We chatted with Laura, aka timestitcher, about her work with cosplay, costuming, and Victorian dress.
You made an impression at 221bCon 2014, with your gorgeous Victorian style dress… inspired by BBC Sherlock! What drew you to this project, and how did you choose what elements of the BBC show to incorporate into your project?
For 221B Con 2013 I wore a Victorian gown inspired by the BBC Sherlock’s Irene Adler (the fabric reminded me of her wallpaper). It was wonderful and I met amazing people that have become close friends. In fact, one of the women I met in Atlanta, lives 20 minutes from me here in Central Florida. After the convention she expressed an interest in learning to sew and making a Victorian gown of her own, and that’s how the Victorian Sherlock group began.
The ACD Victorian Sherlock has such an iconic look that we intentionally decided not to go that route. Using the BBC modern interpretation as our inspiration, we took our favorite costume elements and translated them. It involved a surprising amount of research, not only into the time line of the canon stories but to the tools and accessories available at the time.
For my Watson, I picked John’s Christmas Jumper and a historical fashion plate that I fell in love with years ago. It was an easy translation that took numerous hours to complete. How many hours? I didn’t track the entire process, but I did clock 17 hours at the ironing board pressing points and pleats for trim.
The fandom provided inspiration in the form of “Red Pants Petticoat and Corset” (see left), because Watson obviously needed red undergarments.
Sherlockiana isn’t the only world you’ve dipped your presser foot into- how do you settle on a new project, or dress, and how do you choose what to wear when?
That can be difficult. I typically pick 1-2 travel cons a year and a few local events. Those, and the people I’ll be attending them with, often inspire what costumes I’ll be making.
The costumes that make the final cut are the ones that sound the most fun, and tend to be historical/fandom mashups. It combines two things I love the most and, if I do them right, I can wear them at a fan convention or a traditional historic event.
You have a unique insight into just how tough Victorian women had it when it came to undergarments. An tidbits you’d like to share? How did you get accustomed to the corseted lifestyle?
There are a lot of myths and misinformation out there regarding corsets. For most women, the corset was a basic foundation
garment. It supports the body, provides the proper silhouette, and supports the weight of the garments. There can be a lot of fabric in historical garments, I’ve made skirts with more than 30 yards of material and that doesn’t include the supporting steel and petticoats! Without a corset, that weight can leave bruises on a person. Remember, women lived in these every day, cooking, working, tending children etc.. They can be restrictive, but they are not torturous.
People may assume a corset is painful, but a properly fitted corset is surprisingly comfortable. I’m not talking about the poly-boned, fashion corsets from a lingerie store, but a historically patterned corset with good steel (or quality synthetic) bones that has been fashioned to the individual. I’ve worn mine for more than 14 hours without any discomfort. My boots are more painful.
The keys to spending the day in a corset are taking time to break the corset in (don’t cinch a new corset as tight as possible out the door) and wearing the correct underwear. The Victorians wore split drawers and a chemise, washable garments that protect your corset and outwear from the body. They make using the facilities a lot easier.
Do you believe you’ll be drawing any inspiration from the upcoming Victorian themed Sherlock special?
I’ve seen a few “setlock” photos and the trailers but nothing is jumping at me right now. Having built two gowns already, it’s going to take something spectacular to get me back to the sewing machine for Sherlock. Besides my personal 2015/2016 build schedule is set already!
For the other seamstresses out there, do you have a favorite website or shopping locale for fabrics, patterns, etc.?
I highly recommend Truly Victorian patterns. They are well drafted, with understandable instructions and easily customizable. Laughing Moon Mercantile carries a variety of men’s and women’s patterns from the Regency Era through the Victorian.
For fabric and notions, I look everywhere. I have limited options locally, so I end up doing a LOT of online shopping. Here are a few of my staples:
- Corsetmaking.com – For steel, busks and grommets
- Voguefabricstore.com – Carries affordable organdy and wide horsehair braid
- Ebay and Etsy for silks, organdy, polished cotton, trims and hat trimmings
We’ve seen you with large groups of Victorian-dressed ladies… is it tough to organize these groups, and how do you all collaborate when it comes to meeting a deadline/achieving a certain look?
I’ve never found it to be difficult, honestly. Most people that join these groups are excited to do the project, even if it seems overwhelming. If someone has to drop out, due to whatever reason, they’re welcome to continue with the discussions, learning, and perhaps join a future group or catch up with us at a different event. I do what I can to be cheerleader and research assistant to those that ask, and break the process into manageable bites for the beginners. I want everyone to love their garments and have fun making them, not stress about a particular “look.”
Organization typically starts with Facebook. I started a generic “Victorians at 221B Con” Facebook group back in 2013 to support, organize and share with anyone interested in Victorian or Steampunk costuming in the Sherlock world. We’ve done long distance corset fittings with selfies, discussed shoes and fabrics, and talked each other down from panic attacks.
My only rule is to “Keep It Kind.” Everyone has different skill levels, interests, budgets and time availability and I want people to be successful and excited about wearing their garments.
For specific group costumes and events, I’ll create a Private Facebook group.
Do you have your eye on any future projects? Is there a “unicorn” project you want to accomplish, any dream dresses or looks?
I always have future projects! The hardest part is finding the time and place to wear them. I want to tackle an 18th Century Rococo gown and I’ve completed most of the underwear, including the panniers. I just need an event to give me that final push. The symphony is playing Mozart next year, which might be the perfect excuse. To be honest though, I’d much rather have a group of friends to do crazy 18th century gowns with.
Is there a particular historical period that’s your favorite to costume, and are there any eras you haven’t sewn yet that you’d like to try next?
The Victorian Era is my favorite, from pre-hoop to the turn of the century. I’ve been drawn to bustle gowns in the past, but recently became obsessed with the 1890’s thanks to shows like Penny Dreadful and Crimson Peak. Happily, that fits nicely with the Sherlock Special.
I’m planning to tackle early 20th Century soon. I’ve recently finished a 1910’s era corset and have a suit and hat in the design stages.