Monday, May 9, 2016

Cosplay by McCall's Pattern Review: Belle Rogue and Belle Noir

 I was excited to get a close look at these two new patterns because I think they have a lot of potential for steampunks.  I'll start with Belle Rogue because it's my personal favorite.

First the tulle skirt.  Everything about how the skirt is put together and made makes sense.  There's a lining under the tulle and an elastic waist.  Really the more I look at this skirt, the more I want to make myself one.  Now I just need the money for a metric crap-ton of tulle.

The detachable train is a little more disappointing.  It's made from pre-ruffled chiffon, so basically it's just a piece of fabric shaped into a train with a bow.  It's not exactly something most people would need a pattern to figure out.  I like it ok as a design feature, but as a pattern it's fairly useless.

Then there's the corset.  I said some pretty negative things about this corset based on the photos, but I do have to take some of those back.  I was totally surprised to find the instructions for the corset construction are actually...pretty good!  It's got a floating fashion layer, which means the bone casings aren't sewn through the top layer.  The base lining layer is constructed with seam allowances pressed to one side of each seam, and the bone channel sewn into the seam allowances.  You'll note this method avoids the problem I had with the other corset patterns from this line, the weakness of pressing seam allowances open in a corset.  If I were going to make a corset with a floating fashion layer, this is how I would do it.  In fact, I have done this.

The pattern also recommends using spiral steel boning and gives good tips on cutting boning yourself instead of buying it pre-cut.  The top and bottom edges of the corset are put together in a non-typical way.  The floating layer is sewn to the top and back right sides together and then flipped, so the edges are finished without binding.  I've never tried this, but it is a neat option for a corset with a floating top layer.  The bottom is then sewn closed and there is a large pleated ruffle that goes over it.  I would almost definitely still bind the bottom edge to prevent fraying and just for neatness sake, though the pattern doesn't call for it.

I like the ruffle and bows (which are removable or movable as they are attached to pin backs) on the bottom of the corset.  It definitely adds a lolita flair and helps the corset blend into the skirt.  So all that is fine, in my opinion.  The only problem I still have with the corset is the shape of it.  It's not very curvy.  The panels are really pretty straight up and down other than at the very front of the bust.  So this might work ok for a thin, straight figure, but would be uncomfortable or poor fitting on anyone curvier.  And I haven't tested the sizing, but I'd imagine you can safely go down two sizes from the recommended size for the corset portion.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

New Simplicity Steampunk Sewing Patterns (and a bit more)

It's all sewing patterns all the time around here, but there are lots of exciting things coming out from pattern companies now that they've figured out costumers and cosplayers are their best customers.

Simplicity has a bunch of really interesting new patterns.

First up, this pretty darn awesome design from Lori Ann Costume Designs.  The one on the left has an obvious Jane from Tarzan feel, but in general this is a nice generic steampunk design.

The pattern includes a double layer long skirt with ruffles, a hi-low skirt as seen on the left, a bustled overskirt, and a smaller rear bustle as seen on the right.  So two different long skirts and two different bustle styles.

Plus the really very lovely corset.  There isn't another yoked corset pattern out there, and this one looks curvier than the corsets in Lori Ann's last patterns.  I'd of course like a closer look at the corset pattern before making a judgement.

My only concern with it is that it seems to be too high to be an underbust, so it's trying to be a weird hybrid of underbust and mid-bust.  Which in my experience tends to lead to uncomfortable fit and usually also immodest or unattractive spillage.  So if I were making it, I'd probably cut it down to make it fall under the bra line like a proper underbust.

Next up is this very interesting set of "Misses Alternative Fashion Sportswear Pieces."  That description makes me chuckle because I think Simplicity wasn't sure how to classify these pieces and neither am I.  They are basically steampunk underwear, but mostly too decorative not to be seen.  The black set is pretty close to some historical early 20th century underwear, really.  And the pale set is cute, but really strikes me as something meant to be worn under something.  The brown and black version, though, is very definitely steampunk and could make a super cute summer or beach outfit as-is.

