Hats for Their Majesties

A few months ago, my household took on the task of outfitting the new heirs to the Meridian throne on the occasion of their coronation. Members wove and sewed and patterned and embroidered like mad. My job was to make the hats. His Majesty does a later Roman Empire kit, while Her Majesty does a contemporary Sarmatian kit. The Sarmatian people lived in what is currently the Iranian steppes. If I understand the research right, they’re part of the early Persian peoples, along with the Sycthians and several other groups who lived in the area. I had never heard of Sarmatians, so there was much frantic research to help everyone involved get a mental picture, see what artifacts there are, and try to come up with a plan for interpreting those as best we could. The Roman part was a bit easier, because there are mosaics and statues and frescoes for us to look at. The Roman Empire was vast, and pretty much anyone off the street could give you some idea of what an ancient Roman might have dressed like. The Sarmatian part was harder. There aren’t replicas of their statues in every art museum or paintings or garments that have been preserved since the 4th century CE. There are some descriptions and some incredible metalwork and some clues from neighboring peoples, and from there, you apply your deductive reasoning.

His Majesty’s hat is pretty straightforward: it’s pretty much just a tube with a lid on top. There are several examples of this hat that we can see in Roman art, there are similar hats seen slightly after the fall of the Roman Empire in neighboring geographies, and we have extant versions of this hat from some of the Norse sites. We found a gorgeous deep royal blue merino wool felt for the outside. The wool felt provides great body and keeps the shape without needing to add stiffeners. Coronation was a little bit chilly, and the evening before, His Majesty was wearing the hat around with a tunic and shorts and said that he was very warm, even with bare legs, and could see how this would be a practical outfit for soldiers, even in colder months. Wool also keeps you warm when it’s wet, which is wonderful. I lined the hat in white linen and added a band of evenweave white linen around the outside base. I embroidered this with very fine weight merino yarn that I dyed using wildflowers (some sort of sunflower) a couple of years back. The motif is a gold knight’s chain. As you can see, the hat is a touch big because the head measurements for TRM were accidentally recorded reversed. This is important later…. I’ll adjust the fit of this at some point in the near future when he lets me steal it for half an hour.


sawscyth03I’ve made some easy, simple hats in recent years, but nothing structural or complex since college. And even then, there were patterns from recent history and parts of hats I could scavenge to build on or pattern from. For this, I worked from some reconstructions of Scythian women’s hats. There seem to be two main styles: a giant cone or a flared, flat-topped version that reminds of of Queen Latifah’s hats from the early 90’s. The flat version was preferred, I guess because I’m the only one who wants to run around with a two-foot-tall bedazzled red dunce cap on my head. This was my main source of info, as well as the source of the amazing hat on the left: https://budsegoessingapore.wordpress.com/2012/08/19/gold-rush-treasures-of-the-ukraine/  It’s worth checking out, if only to gaze longingly at the incredibly ornate gold adornments on everything.

The formula for this project is: pressure because sewing for coronation and everyone will look at it + can’t make the queen look ridiculous + the queen is in the next state over + lining/interfacing/stiffener/wool layers that take up bulk and change the final circumference + I never took geometry in high school + I am a flailing art muppet who is always convinced that this will be the project where everyone finally realizes that I may not actually be good at making stuff + a firm deadline = A CHARACTER-BUILDING HAT ADVENTURE!

I thought that this would be really easy to pattern at first. The crown is basically a tube that’s lower at the back. How hard could that be? Not terribly. But it’s not just a tube. No. It flares out gently from the base. This is the hard part. Instead of being able to take a rectangle and make it lower at the ends than in the middle, we suddenly have to scale a gentle arc correctly. The pattern shape moves from being basically a rectangle that wraps around your head (think of the paper crowns from Burger King or a chef’s hat) to needing to be a carefully planned frowny face that wraps around your head. Too much curve, and it’s not straight across the brow and comes up high in the back. Too little and it doesn’t go together right and is low in the back. Some drawings I found for various top hat varieties from the Victorian (?) era helped me see the shapes.

