Ok, so you have decided to start a new sewing project. You have chosen your patterns, and are looking at them trying to figure out where/how to begin. Yay! Congratulations, for getting past the wishful thinking/design stage!
The very first thing you need to do now, is take your personal body measurements. It is tempting to take quickie measures by yourself, just so you can get to the next step. But you really need to take your time, get a friend, and do this part right. Unlike modern patterns that have a minimum of 4" of ease added to them, most historical pattern have virtually no ease allowances. Which means if you measure poorly, your dress most likely won't fit. A really big problem is that the 4" ease gap of modern patterns has allowed hobby seamstresses to become overly lax in taking proper measurements. In particular, the Bust Measure. The most important measurement of them all.
But let's back up a minute. Before you take your measures, you need to put on your underwear and corset. I highly recommend that you wear a proper corset, and not just a modern bra/panty set. I will save the corset debate for another post. But if you are measuring over a bra, and not a corset, the resulting lower bust height can be a little problematic with getting a Victorian bust measure. Another note is that historically, a tailor would take a ladies measurements OVER her clothing. As we today take the measures over the corset, not the dress, be sure to not pull the tape too tight.
Ok, back to the bust measure. Have your partner who is measuring you stand behind you, holding the end of the tape in one hand. As your partner passes the tape around your body, you are in charge of placing the tape so that it passes over the widest part of your bust. Interestingly enough, while you fiddle with this, your elbows will be up in the air. During this time, your partner should be lifting up slightly on the tape, so that the tape passes up into your armpits. While your partner maintains enough tension on the tape to keep it in place, you drop your arms to your sides, and stand comfortably straight, head up, shoulders down, back, and even. In this position, your partner can take the tape straight across your back and read your measurement. Unless you have a very high back to your corset, this will most likely place the tape above the corset. Lay the tape smoothly across the back, but don't pull it tight. If you have a lot of extra tissue that comes out over the top of your corset at the back of the arm, you can pull the tape a little bit tighter. (This will make the dress pull in some of that tissue later.)
View from the back.
View from the side
View from the front.
(the tape slipped upwards slightly during the photo session.)
As you can see, the tape will most likely raise a little bit at the back. If you are wearing a bra, the fullest part of your bust may be lower in front, and the angle towards the back more pronounced.
This method measures you at the absolute fullest part of your body. This is the most fabric that you will get in your bodice. And remember, there is no ease. What you measure is what you get. Commonly today, a person will stand in front to measure. But doing so allows the back of the tape to drop too low, or to fall about bra band level. It is my experience that allowing the tape to fall in the back will make your measurement a full 2" less than what it should be. I get complaints all the time about mock-ups and bodices that are 2" too small, or reviews saying the patterns runs small, etc. Well, this is where it all most likely went wrong, not taking a proper bust measurement at the very beginning.
Up next, the back width and other measures.
Thank you, Sandy and Tonya for modeling for me!
The Back Width measure is the second-most important measurement with Truly Victorian patterns. It is a rather hard measure to take, more guessed at than decidedly placed. But once you get an idea of where to measure to and from, it really isn't that much of a problem.
And the really good news is that with the TV sizing system, even if you get the back width wrong, you still have a pattern that fits. It also means you can fudge it if you need to make the pattern a little easier to work with. For example, if the math tells you that you need a size that is beyond the range of the pattern, you can adjust the back width to a number that gets you back on the chart again.
Back Width - Measure E to D in the pic below. (half of back width)
So what exactly does the back width do, if it doesn't matter what number you measure? It basically tells you where along the bust measure your armhole is placed. The armhole placement determines where the back ends and front begins and the proportions of front to back. This helps give you a different pattern that suits both 42AA bust and a 42DDD. The 42AA bust has more room in the back and less in the front, whereas the 42DDD has less room in the back and more room in the bust. The armhole placement can also be adjusted for manually, during a mock-up fitting, so making changes to back width measure can still be worked around if needed. As you will always have the 42" needed to get around your body, it will fit no matter what, but you might need to make extra modifications.
