A fun project I did in 2009 was called the Iron Dress. This project is a competition created by a group of costumers that use patterns created by Margo Anderson. The rules are that you can use only fabric and trims from your own stash, plus $25 for minor additions. You only have one month to make the garment, and you must use Margo's patterns. This was my first attempt at doing an Iron Dress.

The Fabric:
About four years ago, when our small Joann’s store was closing in order to open a larger superstore, there was some dark olive velveteen on clearance. I bought about 10 yards, figuring that some day I’d make something nice out of it. Several years later, there was some beautiful wide ribbon that I coveted that also finally went on clearance. I ran around to several Joann’s buying the remaining pieces and added that to my stash. I had also collected a nice jacquard drapery panel of gold that coordinated nicely with the trim. This set my color scheme of olive and gold. I pulled out everything in my stash that was either of these two colors, plus a small piece of embroidered organza and various leftovers of duck cloth, cotton broadcloth and trim. These fabrics and trims are what I planned to use for the Iron Dress Competition of 2009.


The Design: When I design a gown, I generally like to use one or more portraits as inspiration. Sometimes it is to recreate the clothing as nearly as possible. Other times it is to use a single element as inspiration, such as the trim placement on a bodice or embroidered design on a partlet. I first noticed a portrait of Elizabeth I in a rare green gown, and I liked the trim placement on the bodice and skirt. Since I had a limited amount of two different widths of trim, I decided the narrow trim needed to go around the full upper edge of the bodice, plus vertically over the shoulders and down the center front and back. The wide trim was just enough to edge the overskirt. I also found a portrait of Elizabeth Valois, which had a similar placement of trim, although on her gown, it was likely an embroidered edge that contained a more detailed pattern than the allover embroidery on the skirt and bodice. There were several other items in this portrait that I liked, including the beaded partlet and the jewelry.

ElizabethValois-color  Elizabeth55

The Timeline:
I don’t work well with an open-ended timeline. I work best under the stress of a deadline. Preferably, a short deadline. I often procrastinate on starting things until it is ALMOST too late, prepare to give up on the project, then talk myself back into pushing through on it. So, I started this project one week before the deadline. I began sewing on Wednesday September 9th and finished Tuesday September 15th.


The Project:

Day One:  I cut out the bodice pieces in duck cloth and fit it on myself using pins and a mirror. I chose side-back lacing, to give myself more adjustability than I have on my current bodices which use hooks and eyes. I decided to cut the back down into a square neckline so that I could run the trim in a full loop around the bodice. I continued construction, getting to the point that the bodice was basically complete. The lining was not handsewn down and there were no lacing rings at this point.  Day1
Day Two I cut the forepart out of the drapery panel, lining it with some gold cotton broadcloth. This is pinned to an existing underskirt that I already had. The farthingale and bum roll were also existing, as are the smock and corset I plan to wear with this outfit. I lined the overskirt and edged it in wide ribbon, but it is not pleated to a waistband at this point, just pinned to the dress form. I chose a phoenix sleeve style, since I had not tried that previously. The sleeves are also pinned to the dress form at this point.  Day2
Day Three  I used Margo’s pattern to create a partlet from the embroidered organza scrap that I had. In the past I’d drafted my own partlets, but I liked the shaping of the neck and the ribbon ties around Margo’s version better than mine. On this day, I also did hand finishing on most of the pieces, including sewing down the bodice lining, and adding lacing rings to the side backs and under the wings for the sleeves to tie on. I created ties for the sleeves from seam binding since the color was a good match and sewed them to the sleeve edge. I also cartridge pleated the skirt to a waistband.  Day3
Day Four At this point, I could work on finishing touches. I beaded most of the partlet using a regular placement of beads over the more freeform pattern of the embroidery. I also made a caul that matched the sleeves and forepart, as well as a flat cap that matched the gown.  Day4
Day Five A few more touches were added today. I gathered a few scraps of the embroidered organza into faux ruffles for the sleeves. I whip-stiched these to the lower edge of the sleeve. I also finished beading the ruffle on the partlet, which I had skipped originally.  Day5
Day Six I added a few beads to the new sleeve ruffles and hemmed the skirt. This officially finishes the Iron Dress entry. I also decided to make some jewelry to go with the gown, though this was additional cost and is therefore not an official part of the Iron Dress entry. I found some large faux jewels in olive and cinnamon, which I alternated with sets of faux pearls to make a choker necklace.  Day6
Day Seven The final day included some additional accessories that are also extra. I made a belt from some larger pearls in addition to more of the gems and pearls. At this point, I also made a caul and flat cap to go with a coordinating gown that I had made for my daughter several years ago out of the same olive velveteen. Finally, I made sleeves for her outfit out of scraps, since it previously didn’t have any.  Day7 


The Cost:
All of the fabrics, ribbons, trims, interlinings, linings, seam bindings and feathers were in my stash. All of the major components (olive velveteen, ribbon and jacquard tapestry panel) were acquired as much as four years ago. I had to replenish my olive thread and lacing rings, which I consider freebies. Since I didn’t need to spend money on fabrics or trims, I spent it on the olive semi-precious stone beads and gold bead caps used to bead the partlet and sleeve ruffles.

 Olive stone beads 2 packages @ $3.49 $6.98 
Gold bead caps beads 8 packages @ $0.85 $6.88
Tax on above   $1.38
 Total   $15.24 


The Result:
I am very pleased with the result of this project. I love this color combination, which is why I had so many fabrics and trims in these colors. I am also becoming a huge fans of partlets, which I have incorporated into several of my recent gowns. The sleeves and forepart on this outfit are begging to be beaded heavily. The design is tone-on-tone and doesn’t stand out as much as I’d like. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the time to do the detailed beading to accent the detailing in this pattern. This project has also encouraged me to work on some of the other projects that should be made out of the contents of my stash. I have fabric for at least three gowns for me and two doublets/slops for my husband. Some friends’ fabrics are also stashed in amongst my collection, and I really should work on making those into garb for them as well.

I am looking forward to wearing this new outfit for a special SCA event in a couple weeks. The Middle Kingdom is 40 years old, and we are celebrating with a special event here in Chicago. I think my daughter and I will look splendid in our olive and gold Elizabethans.

Thanks for reading!

Front Back
FrontPartlet BackPartlet
FrontWorn BackWorn