Tag Archives: Historical Sewing

Further diversions

I’ve been fantasizing off and on about making the twins wee little Regency style dresses. I kept talking myself out of it, but the idea kept popping back up to the surface like an old beach ball that just won’t quite sink.

I do have some white fabric in mind possibly, but my mother recently destashed a piece of somewhat vintage cotton with a lovely woven check and (don’t laugh) tiny old-fashioned selvedges. With selvedges like those, it just had to become something quasi-historical, and these aren’t the kind of colours I would wear myself. So.

Although my fantasies kept taking me over to this pattern from Virgil’s Fine Goods, in the end I went ahead and drafted my own, based on the Danish example linked in this post from the Oregon Regency Society. Partly because I was impatient but mainly I’m also cheap. Although I would love the period instructions for hand-sewing that would come with the Virgil’s pattern, which would I’m sure explain that everything I did here is wrong. But I knew I didn’t have time or inclination to fully hand-sew these dresses.

Gorgeous neckline. Less gorgeous waistline.

Anyway, I followed the pattern for the above dress pretty roughly, with several modifications due to the small scale and rapid growth rate of small children. I added gathering via drawstrings to both the front neck and the “waist” of the dress, for maximum adjustability.

Due to fabric limitations, I made the skirts from a single width of the vintage cotton, which in the end didn’t leave much extra gathering at the back, unfortunately. I really wish I’d had enough fabric to do at least two full-width panels for the skirts.

In theory, as the twins grow the drawstrings are loosened and the dresses keep fitting for a lot longer. If I’d had more fabric I would’ve added more length and put in some tucks for growth, too, but as it is they’re already ankle skimming on Tris. Which, I’m not really sure what the correct length for Regency children’s dresses should be—I’ve seen paintings with the dresses very long and others fairly short. Given the nature of children’s growth, I suppose some variation is inevitable anyway. I could also make drawers for underneath as they get taller.

I also made the sleeves puffy, again to accommodate future growth.

My “plan” was to have one version be as historically accurate as I can handle (meaning machine-sewn seams but everything else done by hand, and the other a quick ‘n dirty version with serged seam finish. In the end this actually doesn’t make much of a difference since the bodice seams are the least of the hand-sewing that was involved. But I did hand-overcast them in the second dress.

The most unexpectedly labor-intensive part was rolling the casing for the top drawstring. I knew I wanted to use the 1/4” stay tape for my drawstring, but I wanted to keep the casing as narrow as possible, and if I didn’t want visible machine stitching on the outside I definitely had to roll it by hand. It turned out that this was doable, but required sewing the casing with the tape already in place, and due to the narrowness, I had to check at EACH stitch that I hadn’t caught the tape with my needle. This took forever. And ever. That being said, I’m very pleased with the look it created.

First dress on the right with bulky waist gathering. Second dress on the left, less bulk but very high on the bodice.

I was a lot less pleased with the casing for the waist seam of the first dress, which I machine-stitched to the seam allowance since it didn’t show. I’m not sure if it was just that my casing fabric was a bit stiff, or if it was too many layers of machine stitching, but the whole seam is stiff and doesn’t gather nicely. I can’t imagine it’s too comfortable against the skin, either, but the twins are fairly stoic about their clothes for the most part, thankfully, and haven’t seemed bothered. For the second dress I used a lighter fabric for the casing, with one edge stitched to the seam allowance and the other to the bodice. This is a bit nicer feeling but does shift the gathering a little higher on the bodice—only by the 5/8” width of the casing, but when your bodice is less than 3” long that’s a fairly big shift.

The dress opens in the back and I cut the edges of the back bodice on the selvedge, and of course the skirt is the full width of the fabric again so the entire back seam was selvedge as well—yay to no finishing required, and an opportunity to show off that lovely vintage selvedge, although I have no idea if it’s actually accurate for a Regency time period. This is an easy closure for a kids’ style, but it does tend to leave a bit of a gap at the back, so I should probably make them some kind of little shifts to go underneath. Feel free to place bets on whether that actually happens.