Thank heavens for a stash of inexpensive wrapping paper that has a one inch grid printed on the back. I pattern with it all the time, and it’s big enough to handle this kind of plotting out of head sizes and gentle flares and curves and whatnot. It made sense in miniature. It worked (lumpily) in a paper mockup. So I made a trial version out of floral wire and Sunday School felt that wasn’t seamed in the back. Everything worked, though it needed to be a bit bigger to handle her hair. I thought I adjusted enough for that, but I didn’t, nor did I take into account (enough) how thick all of the layers were. It wasn’t until I was at the event, frantically sewing the last of the decorations on late at night, that I realized his hat was about an inch too big, and hers seemed to be about an inch too small. Luckily, I could insert an extra band of wool to fix it enough for the ceremony, but I still want to make it fit a bit better when I can.


These are the pieces, layered bottom to top: wool, fusible stiffening interfacing, linen. Iron everything together to fuse the layers. Fold up the bottom edge and secure, then cover the lower portion in satin ribbon or wide twill tape so that foreheads and ears don’t get itchy and red. Sew the other pieces together by hand. A curved needle was VERY helpful for attaching the top to the crown. It was necessary to cut out lots of notches to get the edges to come together and lie as flat as I could get them. Hot glue got involved at some point for holding down all the little notched flaps under the linen lining. I couldn’t get this perfectly flat and nice where the crown and top meet. I don’t have molds or tools to block a hat form into smooth submission like a millner does. To deal with the minor inconsistencies and add gold, I sewed many small gold glass beads around the circumference at the top. I wound up filling in the whole space after taking this trial picture with bezant placement. The same brass bezants are all over her coat, and she is very shiny when the light hits her.



The Great Printed Fabric Experiment

School has sort of eaten my life. And the wrist took longer to heal than I had expected, as far as using it to make art goes. I’m still a little shaky on some very fine motor skills, but I’ll get there. Projects that aren’t necessarily *my art* seemed like a good idea. Still get to make stuff, but not stuff that I’ll want to compare to old work and  despair that I’ll ever be good at anything again. (Shush, you. That’s a totally reasonable fear.) I’ve been learning a lot about the arts of various tribes from the Iranian steppes – Sarmatian, Sassanian, Sogdian, etc. Our new queen wanted to go Sarmatian, and my household was doing coronation costuming, so we learned some new stuff. I fell in love with these motifs, and they work beautifully for Persian silks that might have been cut into strips for Scandinavian clothing. I won’t say designs are timeless, but they don’t shift trends as quickly as they do now. The deer pair on the left is from the 10-11th c. and the one on the right is from the 6-7th century. Same border of pearls, same triangle deer scarf, similar body decoration. Weaving this is so not happening, but carving printing blocks isn’t that hard, and printed fabric is relatively easy to do. It’s definitely a historical practice, though I haven’t been able to pin down how old it is. Quite old in the near east and Egypt, and there are instructions for it in Il Libro Del’Arte later in the middle ages, so it’s a versatile thing to have in your toolkit and closet. Mid-period tile designs would make great repeating motifs and are pretty simple.


Look at this sassy Sassanian sheep from the 8th century. LOOK AT HIM. Little sheep strut and his jaunty sheep scarf, looking like he’s going to rough some sheep up in a bar fight and meet some sheep ladies who will no doubt admire his lovely sheep necklace. Weaving this would be a nightmare. But in a few television-filled hours, you too can have his sassy self carved into a block and ready to go on your clothes. I’m trying to figure out what befits him and his majesty before I commit a garment. Also, I screwed up his block because I was using a clear lino block that turned out to be a weird carving texture. I’ll redo him in something better and maybe modify his fancy little frame so that it’s symmetrical enough for printing. (EEEEEE! HIS SHEEPY EYEBROWS!)

