The dark secrets behind the dress

A couple of months ago, Curious Frau poster a picture of a german gollar from Schwaebisch Hall, it was found in a house and was once a precious piece of garment, and passed down from maid to maid. You can see that it has been patched an re-patched, just so it can be used over and over again.


20130920-184717.jpg (photo by M. McNealy)

It’s an adorable piece of garment, and give us a hint of the value that it once had for the owner/s, so precious that it has been taking care of in all the possible way to make sure it would be wearable for along time.

A friend of mine provided me with an interesting aspect of our modern way of approaching the recreation of another time period, of the stress we all have of wanting to have a new garb for every new event we attend, but either not got the money to buy fabric or the time to make a new dress. Or both. Or maybe not even have the skills to do it yourself. She suggest that we should instead just relax and wear that same old dresses …because it’s pretty period right?

The very same friend decided to hand sew a complete garb; apron, coat and vigil dress all by hand, with the latest pattern research and with period stitches. During the process, she told me, she suddenly noticed that working by hand gave her a completely different relationship to her dress; the amount of time and labour she put into it gave her an new insight of the making of a dress might have been like for those who once did it, not for a hobby, but as a part of the everyday life. The dress wasn’t just a dress, not even the underdress, she knew every single inch of that dress, has been made by her hands. Her revaluation of sewing gave me an insight of “why” I never liked a complete new dress I made, it was machine made. The first machine sewn dress I have made in 5 years, an I only made it because I felt the pressure to have a new piece of garb for the next event …I used it one time and decided that I didn’t like it (and it was also a bit to big). It was just a pile of fabric, it took me two-three days to make and it wasn’t me, just because it was not hand sewn, it hadn’t the “soul” that my other (sometimes crooked and patched and funny) garb have.

So, remember the cutting anxiety you might have right before you start cut your new fabric? What then if you also have weaved the fabric, dyed the yarn, breed the sheep etc …then a dress is not just a dress, it’s a huge amount of time invested in it, just like the patched German dollar.

To valuable to just discard.

To go into this even further, I asked some friends about how long time it would take to just weave the fabric necessary for a dress, and they told me it takes about 12 hour to put up the loom for a 70 cm wide fabric, and weave 10 threads/cm, takes around 50 cm/ hour. So for a simple underdress I would estimate around 5-6 meter of fabric (depending on how full you want it, would take about 16-20 hours (they told me to take into consider the small things like the yarn tangles etc).

It takes me around 3-4 days to handsew a simple 4-panel dress with gores (if I do nothing else but sewing all day) , so just making a dress including weaving (not spinning the yarn, dyeing or anything) would take about 3-6weeks (I would assume I need to at least make some food ever now and then) …but that kind of gives us an idea of the amount of work they once put into a dress; of course did they try to save it as long as possible, what ever needed to be adjusted, was still going to take lesser amount of time then to make a complete new dress.

My very first trossfrau dress has been around for a couple of years, and is still a favorite even though it is a bit worn and patched and used. I lost some weight awhile back, and needed to take in the bodice, and so I did and, well, I don’t know how I was thinking, but I removed too much around the bust area. So, either I make a new dress or I alter an old dress.

Now some might say that it’s easier to just make a new dress, but this particular dress is all hand sewn; just the 3 meter of cut, folded, sewn flowers on the skirt trim took me almost 3 weeks to do, and , 4 years later, I still remember how incredible boring it was (…which didn’t really stopped me from doing it again with my purple one), but it is my first dress and I really like it, and it just doesn’t seem right to rip it apart and re-use some parts for a new dress.

And did I mention that I really like the dress?

So here is the dark secrets, an example of the behind the door view of my wardrobe and how I continuously patch and repatch my dresses;

1) the dress is tighter and therefore not enough room for the bust at the too, the solution is to add an extra piece of fabric.
2) trying to see if the patch might be enough …because then the seam would be hidden by the trim
3) attaching the extra piece of fabric
4) attaching the trim over the seams

The finished alternations;



As you can see, I cheated some on the inside; since that part doesn’t have any particular stress I just skipped adding the lining, and I used hooks and eyes instead of moving around the lacing rings. You can also see the seams where I had to add extra trim due to the alternations (the alternative was to rip all of the remaing trim down to the waist, including ripping some of skirt seam around the waistline). I didn’t do that, because the dress is still very old and will never be used in an A&S display nor win a beauty competition; this dress is a piece of my everyday dress, so I don’t mind if my seams are visible or not.

Since I was alternating the dress anyway, I also decided to lower the back to match the square front (and it will also ease the stress in the front, yeah, my bust was still a bit to large to fit, but I didn’t had any other option to increase the front without redoing the bodice even more then the little triangle)

Removing is of course easier then adding, so it is a simple procedure; mark, cut, stitch together.

The skirt also has slashes in the perfect hight of getting caught by benches, branches etc, so it is a continuing work of repairing of the slashes;


The linen thread also gives up after a couple of years;


Is it worth it then to keep on attending to your garb, sewing, patching an petting it? Obviously for me it is, this dress is not only a dress, it is a companion who has been with me over a long time, sharing many good memories over the years, and I have, literally, touched every inch of it with my hands over many hours over making it, repairing it and wearing it!

So to all of you out there, with the pre event anxiety of not having a new set of garb, why not reuse your old ones? Maybe replacing a trim? Taking it in? Adding a new lacing? Patch that hole in the front?

And speaking of being period, I’m a Trossfrau, I don’t have a bunch of fancy ladies-in-waiting serving me new clothes. I have to take good care of what I have …and use it as long as I can.

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