Monday, January 24, 2011

That Blasted Bloomer Business

Welcome back, "esteamed" friends.  Please help yourself to a cup of tea or a nice cordial, and settle in.  Today, we'll embark on something rather intimate - lady's delicates, with a focus on bloomers.

This past autumn, I felt my budding steampunk wardrobe was insufficiently wenchy.  I decided I wanted to create an outfit faintly reminiscent of Agatha Heterodyne, from Girl Genius ( in her "whoops I'm wandering about in my underthings" look, with a bit of saloon-girl flair.  So:  chemise, bloomers, and corset.  

I have a corset, so that was taken care of.  The chemise was fairly easy, as I already had one in my possession, which just needed some treatment.  I took my old chemise made about 18 years ago for the SCA (which I had then hacked short about 5 years ago for a burlesque show) dyed it in a tea bath (50 teabags, 25 cups of hot water), finished the hacked-off hem with double-fold wide seam binding, washed it, and voila, chemise done.
Tea Bath (still with bags)
Chemise in tea bath (bags removed)
Chemise unhemmed and undyed
After hemming and tea-staining
I had a pattern for period-styled bloomers (picture below), so I figured it shouldn't be too difficult to make some (other than the concepts of waistband, and fitting it).

Now, I haven't used a sewing pattern by myself for a garment since Grade 7 or 9, and my memories of that experience are not pleasant. (I have more recent and equally unhappy memories from about 18 years ago or so, of an attempt at a pirate shirt by pattern, which ended with someone else doing sleeves and collar and cuffs.)
I bought a lovely cotton which was a decent match in colour and weight for the tea-stained chemise.  I wanted something inexpensive ($5 per metre) and relatively non-wrinkling.  I took my pattern, and fabric, and laid it all out according to directions.  The pattern looked so ludicrous when held up to my body, that even with my limited sewing knowledge, I decided to alter it a bit, shortening the leg by 2 inches (I'm only 5'2") and narrowing the lower part of the legs by about an inch, and bringing the pattern's taper up higher to remove some of the ... um ... crotch sag.

I cut it out and eyed the pieces dubiously.  Holding up to me, they looked insane.  I shrugged, figured I was likely missing something because I don't sew from patterns, and decided to continue.

Now, I *had* actually noticed the pattern would make crotchless bloomers.  I figured I could get around this with lingerie snaps, or, if I was lucky, there would be sufficient fabric to overlap across my parts nicely, and I wouldn't risk flashing people inappropriately at Steamcon or any other public event.

So I followed the instructions to sew the pieces together, including the waistband.  Well, the waistband got attached flawlessly, and the flat-felled and French seams were beautiful (thank heavens for Google) ... but the bloomers themselves looked like this ...
The alarmingly wide crotch / butt region ("rear" view)
Fuller view of bloomers
Now, I had wanted attractive, sexified bloomers, since my plan was to wear them as is, NOT concealed under a dress.  On the pattern package, they don't look bad, and I had already decided to finish the leg ends by gathering it in for a trimmer look.  But ... the crotch came almost to my knees, you could fit at least two more asses in there along with mine (yet the waistband fit just fine), and they came to my ankles (despite the fact I had removed two extra inches from their length before cutting).  And yes, I followed the correct size - in fact, the pattern had been bought years ago, and I am now a bit bigger than the pattern was geared for, but my only modification for that was to add an inch to the waistband length alone (since the bloomers gathered into the waistband, no need to add there).

But here I was, in possession of baggy, supremely unsexy, unflattering bloomers, with a very open crotch and room for a few more bums than I possess.  I did NOT take a picture of me wearing them, mostly because I was, in fact, in tears at this point.

After stepping away from the project for a couple of days, I realized radical alterations were required if I was going to salvage the situation (I had no more fabric).  I removed the lace from the legs (I don't know why I added the lace trim before trying them on - that was a mistake).  I tried the bloomers on inside out, and, in front of a mirror, tucked, folded, pinned and repinned them til they fit more closely, and then VERY carefully extracted myself from the now-hazardous pin-riddled bloomers.

I then modified my pinned bunchings and tucks, guessing at what would look best.  I cut the legs shorter by about 6 more inches, to below my knee, and I took in and narrowed the legs considerably.  I basting the leg seams, and it was looking better.  I followed the same slow procedure of pinning and basting to try and "tuck in" the butt, as well as closing the crotch seam from 2 inches below the centre front waistband, along the crotch, and up to about 5 inches from the back waistband.

Here is what the bloomers ended up looking like, when laid out on top of the  single leg pattern piece I had used.  And the second shot is of the completed bloomers folded in half, laid out on top of the single leg pattern piece folded in half.  Note the HUGE difference.

This project ended up being what a friend of mine likes to call "yet another goddamn learning experience."  However, the bloomers turned out okay, and I learned I can improvise even with a pattern.  Remember, I'm the wing-it-without-a-pattern woman, with no training in proper sewing, adjusting for fit, etc. 
Front view of finished bloomers at waist
The rear of the finished bloomers
I chose to finish the bloomers differently from the pattern.  So rather than have the waist tie shut with a cord, I used a wide flat hook and eye for the waist closure, and I used lingerie snaps to close the gap in the bum.  This also allowed me to have an overlap in the back seam (again, I planned to wear these as is, and didn't want to be "overexposed").

