Sunday, March 16, 2014

HSF #5: Bodice Challenge: Men's 1830s-40s Roll Collar Waistcoat (from hell)

Warning, gentle readers, the story that follows is not for the faint of heart. Blood will be shed. Ladies of delicate sensibilities should cover their ears lest they hear words only suitable for a gathering of uncouth gentlemen.

It started with Reconstructing History pattern RH 927.  Jay needed a waistcoat for 221BCon in  the beginning of April and it was about time I sewed something for him again.  Plus, fitting would be easier and faster on him than on myself.  (Plus there is the corset problem that I still need to solve) And a trimly fitted waistcoat is sort of like the equivalent of a bodice for a gentleman, so it's not stretching the parameters of the challenge too too much...

We found some fun silk with a bee pattern that Jay really liked.

It was dupioni, but it didn't have a lot of slubs and while I can't document any extant examples of bees patterning fabric for the 1840s, the bees do call to mind the passion for Natural History of the era and I like to think that the fabric is, at the least, not wildly inappropriate.

Jay's measurements put him at a 38 for the pattern, but being paranoid from my own experiences with patterns, I cut the mockup in the 40 just in case.

Sure enough he was a 38 but the mockup was rolling oddly at the base of his neck.  My men's fitting experience is minimal and rusty and I was at a loss how to adjust for that. It took the hive mind of the helpful Sewing Sisters to tell me I needed to actually let out the seam a bit and lower the neck curve a little.  Doing that, taking in the sides and shoulders from the 40 to the 38 and adding 3 inches to the length gave me a second mockup I was pleased with, so I cut the fashion fabric.

 Samuel L Catson  "helping" me cut out the fabric.  
I swear this cat was a tailor in another life.

The first few steps went together well enough, but reading through the directions, I really felt like I wanted a full lining rather than a half, just for a tidier finish on the armholes.  In retrospect, I think I should have chosen a slightly lighter fabric for the lining, especially for a full lining.  The cotton I was using added some thickness that was nice for the body of the front, but a little too much bulk for my taste.  I also think that I would choose a fabric much closer to the fashion fabric next time.  The black lining against the gold brought any imperfection in rolled edges into sharp relief.  

Trying it on Jay at this point made me realize that perhaps I had fitted it just a little too well since it was definitely snug.  (and he said he'd lost 4 lbs since the mockup)

But I still thought there was enough allowance for buttons and I was pretty pleased with how it was turning out.  (Insert vaguely ominous music here)

Then  came  the welt pockets.  My advisor in college hated welt pockets and I have to admit I kept hearing him in my head cussing about them and I was pretty paranoid. But the instructions seemed like they made sense and I was feeling really good about things...

 So far so good

Except that after making the incision and folding the welt up, there was a definite gap on one side.

 Eek.  Houston, we have a problem

Still, after some steam and adjustment while it was on a dummy rather than flat, it came out adequately.

Not the best welt pocket in the world,  but acceptable for a first attempt and I think I learned enough to make the next set better.

OK, I am cooking with gas now, all I have is the collar and the finish work.  I will even manage to be EARLY on completing the challenge. (Insert music suitable for the serial killer is sneaking up right behind the unsuspecting heroine)  And here is where it All. Fell. Apart.

I'd read through the directions for the collar at least half a dozen times during the course of the previous steps and they made no sense whatsoever to me. Still, I'd managed the welt pockets using the RH directions, and I could see where the lapels should lay from the front of the waistcoat, so I would just follow the directions and trust that they would give me the end result of the rolled collar. After having to cut a second set of collar pieces (totally my fault.) and pinning it about 4 different ways to try and figure out what the directions were trying to get across, I ended up with this.

Houston, we have an even bigger problem

At some point I even called the RH help line, but despite it being within the hours on their website, no one answered.  So I sent an email to their info address but wasn't holding my breath.  I'd sent several emails with other questions to that address previously and never got an answer.  I seriously thought about posting my question their facebook page, but decided that if I was completely missing an obvious solution I didn't really want to look quite THAT foolish on facebook.

But I was not going to let this @#$#%ing pattern defeat me.   Draping is not in my skillset, but, looking at the waistcoat in progress on the dummy, I noticed that if I folded the collar pattern piece on the grain marking and placed that up to the front edge of where the collar hit, it pretty much filled up the missing space.  (Note the words "pretty much" here.  They will become important later)

So I drafted a new and significantly longer collar and was once again off and running.

