Monthly Archives: October 2011

Sewing for Kids

by Chelsey Barnes

That is, sewing things for kids, not teaching kids how to sew.  If I ever get around to teaching a child how to sew, I may do a post on that, but for now you’ll have to settle for the ups and downs of making garments for children.

Now, due to the fact that I’m an 11th hour sewer, I dropped the ball on getting this post to you in time to inspire you to make a Halloween costume for your child.  However, while we here at the Minnesota Society of Costumes consider Halloween to be a bit of a holy day, we also offer family friendly events throughout the year.  Therefore, it’s really never too late to sew something for little Bobby Sue or Alexander (who I hear is having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, so doesn’t he deserve a fun costume?).

If you’ve ever sewn a costume for yourself, you can sew for a child.  In some ways sewing for kids is SOOOO much better than sewing for adults.  For instance, if you’re like me and the idea of sewing a 3½ yard hem on an Elizabethan gives you hives thinking about the tediousness of such a long straight line, then you’re totally in luck.  Little kid hems fly by like a dream, and you’re done before you know it.  They also tend to be cheaper (unless you’re choosing to outfit your child in the finest laces, in which case, will you adopt me?) as there are far fewer yards of everything involved.  Ten yards of trim on Little Bo Peep here would translate to at least 20 on an adult.  And trim is expensive, y’all.

They’re also a hundred times cuter, which makes them a hundred times more fun to see finished.  The cuteness also makes it a hundred times easier to disguise your mistakes (not that you make any).  No one is going to be looking at your hems and top stitching when there is an adorable young princess in their presence.  Incidentally, the costume you wear alongside the adorable young princess will also experience the same mistake-masking effects, however, it goes a little overkill in that it actually masks the entire fact that you’re wearing a costume.  So maybe that’s a con.  Haven’t decided yet.

Lastly, children are easier to fit.  They are not curvacious or bootylicious.  They are nearly perfect little rectangles that rarely require darts or fancy altering because, let’s face it, we don’t really want the garments to hug “just right” anyway.  Save “just right” for after they turn 18.  No, better yet, 30.

But lest I lull you into a false sense of security and cause you to rush out to your local Jo-Ann (where, if you were a paid MNSoC member, you would automatically qualify for 10% off EVERY purchase) and buy up every child sized pattern in all the land, I must give you a few words of warning.  Namely, freakishly small baby-sized arms.

I would urge you to do yourself a favor and only sew costumes that don’t require arms, but I believe the tube-top clad Bratz dolls are no longer in favor.  Instead, you have two options:

  1. Suck it up and plow through it, swearing constantly as you feed the sleeve through your machine inch-by-inch because the arm holes are way too small to fit around your machine.  Or
  2. Think far enough ahead to ignore the pattern instructions.  Construct and hem the arms BEFORE sewing the underarm and side seams of the top closed.  Then, when you’ve gotten the shoulder attached to the top, simply sew from wrist to waist in one continuous line.  It may not always result in the most finished-looking wrists, but glue on some trim and no one will be any the wiser (see also my previous “pro” about no one even noticing because OMG little Bobby Sue is so precious!)

A second, and maybe less-likely con, depending on the child, is that children are fickle beasts.  One minute they may say “Yes, Auntie, I do so love the princess dress you made for me, and I cannot wait to try it on,” and the next minute they are throwing an hour long tantrum over not wanting to be a princess but wanting instead to be a butterfly.  This is purely hypothetical.

Despite the possible downfalls, ultimately costuming for kids is just as rewarding as making yourself a beautiful gown or a steampunk waistcoat and top hat.  Kids make the most fun models, even if they can be trying at times.


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Thrift to Fashion – Linens Edition

by Laura Ulak

You have exhausted your attic for inspiration for costuming.  You have used your old wedding dress and formal outfits, leather coats, and those old Christmas tree ornaments.  Where else could you possibly find raw materials for use in costuming?

The linen closet.

The great thing about linens is that they are essentially great big pieces of material, usually with no seams or rips or buttons to get in the way.  There is no issue as to sizing, and you are generally assured that they aren’t going to shrink after sewing them, as they have already been laundered multiple times.

Sheets, duvet covers, quilts, curtains, pillow covers and placemats are all excellent sources of fabric.  Want to have a fancy beaded stomacher on an 18th century French gown, or as cuffs on an elaborate frock coat?  An embroidered pillow cover is an inexpensive and quick way to add bling and luxuriousness to an otherwise plain project.

