The Ladies' Tea Guild

Monday, November 30, 2009

Dickens Fair costuming for women, part 3: altering the sleeves.

Monitor de la Mode, 1855. Costumer's Manifesto.
Sometimes, the sleeves of your thrift store blouse or shirt will need alteration, too, in order to work for a Dickens Fair outfit. This is another area where a too-big shirt or blouse will make a better mid-Victorian bodice: if the shoulder seam hangs below your own shoulders -- between 2 and 5 inches --it will match the lines of the real Victorian bodices! Also, make sure to use a thrift store blouse with long sleeves: gathered sleeves that have a cuff, or looser sleeves without a cuff. Make sure that the sleeves are long enough to reach to your wrist bone, or no more than 2 inches shorter; longer sleeves can be hemmed or cut to the proper length.

If the sleeves have an elastic drawstring at the wrists, you'll need to open the seam, cut the elastic string, and draw it out of the sleeve; if the sleeve is long enough you can even cut off the whole elastic cuff, then fold the cut edge of the fabric to the inside of the sleeve and sew or glue it in place. If the sleeve is at least 3 inches larger than your wrist, this will make an open sleeve style, or a "modified Pagoda" style in the Victorian era. If the sleeves are already loose and open at the wrists, you may not have to alter them at all, other than make them shorter, if they're long enough to hang over your hand. You can also make the sleeves narrower (with safety pins or needle and thread, taking in the sleeve seam from inside the sleeve), following the curve of your elbow and tapering gently to the wrist. Decorate your sleeves around the wrist, at the shoulder seam, and/or along the elbow seam.

Under your open sleeves, you'll need to wear under-sleeves. You can make under-sleeves, easily, by purchasing a white Oxford style long-sleeved business shirt at the thrift store, cutting off the sleeves, and wearing them underneath your blouse bodice sleeves, tying them around your bicep or making a casing for elastic, or even safety-pinning them to the inside of the shoulder seam of your bodice, to keep them in place. The white cuff of the under-sleeve, and part of the lower area of the under-sleeve, should be all that shows when it is worn under your blouse bodice sleeves. If you feel like it, you can sew or glue white lace or ribbon to the cuffs of the under-sleeves, to decorate the part that will show when it is worn.

If the blouse bodice sleeves are gathered and have a buttoned cuff (not elastic or drawstring), you may be able to leave them as they are, just decorating them, if you want. You can also get a white button-down shirt that has French cuffs (double, or folded-over cuffs), cut off the French cuffs and safety-pin, sew or glue them over the cuffs on your blouse bodice sleeves for a different look. Tuck the French cuff's raw edges under and fasten them down so they don't show. Your sleeves will add another wonderful element of style to your costume!

The official Dickens Fair costume guide
Dickens Christmas Fair website
Kay Gnagey’s 19th Century Costume Research Center
Elizabeth Stewart Clark’s Sewing Academy


martha said...

Took me time to read all the comments, but I enjoyed the article. Very helpful article! Makes total sense. It's always nice when you can not only be informed, but also entertained! I'm sure you had fun writing this article.

Biology Dissertations | Biology Dissertation

South Bay Ladies' Tea Guild said...

Hi Martha, I did have fun writing this article, and the rest of the bits in the series! I found that once I got the "look" of the period in my head that I could see usable costume items in otherwise unexpected places. Thrift stores can be hit and miss, but they are best in October when the Halloween stuff is put out. I'm glad you found this post helpful!

Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)