I realize my reactions to these as skimpy and something I wouldn't ever wear in public makes me old.  That doesn't mean that there aren't plenty of young ladies who can pull these off.  OR some of the pieces would make very nice options to wear under skirts.  The bloomers are super cute, and I can see them working great for burlesque costumes as well.  So while a bit bemused, I'm happy to see this pattern.  And maybe some of y'all just need really goth or steampunk gym clothes.

I REALLY like this Rockabilly/Lolita dress pattern.  These are both styles and subcultures I admire greatly from afar.  So I love both versions of this.  I like the fullness and length of the skirt, not to narrow or too short.  I know there are some Lolita purists (ok, maybe a LOT of lolita purists) who will be quick to say this isn't Lolita because it's too low-cut.  Well you could always wear something under it if you are concerned about breaking the rules.  Personally, I'm a steampunk so as soon as someone tells me there are rules, I want to break them.  I'd really love to do a steampunk version of the Lolita dress, actually....I wish I had time for all my ideas.

So Simplicity has added to the rapidly increasing number of mainstream corset patterns with this "Easy Waist Cincher Corsets" pattern.  I'm a little wary of a corset pattern labeled "easy" as that smacks of poor quality construction. And the pattern calls for featherweight boning, so my fears seem justified.  (NEVER use featherweight or Rigiline.  If you're looking for cheap, easily available boning in plastic, use heavy duty cable ties, please.)  The shape of these is okay, I guess.  But honestly, if you can buy a plastic boned corset with this shape for $15, why bother making one?  If you're going to make something, make it right.  Spend a little more money on materials and time researching corset construction.  

And then I'm stepping a bit outside normal steampunk period for a bit to share a couple of other new patterns that might be of interest.  American Duchess has released two patterns inspired by the first season of Outlander.  These are really pretty nice modest 18th century outfits.  I've been watching the show recently and admiring all the costumes so I appreciate the existence of these patterns.  
Of particular interest to me and my readers is the undergarments pattern, including some really lovely stays.  There aren't nearly enough patterns for 18th century stays out there, and the ones that exist aren't very good, as I discovered last year. Moreover, the designer has promised a detailed series of tutorials on her blog on how to use the stays pattern with more historically accurate techniques to make really accurate and lovely stays.  
Personally, I am thinking more and more about bringing steampunk aesthetics and philosophies to other time periods of costume and dress, and 18th century is very exciting to me right now between Outlander (which I watch almost exclusively for the costuming), Hamilton the musical (I'm super obsessed) and a French series of mysteries I've been watching called Nicolas Le Floch.  So again, I have more ideas than time to make, but I'm thinking very seriously about some Rococo punk.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Cosplay By McCall's Pattern Review: Shapeshifter

Y'all know I get excited about new corset patterns.  There are a lot of corset patterns out there but not that many I would really consider "great."  There's a particular shortage in underbust patterns.  So having this new Shapeshifter pattern is pretty exciting.

If you remember my earlier post on the topic, I was hopeful for the two new corset patterns because they are designed by Kelly Cercone of Anachronism in Action, whose work I have admired.  But I was still a little hesitant because I know that pattern designers don't really get a say in sizing or instructions, which are even more important with corsets than with other patterns.

Once I got my hands on the pattern I was excited to see this is actually two distinct corset patterns.  One has large hip gores and one is a more traditional straight paneled corset.  The version with the hip gores appears to be made for a more curvy figure than the other.

So here's a confession: I've never made a corset with hip gores. It's something you see a lot in historical patterns, but not so much with modern corsetry.  And I've just never felt a need for them or had reason to play with them.  Plus patterning hip gores to match measurements is a little tricky.  So I was interested to use this as an excuse to play with hip gores.  Plus I felt the hip gore version was more likely to fit my large hip-spring.

So I decided to test the gore version, View B.  And to get an accurate idea of how the pattern fits, I followed the size chart on the envelope to choose my size. Normally I always recommend going down two full sizes when making a corset from a Big 3 pattern company. But maybe this would be different.