So far, I’ve carved a few blocks in different sizes. I’m not doing a tutorial on the actual carving itself – there are lots out there already, and it’s good to watch a few and get some different techniques before you start. The motifs I’ve done are very similar over a stretch of a few hundred years, all from people groups within the Persian area. Works for royal costuming. Works for Norse stuff. The hardest part was picking designs. But then! I had a brilliant idea – carve them all on different block materials FOR SCIENCE. I’ve been doing that with mixed success. I think I’ll do a class on it, because it’s really fun and you don’t have to be a super skilled artist to carve a great block. All you need is:

  • blocks for carving – I like the easy to cut varieties of lino cut blocks the best, by far, but wood is period and best but less friendly to beginners. Not all block materials play nicely with all kinds of paint, so do your research – however, blocks are inexpensive so mistakes or a block you don’t like means losing a couple of dollars and some time
  • carving tools – lino carving tools come in a little pack for about $12-15 before you use a coupon and they have replaceable blades; wood carving tools cost considerably more
  • band aids – the tools are sharp, and even with good safety practices, it’s easy to nick yourself
  • a pencil, a fine permanent pen – to get the design on the block, it’s easiest to cover the back of your design with pencil graphite, place it on the block, trace over it to leave a light pencil outline on the block, then trace that with a permanent pen or paint because your hands will rub the pencil design off easily
  • cheap acrylic paint – a thin wash of this over your design makes carving MUCH easier to see, and you can still see the sharpie through it
  • paint for your fabric – I’ve gotten the best results with screen printing ink and a brayer, but people successfully use acrylic paint, latex and oil house paints, etc.
  • fabric – generally, the smoother your weave, the nicer your results…most definitely test print, and know that really pressing the block into the fabric is necessary for good transfer: Indian sari fabric printers hammer their blocks, I’ve seen people stand on wood ones – get physical with it before you decide if it’s a good fabric or not.Top left is wool twill, then poly satin, and linen on the bottom. The fine details of the round motif get totally lost on linen, and didn’t do much better on the satin. These blocks still had clean up carving to do (the lines in what should be empty space around the designs), but notice how much better you can see the details in the larger deer set than the smaller set. Part of that is scale and getting paint trapped in weensy grooves. Part of that is that the bigger one is on an easy cut block, which is softer and mashes into the fabric well while giving a crisp ink transfer, while the smaller deer are on a cheap gray lino block that was a little dried out. Detail was hard to carve, and the fine things were lost on every fabric I tried.


Things to avoid: dull tools, the clear lino carving blocks (too elastic = very hard to cut neatly or with predictable control), old lino blocks because old blocks are hard and crumbly blocks, overly complex or small designs, shallow cuts that won’t transfer the design cleanly

Here are my deer, all cleaned up. The ink distribution could be a little bit more even, but this was a first impression from the first inking. The residual ink from you printing during a session helps with even printing in subsequent prints. This is on a cotton flour sack dishtowel and was printed with screen printing ink. The towel is a nice, fine surface that took detail beautifully. I didn’t heat set it to see what happened with washing – the ink stayed, but it is a lighter pink, like a cranberry juice stain, instead of a sort of cochineal red. 14724436_10209214095083238_530115933278988733_n

From here, I moved on to trying them on the russet poly satin, but there wasn’t enough contrast. I haven’t been able to manage getting a color other than white or black to be opaque on fabric that dark, so I opted to use something else for my project. I’m using a different poly satin that’s much nicer and very heavy and not too shiny. These are way big, so you can see what’s going on. The top set of deer went pretty badly: I got too much paint on my brayer, which meant too much was on the stamp, and the transfer wasn’t very good. I did this on a hard surface instead of a lightly padded one, which made it even more difficult to get a crisp transfer. I folded a heavy old cotton curtain over a couple of times to make four smooth layers without a ton of give, and that made a much better base. It was also really tough to register the pattern well and match things up – even with a ruler. Going off of the original woven design wasn’t good enough for symmetry in printing. I learned that I need to transfer my design to drafting or graph paper if it’s going to repeat like this, so that I can be really sure that the elements line up correctly. I started to lose heart at this point and was worried that I’d wasted a lot of time making something awful.


