Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Workroom Session #8: Cutting, accessories, and a little history

I started out by digging through my fabric stash for something "right" to jump out at me to use as the interlining for the corset, as I feel the ticking is actually a little bit stretchy.  I found a piece of shirting, but it wasn't enough sturdier than regular white muslin to justify cutting so nice a piece of cotton.  I briefly considered a piece of caramel colored vintage linen; the color would be lovely, but I was concerned that the age of the fabric could compromise its strength, and that the surface is a little rough to be worn against the skin.

Cutting the muslin interlining
So muslin it is... but I cut on the cross-grain.  The muslin was cut on the double (folded selvage to selvage), and the peices arranged perpendicular to the fold.  This is 90 degrees off of how you would usually arrange the pieces on the fabric, but normally you want the vertical length, along the warp threads, to stretch the least.  I wanted that touch of extra beefiness to run horizontally instead.

The twill had to be cut one part at a time to facilitate matching the stripes.  This was done with my trusty clear grid ruler, as the match has to happen at the seamline, where the edges of the fabric actually touch, rather than at the edge of each piece.  Since I used 5'8" seam allowances, this took a bit of doing.  I hope I got it right, but it won't be a dealbreaker if I didn't.  It was also really hard to see the marked lines on the fabric, but it wasn't a major issue.  Even so - matching the stripes and handling a lot of stripy fabric was making my brain twitch, so I didn't get through all the pieces.  I still have the side backs, center backs, and four gores to cut, as well as a few incidental pieces for which there are no patterns.
Marking the striped twill (wrong side)
Those incidental pieces are facings for the center back and strips that will be used at the center front and sides for bone casings; there will be a triple row of bones at the front to substitute for the busk, and double rows in the middle of the side pieces.  The bones at each seam will be inserted into the flat-felled allowances, and additional bones will be sewn to the interior of the corset in the cloth casing that the Featherlite boning comes with (this is being discarded for the seam bones and the CF and side bones mentioned previously).

I am going to need more caramel thread.  I bought two small spools and one of them is almost gone, just from the samples I've made.  Friday after work I'll head into Pacific Fabrics and pick up more, as I like the color and weight of the Sulky thread I purchased there  before, and I want to go ahead and start with the thread I do have . I am also going to need more grommets.  I checked my supply and discovered that there are only ten left in my kit, and I will need far more than five lacing holes on each side!

The project is sucking up money.  This is not a shock, because I don't really ever do a half-assed job on anything.  I'd rather put off a project than produce sloppy or cheap work.  I've spent about $140 on raw materials and patterns if I look at the items I have or will be using for this costume; that's relatively little for raw materials.  So far the most expensive single thing has been the denim.  I'm not done, either; I will need lace, more thread, eyelet (to trim petticoats and bloomers), blouse material.  And my time.

Of course, I've spent a bunch of money incidentally on fabric that I just couldn't leave behind, sewing miscellany, and books.  I love reference material, so I don't like to count it into a particular project.  There will need to be accessories and these are often rather spendy.  I have ordered a pair of boots and hope they work out, but they are costing me $100!  Haven't ordered a hat, but I've got my eye on one.  There will also be gun belts to either be purchased or made, as well as some sort of gun, be it replica pistols or something more steampunk.  Who knows what the total cost will wind up being?  (Not to mention the cost of going to the convention!)

Oak Tree Hill "Vow" boot in Antique Saddle
However - I would like to put this into perspective.  In the very first sentence of the introduction to Authentic Victorian Fashion Patterns: A Complete Lady's Wardrobe, editor Kristina Harris cites Victorian contemporary James McCabe.  He states, "The society woman must have one or two velvet dresses which cannot cost less than $500 each.  She must possess thousands of dollars' worth laces. ... Walking dresses cost from $50 to $300; ball dresses are frequently imported from Paris at a cost from $500 to $1000."  The cited text goes on to list half a dozen more required garments for a well-heeled lady.  These would all be custom made by a dressmaker.  From the same book, Harris cites a period magazine pricing silk at $7.50 a yard and up.  This, of course, represents luxe garments owned and worn by the rich.  Inexpensive sateens could be had for $0.20 a yard, but dresses often contained six to ten yards of fabric or more for a moderate house-dress, and labor might add another $6-$10 in 1890.

To make this mean something, we have to know what that would compare to today.  I, of course, turned to the Intertubes and found a nice little calculator that figures relative purchasing power of the US dollar.  Suddenly that 20 cent a yard fabric costs $4.86, and $6 for labor is more like $146 today.  That most modest of dresses would run about $175, and the society woman's gown that cost $500 then would top $12,000!  That's about a third of my annual gross salary.  Suddenly I don't feel so crazy for spending the money and time to make exactly what I want.

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