First, let me clarify that unlike the first three patterns in the Cosplay by McCall's line, the two corset patterns come in two different size ranges.  6-12 and 14-22 it appears.  This feels a bit cheap to me, given how little pattern tissue is actually in the envelope.  They could have easily included all the sizes and still had less tissue than some of the first group of patterns.  When the prices are $21.95, I would feel a bit ripped off by not getting all the sizes.  The main competitors for a pattern like this, an indie company like Truly Victorian includes all sizes for $16 or so.  On the other hand a lot of corset patterns on Etsy only include one size, so I guess it depends on your basis for comparison.

First mock-up.  High class bathroom mirror selfie.
So my measurements best fit size 22 by their chart.  So I dutifully cut out size 22 for a mock-up.  I used some plain cotton because I was running low on cotton duck, which I use for mock-ups for my clients.  The stronger the fabric you use for a mock-up the closer it will be to your final corset, but this was good enough for me to get an idea of the fit and sizing of the pattern.

Closed all the way.
I'll talk about the instructions in detail in a minute.  I did follow the instructions for inserting the gore.  That was a little tricky.  Gores are always tricky, which is why I generally don't recommend them for beginners.  It's a curved seam and in this case there aren't a lot of guides to help you line up the pieces correctly.  Luckily the instructions told me to clip the main corset body along the seam, or I'd never have managed to get the gore to fit.  So it IS a little challenging, but I think that's the nature of gores.

Side view that shows how much it gapes at the top.
One thing I noticed about this pattern is that all the sizing is done on the front and rear panel.  The three side panels and the gore are the same for all the sizes in this envelope.  I understand why it's done that way, but it's a little different from what I'm used to.

So while my mock-up was pretty rough, with thin fabric and the bones stuck in with masking tape (good tip for fast mock-ups!), it told me what I wanted to know.  This was way too big.  It closed with no effort and wasn't reducing my measurements at all.  It was particularly big at the underbust, shown in the side view where I could have taken out an entire panel.

So I was not very surprised to find this pattern holds to the overall rule that Big 3 corset patterns run large.  They continue to add ease into the patterns despite the fact that corsets need negative ease.  However, I did like general shape.  So I did what I normally would have done from the beginning and went down two sizes, this time going with size 18.

You can see there's already a pretty big difference in shape from the back view.  And the gap is pretty perfect, really.  My mock-up is pretty beaten up by this point, and the taped in bones are barely holding on, so that's why there are significant wrinkles and some bunching up.

But overall, this was really comfortable and I think it looks pretty nice.  I'm surprised it fits me as well as it does.  Now I could take some more in at the waist and get a more extreme reduction.  This is actually a pretty relaxed shape for me with the waist sitting higher than I normally place it.  So it's not cupping in under my ribs.   But this would make a good light lacing alternative to my self-drafted underbust.

So yeah, I'm quite happy with this.  So much that I'd say it's pretty likely I'll go ahead and make a corset for myself with the pattern.  (If I ever get time, that is.)  Again, this is with no modifications, just the standard size 18.

Now let's talk about the instructions included with the pattern.  Both this pattern and the overbust Laced use the same basic construction method.  They have you assemble the layers of the corset separately by sewing all the panels of each layer together, then pressing the seam allowances open and stitching 3/8" away from the seam to form casings from the seam allowances.
This is not a method that I am very fond of.  I've only made a corset once where I pressed the seams open and double boned using the seam allowances.  It was a very pretty corset, but the second time I wore it, one of the seams on the back ripped open when I leaned back in a chair.  I had double-stitched each seam, knowing this wasn't the strongest method of construction, but it still failed in a massive way.  Because when you press the seams open like this, the only thing holding your corset together is the thread of the stitches. And because corsets have so much tension on them, this isn't the best idea.