Then, I decided to wash everything off and try some more with the other deer stamp. It had looked the best on all three of my original test fabrics. It was big enough (about 3×3″) to not lose the details and textures if the paint was a little bit too heavy, and there weren’t any parts of the design that touched or had to register perfectly. I drew lines with a big quilting ruler and chalk, spacing them based on lazy ruler measurements. That means they’re a bit further apart horizontally than they are vertically. If I want to, I can always turn a little square stamp on the diagonal and put in the corner motif as a separate element. I think that’s the best way to go on future projects. This went much more smoothly. I stopped to wash off the brayer and glass inking plate a few times as I stamped so that I could keep things as even as possible. Some of the places where a little got on the corner during printing could be cleaned up with warm water and q-tips, but it wasn’t perfect. When the printing was done and dry, I followed the instructions on the screen printing ink for heat setting with an iron, washed the fabric on delicate and cold, then laid it over the back of a chair to dry. It’s destined to trim out a a reproduction of the coat from Birka grave 944 that I’m doing for a friend.



For the uninitiated, posaments are these fantastic metal bits of ornament that were applied to clothing in Birka, Sweden during the Viking Age. There are braids and continuous knotwork strands that are made in the hand and carefully tightened to form beautiful knots. If I am interpreting the archaeological finds correctly, they’re rare enough in graves that not everyone had them (status symbol, no doubt). There are enough posaments that reenactors have a number of designs and applications to choose from, should they wish to incorporate them. The fantastic Silberknoten site has beautiful examples she’s recreating from various graves. Eithni is also recreating them grave by grave. Her project at Gulf A&S was truly fantastic, and her tutorials have been very helpful. You can look at the originals and work out how to do the knots yourself, but I need a tutorial.

If you want to slap some fancy metal on some fabric, Birka is not the only contemporary settlement that has really cool metal ornaments on clothing – there are others in Sweden, Finland has some great stuff, there’s wire weaving, and there are woven bands of varying complexity from various Viking world locations that have metal brocaded through them (a project on my list!). Many of these other projects require less expensive materials or have the ability to substitute something much less expensive, like very fine brass jewelry wire for gold.

The originals were made primarily with straight gold wire, and some with very fine tin/silver alloy wire that’s coiled around a silk core. This is called tenntråd, and you can order it on Etsy or from Sweden. It’s not cheap (~$3/m), particularly since you are using 2-4 strands at a time to make the patterns. There’s a little piece below (about 8″/20cm) that I’ve put on a smokkr panel, and it’s about $10 worth of material. Making little rows of it to go down the bands of silk across a man’s chest on his tunic could easily cost $50 for small and uncomplicated posaments. Because of that, I looked for viable alternatives and tried them out.

Cheap braided mylar cord stuff from the ribbon section of the craft store. Worth a try for a buck.
Cheap braided mylar cord stuff from the ribbon section of the craft store. Worth a try for a buck. I could potentially run a very fine wire down the center and try it again since the lack of structure a wire would give made it hard for the knots to keep a distinct shape or look crisp.


Craft wire I had around, grabbed when I could not find my small jewelry wire. This was too thick, and nearly impossible to tighten up. SO. BAD.
Craft wire I had around, grabbed when I could not find my small jewelry wire. This was too thick, and nearly impossible to tighten up. SO. BAD.

