19th Century

The faille skirt of fail

So this fortnight’s theme on the Historical Sew Fortnightly is Literature, and, of course, I’m using it as an excuse to finish (finally) my Polly/Oliver outfit (inspired by Terry Pratchett’s Monstrous Regiment).

It’s been so long since I worked on the outfit, or thought about it, and my skills have improved since then, and my image of the details has shifted somewhat, though I’m still going with the basic concept of 1880s Victorian does Georgian riding habit/military.

I bounced out of bed on Tuesday and thought “Right!  I’m going to make massive progress on this today!”  I had a rummage through my fabric stash, found a big bolt of blue rayon faille, and thought…”Oooh…what a great shade of military blue…and so practical and late Victorian.”  Sure, rayon isn’t entirely accurate, but it the fabric does a reasonable approximation of silk, and the hand is perfect.

The 1880s faille skirt of fail

So I unrolled a length of the faille, spread it out on the floor, went at it with chalk and measuring tapes and scissors and quickly drafted and cut out a basic late Victorian five gored skirt.  Then I did the same with a white cotton lining.

An hour later, I was sewing:  stitching long skirt seams, and turning and pressing big panels.  In record time the basic body was put together, and I sewing in a placket, and pleating the skirt into a waistband.  A bit of hand finishing on the waistband, and I moved on to a hem: a slightly anachronistic but very effective bias-turned hem, which would be further protected with a dust ruffle.

The 1880s faille skirt of fail

A quick measure, a try on to mark the placement of the hooks, and I sewed on the hooks, feeling immensely proud of myself as hooks are often something I leave until the last minute, or end up skipping altogether for the first wearing.

The 1880s faille skirt of fail

Six hours of steady sewing later, I put the skirt on Isabelle (without a bustle, which is was made to go over) and stood back to admire it.

The 1880s faille skirt of fail

And this is when I realised that I am a complete, utter, and total idiot.

Sure, the blue is a good military colour, and very practical, but Polly/Oliver is a Borogravian.  The Borogravian uniform is a red jacket with white pants.  It’s explicitly mentioned in the book!   Heck, it’s on the front cover of the book, which was right next to me as I sewed.  Borogravia is (usually) fighting against Zlobenia, and the Zlobenians wear blue uniforms.  Polly’s uniform is never, no matter how girlie and dressy they make it, going to involve a blue skirt!

The 1880s faille skirt of fail

I can’t believe I was so dumb.  This is what you get when you don’t stop to plan and consider a project, and just try to sew as fast as possible.

So now I have a beautifully made dark blue rayon faille skirt that, depending on how I trim, and what I put it over, I could use for anything from 1880 to 1905.

The 1880s faille skirt of fail

But I can’t use it for Polly/Oliver, which means that for now it is a wardrobe orphan, and it was kind of a waste of a full sewing day.  It makes me blue.

At least someone appreciates it:

The 1880s faille skirt of fail

The 1880s faille skirt of fail

The 1880s faille skirt of fail

The 1880s faille skirt of fail

Where’s Fiss gone?

The 1880s faille skirt of fail

“G’way.  My skirt now”

The 1880s faille skirt of fail


  1. It looks beautiful! I’m so sorry that you can’t use it quite yet though. Maybe you could make a princess dress with it for the pretty pretty princess challenge?

    • Thanks! I did consider trying to use it for PPP, but I have a clear idea of what I want to do for that, and this doesn’t fit 🙁

  2. It’s a beautiful skirt, sorry the color is wrong for what you intended though.

  3. Make yourself a nice shirt and belt and it will work for a base the seperates challenge. 😉

  4. Dear Leimomi,

    The drape on that skirt is super!

    Miss Felicity has had a serious episode of super-cuteness, hasn’t she? Adorable series of Miss Kitty Finds Her Spot.

    Very best,


    • Thank you Natalie! It did turn out beautifully didn’t it? I’m very pleased!

      Miss Felicity lives in perpetual super-cuteness. It’s why she gets away with so much 😉

  5. Jessica says

    What’s the waist measurement? I’ll wear it!!

    • It’s 29″ – a lightly corseted waist for me. I’m sure I’ll find something to do with it – I’ve only got another 13 metres of the blue rayon faille to complete an outfit with!

  6. Ouch, how frustrating! It happens to all of us, and it is a beautiful skirt.

  7. Perhaps it could be her alternative uniform skirt for when the war is over and the two armies integrate? An abomination unto Nuggin indeed!!

    • Hehe, I actually thought of that, and then I realised that if the armies integrate, that would mean that Prince Heinrick was on the double throne, and THAT would be an abomination unto Nuggan! Also, I’m trying to imagine him condoning Polly being in the army, and that just isn’t happening 😉

    • Elise says

      Yeah! Or make up your own story: She goes undercover while wearing your skirt. And then–voila! Out comes our heroine in her reds!

  8. Terese says

    I bet Magrat would love it….I can’t wait to see the Polly Oliver when it’s complete!

    • Hehe. Fatal indeed if I had stuck anything in to her cave! Then I would have had a blue skirt with a red and white lining!

    • Well, that’s a thought, but I think women in the Borogravian army is enough of a shake-up now – not sure the Zlobenians are ready for it!

      Fiss is loving all these comments 😉 She says “See? Totally makes up for my being naughty!”