This is one reason I love the Folded Seam or Welt Seam method, because the seam allowances are all pressed one direction and each seam is stitched through all the layers in three different places.   But that method isn't possible for all corsets and some people don't like it for various reasons.  The gore version of this pattern wouldn't work with the Folded Seam method because not all the pieces run from the top to the bottom of the corset.  So what I would do for this style corset is use bone casings placed on top of the seams, either on the interior or exterior.  When you center a bone casing over a seam and then stitch it down on each edge, the bone casing is taking some of the strain off the seam and reinforcing it.

The other thing you could do, would be to make this corset as instructed, but have two layers of strength fabric.  Press the seam allowance to one side instead of open, (as illustrated by the closed seam picture to the right) and topstitch through the seam allowances next to the seam.  This reinforces the seams as well.  Then combine the layers and stitch your bone channels through all the layers.  To avoid more bulk on one side of the seam you can press your top layer's seam allowance one way and the lining/strength layer seam allowance the opposite way.

When working with several layers of corset that are combined at the end, it's important to be very precise when stitching, keeping your seam allowances exactly even so that when you lay one layer on top of the other, all your seams line up.  This is one reason I try to avoid making corsets this way, because any slight differences in seam allowance width can lead to wrinkles in your finished corset.

So, the instructions are okay, and seem pretty detailed and clear, but it's important to know this is only one of many ways to construct a corset, and, in my opinion, not at all the best way.   As a final detail, the pattern includes pieces and instructions for making a floating boned modesty panel.  It's essentially exactly as I make them, and it's a nice detail that I haven't seen in other corset patterns.

So that's my look at this pattern.  I've only tested and tried one version of the Shapeshifter.  View A appears to allow for less curve and smaller hip sizes and less difference in the waist-to-hip ratio.  So I like that there are two silhouettes included in the pattern because certainly body shapes differ.

I'm curious to see what the overbust Laced pattern looks like put together as well, but I simply don't have time to try that one at the moment.  I'm a little disappointed to note that while there are three views of Laced, the only apparent different in them is the shape of the top of the corset at the bust. Unlike this pattern there aren't two different silhouettes, which would, in my opinion, make the pattern more useful.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Friday Finds: Summer Steampunk Shoes

This post contains affiliate links.  If you purchase anything after clicking the links, I will receive a small commission.

I've talked about this before, but being a Texan, I have a hard time being comfortable in steampunk dress all year round.  I need summer versions of my outfits for times when it's just unbearably hot.  A big part of my comfort is shoes.  I just can't wear knee-high vinyl boots when it's 100 degrees.  So I am always looking for good summer steampunk shoes.  I found a bunch at Modcloth, but these are also just ideas of what styles to look for.

Here we have the ultimate steampunk gladiator sandal.  I love the look of BootsButNot.  The shiny buckles take them into actually steampunk territory for me.  I saw a similar style at Target a few days ago, though they didn't look this nice.  So this is a style that is apparently "in" at the moment.

One of the other things I look for in steampunk accessories is metallic color.  This is apparently another trend at the moment, so that's great for us.  I love sandals that include something around the ankle, and these are a lovely shiny gold with intricate patterning.

Shoes just rarely get cuter than this.  The Malt Shop Sweetheart shoe is available as pictured in Dusty Rose or very stylish Black and White.  These really are like the summer version of some two-tone steampunk boots I've seen.

There's just something about shoes with wraps around the ankle that make them more old-fashioned.  These more formal shoes have a dance feel to them and would work with all kinds of outfits, including fancier steampunk ones.

Speaking of ankle-wrapping, how about these flats?  They have a ballet feeling, but with a metallic sheen and delicate elegance.

Again, there's something about two-tone cuteness.  The lower heel on these makes them a little more casual while maintaining a little bit of formal.  These are a little bit Lolita to me.

The more straps and buckles something has, the more steampunk it is.  That's just science.  :)  Here's another good flat option for those like myself in danger of injury when we wear heels.

