again for boning. I forgot how much that stuff frays! Plus, it's too thick and too wide. My boning was floating around in it's channels and I had to add flossing, which I'm terrible at. Needless to say, the inside of this bodice it not pretty.
Next I added the collar and sleeves. the collar came out beautifully and the sleeves were not half bad either. I don't have a pressboard for sleeves, so that made them a good deal more challenging.
I did all my buttonholes by hand. It definitely took a lot longer, but I would have felt like a terrible cheater if I'd done them by machine. My buttonholes definitely need practice, the first few ones were very messy, but they all came out functional in the end. :)
Finally I sewed on the buttons, finished off the sleeves, and added the ruffles. It was complete!!!! I kind of can't believe it. I've been planning this dress for about a year now and it's finally done. I figured I only spent about 20-25 hours on it total. The sewing was all pretty straight forward, the bodice was definitely most challenging and took up over half of my total time spent on the project. That was mostly all the fitting and handwork I had to do on it though. Overall, it was an immensely fun project and I'm already dreaming up what I'm going to make next. ;)
I have always been daunted by historical dress making. The moment I start considering dress construction, the perfectionist part of my brain chimes in and all of the sudden I find myself trying to find a way to make the PERFECT dress. Perfect seams, absolutely 100% historically accurate, exact fit, etc. etc. But, alas, this is not possible. I do not live in the 19th century, therefore I can never create the real thing. Still, I try to hold up to historical accuracy as much as I can. Perfect fit and seams will come with practice and patience (which I sometimes lack).
I chose a pattern from Past Patterns. #905, #906, #907, three piece ensemble circa 1883-1884. It's basic, no frills and lace, just a simple ruffle in a few spots.
So that wasn't too hard, but then I got stuck on fabric. I found a really lovely print on Reproduction Fabrics. I emailed Reproduction fabrics and they told me they decided to stop carrying it and gave me the manufacturer number. I googled it and found the exact fabric on a quilting website.
I adore the pink clover against the brown. Clover is one of my favorite summertime flowers. Plus, I feel like Laura would love this fabric. It's simple and practical, but so beautiful. I love it.
I did a mockup, which took me longer than I expected. It was difficult to reach behind me to smooth and fit the fabric. I traced the smallest size of the D cup pattern. My proportions mean that I had to take a LOT out of the body of the mockup. I ended up taking some out of every seam to make it fit, since the waist and hip were way to big.
Now that's done, the next step is cutting the fabric. I'm using the mockup as my lining, so that eliminates using more muslin and I can just follow my pattern marks that I made during the fitting.
I'll post another update further into the process!
Corsets were worn by almost all women in the nineteenth century. They provide support for large, heavy skirts as well as shaping for the garments of the era. Laura speaks of her frustration with her corsets in her books. However, she would not have worn a dress without one.
[Laura's] corsets were a sad affliction to her, from the time she put them on in the morning, until she took them off at night. But when girls pinned up their hair and wore skirts down to their shoe-tops, they must wear corsets.
--Little Town on the Prairie
Corsets in the 1880s were not considered optional. An 1880s dress would look very odd without the proper undergarments (The Pragmatic Costumer does a good job explaining this in her blog post). This is not very different from modern underwear. Most 21st century women don't go out in public without a bra of some sort. So, in many ways, the corset is not different from our modern bras. It provides support and shape and for our bodies and our clothing.
I ordered my corset kit from Sew Curvy Corsetry. It was the most affordable corset kit in the style I desired and had good reviews. I began my corset in April and it took me until November to complete. Because it was my first time sewing a corset, I would discover I needed a certain tool, piece of advice, or a tutorial before I could continue. Then my corset would stand untouched for a couple of weeks before I got back to it. For this reason, it took me much longer than I expected, or was necessary.
I wanted a corset that fit well to my shape, which is why I opted to make my own. Because I was completely new at it, I chose a kit with full instructions and all the supplies. My corset kit came with white coutil, spiral boning, a regular flexible busk, eyelets and a setting tool, and laces. This corset had no lining. Prior to beginning the process, I watched a lot of videos and read blog posts on corset construction. There are a lot of great resources available, and whole blogs devoted to corsetry, both modern and historical.
The most difficult part was probably the binding. I wouldn't have guessed, as I've done binding before. What I found was that I had not left enough excess at the top of my pattern, and my bones here slightly too long (they came pre-measured in with the kit). Also, I should have left the boning channel tape a little longer than the pattern. I didn't think about this until I was trying to stuff my boning into the channel so I could sew binding over top. As a result, my boning is now pushing on the binding. I tried a few different methods of fixing this, but its not an immediate issue, so I have just left it for now. Eventually it will probably push its way through the binding, but I can always add new binding. I'm not too worried, as this is my first corset and I feel certain I'll make a new, better constructed one in the future.
I started reading the Little House series at a very young age. My sisters and I played Little House, I built log cabins out of blocks, and made little Ma, Pa, Laura, Mary, and Carrie dolls. When I was twelve, I got the chance to go on a trip through the mid-west, stopping at almost all of Laura's homes. That was when I began to see Laura as a person, not just a character. On that trip I met so many enthusiastic people who wanted to tell us all the historic and gossipy facts about the Ingalls family and the people they knew. It was fascinating, and it brought a level of reality to Laura's story that I had not seen before.
Laura’s story is a very typical American concept. It is very picturesque and beautiful, and I think that is why people are initially drawn to it. But when you get past the pretty parts, you are left with the gritty, dirty, day-to-day moments, and those are my favorite. There are beautiful moments, but there are also hard moments. Pioneer families, cowboys, and the western movement, are all romanticized by media as an "American dream" and the Little House books feed into that story. Covered wagons, cotton print dresses, and baking bread all seem very nice, but the reality was often much harsher.
I often find textbook history unexciting. Learning about wars, great events, and famous people gets dull quickly. I believe the reason so many people say that history is boring, is because it was taught to them through this widespread method. Most people don't learn to love history through big events, but through personal connection. Whether that’s local history, a museum, genealogy, etc. My hope with this project is to create a personal connection for people to Laura and to the 1880s.
I would like to share the ups and the downs of what life was like in 1880 Dakota. I want people to see the more complex character of Laura then what they see in the books and TV show. I want to show people a comparison to their 2017 lives. I want them to see the difference between the everyday items they use and the ones used in the 1880s. That’s what I find most interesting about history, and would like to pass on.