Tag Archives: Victorian Sewing

Pink Mystery Corset

A little while ago I took one of my besties from Cowtown, who was visiting, out for coffee and a little toodle through some of the local antique shops. She didn’t find anything, but one place that sells a charming, or possibly annoying, array of select antiques and hipstery artisanal doodads, had a shabby little antique pink corset on display. Naturally, I had to inquire as to the price. It was right (as it should be given that the condition is, well, let’s just say not museum quality. šŸ˜‰ ), so I came home with an authentic Victorian-ish little corset. 

It’s quite a short corset, no more than about 28 cm (11″) at the tallest surviving part. (That’s at the bust area.)

At the side: 22 cm (8 3/4″)

At the back: 25 cm (10″)

Half bust: 38 cm (15″)

Most sadly, it is missing the front busk entirely, so I don’t know how big most of it would have been. Only the very top edge is complete: about 15″ per side. I don’t think it would have reached up to the full bust, so it’s maybe not actually as tiny as that first appears: 15″x 2 + 2″ lacing gap is 32″, which would actually quite possibly have fit me. 

Surviving half waist is 23.5 cm (9 1/4″), but this is short at least 2.5 cm (1″) and probably more like 4-6 cm. If the original waist was 11″ per side, that would work out to about 24″ total for a 2″ lacing gap—too small for me but a very reasonable Victorian waist size. 

It’s made of two layers of rather shattered silk in a pale ivory/blush colour; the outer layer has a brocade pattern of scattered tiny flowers.  There is a wide (6cm, 2 1/4″) lace trim both top and bottom, stitched down along a narrow pink ribbon. 

It’s made strictly in panels (no gores or gussets), six to each side, and boned along each side of each seamline, with two bones at each side of the back lacing. The shaping appears to be fairly slight, though it’s hard to get a good sense of the shape without stuffing it on something. 

The bones are stitched into ribbon casings on the inside. The binding was machine stitched on the outside, and then hand-stitched down on the inside. 

I am assuming these are real whalebones. I’ve never actually seen the real thing to compare. 

They are flat, thin, very light, and still quite springy and flexible. 

The lacing runs through tiny handstitched eyelets, no metal grommets, so it wouldn’t have stood up to heavy tightening. 

The lacing appears to be original, and is a wide, flat woven tape that compresses very tiny to go through the tiny eyelets. It is tipped with long, dark metal tips at the bottom ends, but all the extra length is pulled out and tied at the waist. 

The pink ribbon anchoring the lace has teeny bows at both front and back ends. 

It’s quite exquisitely delicate. I only wish the busk, or whatever front closure was used, had survived.

I have some thoughts of my own about the age and kind of corset it may have been, but I’m so far from an expert I hesitate to throw them out there. I’d love to hear your thoughts. (Especially if you know a good method for taking a pattern from such a fragile item!)

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Victorian Romp

_MG_0155My ersatz Victorian dress is finished, or at least as finished as it is likely to get, which is to say there is trim of some kind on all three main elements. (Waist, aka bodice, skirt, and overskirt.) I’m actually reasonably comfortable that it falls within the range of Victorian “normal” and isn’t too weirdly stripped-down, which is actually the biggest thing that often seems off about costumes (at least to me). Well, the skirt is probably a little too plain. And the whole thing is on the plain end. Just, hopefully not too plain. (And my neckline is completely inappropriate for a day dress as far as I can tell, while my suiting fabric would not be a good choice for evening wear… but this was my “fun” project and I don’t personally like high necks, so I picked the neckline I liked.

Button Fixin

While getting dressed, I lost a button. A significant amount of the editing involved photoshopping the button that popped off when I was getting dressed.

The bodice has a pleated ribbon trim; the overskirt has the same ribbon, but unpleated. For the skirt I took all the remaining bias tape from my main fabric and folded the edges under to make a trim I could stitch down. This was the least successful trim as the bias is somewhat rippled (even though I stitched both edges in the same direction). I wasn’t convinced the placement was any good, either, but actually looking at the photos I don’t mind it. I don’t feel inclined to rip it all off, in any case. If I had more of the red fabric I would add a pleated trim around the bottom of the skirt, but I don’t, and at least at present I don’t feel like buying more.

_MG_0132Anyway, this completion happily coincided with a couple of things. With my most recent Victorian Sewing Circle afternoon. Also, my sister-in-law, who has always dabbled in photography (and even worked as a portraitist a few times) has decided she wants to really get into the game. Photographer with a Real Camera who just wants some serious practice? Sign me up! So I got her to meet me at the Marr Residence that morning for a fun (almost*) period photo shoot.

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We started with boudoir shots.

It’s been a really long time since I did a real photo shoot with, like, an actual photographer. It was really fun.

 

with book light playing 2We bounced around the house, playing with the light.

At the firexcfEvery room was different.

With Tree

The Marr Residence has a great little double-lot park, and the day was warm enough that it wasn’t a huge sacrifice to run around in the snow—although the tail end of winter is not the most scenic time of year anywhere.

Angie was good enoughĀ to let me have at the electronic files. It’s also been a really long time since I took the time to seriously edit photos for anything. I am not on the Better Pictures Project. šŸ˜‰ most of my blog photos are quick snaps with my iPhone, occasionally tripod shots on my point ‘n shoot, and the editing I do is only basic straightening, cropping, and a wee bit of contrast & exposure. Mostly via the built-in iPhone editor. It’s a hard reality that I have accepted—if I wait for good photos before I blog, there will be no blog.

