ReCutting and ReSewing The Yoke on My Two Hide Dress

I came to the realization the other day that the yoke on the top of my dress was not only slopping around constantly when I moved, it just felt...odd and out of balance.

The was no getting around it, by cutting the yoke on my dress form without proper arm padding, the yoke sloped terribly, causing the dress to feel weird when it hung on me.

The only solution was to wack it off straight and start again.

Thankfully, the stitching I had across the top was temporary anyway and I knew I would have to resew it with the welt in place, I still worried about the fit after I did my irreversible slashing.

But I knew it should be straight across to be traditional, so I trusted in Tradition and cut away....

Even the sleeves had a strange sort of swoop upwards from using a curved bow as my dress form arms, these I slashed off too.
 I was then left with a nice straight line, as it should have been in the first place.

The picture doesn't show it, but I further trimmed until the cut neckline was flush also, I wanted to start completely fresh.

If I had cut too much I could always add a 1' or 2" gusset with welts on either side evenly across the shoulder to the sleeve, I saw this on one dress at the museum, but my dress was also too long so trimming was in order.

 I then added my welts between the layers..and whip stitched all together, then turned, flattened the seam and trimmed the welt to be flush.

The leather across the top is very thick and spongy, very hard to sew easily. This also creates a stiff yoke that adds structure to the dress line itself, but is a total pain to sew and forces you to sew a thicker seam to penetrate to the stable leather.

This will be important once beads and dentalium shell is added, the shoulders must support a great deal of weight without shifting or pulling, but makes the shoulder seam heavy and bulky. Trimming the welt close helps to ease this bulk as well as using an equally thick and spongy welt.

I always match my welt thickness to the leather on the seams, this creates a uniformity of tension and weight that is noticeable. You must always be certain to have your seams very straight, or pucker and sway will translate into a ghastly bulge or swoop when done.

Here is the result. The yoke is noticeably shorter. This is caused by the cutting off one inch overall on each side of the yoke, (front and back), but the added seam welt and tight whip stitching have gathered up the garment at least another half inch and made the yoke more rigid and therefore less floppy and stretchable.

New wrinkles have appeared at the armpits, which will ease themselves out as the dress rests on the form and me, as all leather garments do with time.

It now fits like a dress. It is truly more comfortable, and is at least one inch shorter at the hem, allowing for the future fringe that will reside there.
The waistline also moved up and inch, but it looks more traditional that way, the long waist was a bit too long in retrospect.

 It was the scariest part of making this dress so far, it looked great, but it didn't feel right, most of the time I felt like I was wearing a heavy sheet or potato sack, every time I bent over I had to re adjust the yoke as it would slip from one side to another.

Now it stays put. I had to fold the neck in front under and inside about and inch and will tack it into place with a few stitches, most people could tolerate the flap but I have a surgery scar on my neck right where it touched and it bothered me. I can't wear turtle necks either because of it.

Here is the dress now as it stands, I am so grateful to my husband for being patient with me as we were taking pictures, I'm sure I drove him crazy with all my jumping up and interrupting his reading to snap a few more pics.... 

The fringe welts at the side add a real bulky look to the garment yet, but once they are cut into very thin fringe and are tortured, (my word for the distressed, kinky look on most Old World dresses fringe), I'm sure it will have a slimmer line, or off it will come!

I will be sharing my distressed fringe technique when I get to this part soon. The sleeves will also be fringed heavily to get rid of the bell look.

The side silhouette is looking great, I want to be able to wear this dress without a belt or with one, and the hang looks very nice.

It still has a bulge in the front caused by pinning the dress front up to the shoulders when I colapsed the dress form for travel, I won't be doing that any more, she now rides laying down on our bed as we go down the road, so the bump should ease out with time.

I am leaving the train long in the back, and will also be adding side "feet" as an extension to the gussets I sewed in in the previous post, this will be an exciting addition and will pull the sides of the dress down for a slimmer look.

The dresses I studied had these "feet" covered with hundreds of brass cones, I will be using copper cones as is proper for pre contact.
Also, as a side note, I had to switch out dress forms, my size C is now too big for me, I am officially a size B now, and had to move to my smaller form. I have lost 45 or more pounds since I started this project.

I was gluten intolerant and since giving up all wheat products and MSG, the weight has just fallen off of me. Women of Native Descent take note of this! Most diabetes and other illnesses including arthritis would improve if we just laid off the wheat.

If your heritage does not include several generations of wheat consumption, you too could be gluten intolerant!

My Husband thinks I look lovelier the closer I comes to honoring ancient traditions and living out my lifetime dream of recreating a precontact Two Hide Elk Dress! He may have something there, I have never been happier, although my fingers are so sore I can barely type!

Good Medicine!

Shaping Sleeves and Waist, Adding Gussets and Fringe to Side Seams of Dress

After finally making the decision to shape the dress on more traditional lines as per my visit to the Chicago Field History Museum, I marked and cut the side seams to the waist, leaving about 1" extra room for getting in and out of the dress.