My biggest departure from historical accuracy (other than the machine sewn seams) would probably be that I decided to put elastic in the hems of the sleeves. I considered both gathering to a band (harder to adjust) and adding drawstrings again, but I also wanted these dresses to be comfy to wear for toddlers accustomed to modern clothing, so I went with elastic. It doesn’t show and doesn’t look particularly different than a drawstring would, I think.

After all this work to make the dresses adjustable, I wound up having not quite as much fabric for the skirt length as I had hoped. While they’re long enough now, I had hoped to have a few extra inches of length to put tucks in that could be let out later. I also would’ve liked to have more fullness for the back of the skirt. But, such is life, and I think I made pretty good use of the two yards of fabric.

While they’re not as long or as full or as “historically accurate” as I might have hoped, I think they still turned out pretty cute. And Tris has actually requested to wear one instead of regular clothes at least once, so I’ll call that a major win!

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A wee widdle (Swiss) waist

As I toy with historically-inspired and whimsical touches to add to my wardrobe, I decided a modest Swiss waist would be a fun addition, that might make blouses like the shirt refashion something I could actually wear. I’ve never liked how I look in loose tops tucked into a waistband. Or gathered skirts for that matter. It has something to do with the shortness of my not-so-narrow waist. But, the addition of a wide belt can help with this, and a Swiss waist seemed like a very fun way to play with this idea.

This one is inspired by this original and pattern on Koshka the Cat, but definitely scaled down. I also decided to put the lacing on the side instead of the centre front or back, mainly for increased adjustability but also because I couldn’t quite face that many hand-worked eyelets. This choice is probably the least historically-justifiable in the construction, and, it turns out, my least favourite part of this make, but it’s still wearable.

A fair bit actually went into this little thing, not least because I did the vast majority of the sewing by hand. The nice thing about a hand-sewing project, though, especially a little one like this, is that I can pick it up and do a few stitches here and there, while watching TV with the family, whenever the twins are distracted.

I couldn’t find my cotton ticking (my first choice for light-weight corset-type things), so I went with hair canvas for the strength layer. By some miracle, my hunt for scraps of black fabric turned up the last remnants of my tropical-weight wool suiting used in this dress many moons ago, and there was just enough room in the odd-shaped scraps to cut the main pieces on grain and the bias strips for the piping more-or-less on bias.

I used two layers of hair canvas, stitched to create the boning channels. A bone at each short end to support the lacing and two at the centre, although in hindsight I could probably have done just one at the centre. When I made the pattern I was still debating on whether I would want to have it open at centre front or back, so I marked a boning channel on each side there, and didn’t think about it. I used 1/4” spiral steel boning, which is basically my default, although I might’ve gone with spring steel if I could’ve found my tin snips. (My corset-making box has gotten sorely denuded as I haven’t made one in a long while—the needle-nosed pliers also got plundered for other household tasks, forcing me to hunt down replacements, and my good wire-cutters somehow got switched for larger but inferior ones. All of which added time and frustration to what should’ve been a small and simple project. Anyway.

To give my thin wool a more substantial feel, and cover the scratchy hair canvas more effectively, I added a layer of flannel behind the fashion fabric. I added the piping and then catch-stitched top and bottom into place by hand.

The most annoying part (aside from finding my tools) was making the hand-worked eyelets. (According to the Dreamstress, who is much more of an authority than I, Swiss waists and other corset-type garments as outer wear, never had metal eyelets). Not so much the actual stitching of them, as the making and keeping the holes open through two layers each of wool and flannel, and four layers of hair canvas (since I included extra seam allowance of hair canvas at the sides, to support the eyelets. Fortunately my awl hadn’t gone missing, as I basically had to poke my hole open again after each stitch.