I love the historical idea of this measurement, and how it relates to the sizing system. Today, we just measure the front and the back and go from there. But in Victorian time, men (tailors) where starting to make women's clothing. And it would be a horrible breach of propriety for a man to be "fondling" a woman's bust to take measurements. So the idea was to measure the whole, from behind as discussed in the previous chapter, and then measure the back. When you subtract the back from the whole, whatever is left has to be the front by default.
So, how do you take the measurement? The first step is to find the point on the back of the shoulder where the arm seems to attach to the back. Many of the old manuals say to measure from dress armhole seam across the back, but if you don't have a dress already, that doesn't help much. Halfway between the bottom of the armhole, and the top of the shoulder, at the back of the arm, is the "sweet spot". Once you have found the place, measure across the back from one side to the other.
Most length measurements start somewhere but usually end at the waistline. Which means that knowing exactly where your waistline is, is absolutely critical. Before you start, take a ribbon or string and tie it around your waist, at the narrowest point of you body. The string much be horizontal to the floor, front to back. Some people believe that their waist is lower in the front, and want to push the string down. But unless you are wearing an Edwardian corset, the waist never dips in the front.
If you are wearing a corset, then the placement of the string is very easy to get. Without a corset, it usually isn't where you think it is. The modern style has the waistline at or just above the hip. But the reality is that your waist is usually about 2" above your navel, or even with your lowest rib. If in doubt, start there.Back Length
The length measurement most people are familiar with is the Back Length. This is measured from the base of your neck, down the spine, to the waist. While taking this measure, is it crucial that you stand straight, with your head level. If you duck your head forwards, you will lengthen your spine and get too long a measure. Start at the top of the large bone at the base of the neck, and measure straight down to the string at the waist.
Easy and simple. This measure is listed on the size charts, and helps you choose sizes to select a pattern length that matches your body length. However, it really is only half of the issue. There are two sections of your body that make up the total back length. The upper back, from armpit level to nape of neck, and the lower back from armpit level down to the waist. And not everyone follows the same proportion rules of upper to lower black.Side Length
I don't talk about the side length in the patterns, because I find most people don't want to sew with math. And any needed adjustments can be made during your mockup. But for those who want to solve problems on the pattern before the mock up, this is an excellent measure to get a good fit at the beginning.
For this measure, you will need a straight edge of some kind, like a ruler. Place the ruler high up under the armpit, parallel with the floor from front to back. Drop your arm and stand comfortably straight, with shoulder down and back. Make sure the person is not lifting their shoulder!! Then measure from the top of the ruler, just at the front of the arm, straight down to the string at the waist.The Hidden Math
So now that you have these measures, what do they mean and how do they relate to the patterns? I have discovered that a person's body length really has nothing to do with a person's overall size anymore. Unlike modern size charts, which get longer when they get larger. Truly Victorian chose to keep the side length the same for all the sizes. And that side length is 9". Which means that if your side length is anything other than 9", you know you need to adjust the lower body length by the exact difference. For example, if you measure 9 1/2" side length, then you know that you need to lengthen the entire bodice pattern, (Front, Side, Side Back , Back) by 1/2", between the armpit and the waist. Or the opposite, if you measure 8 1/2" side length, you will need to shorten the pattern by 1/2". (More on how to manipulate the pattern in another post.)
OK, so far so good. Lets move on to the second part of the math. If you make any adjustments for the lower back length to your pattern, remember to add or subtract that to the overall back length of the pattern. For example: you added 1/2" to the pattern length for your side measure. If the pattern originally measured 16" back length, when you added the 1/2", the total pattern back length now measures 16 1/2".
Now the last bit of math. Compare the newly adjusted pattern back length to your measured back length. If there is any difference, then this difference must be added or removed from the upper section of the Back pattern piece. For example: the new adjusted pattern length is 16 1/2". Your back length measurement is only 16". This means that you need to shorten the upper back pattern by 1/2". OR if you measure 17" back length, you will need to add 1/2" to the upper back pattern.
You may end up shortening both upper and lower sections, or lengthening both sections. Or you may have to shorten one section and the lengthen the other. It can get a little confusing, so go one step at a time.
There are two measurements that are used for fitting a sleeve; circumference of the armhole, and the length of the arm. As many people are built a little differently from left side to right side, I highly recommend that you measure both sides. These differences can be caused by differences in muscle mass from being right or left handed, or changes that happen with age, or injury. It is a very rare person that is evenly symmetrical from side to side.