I cut to just above the natural line of the waist to accommodate a belt, or "girdle" as it was sometimes described by early explorers.

I then made a 1" cut towards the body of the dress, through both edges, which allowed the dress to hang free and gave me the ability to join the side seam without pucker or pull of the leather, creating an easement of the under arm.

I witnessed this "dart" on several dresses I examined and is illustrated in the third photo. Without this cut, the fabric tends to bunch and pull, one cannot effectively raise ones arms without it. 

One inch cut towards body of garment
This is a key adjustment to the proper fit of the garment, some had this, some did not, but those that did were the better garments by more experienced seamstresses and the dress hangs and moves much freer with this addition. This also creates the open armpit witnessed on many garments that is traditionally left open to the elbow or wrist, or left entirely open altogether.

You can demonstrate this to yourself by cutting out a paper dress in a T shape and trying to match the side seams. Now make a cut right at the intersection of the armpit and sleeve towards the body of the garment at a 45 degree angle. Now match you side seams and flex the sleeve. Mobility improves 100% and the paper dress hangs better.

I often used paper models to experiment with things I observe on garments, but can't get my mind around how they did it. In this case, it made such a tremendous difference, and reflected exactly what I saw on the dresses I documented.

The side seam was sewn buy putting right sides together with a "welt" in between, then after sewing with a shallow whip stitch the fabric is pulled to a flat seam and the welt trimmed flush on the right side of the garment.

Gusset triangle on right, fringe welt on left
Next, after cutting off all that glorious extra leather from each side of the dress, I trimmed two triangles off the excess leather from the side that was closest to the body of the dress from two of the widest extra strips.

I used these to create gussets which I trimmed to a more regular wedge shape and then pinned them back into the side seams of the dress. this was generally done by dressmakers to give more freedom of movement and will allow the attachment later of "Foot Flares" which I will show later on when I get to that point.

I then used the four pieces of leather from the outside of the side seams that was left over when trimming the side seam as a welt, on both sides of the gusset which will be cut into glorious fringe at a later time. (or cut down to a flush welt if I chose not to fringe).

But first, how the gusset was done...

The most important part of placing the gusset is to get the bottom where you want it then ease it in up the dress until it sits flush and unwrinkled.

Then you turn the dress inside out and place right sides of the gusset and body together with pins on both sides of the dress, checking to see that the dress has not become distorted before placing the welts between the seams and re pinning.

Then you carefully unpin one pin at a time and wedge the "Welts to be fringed" between the gusset and side seam facing each welt right side to right side with the dress body proper. So your layers are, Gusset edge, welt edge, dress side edge, in that order.

Gusset pinned in place right side out
Gusset eased into place Right side out

Inside out, gusset and welts pinned in place

Here are the seams properly faced and pinned with the dress inside out and the welts extending into the right side of the dress on the inside, (you can't see them, but they are there).

This is a good time to make a sharp critical inspection of the dress and placement of the welts by peaking under the dress and making sure they are matched and hanging straight, also I make sure the welts are right side facing right side of the dress for a "finished" look. (You can turn the dress right side out to check this, but it can upset your pinning, I do it by crawling up under the dress on the dress form and looking around, or gently turning up the edge of the skirt).

You want to make sure your welts are symmetrical from side to side, (although you can adjust this late by trimming).
Other side, gusset in place

Checking for proportion and proper hang

 Now step back and check to make sure your dress is square and true, that one side flares and drapes as nicely as the other before sewing. Measure from the floor to the bottom of your gusset, nothing is worse than having your gussets knock the entire shape of the dress off.

How the gusset meets at the top

 Here I show the top of the gusset where the two sides of the gusset meet, showing three layers on each side of the gusset, namely, left side of gusset, welt sandwiched in between and right side of gusset.

The next picture shows me sewing a whip stitch with real sinew close to the raw edge just far enough in to get a firm bite of each layer...
Here I am whip stitching the left side of gusset

Gusset sewn and pulled flat
 Here is the left side of the gusset sewn, then pulled flat. It's barley visible on the left, the raw seam still pinned and ready to sew on the right. This way of doing seams makes a flush seam allowance on the inside of the dress and a flat rounded look to the seam on the outside of the dress, the welt either being trimmed close to being invisible, or fringed. this is a strong, stable seam that will last several lifetimes without shifting of coming loose and was used on every garment I personally examined. there may be exceptions to this, but I haven't seen it yet.

Front of the dress with fringe welts showing
 After cutting off all that leather, here I have sewn it all back on again! But now the extra leather is sewn in as welts on either sides of the gussets and will be cut into tons of lacy fringe.

You may ask why I did all of this welting, gusseting  and whip stitching when I just could have sewed a running stitch down the edge of the side seam where I wanted the fringe to start and be done with it.

Because that's not how it was done on the dresses I examined, I didn't find a single example of just a running stitch side seam, although I have seen plenty of it in modern reenactment and powwow regalia.