For instance, the sleeves on M’s gown below were made using fabric scraps from her gown and pillow covers that were already beaded and pin-tucked.  She found fabric that coordinated with this beaded fabric for her underskirt and added beads to it herself to match the sleeves.

Erin used a rather different sort of textile for her outfit – a towel.  The towel and coordinating table runner were woven by St. Croix Weaving in Erin’s family tartan, MacDonald of Glencoe.  Erin decided to use the table runner as a shawl, and turned the smaller towel piece into a bodice.  Luckily Erin is a wee thing, so the towel was large enough to use for both the front and back pieces of her flat front bodice.

Erin also found a fur pillow cover at Joann Fabrics and had visions of fur cuffs and collars that she could make out of it.  At 70% off, it was far cheaper than buying faux fur yardage at the fabric store.  Erin used part of the pillow cover to make cuffs for one costume:

And the rest to make a collar and cuffs for another costume:

What about bed sheets?  I used a vintage white bed sheet I had sitting around for my I Love Lucy Elizabethan apron, and the bows in my hair and at my neck.

The award for most creative use of fabric from the linen closet goes to Carol, who combined regular fabric yardage with a bedskirt.  The bedskirt had a beautiful pattern on it that Carol used as bodice fabric, a large hem guard and for gauntlets.

By far the most common item people think of using from their linen closets are curtains.  Usually large in size, they offer huge swaths of yardage that can quite often be less expensive than purchasing the fabric outright.

Ikea has been a great source of fabric for members of the Wench Posse over the last several years.  In their Scratch and Dent space they often have curtains that were used as display marked down significantly, or they will have shopping carts filled with linens, chair covers, etc. for $15-30 for the entire cart.  My best find was one of those carts for $15, and I got a heavy canvas curtain I have used for interlining, several cotton curtains I have used for petticoats or regular lining, and 5 sets of full length velvet curtains that have become various Renaissance style gowns.

A set of red velvet curtains from Ikea were used by Cheryl to make her fantasy Italian courtesan gown that was inspired by Pirates of the Caribbean:

The same style was made for Ashley using dark blue Ikea velvet curtains:

And Carol used a set of teal Ikea velvet curtains to make her Venetian courtesan outfit:

Used curtains can work just as well for costuming, although you do have to check for sun fading on the fabric.  Sometimes this can work to your advantage, depending on the affect you are going for.

I used an old set of purple curtains (which had originally been yardage of purple taffeta from Joann  Fabrics) to make this Elizabethan outfit, as modeled by K:

And some old burgundy curtains and valances were used to make an underbust corset and bustled skirt for Ashley for a Steampunk event.  The curtains had fringe already sewn to the bottoms, which saved us the time of having to add trim.  Ashley paired these items with an old Gunne Sax gown of her Mom’s from the 80’s.

But by far my favorite use of linens goes to My Faire Lady who turned three shower curtains into a stunning gown in a mix of Elizabethan and Venetian styles.  Added bonus?  It can get rained on!

The next time you are feeling frustrated by the lack of fabric in your house, try checking the linen closet.  You might be surprised to discover that what you needed was right there the whole time!

So stop looking in your closet with frustration and start looking in there with inspiration!  Please post any additional ideas, tricks or tips in the comment section!

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The Top 10 Specialty Feet That Costumers Should Know About

By Renee Larson

Most sewing machines these days come with many different feet.  Mainstays usually include a straight stitch foot, a zipper foot and a buttonholer.  However, if your machine doesn’t have any additional feet, these are the ones to consider:

  1. Walking Foot:  This gives you an extra set of feed dogs for use in moving fabric.  Great for sewing on Polarfleece and Velvet – it won’t leave deep marks in the fabric’s nap.
  2. Rolled hem foot:  This foot enables you to finish the edges of sheer fabrics quickly and cleanly.
  3. Teflon Foot or Roller Foot:  Both of these feet are great for use on leather.  The roller foot literally has a spinning wheel that enables it to roll over the fabric while still grasping it.  The Teflon foot slides over many different fabrics with ease.  The roller foot is also good for velvet.
  4. Welting foot:  Most people underestimate the amount of space needed on a piping foot for their piping.  The welting foot has space for smaller piping to fit inside as well as larger welting/piping, to include those used on home décor items.
  5. Invisible zipper/narrow zipper feet:  The invisible zipper rides right over the teeth and gets a very tight stitch in next to the teeth.  I wouldn’t sew an invisible zipper without one!  The narrow zipper runs right next to the teeth of the zipper, giving a very close finish as well.  This foot is great for sewing in channels/seams next to boning.
  6. Beading/pearl foot:  This foot has a groove in the middle where you can feed a pearl or bead chain through it.  With the use of the zig zag stitch or other specialty stitches you can couch down the beads/pearls without having to do the whole string by hand.  It saves a LOT of time.
  7. Gathering Foot/Ruffler:  The gathering foot is great for simple gathers, but has a bit of a learning curve to it.  I recommend Rufflers to most people because while they look like a very complicated piece of equipment (and are usually the most expensive foot you will purchase), they make quick work of gathering fabric, plus they are adjustable to width, depth, etc.  If you are making a Can Can dress or putting layers of ruffles on a bustle, this is the foot that will save you in time.  Think of how much faster and more accurate this is than running a gathering stitch!
  8. Pintuck foot:  Pintuck feet come in various sizes, and they all work great.  They make quick work of heirloom sewing and give your vintage inspired costumes a more authentic look.
  9. Adjustable blind hem foot:  If you are sewing a lot of hems at once that are all different in depth, this foot will do the job in no time.
  10. Adjustable bias binding foot:  I wouldn’t work on a corset without this foot.  Also useful for those who do quilting.

Honorable mentions:

  1. Free motion foot:  Often used by quilters, it allows you to move the fabric around the machine in all directions (not just back and forth!) and make circles, stippling stitches, and other designs in your sewing/quilting.
  2. Fancy trim foot:  This foot has a groove in it that allows you to sew down things like strings of sequins without having to do them by hand and without breaking the sequin or your needle.

Renee Larson is MNSOC’s Resident Sewing Pro.  If you have a question for Renee you can send it to MNSOC, or you can find Renee in person – selling, fixing and teaching about various sewing machines at the Husquavarna Viking dealer in Joann Fabrics in Woodbury.

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An Overview of Victorian Fancy Dress

by Laura McBeth Vetter

It’s that special time of the season when the masses join those of us who love to play dress-up all year round.  Because the Victorians shared the same fondness for costume, Fancy Dress balls became very popular during the period.

By the early 19th century masks, associated with the uncontrollable behavior often a part of masquerades, had fallen out of favor.  A new emphasis was placed on costume of an “elevated” nature and masquerades were now Fancy Dress balls.

Both public and private fancy dress parties were held for almost any occasion, the opening of a new bridge; a civic holiday; a daughter’s coming out; skating carnivals – Fancy Dress was the theme of choice!

“Almost any notable figure in history and literature was likely to spur the imaginations of fancy dress party guests. While characters from literature, especially the Shakespearean plays, remained popular choices for fancy dress parties throughout much of the century; a quest for increasingly unique and creative costumes began to appear.”

Queen Victoria was fond of fancy dress and it was her interest in history that fueled the popularity of historical characters and themes which lasted throughout the century.   Historic costumes were thought to be in better taste than humorous or exotic ones.  Literary characters were also popular and though the Victorians favored those from the 18th century, costumes from Shakespeare, Dickens, and Tennyson made appearances. Though historical accuracy was important when depicting historical characters, most fancy dresses followed contemporary styles more than those from the past.

Here are few examples

Though some costumes were elaborate and made for specific occasions, many fancy dresses were simply evening gowns adorned with flowers, stars, etc. to create the costume and given an exalted name.  For example, the “Night” costume, which was one of the most popular characters (and admittedly a personal favorite of mine), could easily be achieved by decorating a dark blue or black dress with stars and wearing a crescent moon headpiece.  Similar popular symbolic characters that may be easily created are Summer, The Last Rose of Summer, Autumn, Harvest, Winter, Snow, and Spring.

Examples of the seasons

One of the most popular items of clothing for Fancy Dress was the Italian domino, a voluminous cloak. When fastened, a domino completely covered the wearer to the ankles, hiding whatever might be worn underneath. Men would often choose to wear their regular evening clothes to a Fancy dress party and simply cover them with a domino as a gesture towards fancy dress. Dominos were often hooded and made of silk. The most common colors were red or black for men, white, red, or blue for ladies. Ladies would often have their dominos made to match the costume underneath, although by the mid nineteenth century, the domino started to fall out of favor.

