Tag Archives: Historical Sewing

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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