{case study} the best of both worlds: a modern ensemble inspired by historical fashion

Steampunk fashion has been described as “an appreciation for the ornamentation of the gilded age.”

I don’t have much use for a stereotypical Steampunk ensemble
(I don’t like to be stereotypical anyway),
but I do love a modern ensemble with a good dose of old-fashioned inspiration.

The first piece a lady would don
in the Victorian and Edwardian eras
is a chemise - a comfortable, next-to-the-skin layer
that provides a nice foundation for everything else.

The brown bamboo jersey dress fulfills this same purpose in my ensemble.
I cut the pattern using my basic princess-seamed bodice,
overlapping the seams to create a one-piece front and one-piece back
with negative ease where seams would usually provide shaping.
The skirt is a half-circle, and the neckline is finished with a simple folded strip of self fabric.
Once again, I used negative ease in the neckline area,
so it clings and doesn’t gape when I bend over.

On top of the chemise, a lady would wear a corset.
My hand-spun, hand-knit shell is anything but constricting,
but the fit and the lacing up the back are reminiscent of this old-fashioned garment.

On top of everything else is the red wool coat.

One of my favorite Victorian details is the shoulder seam that slants toward the back,
creating a smooth, easy-to-fit shoulder line.
I based the shoulder shape of my coat off of a pattern with a c. 1870 style
and drafted the skirt of the coat with pleats in the back,
mimicking the feminine silhouette of coats like this sketch from a Victorian-era ladies' magazine.

Embroidery can be a forgotten detail when it comes to our modern era.
I drew the designs featured on the back belt and sleeve cuffs,
then stitched them with a sewing machine.
I did not computerize the design,
but rather used a straight stitch and manipulated the fabric by hand.

I stitched all of the buttonholes by hand with silk thread
after stabilizing the slits with machine-stitches.
(The best of both worlds!)

I used hand-finishing elsewhere as well.
Anywhere understitching was necessary, I used pick-stiches.
After binding the lower edge, I folded up the hem and catch-stitched it in place.
I also handmade thread chains to attach the lining hem to the coat hem.

The test of any good design is marketability,
so I put my outfit to the test at the 2013 National Make It With Wool competition,
which includes marketability as part of the judging criteria.
I was the fourth-runner-up over all, and received special recognition for the shell,
which led to my being featured in THREADS magazine.

This is quite possibly my favorite creation to date.

There’s something about its history…
the design process itself…
the details from yesteryear…
the decorative elements often overlooked…

…something that makes this ensemble special to me.