"Becoming Victoria"

I am honoured and excited to have been invited by the Llandrindod Wells Victorian Festival committee to appear as a young Queen Victoria at this year's festival from 22nd-28th August 2016. In preparation for this role I will be designing and making the costumes for the young queen over the coming months. These will be authentic reproductions of the fashions of the early years of Victoria's reign and will include a range of 1840s women's garments from corsets and petticoats to day dresses, ball gowns and bonnets. This blog will document and share my progress as I research, design and stitch each element to reveal the secrets of "Becoming Victoria".

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Drafting and resizing an original pattern

48 days to go...

Firstly, apologies for the lateness of this post which can be blamed on the Glasgow Subway replacement bus service. I was home rather later than planned the other evening when a 15 minute journey took an hour and 15 minutes. As a result, I didn't get a chance to upload this post as planned.

In the meantime, work has been progressing well on the pattern for the dress and I thought I would share a little of the process of adapting an original pattern to fit.

To begin with, it is wise to have a number of tools and materials handy.

To scale the pattern up to full size, squared pattern paper is a must. The original pattern is printed on squared paper on 1/8inch squares. I marked my centimetre squared paper with a cross every 2.5cm to get square inches. Then, by counting the squares and replicating the lines of the original pattern in relation to the squares made a full size copy of the pattern.

Next, I took measurements of each of the pieces to figure out the size of the original wearer. I made notes on the flat pattern pieces but the most accurate measurements were made after taping the seams with masking tape to put the pattern together. In 3-D form it was much easier to see exactly where the waist and bust of the garment were and to measure for example the arm scye (armhole).

As suspected, she was a tiny lady compared to today's standards. Not only did she have a 24inch waist but she appears to have been very short from the neck to the waist. On the other hand, her bust was surprisingly big in comparison to her waist measurement. However, portraits from this era do show a very wide, high bust line and the gored corset tends to lift and exaggerate the bust.

Grand Duchess Alexandra Nikolaevna of Russia, Princess of Hesse-Kassel 1840 (image found here) - although probably somewhat exaggerated, this portrait shows the large difference between the bust and waist that was fashionable at this time

Nevertheless, this made altering the pattern to fit something of a challenge. Since the bust was almost big enough but the waist 5 inches too small, this was not simply a case of adding a bigger seam allowance. Furthermore, the arm syces on the original pattern were extremely small, and whilst tight, low set sleeves were a feature in the 1840s, I needed to do something to ensure that I would be able to move my arms.

My first move was to compare my measurements to the pattern and then, using various calculations to determine the ratios and proportions of each section of the pattern, draw up new pattern pieces. The aim was to ensure the each piece of the pattern retained the same proportion in relation to the others whilst being made bigger. Once I had the general shape, I then altered the lines to reflect the fact that the difference between my bust and waist would not be as exaggerated as that of the lady who originally wore the dress. I won't go into too much detail here as this was quite a technical and mathematical process but please ask questions if you would like to find out more.

Some of the notes and calculations!
Once I had the new pattern pieces, I cut these out and taped all of the seams with masking tape. I could then try the paper bodice onto Gertrude, my dress form, over the corset and petticoats. This allowed me to see where the pattern fitted and which areas needed to be adjusted. Any loose areas of paper were pinched into darts and pinned flat. Extra paper was taped to the edges and between panels where the pattern didn't fit and new seam lines and edges drawn on.

Pinning the front - notice the tuck in the side panel below the bust
Adding paper to the shoulder and underarms and drawing new seam lines
Excess paper trimmed away on the new seam lines
Once the pattern fitted Gertrude perfectly, I removed it from the mannequin and cut the pieces apart along the new seam lines. I then drew around these news pieces and added seam allowances to make the pattern pieces I would need to cut the fabric.

Looking like a bodice - the pattern removed from the mannequin
The new pattern pieces
The next stage is to test these pieces in lining fabric with the sleeves before beginning to make up the dress in a test fabric. I will be making a complete dress in cotton fabric salvaged from some old curtains before making this pattern in silk. This will mean I have an extra dress suitable for wearing in less favourable weather conditions (although I have been promised glorious sunshine for the whole week!) and will avoid any mistakes being made with the more expensive silk.

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