The armhole measurement should be taken around the top of the arm, passing under the armpit and over the edge of the shoulder, taken close but not tight. The arm should be hanging naturally at the side. This measurement will give the overall width for the sleeve, as well as the size of the armhole on the bodice. If the right and left sides are slightly different, you can usually use the smaller measurement for your sleeve side. The patterns are drafted with ease in the sleeves, so there is a little extra room to play with. This works well if you want a tighter sleeve. If you want a moderate sleeve, then go with the larger measurement. If the left and right sides are more than 1/2" different, then you might want to take the average of the two sides.
The second measure is the sleeve length. This is measured from the front of the armpit straight down to the bone at the front of the wrist. Place a ruler high up under the arm to help define where the armpit is. Make sure to stand easy, with your shoulder down and back, and your arm hanging at your side.
An interesting note about fitting sleeves. A great many sleeves are ruined by the armhole fitting poorly. The sleeve always assumes that the armhole it is being sewn into is correct. In other words, a sleeve is drafted to fit the measurements, and any extra puffiness, width of shoulder, or style options are added to sleeve based on the style wanted. Which means that the armhole of the bodice needs to be correct for the style, as well. If you make any fitting changes to your bodice, like cutting the armhole edge up to the correct position for the time period, or where it fits on your body, then you do not make any changes to your sleeve to match the armhole changes. The only time you need to alter the sleeve is if you change the style, not the fit, of the armhole. For example, if you are making an 1880's bodice, then when you are fitting your bodice, make sure that you create an armhole correct for that time period. Then the 1880's sleeve will always fit to your adapted armhole, so long as the armhole conforms the the 1880's standard. (This is contrary to modern sleeves and armhole, where if you make any changes to the one, you need to change the other to compensate.)
I have been busy creating new patterns for the late 1880's, and the one thing that stands out as unique about this time period is the Burnous Pleat. Just about every skirt from 1887 - 1888 has some kind of drape created by this form of pleat. Something else I found out, is that no one seemed to know how to spell the word "burnous". I even found it spelled two different ways in the same sentence. So if you see Bournous, Bournouse, Burnous, Burnouse, or Burnoose, it all means the same thing. And yes, I seem to spell it all different ways as well, in my various instruction sheets.
So what exactly is a Burnous pleat? Well, it is one of those simple things that is very hard to describe, because we don't use this type of pleat in modern sewing. Nor really do you see it in any other time period. So the concept is foreign, and almost unimaginable, until you see it.
The technical description: A large fold of fabric, like a very wide pleat, where the top edge is unsupported and is left to hang down in a loop.
Sounds simple, right? And actually, it sounds like it would look sloppy and weird. But the reality is they can do so many things, and usually look fantastic. A burnous pleat is a great way to reduce bulk at the waist by taking away fabric from the waistband, and it can also get you around corners of a square of fabric. And the more I study 1888, the more ways I find to incorporate the pleat.
Lets start simple, with this example on the right. This is the back panel of an overskirt from 1879, and is the earliest version of a burnous pleat that I have seen. (I used this same idea for the back of my Hermione Overskirt - TV326. Though in my version, I used the Burnous pleat to double as the placket opening.) In this pic, the burnous pleat is in the center, with the middle of the top edge hanging down the middle of the skirt, and the bunching at the bow is made by the fabric sagging down from the top. If you look carefully at how the back is attached to the waistband, you can also see a regular pleat at each side as well.
This is what your fabric looks like before it is pleated. (I have left out the extra regular pleat)
And this is what it looks like after the pleat is put in. Pretty ingenious, right? I just love this!
And this is just the beginning. Want to make a court train out of velvet, but there is no way you can put 90" of velvet into 6" of waistband? Use two burnous pleats. not only do you take away at least half of the bulk, it adds in pretty cascades. Just like in our new TV263 - 1887 Imperial Skirt pattern. Or even three, as shown in this 1888 skirt from The Delineator.
And how does this pleat get you around corners? Find out in our upcoming overskirt pattern TV367 - 1887 Cascade Overskirt