To finish the legs, I gathered the leg ends slightly, so they were just barely big enough to put on, and finished the edges with seam binding to prevent fraying.  I trimmed the legs with gathered wide blue lace (3 times the circumference of the bloomer-leg), sewn into a circle and then sewn to the leg end along the gathering point of the lace .  I then took baby-blue eyelet beading lace, threaded a deep blue velvet ribbon through it, and attached it by sewing it, top and bottom, over the gathering seam on the lace  I made two tiny bows out of small bits of the same ribbon, and hand-stitched them in place on the front of each leg, so it looked like the legs tie shut there.
To complete the outfit (for added saloon-girl effect) I made a choker out of wider deep blue velvet ribbon, edged with lovely beaded trim (thank you ladies from Plush for your goodie basket access!), and decorated with a fleur de lis pendant and a lovely button I had found.
And voila, here are three pics of the final complete outfit:
The steam-wench ensemble, complete with gentleman accessory
Final note on this outfit.  I love it, and it is fun to wear.  For a short while.  I wore it for most of a day at Steamcon II.  However, this outfit is comprised of a chemise tucked into bloomers, with a corset worn over all ... so, going to the loo ... was, well ... challenging, time-consuming, and required assistance with lacing up the corset afterward.  I look forward to wearing this outfit again ... but the first time I need to go to the loo, I'm changing into a new outfit!

Thank you for joining me and listening.  Good luck with your costuming experiments, dear friends! And feel free to share tales and links of your own adventures!


  1. I've successfully made bloomers by shortening pajama pant patterns (for myself) and with Simplicity 3677 (for a friend). So if you decide to make another pair, there's a couple other options for you to try.

  2. My wife does a lot of sewing, a trick she uses which might help you in the future, instead of cutting your pattern out and pinning it to the fabric, trace the pattern on to freezer paper (the kind that is waxed on one side) cut the pattern out of the freezer paper and then, using an iron apply the waxed side to your fabric, it sticks well enough for cutting, but peels away easily.

    I don't sew, but I have seen people using both methods, the freezer paper takes about half the time, is more accurate and the pattern lasts longer (the freezer paper is reusable 3-4 times). As an added bonus, if you do any sewing for kids you are not stuck making one size of clothing from your pattern and can easily trace a new size.

    Great outfit by the way, too bad about the logistical difficulties.


  3. I´ve made the same bloomers mistake as you did. Guess I will give it another go now and radically take them in. Thanks for giving me some energy to give it another go! Lovely outfit btw!

  4. Thanks Fiona!

    Thanks Leah and Mark for your suggestions. I suspect my next bloomer attempt will be the shorter style of Victorian bloomer (like wee shorts) so I'll likely use a modern pattern. The freezer paper might be something to try with patterns with smaller (narrower pieces) - for this pattern, it would have involved some patchwork (tho I worry about sticking to some fabrics).

    Good luck Lisen! If you want, I can try taking some really closeup shots of the weird things I did to take in the butt. I was so glad I did the retrofitting despite the extra headache - they were unuseable as they were!

  5. Hello, I just saw your post. Nice outfit! I have numerous period images and photos of Victorian/Edwardian lingerie (along with photos of my Toy Soldier collection.) You'll see that the chemise fits better under the drawers when the drawers/bloomers are cut more fully.

    Here are some blog examples...


  6. Hi - just to comment on the whole open crotch versus closed crotch bloomers - the entire point of the open crotch is to be able to use the loo without difficulty even when wearing a corset and full skirts on top of it. Which is also why it was so big and baggy - the point being to be able to pull open the split in the bloomers and use the toilet without getting any of the fabric in the way. I see from the end results that this was rather not what you had in mind, but I thought I'd point it out for anyone who stumbled upon this and wasn't familiar with the style. I have worn vintage open crotch bloomers, and yes, they had quite a bit of extra material, but no, they're not intended as outerwear. Another option might be to make closed crotch bloomers but drop the waistband to your hips so you can unfasten and drop them easier, just tucking it under the very bottom edge of the corset, rather than having the waistband be up in the middle of the corset, so you wouldn't have to unlace every time.

    1. Thanks Eslynne! Yeah, I know the reason for the sensible open-crotch bloomers (and trust me, I tried to figure out if I could leave it that way - but since I was wearing them as a costume in and of themselves ... er ... noooo. Not without risk of exposure! And it wasn't til I wore it at a convention that I realized I had a bathroom issue on hand. Now I've used it as a time-limit factor for the outfit - when I have to go to the loo, time to change costume!

  7. Oh, I just laughed when I read your article because I had just made the same bloomers and had ALL of the same problems except length. My bloomers that were supposed to be part of a Red, White & Blue outfit for July 4th are languishing on a chair, waiting to be fixed, on August 2nd. Thanks so much for your tips!!