Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Pattern Review: Kayfig Wrapper (KF611)

I just made up this pattern, and thought I'd toss out a few thoughts on it.

KF611 is a wrapper/morning dress pattern c. 1855-65.  Wrappers are (relatively) loose garments for 'undress'--the sort of thing you'd wear to breakfast, or around the house.

First, pictures:

Kayfig wrapper, with contrast lining visible.

Wrapper front (KF611).

Open coat sleeve from Past Pattern #702.

This is made up in a reproduction cotton print, with a solid lining in two colors; in the first picture, the lining has deliberately been turned out to show off the colors.  The sleeves above are not from the wrapper pattern, but instead are the "modified pagoda" sleeves (open coat sleeves) from Past Patterns #702.  The wrapper pattern includes bishop sleeves, but I made this up for a friend who preferred the open sleeves.   

What you get in the pattern:
Book of Instructions
2 pages of pattern pieces 

The pattern is printed on printer-weight paper, not tissue-paper.  The pieces are multi-sized, and the sizing is apparently based on custom slopers rather than being larger or smaller versions of a single garment (according to the information given).  All I can say is that in making it up, surprisingly little alteration was needed to be made for a good fit in the back and front lining.  The wrapper is fitted in back just like a normal c. 1855-65 dress, as is the front lining of the bodice (darted to fit).  The front fashion fabric, obviously, is very loose, being pleated only at the shoulder, and then contained with ties at the waist.  Do not panic about the lack of skirt pattern pieces--being large rectangles, instructions are given for cutting a custom size rather than printing large sheets of rectangular paper.

The booklet can be intimidating--it's 38 pages long.  It's also full of helpful information, including 6 pages of period references & pictures of antique garments, 14 pages of technical information (including pattern terminology, fitting advice, and period sewing techniques), and 15 pages of detailed cutting and construction instructions, often with a choice of techniques.  For example, three different methods of finishing the hem are presented; it also has two different styles of sleeve cuff, and so on.  The remaining pages have attributions and a bibliography for the research.  Illustrations accompany each step of the instructions.

I'm of a mixed mind on recommending this pattern for beginners.  On the one hand, I've heard of others being stymied by the instructions--either overwhelmed by the length, or confused by the construction of the front panel.  On the other, I found it a really comprehensive walk-through of period dressmaking techniques.  The technique pages, in my opinion, would be very valuable to someone who's starting out on mid-Victorian dress-making, even if the sheer amount of information is intimidating.  If you already know how to gauge a skirt, make piping, and so on, you won't need this information as much.  For what it's worth, I made my first dress 9 years ago, and I still found a new piping technique in the instructions (which I am so using on my next dress).  

There were one or two tricky moments in making up this pattern: I couldn't tell at first how the front piece would fit in over the bodice lining, but the second I laid it out according to the instructions, it all 'fell into place'.  If I were making it up again, I think I'd play with where exactly the front panel is attached to the front bodice, in order to change the fall of the pleats.  Attaching the piping/binding around the neckline also had some difficult moments around the shoulder seam, as that's where the two different front pieces met the back and one of those pieces needed to be separate, the other bound.  I ended up whipping the edge down by hand, and was still sort of winging it.

On area where I found the instructions very valuable was in giving the order in which things needed to be done.  Since I've usually worked with "big 3" patterns, I'm used to taking the pieces, tossing the instructions, and then making things up to fit based on my own reasoning and what I've read about period dressmaking techniques. Here, it's very important that the bodice, back skirt, front panels, etc. get attached in a very specific order, so that you're hemming it all the way around at one time, and getting the pleats in the shoulders set properly.  With that in mind, it's very easy to see how and why the instructions are arranged, even if, at first, you're wondering about setting aside a half-sewn bodice to start gauging a skirt.   

Most of the wrapper is machine-amenable.  While hand-sewing is suggested for easing the armhole sewing (piping and sleeves), it's only really required on the skirt gauging.  Additionally, I did it along the hem facing, and to whip-stitch the raw edge of the waist and neck piping.  The rest is easily sewn on machine, though an ambitious person could sew it by hand.  Sewing machines were available to the public by this time-period, so both methods can be authentic.

Mention is made of different trimming options for wrappers, but no specific methods/styles are given in the instructions themselves.  The research pages, however, show many variants including contrasting front panels, decorative bows, and self-fabric ruffle accents.  I think this is an interesting compromise for avoiding the dreaded 'cookie cutter' look, while making it easy for those-so-inclined to add their own authentic touches.

Pattern Score: 4.5-5 stars
Difficulty: Intermediate or ambitious beginner (there's lots of good information for beginners, but it's not an easy garment exactly)
Accuracy: Very high.  Based on original garments, and fully documented with information on making and wearing.
Strongest Impressions:  It went together well, and I appreciated all the research that was presented.  The many little variants make it easy to customize, though most of them aren't dramatic enough to change the look of the dress/wrapper.  The couple of tricky spots and the large size of the instruction book may intimidate newer sewers, but neither of those is insurmountable.  Beginning sewers should be ready for a challenge and not working on a tight deadline; those with experience constructing dresses of the period should find it very familiar. 

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