Examples of Men’s costumes

Fancy dress parties were a Victorian favorite and hopefully this article was useful in helping you decide what to wear to your next fancy dress ball.

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Thrift to Fashion – Steampunk

Written by Laura Ulak

Earlier this year we did a Steampunk Thrift to Fashion review of a Steampunk fashion show that the Wench Posse did.  As we draw closer to the Steampunk Christmas Carol Event we have happening on Dec. 3rd (read more about it HERE), I thought it might be worthwhile to do another posting on finding Steampunk items in your closet or the local thrift store.  Many items can be used as is, or with simple modifications.  Most outfits usually are a mix of found and made/modified items.

This outfit uses a mix of items.  The leather jacket and blouse were thrifted, as was the Brownie camera which Chelsey here is using as a purse.  The skirt was made using this tutorial from Katafalk.  The corset was made using the 2966 Simplicity pattern.  The hat was based off of a tutorial on Threadbangers.  All of the jewelry (to include the eyebrow piercing!) were made using items found at Ax-Man.

Both of these outfits also use a mix of techniques.  Ellen’s outfit on the left includes a thrifted blouse, a borrowed scarf, bag and boots, and her own motorcycle gloves and wrench.  The bloomers were made using a self-drafted pattern, and the hat was also made from scratch.  Renee’s outfit consists of a borrowed fez, a modified Boy Scout shirt that she found at the thrift store, bloomers she made, and her own boots.  She made gauntlets from leftover leather scraps, as well as a leather waist cincher.  All jewelry was either made or thrifted.

Carol is wearing an outfit of almost completely thrifted and modded items.  Her hat was given to her and she made the hat band and flower piece using leftover items she already had.  The shirt and vest were thrifted, as were the two skirts.  The first skirt was modified to have drawstring gathers to ruche it upwards.  The second skirt was split open and turned into a bustle by eyeballing gathers along the back and securing them first with safety pins, and then with stitches.  It pinned to her waist.  All other accessories were her own or thrifted except for the tights, which are from

Theresa wins the prize for oldest item in use.  Her green frock coat and prairie style boots were purchased for her by her mother back when she was in high school.  The rest of the items she is wearing were thrifted or borrowed, except for the belt which was purchased at Target:

The blouse and overskirt in this outfit were thrifted, but the skirt was modified to have ruching in front.  The corset originally belonged to a friend and when washed the black dye had stained the white casing, which gave it a weathered effect and works great for Steampunk.  Lynn made the hat from a felt hat form from Michaels and various bits she had around her house.  The underskirt was an old skirt that she had had when she used to work the Renaissance Festival back in high school and was modified to go underneath the black skirt.  All other accessory pieces were thrifted or purchased;

This outfit is different in that it was almost exclusively sewn.  The blouse and bag were thrifted, as were the boots.  But the corset was made using fabric and leather and an out of print pattern similar to the 2953 Simplicity pattern.  The skirt was made of two layers of linen using Katafalk’s “How to sew a Victorian skirt” tutorial.

And finally we come to Nell, who is also wearing a mix of items.  The pants are a split skirt that was made using this pattern from Laughing Moon.  The blouse was thrifted, as were the shoes.  The necklace was purchased online.  The bolero jacket was thrifted as a Blazer, and modified to look like a Bolero.

Hopefully these examples will help you to look at the items in your closet (and at the thrift store) with an eye to using them for costuming.  There are many retro-Victorian pieces from the late 70’s through the early 90’s out there, as well as some from vendors today.  Keep your eye out for true vintage as well.  Also use online resources like Threadbangers, Katafalk’s blog and You Tube for tutorials on how to modify things you own or find.

So stop looking in your closet with frustration and start looking in there with inspiration!  We hope to see you attired in your finest Steampunk garments at the Steampunk Christmas Carol on Dec. 3rd!

Please post in the comments with any additional tips and tricks!

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Halloween Costume Contest for MNSOC 2011

Here are the seven simple rules for entering our annual costume contest:

1.  Make a costume!  You can alter a premade costume, modify regular clothing, glue/duct tape/staple objects together, or sew the whole kit and caboodle from scratch.  However, you must have actually MADE the costume, and not bought one.

2.  Add accessories!  Now these can be store-bought.  Or they can be store-bought and modified, or made by hand.

3.  Take a picture!  Then upload said picture to the Halloween Contest Facebook Page here.

4.  Vote!  Oh sure, you should definitely vote for yourself.  And then encourage EVERYONE YOU KNOW to log on to Facebook, find the page, and vote for your costume.