There are more shoes I could post that would work that I found just looking around Modcloth.  Mostly metallic sandals and flats in different shades.  But I think you get the idea that steampunk doesn't have to mean boots.  Hope this gave you some ideas of what to look for!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Cosplay by McCall's New Patterns: Belle Rogue and Belle Noir

McCall's is continuing to release very interesting patterns in their new cosplay line.  Today's two new patterns are designed by Ichigo Black and are influenced by Japanese goth, lolita, and steampunk styles.  I have to personally admit I don't know enough about Japanese fashion trends to know if these patterns fit any specific style.  I know they aren't really lolita, but I can see the influence.

So anyway, here they are.

Belle Noir is interesting.  It includes a blouse, two layer skirt, bustle overskirt, detached sleeves and a fascinator.   So I guess the big question for readers of this blog is: "Is this steampunk?"   And I'm pretty comfortable saying yes.  As you can see from the side-view below it's got a Victorian silhouette to the skirt/bustle.  So it feels like a modern take on Steampunk.  It's not your traditional steampunk outfit, but I feel like we can desperately use some different interpretations of the style.

And this would look totally different in colors other than black, as well.  It's difficult to make out all the layers and details with it all in black.  (My old goth soul hates me for saying that.)

So yeah, I like it.

And here is the second pattern: Belle Rogue.  (Ok, part of me is wondering if that was supposed to be Belle Rouge to go with Belle Noir.  But whatever.)

So this pattern includes "Corset, skirt and accessories."  The corset top is one piece, then the tulle skirt with overskirt is one piece, with a detachable train.  And it includes hair bow and wrist cuffs.

So I LOVE the skirt.  The look of the layered and striped tulle with pulled up overskirt is fantastic.  The train is nice, but doesn't do much for me personally.  This does have a gothic bridal look to it, though, so it would work for that.

I am not very impressed by the look of the corset.  It is "lined and boned" but looks to fit very loosely (probably because of too much ease in the pattern sizing) and doesn't really have much in terms of shape.  I think if you want to recreate this look, you'd probably be better served using a different corset pattern (like Laced from this same line) and making it in alternating red and black fabric.

But the skirt is fantastic.  So once again, these patterns are only available from the site.  You can see my other reviews of this pattern line here.   And in the next day or so I'll be posting a detailed review of one of the new corset patterns, with my test fittings.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Friday Finds: Gifts for Mom or Yourself

This post is sponsored by Modcloth and contains affiliate links.

I haven't been doing my Friday Finds posts for a while.  It started to feel like work and like I was scraping the bottom of the barrel looking for things to share with y'all.  But I've got some good stuff shared up now so I'll be posting some of these for a while.

Gift-giving is always tricky.  Especially when I'm looking for my mom.  My mom is the kind of person who has most everything she wants or needs.  She doesn't collect things.  She doesn't have a lot of hobbies.  So what do you give someone like that?

One option is to really search out the quirky and unusual items that someone would like, but doesn't know exist.  Modcloth is a great place to find these kinds of things.  Here are a few items I found that I feel would make great gifts that also have a steampunk vibe.

The Open Air Enjoyment Picnic Basket is a lovely, old-fashioned way to tote everything you need for a fantastic picnic.  With spring in full swing, and summer coming, this can get a lot of use.  I also can see this being the perfect thing to take with you to any outdoor steampunk gathering and still be in period style.

Modcloth has quite a few kitchen accessories that would fit into a steampunk themed room fantastically.  This copper-toned Roll the Spice Caddy is one of them.

Ok, I don't get tired of cool octopus items.  And I ADORE this Pacific Pairing Pillow.  The colors are fantastic.  Only a few left in stock, though, so hurry!

Finally, I found the Most Steampunk Item EVER.  Guys.  Guys. We need this.  We ALL need this attached to our belts.  It's a collapsable shot glass with an octopus on it.  The next time a steampunk offers you something from a flask (cause you know we do that), you will have your own hygenic shot glass right there!  Seriously, I need this so badly.   The Wherever You Arm shot glass!

So your mom may or may not be into steampunk and octopuses.  But if you need a Mother's Day gift, seriously try browsing though Modcloth's Home and Gifts section, because I found something perfect for my mom for less than $20.