And then there was Gulf. Violet was asking random vendors about whether or not they carried tenntråd. I thought it was for her. Then we met some fantastic OOK Viking Laurels from An Tir, and one of them casually mentioned that she had enough for a handful of people if anyone wanted to learn to make them. I barely refrained from shouting, “TAKE MY MONEY!” And that’s how I got a tiny purple bag of magical tenntråd. Because it’s coiled, it’s forgiving of being made to curve this way and that. Because of the silk core, it doesn’t behave like wire. It’s seriously worth the money if you want to try to make posaments because it gives perfect results (once you figure out how to make the knots). There are a few things I’ve found where I struggle and struggle, then try the historical material or tool, and the heavens open for the angels to sing. A well-cut quill. Rectangular construction. Tenntråd.

My first knot with the tenntråd! It's the same knot I was doing in the first two pictures.
My first knot with the tenntråd! It’s the same knot I was doing in the first two pictures. Only in soft focus, so that you know my practice knot is artisinally-made with craftsmanship for Instagram.


My first string of knots, done in the car on the way home from Gulf. You might notice some of them are backwards...they're not supposed to be.
My first string of knots, done in the car on the way home from Gulf. You might notice some of them are backwards…they’re not supposed to be. Notice their size in comparison to the weave on my jeans. Posaments are surprisingly small, for the most part.


This is my second string of knots. This time, none of them are backwards, and they're spaced like the original, instead of all spread out. I put the posament on the bottom of a smokkr panel on very fine herringbone wool with strips of silk and a band of linen on linen embroidery.
This is my second string of knots. This time, none of them are backwards, and they’re spaced like the original, instead of all spread out. I put the posament on the bottom of a smokkr panel on very fine herringbone wool with strips of silk and a band of linen on linen embroidery. I used tiny blue silk thread to attach the posament, because I couldn’t figure out how else to get it on.

I’m making a stronger effort to be more authentic in my portrayal, which means being more focused on a time and place instead of being a magpie and popping together shiny things from a more generous swath of time and geography. I’m doing more research, paying closer attention to the most likely interpretation of a find instead of trying to stretch the possibilities to fit what I want. The upside is that research is fun for me, and learning the details impresses me with the cleverness and workmanship of the people whose graves we’ve dug through. The downside is that by the time I have completed a project, I’ve invariably done more research and am now displeased with some aspect of what I made and want to redo it. All of that is to say that while I’m think this smokkr panel I made is beautiful, and people have been fawning over it, the silk strips are too wide, and I shouldn’t have the embroidery on there like that, I don’t think. Or if I do leave it on (which I will, because I did some itty bitty stitches on that silk), I should fill it in with stitching in silk, like the examples they found in Oseberg, which likely came from the British Isles.

Narrow Oseberg Band

With Gulf coming up and our local championship tournament last weekend, I wanted to find a relatively quick project that would upgrade the look and authenticity of my costuming while advancing my skills in one of the areas where I don’t spend as much time as I’d like. Enter: tablet weaving an authentic Norse pattern! Something for me that wasn’t hard on my wrist? Check. A way to get back in the weaving saddle? Check that too. I started digging around in textile research and decided to go with something from the Oseberg ship burial. This particular find is chock full of weaving, both decorative and functional, as well as textiles, tapestries, imported silks, and some of the few examples of embroidery associated with the Viking world. You should most definitely check it out if you’re not familiar with it. My documentation is here, should you like to read a little bit about the burial.

Schmales OsebergbandI made a narrow band (12L 1 is the specific designation) that is part of a “cake” of textiles that are stuck together. It was 0.5 cm across and made of silk with a contrasting plant fiber (linen) that has rotted away, leaving only the silk. The band has a pattern that I’ve seen described as serpentine, and it rather reminds me of Greek key. I used the excellent chart and instructions from Shelagh Lewins to make my band. This is a particularly good resource, as she was able to visit the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo and have first-hand inspection access to a couple of the woven bands, through a professor. Her site also has an excellent array of Dark Ages patterns which are sorted by authenticity level and ease.

