20 February, 2012

18thc. Gown Workshop Recap

I'm still working on my post about the "Mercy Bradford" cloak at Pilgrim Hall, but watermarking the photos is taking a while when real life gets in the way! Instead, while fresh in my mind, I'll give a recap of the gown workshop I attended this weekend put on by The Hive at Minute Man National Historical Park.

This was the second gown workshop I've been to that was put on by Hive instructors Miss Hallie and Miss Stephanie. The first one I went to was back in July 2011, when I did my printed cotton gown. I was wholly unprepared for that one; they are not kidding when they say it is a very intense weekend! Back in July I knew nothing, had really never sewn anything, and was a ball of anxiety. I know a little bit more now, and though I am not as close to completion as some of my workshop peers, I have no anxiety at all, whether about the workshop or my gown. I'm still pretty darn slow at sewing, but that will speed up with practice.

So, for the first time, I worked with silk. I had purchased this goooorgeous yellow silk taffeta from Hallie when she was clearing out some of her stash, and it's a great silk for a beginner to work with. It's not slippery, it takes a finger press really well, and it's just plain ol' pretty. The first time I pulled it out at the workshop there were some gasps, and lots of, "It's like a ray of sunshine!" comments. My silk doesn't hold a candle to the drooooooool-worthy red silk damask another participant brought; no one wanted to stand too close to it for fear of drooling on it. Seriously!

I think one of my favorite parts about these workshops is drooling over everyone's fabric (in addition to getting to handle an extant gown that is used for study). I'm becoming a fabric whore and as someone who is very tactile, working with textiles is just a pleasurable experience (when I go clothes shopping, I have to touch every. single. thing.). Everyone is always willing to chat about where they got it, how much they paid, "Of course you can touch it!" One lady had a really nice ivory linen and looks so good on her.

The way this workshop was run was different than last July, as Hallie and Steph are always learning something new and what works and doesn't work in terms of workshop flow. In July, we started with sleeves and over the course of the first day, we were fit to a pattern this. This time around, all of the fittings were done prior to the workshop, and sleeves were homework. I really liked this format better; by the time day 1 is complete, you feel confident enough to go home and make your sleeves. When day 2 rolls around, all that's left is to attach the sleeves and gown skirts; after that, you're done (unless you didn't hem, then you have to hem the skirts). Things may change for the next workshop, but I really enjoyed it this way!

So, where am I on my gown? Well, not quite as close as my fellow "mantuamakers" but WAY ahead of where I was last July. When I left the workshop for the second day in July, I only had the center back panel done. It was lined, with the en fourreau pleats stitched down, and ... that was it. This time around, I have all of that PLUS the two front bodices on! The lining still needs to be whipped in but that's an easy step. I have one sleeve done and am working on the next. First, though, I need to finish my stays.

All in all, I cannot recommend this type of workshop enough. Every item you sew should teach you something, and I've come away with more knowledge than I did the last time. I am comfortable enough with starting another gown on my own (I know, can you believe it?!). Most importantly, it seems to have finally stuck in my head that it's just fabric. There was no anxiety this weekend (well, there was, due to a dog medical emergency but it was completely unrelated to the workshop), and if I keep stressing myself out over this stuff, it's not going to be fun anymore. It took me nearly all day to cut out the pieces out for my printed cotton--and I had 11 yards of it, so if I made a mistake, no biggie, right?--but my yellow silk, that I had only 5.5 yards of, one hour. That is a mega improvement! My title of "Queen of Anxiety" is quickly leaving me, and I couldn't be more proud of that one single accomplishment.

My new mantra is "Keep Calm and Carry On." I will keep calm, and carry on, in all situations. Now, I must go sew my stays, as that gun to my head is getting awfully close ...


  1. Someone else has the red silk damask too? Are you kidding me?! :-(.

    1. There are other drool-worthy red silk damasks that aren't the Scalamandre love birds ...

  2. Sounds fun! I'd like to try a workshop someday.

    Sometimes I think I'm too far on the other side of the fabric-cutting spectrum from you. I have a tendency to just leap in and start without checking to make sure that I have enough.

    1. They really are fun, if you can spend a weekend out here for one it's most definitely worth it.

  3. I would totally drive all the way to New England to take a workshop like that. It sounds like such fun! I know what you mean about touching all the fabric. I'm the same way. & I have the SAME problem with cutting. I have been known to agonize for days before I make a cut. I'm getting better about it though, it's a process. ha ha!