The Reenactor’s Spring Panic

Spring is finally here, and that means winter project time!

Winter: April 15th, 2014
                            Winter: April 15,2014


I realize that makes no sense, but that’s a common issue we reenactors face. I swear…we all set out to finish a good number of different projects over the winter, and we really don’t start them until spring.

Spring: April 20, 2014
                 Spring: April 20, 2014


I’m sure there are exceptions to this rule. My husband and I, however, fall right into this trap.

It’s easy to think you’ve got all sorts of time until the next reenactment season if there’s snow on the ground. And let’s face it…we had a lot of snow. Then, as soon as the grass turns green, the birds start chirping, and you just want to be outside…that’s when it hits. The “oh crap” moment.

Suddenly, all the projects you meant to have done begin to form an increasingly stressful list. Quick! Order some linen, buy some paint, borrow some cotton twill tape from a friend that you don’t intend to give back, and get cracking!

This spring, I’m hoping to fix my corset lace, make myself a new apron, and…because I never can stick to simple…make Ginny a toddler’s gown. And that’s the realistic version of the list (I hope).

Since the gown is by far the most difficult, I started on it a couple of weeks ago and thought I’d share my progress. Believe it or not, I’m doing okay. In fact, I’m quite proud of myself because my mock-up version of the dress actually worked out the way I wanted it to (see the photo below, taken after I unattached the sleeves).

Ginny's Muslin Mock-Up
                                                                  Ginny’s Muslin Mock-Up

For those of you who don’t know, I’m not a very experienced seamstress. And, I have a weird fear of sewing machines. That probably has more to do with my lack of patience than anything…though how that adds up enjoying hand sewing, I can’t explain. I know that quick moving needles freak me out, and I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so I’m always scared I’m going to screw up.

Hand sewing allows me more control. I can sit with my material, needle, and thread, and binge-watch a television show while still accomplishing something. I honestly find it relaxing. And it doesn’t hurt that hand-sewn reenactment clothing is more authentic than using a machine. In fact, it gives me an excuse to be okay with my silly sewing machine phobia.
In case any of you are interested in how a newbie like myself tackles a full gown for a toddler, I’ll give you a rundown of my steps. First of all, I borrowed Tidings from the Eighteenth Century from my mother-in-law (and one of these days, I really need to get my own copy). This book is great if you like the idea of making your own patterns. The author, Beth Gilgun, lays out a grid with drawings of the different pieces you’ll need to make all sorts of different Eighteenth century clothes. Then, you tailor the grid to the size you need. I’m sure real patterns can be easier, but I don’t really know how to use them (they always have all these crazy instructions, using sewing jargon I don’t understand), and this system makes more sense to me anyway. Then Beth gives you the instructions you need to put the pieces together. For a newbie like me, I think it works pretty well.

I made a mock-up of the gown in muslin first, and I’m really glad I did. Muslin isn’t nearly as expensive as linen, and I wrote notes to myself all over it. Plus, the muslin allows for a lot of errors. And I used really big stitches so that I could sew the pieces together quickly, and take them apart with little to no trouble.

Once I had the dress put together, I tweaked it to fit Ginny. I honestly made it very big on purpose, so at this point, I added pleats in the bottom, added a drawstring to the front of the neckline, and decided to tie a piece of bias or twill tape around her waist. That way, the gown should last at least a couple of years without getting too small in the arms, shoulders, waistline, or length. Granted, it’s a little poofy, but I’m content.

I took the muslin mock-up pieces apart and ta da: a pattern! I used those pieces to cut out my linen, and now, I’m far more confident sewing the gown together because I’ve already done it.

Yeah, I’ll agree this makes for a long process. But I’m enjoying the project, and it sure beats the price I’d have to pay to have someone else do it. And if nothing else, that makes the work worthwhile.

By the way, if you’re interested, I purchased my linen from They had the best price I could find for 100% linen, as well as the best color selection. I do have an affiliate program with them, which means if you click on the link above and make a purchase, I’ll get a small commission. But just so you know, I joined that program because I already knew they were good and felt confident recommending them to my readers.



One thought on “The Reenactor’s Spring Panic

  1. You could also cover up some too-big-ness with an apron–it’s very common to see little kids in gowns with a pinner apron over the top. Would cinch the gown right in for Ginny 🙂

    And is the best! I buy tons of linen from them.

    (You don’t have to give that twill tape back 🙂 )


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