Tablet weaving is something I can sort of do. My weaving is pretty even, and I enjoy doing it. But. I don’t have a weaver’s brain. I can’t read patterns well or read what I’m doing to find mistakes and correct them very easily if something gets off. My husband – who is not crafty in the least – can look over and immediately see what’s wrong and why. I’m trying to embrace the idea of having a proofreader instead of being grumpy that I’m not good at something I’d like to be good at. I’ve been overly reliant on patterns that can be done on a modern tablet loom with pegs via the continuous warping method. It’s wonderfully convenient, but it restricts the weaving to patterns that aren’t authentic replications of the patterns used. I’m one of those who strives to be ever more authentic in my portrayal, and taking a couple of hours to flub my way through warping my loom isn’t too terrible – particularly since I learned ways to do it much more quickly next time. And next time I weave, it will be with authentic materials and not Aunt Lydia’s #10 crochet cotton. And I think it will be a missed hole band from Mammen or maybe Birka where the tablets aren’t all turned together…


This pattern, while simple, taught me some skills I had not learned on other weaving projects, such as flipping the twist of the cards over a few turns so that you can keep turning them forward while reversing the twist instead of having to reverse the whole pattern. This is a fantastic trick! My loom is small, though, so I would up having to do this more frequently than I would like. My flips are roughly every 10″, which would be ok if they were really smooth and therefore less noticeable. This is my first time with that technique, so it took a while for them to improve. The spots where the flips take place are better, but not consistently so. See the difference in the early ones and late ones? I’m still not totally sure if I should flip cards then pass the shuttle of weft thread or pass and then flip. Either way, I still have some crazy floating threads over on the sides…



14th Century Hairpiece Tutorial – Templar Braids

Tutorial 1 – this is the most basic, fastest to make style I have. I think this took me about 60-90 minutes while watching TV. Another, more complex one for crispinettes will be forthcoming.

I have some cheater hair in my accessories box, and I love it. Braids on a headband isn’t fancy or complicated, but it’s a comfortable, versatile thing to have as a base for wearing veils and hats. It’s ideal for people whose hair isn’t long or thick enough to do medieval styles with their own hair. Or because it’s war and the water got messed up due to misplaced tent stakes and your hair is dirty. Or because you’re lazy like me.

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Fake hair is totally medieval. It’s an add-on, not a wig, so it’s meant to be partially covered. You can use fabric tubes stuffed with fluff or you can go to the beauty supply store and get braiding hair. You’ll want to go to an African-American or ethnic hair supply store for these since Sally tends to be overpriced for this project.



  • 3 packs of braiding hair. I’ve used inexpensive Yaki Pony hair for mine. It’s synthetic and runs $1-2 a pack. This used three packs of less expensive hair – one for each braid. Make sure it’s long enough! Braiding hair comes in several lengths, and you want something in the 18-20″ range.
  • Thin rubber band pony tail holders in a color close to the color of your hairpiece/hair. If you don’t have them already, get the rubber band kind, not the covered “ouchless” elastic kind. A lifetime supply is $1.
  • A headband about as wide as a finger that you find comfortable. Goody makes ones with bendy tips that are particularly comfortable and secure.
  • Thread in a color that will disappear into your hair/hairpiece and a needle.

Continue reading “14th Century Hairpiece Tutorial – Templar Braids”

Norse Applique Tutorial

This past weekend, we went to Castle Wars outside of Atlanta, and had our first big Meridian camping event. We had a wonderful time, met great people, and I got to teach a class about Norse applique. I’m so grateful to the people who came to take it – and I had a great time teaching! Download the tutorial on Norse Applique by Penelope de Bourbon.


This is one of those things that’s stunning and everyone loves, but they think it’s much harder to do than it actually is. I’ve taught a few people to do it before the class, and I wanted to cover common challenges people have, like translating designs or finding good materials to work with. Because of that, I wound up with a 12 page tutorial that people can download. It covers the basic history, how to do it, design sourcing and translation into the applique medium, sourcing materials, easy dyeing methods, working with challenging fabrics like silk and linen, stitch choices, and more! This is a great thing to do because it makes a huge visual impact and can be done pretty mindlessly in front of the TV once your pieces are cut out.