Once those were done, the final phase of adding the lining (which again I did by hand, slip-stitching it in place) was positively pleasant. The lining fabric is a slippery poly charmeuse used originally for lining this jacket (where it made me want to set things on fire) and then again for lining my winter walking skirt, where I merely hated working with it. Good thing it’s absolutely gorgeous. I have about a yard left, but I have to say applying it by hand to the insides of the waist was supremely meditative and satisfying. Maybe I need to only sew slippery fabrics like this by hand.

Anyway, the result is cute. The lacing gaps are about the size I planned, but overall look would be better without them. However, I wanted the adjustability. I think it would look nicer with a wider lacing—I was planning a black 5/8” ribbon, but I used up my stash of that on Syo’s grad dress last summer. Not sure if it will make the jump from costume to real-life use, but we shall see!

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A Victorian Skirt Pocket

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Almost skirt!

I haven’t blogged it much, as there hasn’t been much progress, but the skirt for my 1880s ensemble is coming along, finally
. I kinda stalled out before Christmas as I needed to put in the placket and pocket, and I was skeered. But this past session at the Victorian Sewing Circle, I tied on my big-girl apron, did the research (two whole paragraphs of it, as it turns out), and put the pieces in.

I found a quick description of what I was looking for in “Studies in Plain Needlework and Amateur Dressmaking” by Mrs. H. A. Ross. (Published 1887)


 Here’s my source documentation. P. 11 from the above.. It does seem to require a little bit of decoding, however.

“Skirt pockets are cut from. the lining”-ok, check.

“And are heart-shaped when opened flat. Twelve inches long by six wide is a medium size, leaving one side double and straight on the fold; the other wise rounded to a point on the top.”

There are definitely times when a picture is worth a thousand words, and the downside of the old sewing texts is the further back you get, the more scant the illustrations become. It sounds like what she is describing how you would cut out a paper heart for a valentine, but upside down…

 

Victorian pocket diagram

Pocket, cut on fold

“Sew around the bottom and five inches of the rounding side, leaving the remaining space to be sewed in the skirt seam. Unless covered by the drapery the pocket should be faced. Leave three inches of the pocket at the top, above the place for the hand.

 

She does like to leave the important bits for last. So the opening for the hand is on the curved side of the half-heart, towards the point, but at least 3″ down from it so the pocket isn’t too narrow for your hand to get into. Also, the pocket opening is sewn into a gap in the side seam, after it’s all complete.

“A tape must be sewn to the point and jointed to the belt (waistband). There is danger of the pocket being so narrow at the top that the hand cannot be inserted, though the pocket was cut plenty large enough.”

pocket and facing

Pocket, unfolded to show facing

“All pockets are sewed in double seam. first sew the seam very narrow upon the right side, the pocket turned and stitched again on the wrong side in an ordinary seam, without taking in the seam first sewed. This makes a strong seam and required no overcasting.” (AKA French seamed. Got it. Except that it’s the last bit and I didn’t read it before I sewed the actual pocket. Oh, well. Overcasting edge it is.)

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Pocket in seam.

Unfortunately I didn’t actually think to get any photos during construction, and I’m a smidgeon too lazy to make another one for demo purposes. 

As implied by the rather terse instructions, I left a gap in my skirt side-seam the length of the pocket opening (and hopefully in about the right place) and stitched the pocket to it after the fact. This wasn’t as slick as a modern inseam pocket but wasn’t as cumbersome as I originally feared it might be.  I think as a method it makes more sense for something hand-stitched, where the fold would decrease the time it took to sew while the stitching it in afterwards wouldn’t be nearly as cumbersome by hand as it could be by machine. (Though as I said it wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be.)

I also did the placket for the skirt opening, which I was also kinda dreading for no good reason. The page above describes about four different methods in about 20 words each; I used the instructions for making the slit version for this petticoat, but for the skirt I planned to have the opening in a seam. In the end I just cut a rectangle of my cloth and used it to face/lap the opening in one piece, down one side and up the other. Not quite what was described, but simple and it will function just fine. It needs hooks, and of course the whole thing needs the waistband, and then I’ve got to start thinking about trim. 