Collar pattern v2

I was running a little TOO fast, I guess,  because this is about the time I managed to run the sewing machine needle into my finger and break it off, inciting some colorful profanity and a brief stop for peroxide, neosporin and a Hello Kitty bandaid.  (and for the record, no, we don't have kids)

On the upside, having bled onto it, the waistcoat will be lucky for Jay.  (It was an old superstition from my costume shop days in college that blood in a seam during the construction process was lucky for the actor and if someone pricked a finger sewing there was always a bit of a rush to figure out which costumes were already lucky and which ones still needed a bit of luck)

This new collar was working much better for me and I was so ecstatic at vanquishing the @##$%ing pattern that I got all the handwork on the collar done and managed 6 perfect eyelets for the back lacing.  I hurried down to get a fitting on Jay so I could mark where the buttonholes needed to go.

He tried it on obligingly and went to look in a mirror.  "Uh..." he says  "Is the front supposed to be uneven?"   I don't know where my head was when I was putting collar v2 on, but sure enough, there was about 2" of curve from what was originally supposed to be the collar, right where the first button or two would go.  The new collar had "pretty much" matched to the front.  For whatever brain-dead reason, I hadn't taken the front into account when I woodged the collar into place. Now Jay has many sterling qualities,  but being amazingly perceptive is not one of them.  (it's kind of an affectionate, long standing joke with us)  Once he pointed it out, it was the only thing I could see looking at the waistcoat.  But I admit to being hyper critical, especially about my own work.  Most importantly, if the first thing he notices about the waistcoat is this irregularity, then it must be pretty freaking obvious.

I have no pictures of this disaster.  I think I was too busy trying not to be sick to remember to document it.

So it was the night before HSF#5 is due, and I have 1 waistcoat, finished except for buttonholes and pretty nice work (if I may say so myself)..other than the fatal flaw of needing either to: 1) take  at least part of the collar and  roll the top of the waistcoat center front in an inch or 2) let the bottom 11" of the waistcoat center front out an inch.

With 1/2" seam allowances (that had been graded and clipped) there was no way #2 would work.  So I gathered my courage and took the seam ripper to the beautifully finished collar.  What was my plan, you ask?  It was simple:

Right about the time I was doing all this, my husband was watching a short on Game of Thrones he found on the web and this part (which is actually Martin's wife's edict to the producers) seemed particularly apt.

After a tense hour with a seam ripper, there was a lot of handwork involved in moving the collar and putting everything back together, ideally so it didn't look like it had been reworked.  It was a success, mostly.  There is a small section under the left side collar where there wasn't quite enough lining to completely cover the new curve of the collar.  I could have forced it, but the lining would have pulled funny and the lining was one of the few parts of this whole project that had been playing nicely. Since it's underneath the end of the collar that was going to be tacked down anyway,  this little bit would not only not be seen, but would also not be open to wear and tear.  I ended up giving in and let the lining lay the way it wanted.

After all that, putting in the buttonholes barely registered on the stress-o-meter.  (see previous posts on my buttonhole phobia)  I'd thought I would do buttonholes by hand as a learning experience, but at this point it was already late afternoon the day after the challenge was due and honestly, I just wanted this whole waistcoat done and out of my hair.  I had a frothy pink and white  1890s petticoat in progress on my other dummy and it had been taunting me mercilessly all week as I cursed at the waistcoat.  I was honestly just hoping the whole experience didn't scar me sufficiently that I would hate the sight of it when my husband actually wore it.  So I ended up doing machine buttonholes that came out pretty well..  mostly due to the little buttonhole chisel thing that I bought after my last rodeo with buttonholes.

In the end, it came out pretty well.  It fits him nicely and unless you are really looking closely, all of the reworking of the front isn't very noticable.  And (against my better judgement) I am toying about making him a second waistcoat in another fabric while I remember all the changes I made to this pattern and can document them for posterity...  because I fully intend to toss the direction sheet straight in the circular file at the earliest opportunity.

 I am rather fond of the back lacing detail

Ironically, having him try the waistcoat on was a good idea, because the frockcoat (which we bought) is now a little large on him and will need some alteration before 221BCon in April.

The Challenge:  #5  Bodice
Fabric: silk dupioni, cotton lining/interlining
Pattern: Reconstructing History RH927 with some serious reworking of the collar
Year: 1830s-40s
Notions: thread, 8 metal buttons
How historically accurate is it:  70%?  I started off knowing that I wasn't going to do the chest padding and the wool on the underside of the collar.   Fabric and buttons are best attempt at accurate within my budget. Additional points off for doing much of it (including buttonholes) by machine.
Time to complete:  I lost track at some point 
First worn:  221BCon in April
Total cost: $23.50    $15 for a yard and a half of silk, $6 for cotton lining/interlining $2.50 for 8 buttons.  Being done with this beast:  PRICELESS

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