I hope you all enjoy it. If there’s something you want to see added into it or have any questions, please let me know.

Dress Diary: Mardi Gras Italian – Mistakes were made

Sorry it’s been a while – war got crazy, my husband’s grandmother passed away in the middle of it, and I’ve been trapped in the whirlwind of all the stuff that has to get done for the end of the reign. Coronation is in four days, and one of my best friends is being elevated to the Order of the Pelican at it…and she was announced three days ago. Wow. Coronation is fancy anyway, but now that there’s a good chance I’ll be processing in for the Elevation, I’d better make sure to look my best! That means fixing some things on the purple Italian gown. Forgive my super special bed head hair and mirror shots.

Bad Italian 1

Wearing it at war was frustrating and kind of disappointing. I beat myself up for being a bad costumer because I made a couple of errors in construction that are messing with the fit. For one, I forgot to leave a slit in the waistband where the dress laces, so it’s pretty snug and hard to get in and out of. Another problem is the sleeves. They’re so silky and long that they just wind up bagging weirdly and hanging too low on the arm. I think I made it about half an hour in them before I untied them and tossed them back into the tent. The plan is to add more ties and lacing rings for securing them on the upper arm. Maybe a few box pleats to take up extra length if it won’t ruin the look of the ribbon stripes…

The last thing is that I changed the way I assemble the bodices on these to make the shoulder straps lie better. Previously, they were the last thing to be sewn and had to be done by hand, turning their edges in on themselves, inserting one into the other. It has a lot of extra fabric bulk in there, and I don’t like the way it looks to so clearly have the straps nested. Now, I sew them together early on, they look perfect, and the fiddly bit of final hand-sewing gets to happen in a more discrete spot against the ribs. However, I haven’t adjusted my pattern any to see if the new construction method changed anything. I didn’t even think to do it.

Bad Italian 2

The result is a dress that fits well through the lower part of the torso, then gaps and sags through the top half. Tying on sleeves pulls the shoulders right off and down the arm. The nice, rounded bustline that’s a hallmark of these gowns is lost in a boxy mess of extra fabric. The back is just as bad as the front. I hadn’t made time to put on the whole ensemble before we left, and I was so sad to spend the afternoon constantly trying to tug and adjust the thing into submission.

I spent some time looking at costuming blogs with Italian dress diaries and tutorials, desperately hoping to see some brilliant explanation of what I did wrong, how to draft a bodice pattern more correctly, or even just a post on how to fix what went wrong on your rushed novice sewing job.

I found none of those things. What I did see is that these people whose work I so admire make a lot of mistakes, just like me. Mistakes in fitting are an unavoidable part of sewing, and a necessary part of advancing your skills. These other costumers put on the sad dress, play with it and pin stuff until it looks right, fix it, and fix the pattern. What makes them better is their perseverance. I’m stubborn. I can persevere. I was even prepared to totally disassemble this thing to make minor improvements if it would help everything that comes after fit like a dream.

Turned out all I had to do was take a couple of inches out of the shoulder!  It seemed too simple to work, but taking that in seemed like a good way to get a clearer picture of the kind of armscye reshaping I was sure was going to have to be done. I was shocked to see the difference such a small adjustment made! I’m glad this is an easy fix that makes a monster difference. The waistband will not be an easy fix…

Fixed Italian

Dress Diary: Mardi Gras Italian – Sleeves and Details


I wanted to do a lot more with this dress than I’ve been able to in the time before war. Some of it will get done down the line. Some might get done before we turn the house over to the friend doing dog sitting on Friday night. Who knows? I really want a cool shoulder detail. So many of the gowns have them, and I never seem to pull it off.