This is where shit gets exciting. Or intimidating. Oh, hell.

  I’m thinking about using the middle skirt for my inspiration, though I also really like the one on the left. This is a picture from a reproduction of an 1886 Bloomingdales catalogue, belonging to my mom. I love the online resources but it’s so amazing to flip through the catalogue. Anyway,  I definitely want an overskirt reminiscent of the two In the picture—I have TV368 (below) for a pattern. 

  Getting mighty ambitious, aren’t I? 😀

And then I will have to start muslining the bodice, I mean waist. O_o somehow compared to that decorating the skirt doesn’t seem so intimidating…

 

 

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The Real Thing

The real thing

The real thing

I finally got a hold of my mom’s Genuine Article Victorian Drawers (TM).  Well, I can’t actually date them particularly well—but they’re certainly older than 1920s, and they’re almost perfectly in keeping with everything Victorian I’ve read about what drawers should be. Which doesn’t seem to have changed much over time, except possibly for length.

The Originals

The Originals

I gotta tell you, I feel pretty naughty for trying them on. The fabric’s in pretty good shape, but it still feels kinda sacreligeous.

Back view

Back view

They’re a little more snug than my pair.

closeup

closeup

The hem is a gorgeous eyelet lace, not gathered. I don’t think I could find a lace like this if I offered my firstborn child.

side by side

side by side

Here’s the two side by side. Neither of my lace additions are particularly spot on, are they?

that thing

that thing

Now, THAT, my friends, is a hand-worked buttonhole. Well, except for the frayed bit. You’d be a bit frayed, too, if you were over 100 years old.

button

button

I think I got my button just right, though.

Felled seam

Felled seam

I believe this seam was sewn by machine, then hand-felled. Yes, the Victorians are judging me for wimping out.

Length adjustment

Length adjustment

The wide tuck to the left was done before the inseam was stitched, as per all the different instructions. The one I’m holding here, though, was added after. I wonder if the seamstress thought the space needed “something” or if it was intended to shorten the length a bit?

yummy

yummy

I wish I’d done more narrow tucks, rather than three big ones, on my pair. No, I’m not re-doing them. Incidentally, the band of lace above the trimming lace is finishing the hem, exactly like the band finish on my pair except on the outside and pretty. I wish I’d thought of that one, dammit.

fabric and hand-stitching closeup

fabric and hand-stitching closeup

Both of us stitched the outside of the waistband by machine and then hand-stitched the inside. My stitches are not quite as neat and small as the Victorian’s, but they aren’t too bad.

In other news, reader Meadowsweet Child sent me some spoon busks all the way from civilization (aka Ontario*)! Woohoo! And I may have gotten a bit click-happy on Farthingales, so with any luck I’ll have some boning and things soon, too…

*It occurs to me that ordering supplies, for anything really, from Ontario is probably terribly historically accurate for early Saskatoon. Everything, even lumber, had to be shipped from out east. Then, since the railway didn’t even arrive until 1890, it had to be carted up from Moose Jaw, over 200 km.

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Sexy lingerie…

This is not. I assume adding a corset will make it better, but I am currently unconvinced. No wonder Victorians were so sexually unenthused (although they did invent the vibrator…)

So, here, only a few weeks late, are some final finished photos of my drawers. I had been holding off, hoping to get comparison shots with an actual pair in my mother’s collection, but I had a few free moments this morning while Osiris was still in bed (and so not around to laugh at me) so I figured I’d better seize them and get some photos. However, my cameria is AWOL (actually, probably somewhere in the bedroom with Osiris, and if I bang around in there I’ll wake him up and lose my opportunity), so you still get iPhone photos. Sorry. 😦

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Front View

The drawers fit, for a given level of “fit”. The length is about right, or maybe it’s a bit too long. Apparently they should be just below the knee—anything longer is slovenly. And the saggy-baggy-puffy-crotch thing seems to be part of the charm. Or, y’know, something.

