(and why I do things the way I do)
When building my dresses I have a basic formula that I have developed from period sources, observation and plain common sense. There is my “Three Color Rule.” I try not to use more then three colors when designing a gown. I usually try for two with an accent color. I do not mix metallic tones and take care on using either ivory, white or back pearls. Usually an idea has to simmer on a back burner in my mind before I actually build a dress.
I am very fortunate that I trade for most of my fabrics. I I am famous for buying cool fabric with out having a current use for it know that it will be made into something someday. I guess they are right with “She who dies with the most fabric wins.” I chose my fabrics for their appearance and weight. With my RA I simply cannot walk for very long in heavy clothing. I also keep in mind that these gowns were worn in a colder climate then Oklahoma! I use cotton instead of linen (make washing and ironing easier) I have a mild allergy to most wool (probably because the lanolin) and must be careful when I wear it.
I build all of my gowns in separate pieces. The main reason is that some of the parts can interchange on more than outfit. The other reason is that separate pieces are easier to launder. I use hook and eyes to fasten most things. It takes up far less space thus making storage easier.
The first garment to go on after the undergarments is the underskirt. I make mine with a gored piece of the the forepart fabric then I use about 3 yds broad cloth for the rest, The forepart is box pleated then the rest is flat pleated. I hem the forepart by hand then machine hem the rest.
Next is the overskirt. First I do all the decorative work. I cartridge pleat this skirt on the waist band. I used to cartridge pleat the old fashioned way by painstakingly marking each inch then sewing a running stitch to gather the pleats. I now have discovered the wonders of using drapery pleating tape! It is a wonderful invention. I cut it in half (it's expensive!). After serging the raw edge I sew it to the skirt as I would sew bias tape. I leave the strings in after pulling then to the desired length. The skirt is hand stitched to the waist band.
I do not do a lot of hand sewing due to the fact that my hands have some problems (I have has 20+ surgeries on my hands resulting in several joint fusing, artificial joints and tendon work) . I do what only what is necessary by hand. I am not too proud to use a sewing machine for the bulk of the work. Hand conservation is very important.
I make the bodice and sleeves to whatever style suits. The nice thing about the Elizabethan bodice is that it is all one basic pattern. In fact, the bodice shape can be seen in Regency garb with a shorter waist.