What I have pulled off are really lazy lacing rings on the cheap. These sturdy little white plastic rings. I have no idea what they’re for, but they were in the sewing section, and I have been tacking them down as fast as I can while we’ve watched the new season of House of Cards. This dress is side lacing, and it’s taken a little less than one pack. I usually do eyelets, but never, ever again on synthetic fabrics. Yuck. Hopefully, these will work out well. To lace it up, I’ve made a purple cord on my lucet with very thin nylon cord. The nylon satin ribbon lace on my gold Italian dress is far sturdier than the one I braided from silk needlepoint thread for my green linen Italian. In retrospect, I have no idea why I didn’t just grab some ribbon and be done with it… *sigh*

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I already have some sleeves made that I threw together before last year’s Known World Scribal and Heraldic Symposium. They’re gold polysilk from the dress I made for that, lined in completely obnoxious red Chinese brocade I bought to line sleeves with. The pattern I made them with has proved problematic. I made it and made it WAY too big because I was having one of those days where I’m convinced that I am much larger than I am and added about 4″ too much room in the bicep. This was the perfect chance to do something with them that made taking in the extra room a decorative feature and made them special.


I’ve put an inverted box pleat up the center length. The pleat is relatively narrow at the wrist and gets much wider as it goes up. They still won’t be tight, but I think they’ll be a much better fit overall. (Here I am at the symposium in my gold dress, and the sleeves are nothing special. After this, I ripped off the shoulder poufs so the dress can be worn with a loose coat in black cherry silk over it.)

While Italian is forgiving, I would like the sleeves to actually add some panache to the outfit instead of being sad and droopy. I’m not in possession of dainty little arms and get scared of fancy sleeves doing some horrible body morphing thing that make people say, “OH MY LORD. Until Peeps put on those sleeves, after all those hours of handwork, I had not realized how fat her arms are! But now that’s all I’ll ever see when I look at her!” That’s really dumb because beautiful work is always beautiful, and I am delighted by all sorts of bodies in costume. And amazing costuming is much more likely to showcase someone’s loveliness than it is to detract from it. BUT I DIGRESS.

Velvet ribbon is a deficit in this country’s craft stores, as I’m sure you are well aware. I wanted GREEN! and GOLD! for Mardi Gras. Big, fat strips of green and rich golden velvet. The best I found was skinny strips of moss green velveteen ribbon, and in small quantities. It’s the best I’m going to do. Not even Amazon could save me. Velvet sort of demands hand-sewing to look right anyway, and the thinly flocked stuff I found has not inspired confidence in it looking presentable if I run machine stitching down it.

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Attaching the velvet ribbons to the sleeves has been an adventure. I did the first four with this careful, tiny stitch where I passed the long part of the thread back and forth between the two sleeve fabrics so as to not do anything to compromise the other side. It was SO. DANG. SLOW. y’all. And kind of lumpy and wrinkly. Part of that is the nature of cheap, cheap velveteen crafting ribbon that you have been forced to scour multiple Hobby Lobby stores to obtain enough of. The other part is that I was being all kinds of precious with something that I should acknowledge is a rushed salvage job on some sad sleeves using inferior materials.

On my way out of town to go to San Angelo for a last-minute sewing weekend, I stopped at Hobby Lobby to look for more pearls to sew on and stumbled onto a giant display of fabric glues. I forgot about gluing fabric. One of them is even called “OK To Wash” to make it even easier for me. Sold. The rest of this sleeve action has gone a heck of a lot faster now! Sadly, the glue is visible when dry if you accidentally squish a little out onto your fabric. I’m trying to not be bothered by this and am moving on with life. Now let’s hope I get busy tonight and finish slapping the velvet on the last sleeve tonight since it has to dry for 8 hours (gah!) and needs a teeny bit of hand finishing at each little area to tack down the pleats.

EDIT – I lost the glue at some point and had no option but to try machine stitching it down. Turns out I’m a total doofus. Machine stitching was the most subtle, quickest method. *FACEPALM* I’m such a special darling sometimes. Maybe one day, before I spend a dozen hours on something by hand, I might remember to actually TEST the attachment methods and not just assume that the most time consuming will be the best.