Speaking of which, my main source of instruction have been threefold: “The Home Course in Dressmaking and Ladies Tailoring” (copyright 1908), which I actually have in paper copy, whence came the actual draft for these drawers, an ebook, “The Home Needle,” from 1882, by Ella Rodman Church, and the pair of antique drawers in my mom’s collection (hereafter referred to as “the extant pair.”). I love the 1882 book because a) it’s just about my time period (mid 1880s), b), it’s mercifully brief, and c) it’s delightfully opinionated. Mrs. Church starts right in by excoriating the sewing-machine (by the time of my 1908 book, the sewing machine was much more accepted and there is much less emphasis on hand sewing of things like basic seams.), and the state of sewing generally, and she’s full of important tips like the one above about the appropriate length of drawers. Whenever I find myself lacking, seamstresslywise, I remind myself that I keep company with all the half-ass, slipshod Victorian girls just plugging away making shoddy, poorly sewn items purely to annoy mavens of excellence like Mrs. Church. And if she finds my drawers slovenly… well, she’ll never have to see them. 😉

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Side view. Note puffy butt and tapering waist-band.

Although I based the draft for my drawers on the later Home Course, I did take a couple of details for them from Mrs. Church.

Drawers draft from The Home Needle (1882)

Mrs. Church’s drawers draft has a curved front crotch, and no rear crotch curve at all. This is actually the same as the drawers in Simplicity 9769. I assume this creates an extra-puffy bum, which would be desirable in the bustle era. (I wonder if the front curve has to do with the pattern being designed to have the crotch closed in the front.)

Drawers draft

Drawers draft from Home Course In Dressmaking (1908)

The 1908 draft I used, by contrast, has no curve at either front or back, but both lines angle back in pants-fashion, rather than one angling and one not.  And I departed from both drafts on one thing—when I compared my pattern with my mother’s extant pair (which, of course, I don’t know the precise dating of), I found the leg of the extant pair to be WAY, WAY narrower than my draft. So I narrowed that. Actualy, a lot of the details I wound up picking—the tucks, the lace, the ruffle, even the band finishing the crotch edges—kind of go back to that original pair.

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Rear view. The “chemise” is a slip left over from a 90s sheer-floral-rayon dress (you remember the ones). It actually kinda works, although the neckline is all wrong.

Although I initially drafted a curved waist-band pattern based on on the 1908 book, by the time I got around to this part of the sewing I had misplaced it and figured I would go with Mrs. Church’s instructions, which are more my proper period, anyway.  She says that although most people make a straight waistband, about an inch folded over, it’s better to make one wider at the back, that tapers to the front, and closes with two buttons rather than one. So I did. It would probably sit better at my actual waist, but despite all the fussing and futzing it turned out a bit large. I could, of course, move my buttons over, but I’m thinking the less bulk at my waist the better, once all the layers start coming together.

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Phew. OK, let’s stick with hanger shots.

I added a few more small tucks around my rather-ugly lace. I’m more or less okay with it now, although of course I’ve since found several laces in stash that would’ve been better. I did not remove the fabric behind the lace—there’s top-stitched lace exactly like this on the extant pair of drawers. I suppose see-through panels on your drawers might not be quite the thing, or maybe that seamstress was just a bit lazy. Either way, I have precedent.

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I added a few more small tucks around the wider lace. I like it better now.

I finished my inseam with a French seam, as per the 1908 instructions, contra Mrs. Church and the extant pair, both of which use a felled seam here. I can see why—the fell would be flatter and less likely to, ah, chafe delicate parts, since the low crotch sits pretty much right between your thighs. Since I don’t plan to be wearing these for days on end, well, I’ll live.

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Inseam, finished with a French seam.