5.  Vote for others!  By October 31st!  How do you vote, you ask?  Simply click on the picture and leave a comment along the lines of, “I vote for this here costume, kthxbai.”  Please, only one vote per costume, per person.

6.  Other rule-type things!

–  Your costume does not have to have been made in 2011.

–  It does, however, have to be made by you to enter it for yourself.

–  If you want to enter a costume you made for someone else, be sure to note that in the photo’s title, so I know who is actually entering the contest.

–  Please share with us how you made the costume.  We learn from each other, and sharing is caring don’t you know.

–  My crack team of judges and I will choose a winner on November 1st, and post said winner on the Minnesota Society of Costumers Facebook page, as well as the Contest Facebook page.

–  The winner will receive 1 free ticket to the Steampunk Christmas Carol event on December 3rd.

–  YOU MUST BE A PAID MEMBER OF MNSOC TO ENTER THE CONTEST.  Membership has its privileges, and the fees are discounted in October.  Sign up today!

7.  There is no Rule Seven!

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Thrift to Fashion – Leather Edition

Written by Laura Ulak

Think you don’t have anything to wear in your closet to a costume event?  Are you SURE?  Because that old leather jacket from High School might be just what you need.

Reclaiming leather from old jackets in your closet or the thrift store is not just eco-friendly (and nice to cows!) it also gives you nice quality leather at a fraction of the cost of new.  And that wear on the jacket that gives it character?  That can do the same thing for your costume.

Leather jackets or pants or skirts (look in all 3 areas at the thrift store) can run as low as $4.00 if you find one on sale.  They come in various colors and shades, and in all different sizes.  I prefer to look for ones that are either in fairly large pieces with few seams, or just in large pieces period.  Leather trenches, plus size jackets and prairie skirts (yes, I found a ruched leather prairie skirt once!) can be a treasure trove of material to work with.

You have to be more creative in your cutting with pre-sewn leather.  Often you can use the back of a jacket as the back of a bodice – if you are willing to have a seam there.  You can open up sleeves and find big chunks of unseamed leather.  Collars can be removed and put on a new outfit.  I save all my old scraps that are at least as large as my hand for use in appliqué.

Here are some examples of leather outfits that started out as thrift store (or closet!) finds:

This bodice was made using the leather from an old black jacket, and the sleeve of a red leather jacket.  It was lined in cotton, and the rampant lion was appliquéd on top of the black leather before construction.

That prairie skirt I was talking about?  That became a leather Victorian style corset with D-ring lacing in the back.  It has been used as a pirate bodice:

And as a corset for an Asian style Steampunk outfit:

A small leather pair of pants was turned into a belly dancing bodice:

Two different leather jackets were used to make similar style bodices that have been used as pirate wear and wench wear and the leather scraps were used to make gauntlets:

Another leather coat was used to make this pirate bodice:

But you don’t have to cut up your leather to repurpose it.  There always seems to be a leather vest or two sitting around the thrift store.  Add embroidery or gears to it and you have a Steampunk vest:

Another vest was modified into a wench bodice:

Or you could just remove the sleeves on a faux leather jacket, add some elastic to the back to bring in the waist and you have another Steampunk vest:

But leather isn’t just for bodices.  Got an old white leather jacket sitting around from your Whitesnake groupie days?  Cut off the sleeves, remove the zippers from the cuffs (oh yeah!), and sew on buttons all along the edge and when attached to a pair of garters, they make an excellent pair of Steampunk spats.  (and ok, the leather bodice was made from a leather skirt and a left over piece of white leather):

When working with leather it is best to use either a roller foot or non-stick foot for your machine.  If you don’t have either, use tissue paper or printer paper sandwiched between the foot and the leather to help move the leather along.  Don’t ever pin leather – use weights for cutting, and double stick tape or large paperclips or clothespins to hold it together.  There is a rubber cement for leather that works well for holding seams open.  And remember to lengthen your stitch when sewing on leather – wider is better.

How To Sew Leather, Suede, Fur is a great book for learning how to sew on leather, suede or fur.  It was published in the 70’s, but the info is just as good now as it was then.

So stop looking in your closet with frustration and start looking in there with inspiration!  Please post in the comments with any additional tips and tricks!


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