  9. Melanie says

    It’s divine! I love the back train, and on my monitor it’s kind of a cornflower blue (not sure that’s accurate though).
    Oh, please make a matching leg-o-mutton sleeved jacket to go with it!With a pigeon-breasted white ruffle-front blouse and huge hat with feathers.

    I have a question though – what exactly is faille? I have never seen a fabric described as that in a fabric store, so maybe its rare nowadays or maybe we have a different word for it in Australia. Can you tell us more about it?

    • Hi Melanie,

      Oh goodness, leg-of-mutton sleeves! Not sure I’m ready for those!

      The fabric is a dark blue – somewhere between royal blue and navy.

      Faille is a thin, ribbed fabric, originally of silk, these days it also includes fabrics of rayon and polyester. It’s like a thinner version of ottoman (in fact, my fabric is heavy enough that it could also reasonably be called an ottoman – it’s on the dividing line between the two), and is similar to a grosgrain (another ribbed fabric) and a razimir (now this one really is very rare these days). I think fabric stores just aren’t very good at labelling fabrics anymore, and many people don’t know fabric names.

      • Melanie says

        Thankyou! I actually saw a dress made of faille in the Darnell Collection exhibition on the weekend, how’s that for synchronicity? I love that ribbed finish (I love grosgrain too)…

  10. Lynne says

    It is just beautiful! But it is not Polly. I’m going to stick my neck out here, and say that it is a bit too elegant for Polly any way. There is no way a woman could go on a route march with that train, even if it is lifted by a bum roll. Maybe if she had been cavalry, the habit idea would work, but she is going to have to do rough stuff on foot. I would be thinking more along the lines of late Victorian/Edwardian lady mountaineer – skirt ankle length rather than floor length. Freda du Faur was wearing this in 1908-10 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freda_du_Faur It is probably a bit short for Polly, but Lucy Walker may be a bit more the thing… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucy_Walker_%28climber%29 . Several of those women wore a “bifurcated garment” under their skirts, too.

    And while the faille is lovely, I cannot think of any army that ever used it as a uniform fabric. Wool. Something in a thinnish wool serge to cut down on the bulk. Or something really substantial in a cotton twill, if all else fails. This is going to be a wonderful costume! And you have a really lovely skirt as a bonus – I bet it won’t stay an orphan long. It suits Felicity, too.

    • Well, it was a dress uniform – she does describe the girl uniform as playing soldiers, and too pretty. It was supposed to have a full bustle under, and an overskirt. But you’re right that its not right – just for all sorts of reason. I don’t have any wool in the right colours, so at this point it looks like its going to be linen – I’m going for historically accurate, not army accurate.

      • Lynne says

        But you are going to have lots and lots of scrambled egg, right?

          • fidelio says

            “Scarmbled eggs” is an exceedingly disrespectful bit of military slang–it means the gold braiding and trimmings on dress uniforms, expecially on hats.

            I don’t know if it’s American in origin or not, but if you look at a senior officer’s dress service cap, the oak leaves might give, at a slight distance, the impression of a plateful of scrambled eggs.

            I think these caps were generally reserved for majors and up, so the sight of one in their midst was usually a worrying sign for the lower ranks!

          • Elise says

            Disprespectful? I dunno. I’m married to an (American) Military officer–graduate of a military service academy at that. I think that the term in hilarious and so descriptive!

          • Lynne says

            I know the British use it – I like it, too! 🙂

  11. Claire Payne says

    Ah well, now you have the perfect excuse to re-read all of the Discworld novels looking for a suitable character who would wear your marvellous skirt. In the meantime, Miss Fissy can play hide and seek in it. 🙂 I love the colour myself, it is a perfect shade of blue if you aren’t Polly.

    • I second that! There’s got to be at least one person in Discworld who would wear it.

      Also, as you said, you have a great skirt that you *will* be using in the future for many a costume shoot. I wanna try it on next time I’m at yours!

    • Well, I’ve always wanted an Adorabelle Dearheart outfit, but I imagine her in a very dark grey princess line dress. Ditto for Angua, but she gets to wear trousers.

      Magrat is too dramatic and hippie, clearly I’m not cut out to be Granny or Nanny, and while Tiffany wears blue, I don’t see witches in skirts. I’m not shaped along the right lines to be Saccharisa, or Sybil Vimes. It will just have to be someone, or some book else!

    • Yes, I suppose that is better than something that doesn’t fit at all! Thanks!

      I’m not really a ’50s girl, but she is beautiful!

  12. Shell says

    Will it fit me? I wants it. It’s the right color for meeee! <3

  13. Tenshi says

    But that is no fail! It’s such a beautiful skirt, the drape is divine and so is the colour. I’m sure you’ll find something wonderful to do with it.

    And Felicity is the cutest of cats.

  14. Well, at least it’s not the kind of fail when you have to rip the whole thing apart! It’s pretty – I second the motion for a bolero-ish jacket and a blouse. 🙂

  15. Well, it’s a beautiful skirt and I love that you’re making it inspired by one of my favorite Pratchett books, though yes–the uniform is supposed to be red!

  16. Violet S says

    This is such a beautiful skirt! Lately I have been inspired by this style of skirt and have wanted to try my hand at making a few, and this design is exactly what I have been looking for! Would you be willing to share your process for how you made this skirt?

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