02 April 2010

Housebook dress: Construction

When I set out to make this dress, I had grand visions of ultra-simple geometric construction, where with just a few cuts and strategic manipulation of the shoulders, the whole dress (including the pleats) would just fall into place. My theory was that it might be cut similarly to my contemporary Burgundian gown, with the the neckline being a straight edge continuous with the front seam. Two days of draping mock-ups pretty much debunked the theory though - that combination just doesn't work. It works for a V-neckline that's fairly narrow and deep, either with or without pleats - and I'd put that forward as a strong possibility for one of the other styles seen in the Housebook (deep V with lacing, no pleats). But to get the wide V neckline, you introduce a pretty sharp bend in the fabric edge, which produces nice folds which radiate from a point (like in the Burgundian), but you just don't get the straight, even pleats that you need for the look I wanted.

So in the end, I scrapped my radical ideas and went with approximately the same design as I've seen everyone else use for this dress. The dress is built on top of medium-weight linen lining cut from my basic 15th c. fitted dress pattern. The lining is only cut to hip-length, and doesn't include sleeves, but it provides all the structure for the dress. The wool on top is cut in sort of the same way, but there's an extra width of fabric where the center front or back seam would normally be (here's the layout for the front, before I've cut the side seams). The front and back are cut from a single piece each, and the seams flair out past the hips until they reach the full width of the fabric, and are a straight tube from that point down. Then, when the left and right halves are pulled together, all the extra fabric in the middle is massaged down into rolled pleats, 3 on each side. Some judicious snipping of the fabric is required to get them to lay down smoothly, and it's best to chalk out the desired width of each roll ahead of time. I also inserted a piece of wool flannel between the lining and the outer layer for the pleats, to give them more body (although I probably overdid it). For sewing the pleats themselves, I started by dividing the fabric evenly and stitching down the crease lines (this will be hidden, so it doesn't have to be super neat, just fairly straight). I then rolled a pleat as tightly as I could and pinned the edge down to the next crease line to hold it while I went back to hemstitch it down. It helps to plan ahead so you don't end up having to sew between two pleats that have already been rolled. There's a picture of my in-progress pleats here.

The sleeves are fairly simple, with a standard curved sleevehead, and a gentle bell-shaped curve to the cuff. Mine are cut in two pieces, but just because of the shape and size of the fabric I had remaining at that point. I haven't included any real closure mechanism on the front opening, and I'm currently playing with just sewing it up for wear. (This works OK, but I go through a fair bit of silk thread doing it - maybe not practical long term.) The next post will show how it all turned out.

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