An upcoming murder-mystery dinner, set in the year 1919, offers me an opportunity to pursue several desirable ends, viz. to dress my friend, to use up some stash, and to practice draping!
Dressing my friend is like dressing my sister... when I care about someone, I want to dress them! I think of Proverbs 31: 21: "When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet." "Scarlet" is not a reference to color in this verse, but to the fine woolen cloth called scarlet in the Middle Ages, which was often dyed scarlet in color, but not necessarily. So the Proverbs 31 woman isn't just dressing her family in red, she's dressing her family warmly as a sign of her love and a product of her industry. Wrapping people in nice clothes is such a potent signifier, isn't it?
Of course, if I can also use up some of my stash and reclaim my room, all the better! And I do need practice draping clothes on a dress form.
I start with the idea of a pigeon breast and ruffles, but when I drape it, it looks schoolmarm-ish. Thinking to jazz it up with some green satin, I pin that in place. Worse! The murder-mystery dinner will be masquerade-themed, so I think I need to lose the white and be more "modern" (modern for 1919, anyway).
Then I pull out my blue fabric, which is probably a better color for my friend, anyway. She almost has Snow White's coloring, "skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood, and hair as black as ebony". Actually, her hair and eyes are brown, so she can pull off some greens, but I think jewel tones are better. Plus, I have some white lace from her mother's wedding gown, which her mother gave me a few years back for sewing material. So far, that wedding gown has become a masquerade costume, a bustier, and a petticoat. It would be super cool if some of the lace went back to my friend, going full circle!
WHAT IS DRAPING?
If you think the fabric edges on that dress form are raggedy, and there's awkward bunching under the arms, and maybe the whole thing isn't really a dress, you are right! In dressmaking, "draping" has two meanings. The first is what you see above: simply draping lengths of fabric on a dress form and pinning them in place, to get an idea of how the fabric hangs, to be inspired, or to make the illusion of a dress for a fabric store display. You might use fancy fabrics, but they are not cut or shaped, and when they're un-pinned, they go back to being rectangles and squares. The second definition of draping is more accurately called "draping a pattern", and is done using cheap muslin of a similar weight to your chosen fashion fabric. You pin the muslin on a form, but you also cut, shape, mark, and otherwise work with it to develop a pattern. When you take the muslin off, you have flat pattern pieces. I did it for my sister's peplum top.
THE NEXT STEPS
Once my friend approves the design, I begin thinking about how I'll put the thing together (click to zoom up):
I may use a bit of petticoat net or something to hold the skirts out a bit. The whole dress will close in the back with a zipper, not a hidden dog-leg closure as was more common in period.
So, since the waist and bodice are fitted, it's time to drape the pattern on her body! My friend comes over and I pin muslin on her, managing to get the whole thing done expeditiously, without any of the drama or blunders of my previous attempts. I guess I'm getting better! I forget to take pictures while I'm working, but here is the finished muslin pattern:
The Center Front bosom piece (far left, top) has a straight-across neckline. Then there's a princess seam over the bosom and a simple waistband narrowing toward the side seam. In the back, there's another princess seam, but since it's straight, I could eliminate it in the pattern stage and just cut one slightly skewed back panel. The back waistband, like the front one, is more of a parallelogram than a rectangle.
The due date for this costume is June 1st, so look for construction details soon!
Quilting, dressmaking, and history plied with the needle...
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