The dresses I examined where Crow, Sioux, Ute and several other tribal representations and every single one of them was done this way. I'm sure there are exceptions to this rule and someone in this era used a running stitch seam, but it was the exception, not the rule.

Tribal Women took great pride in their sewing work and knew that by doing things this way the garment would move better and last longer. A Woman who would spend several months beading a garment also take the time to construct her dress properly also.

Back of dress with fringe welts
The advantages are clear, the seam is strong, stable and will not shift with time. It creates an almost invisible seamless line that "marries" the hides together in a way that gives conformity to the joining, you really can't tell from a short distance that there is a seam at all unless the hides are of varying color.

Leather is a different material than fabric, it has a grain that can be unpredictable, creating bulges and sways in seams where none was apparent at the time of sewing, the welt effectively cures this problem, stabilizing the seam in a flexible fixed position for the life of the garment.

The seam doesn't have a selvage that projects into the interior of the garment, so there is no abrasion of the sinew or wearer and the seam doesn't have to be forced flat because of this, like European garments.

In all the garments I examined the fringe was torn or the leather worn through in some places, but the sinew sewn, welted seams were solid and holding together, without bunching or shifting after more than a hundred years.

It takes more effort on the part of the seamstress, but there is great pride in knowing that you did something right. In fact, I plan on redoing the seams on my dress that I did differently....a great deal of work, but it would make my Grandmother smile. "Do it right, or do it again" was her credo and I Bless Her for giving me her stubborn ability to redo the wrong, even if it gives me much personal pain!

If you have a sharp eye, you will note I have completely re cut the yoke and sewn it using a welt in the top seam also, the next article will concern this new change and why I did it. I was still in the adjustment phase of getting it right so it looks a bit sloppy here, but I have since worked out the kinks and have it looking great!

Two Hide Elk Dress Sleeves Cut

 Big things are happening now! Sorry I haven't posted much, have been busy editing materials collected at the Chicago Field History Museum, which will not only turn out to be a documenting of the Cree Dress, but also I documented and took pictures of several Plains dresses from  head to toe that I am editing little by little and posting here.

We are also smack-dab in the middle of our annual migration South for the Winter, so my days are spent mostly in travel, my nights trying to get some sewing and editing done.

After what I learned about Plains dresses at the museum, I finally had the confidence to cut the sleeves on my own Two Hide dress as well as put some leather inserts at the bottom to even out the hem and trim the sides to traditional width.

It took much measuring, pinning and trying on in various poses to get the magic number of inches on my sleeve, which was 25". This way I can cut fringe on the sleeve and still have long sleeves.

From that point, I, using the natural shape of the hem with the legs of the hide as a guide, pinned the sides at the bottom and then pinned up the sides in a gradual angle to meet the new waist.

All this was done on the form, as I could then see how my adjustments would hang when finally cut.

Imagine my delight when I pulled the dress off the form, laid it out and found my pinnings gave me a flawless angel wing shape shown so often in books on how to make a plains dress.

I would never have just thrown the dress on the bed and pinned it up without pinning it first on the form, double checking it on me, then laying it out to see if there was something off in my adjustments before cutting. There is just too much at stake here to to skip a step.

As you can see, everything came out just wonderful and I can now get on to putting the gussets in the side seams and cut the sleeves, all of which I can do with confidence now that I have seen what was done with the actual dresses on display in the museum.

I went through and re-soaked and re-split all my sinew thread so I could do finer work, I learned a thing or two about sewing when I examined the Cree dress, one of the things being that she used hair thin sinew to sew the garment up, and it's still holding strong today, (most cotton and silk thread is deteriorating on historic garments after 70 years or so). I also noted she used a much smaller and tighter stitch to sew things together, which I emulated and will have to go back and resew some seams on the yoke to reflect this.

I learned about a way to sew seams that I knew about as a child, but thought the stitch was just for moccasins, now I realize it's a stitch for just about every seam. It involves sewing a welt in every seam.

You place both right sides, (outsides) of fabric together, then slip a leather thong sandwiched in between and whip stitch very tight and close on the wrong side of the fabric. When you finish you pull the seam open so the welt sticks up and you either trim it close to the seam or fringe it depending on what you want.

Just about all the dresses I examined had the side seams this way. Instead of stitching up the side or using thong closure, They cut the side extra hide off, (that normally would be left on and cut into fringe), then used the method above to reattach it. They used the leather welt they cut off, say 4 inches wide, between the two side pieces then fringed after whip stitching the seam on the inside.

Hope this makes sense, will add pictures to better show this later, I just wanted to touch base with everyone today and let you know I finally cut leather and am getting on with things, will write more as I have time!

I also noted many dresses had patchwork pieces sewn into the hem, (which we know about), and even on the rest of the dress into the yoke, (which we did not)! I felt better about sewing leather patches to even up my hem after seeing this.

I also finally figured out how they cut the armpit and sleeve so everything hangs right, it was a thunder stroke moment where I realized I needed to cut a simple one inch dart, which I did with my eyes shut and it just all fell into place, a simple one inch cut completely changes how the garment fits and moves...more on that later.....


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