I also finished the crotch with a straight band, as per the 1908 book and the extant pair, contra Mrs. Church, who advises some kind of a shaped facing, wider at the crotch point and narrowing toward the waistband—I couldn’t really make heads or tails of what she was describing, frankly. Which is the downside of the Victorian sewing books, but anyway.

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Two medium buttons

A few weeks ago my mother handed me two baggies of mixed buttons she had picked up at a garage sale. Ah, the joy. Anyway, I went through these looking for the perfect buttons, and found quite a few plain, smooth white glass buttons that seem just perfect. Medium size buttons, not small, in accordance with Mrs. Church’s instructions.

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Unbuttoned to show my terrible-ass buttonhole.

I remain impressively terrible at making hand-worked buttonholes (especially when I compare myself to actual examples). For something different this time I used a darning yarn that was in the sewing stuff I recently got with my Grandmother’s machine. I used it doubled and single would’ve been better, and it turns out after the fact that I was using a blanket stitch rather than a buttonhole stitch (they’re much the same except for the directly of the needle), which explains why my knots never end up in the right place. However, they are sturdy. Mrs. Church is rolling over in her grave as we speak.

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Now you can REALLY see the difference between the front and back waistband width.

These were pretty fun to make, although I must say finishing something and not being able (or even inclined) to immediately wear it out and about is pretty frustrating (and why I have resisted the siren-song of historical costuming in general, the last few years). Next in line: chemise, corset, petticoats, bustle. Not necessarily in that order. At my current rate that should only take, oh, another two years?

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Historical Dabbling

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Old sewing books

I am not, in any way, a historical seamstress. I don’t even think of myself as a particularly “vintage” one, though I definitely have leanings in that direction (I may be in denial.) The Dreamstress I ain’t. However, back in my hometown, I have Connections. In particular, a local history site my mom has been involved with for yonks, has some antique machines that I wanted to play with. They were amenable to me playing around, and wondered was I amenable to doing a program or two on Victorian sewing? (The house, the oldest in my hometown,* does low-stress, small-scale historical programming, everything from Victorian laundry to kids games. Strictly speaking the time period is 1880s**, but they’re not particularly picky about that.)

Originally I had hoped to play around with some antique attachments on the actual machines in the house. There’s a National machine that fits this set of attachments, and a singer Model 12 that’s, frankly, a caveperson of the treadle world. Sadly, the National is missing part of the tension apparatus so isn’t currently usable (although I have hopes of fabricating a replacement piece in the longer-term), and the Model 12 needs some new needles before I can assess whether it’s skipping stitches because it’s old and gunky or whether it’s just that the needle that’s currently in it is about as thick as a tree stump and equally sharp.

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Drawers.

Anyway, not having the treadle option, I packed up my Featherweight (which has the look and the attachments, even if it’s far from the genuine article) and set about sampling some examples of Victorian embellishment, at least as it occurs on linens and underthings. I figured my goal for the day would be making some samples and, if all went well, starting on a pair of Victorian drawers, which you can see part of in the picture above. To go with the corset I haven’t made yet, you know.

(And to those who are justifiably appalled that I, having just professed myself Not A Historical Sewist, am doing educational programs on historical sewing, well, I did know a tiny bit more than anyone else who showed up that day, and I did read about five different Victorian sewing manuals in the days leading up to the event. If a real re-enactor shows up, though, I’m sunk.)

Drawers draft

Drawers draft

It made for a lovely, low-key afternoon, anyway. I’m oddly thrilled by the experience so far. There’s a lot I could babble on about the styles, my research, and the individual techniques, but a) I didn’t take any good pictures (I did some totally killer lace insertion on a sample, doods. OK, not actually killer, but I’m stoked) and b) I have to go to bed, so I’m going to hit publish and bore you with the obsessive details some other night.

*On its original foundation, which has to be the most annoying footnote to always have to add to a “oldest X” claim.

** People reading in the many, many parts of the world where established human settlement stretches back more than a century and change, feel free to laugh your asses off.

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