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But it was sure nice to actually take some time with these, both the photo shoot and the editing. And I even had RAW to play in! (I am not a good enough photo editor to tell you if RAW actually makes a difference in the final photo, but it sure is FUN!) though most of these were done from the jpeg as it’s just faster for me. RAW is like a rabbit hole from which there is no return.

Water sepia glow (2)

I can’t help it. I love me some cheesy filtering sometimes.

I did most of the editing in GIMP (the GNU Image Manipulation Program) which is photoshop’s slightly awkward but most importantly free little brother. It can do pretty much whatever photoshop can, and doesn’t cost a dime (and it took about three seconds of googling for me to find and download the add-ons for processing RAW format and batch-editing. I do find it difficult to bounce back and forth between the two programs, as you have to remember two different ways to do everything, but if you don’t want to shell out for Photoshop it’s a pretty awesome alternative.

 

Laughing on the path redI may have had a bit too much fun with the editing process, making sepia and low-colour versions. Oh, well. They’re my photos and I’ll cheese ’em up if I want too. I also lost the cover off one of my fabric-covered buttons while getting dressed, so that had to be photoshopped out of a bunch of pics. I will warn you, I also took the liberty of some SERIOUS Photoshopping once or twice—so if you catch yourself wondering “is her waist really that small?” The answer is probably “no, not even in a corset.” PICTURES LIE!!!!

Outside house tight red

PS, should you have the inclination, you can find my photographer at Angel Jems Photography—facebook page for now, hopefully a real website at some point. Also I’ve uploaded a few more photos on my Flickr page:

Victorian Romp

and:

Victorian Romp Sepia

What we didn’t get were any shots resembling an actual Victorian portrait, standing stiffly against a backdrop and not smiling. These pesky modern photographers and their action shots and candid snaps. Maybe next time.

Outside and pensive*you’ve seen my hair, right? Short of concocting a story about how I cut it off and sold it to buy a chain for my husband’s prize watch, which he sold to buy me a comb for my beautiful hair, we’re kinda stuck. I don’t have an appropriate wig, and I’m disinclined to go out and buy one at the moment. I also don’t have a period hat for the outdoor shots.

Tree hug contras

Ok, I’ll stop now.

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A Half Ass Victorian

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Truly Victorian 462 – 1880s tail bodice

Since the next Victorian Sewing Circle was coming up, last weekend I decided to muslin the bodice for Truly Victorian 462. In my memory, back in the fall I had calculated my size via their weird-ass method (basically you select your back size based on on the width across your back and your front size based on the difference between your back size and your full bust, and then twiddle the shoulders to fit. It’s meant to help you skip the FBA, I guess, not that I’m usually an FBA candidate…) and traced out the pieces. Well, it turned out on inspection that I had picked my size, traced out about half the pieces, and then completely not written down what size I was tracing. >_< Thanks, Past Tanit.

Comparison of my traced pieces with the original patternĀ and some cryptic notation I had left on the instructions eventually led me to conclude that I had been tracing size C for both front and back. Great! I finished tracing it out, made my most basic adjustment (removing 2cm total length, 1cm above the bust and 1 cm below) and cut my first muslin out of some old curtain last seen in a pair of Ellen pants, if anyone remembers what those are. Um, that was over five years ago. Wow. Blog is turning six pretty darn soon. Who knew?

ANYWAY.

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Version # 1

Muslin version 1 revealed some problems. Um, TOO SMALL, much? I re-took my measurements. Apparently, with the combo of corset and bra, my bust is closer to 38″ than its actual 34.” And for the Victorian silhouette I do want the boob paddage. ALL THE BOOBS. However, everything else seemed really good—back size was great, shoulders maybe needed just a little tweak for squareness—I just needed a little more room in the front. Perfect candidate for an FBA, thought I. Never mind I’ve never done one before. How hard can it be?

Hmm.

Yeah, you can stop snickering now.

So I slashed and spread and ended up actually with quite an improvement, except that there was a bunch of extra fabric right along the CF line—like enough to take out an almost 1″ dart. So I did, and rotated that fullness into the two waist darts.

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Version 3

This seemed like it did the trick. V. 3 fit basically like a second skin. Although looking at them now, I think the darts could maybe be spread out a little more evenly across the bodice front—they are both very close to the CF after all my futzing.

But. I wasn’t ready, after all that messing around, to jump right into my good fabric. So I went deep-stash-diving, looking for a suitable fabric that I had enough of that wasn’t otherwise earmarked.

Eventually I settled on this striped suiting. The fabric is some completely non-historical, soft and drapey thin suiting, mainly rayon by the feel. I have absolutely no memory of where it came from except that it must have been a gift. If it was from you, thank you! Anyway, it looked good and felt nice and there was plenty of it.

The deep stash also provided an underlining, in the form of this bublegum pinkĀ almost-light-canvas-type fabric (much less drapy) that I was quite happy to find a use for.

12729550_1003650139696488_884951134_nEspecially once I discovered the fabric tag. Yup, this fabric was received at Fabricland on 06/05/85. Over thirty years in stash, people.

I wasn’t overly concerned about authenticity at this point—just going for a fit test here. I didn’t bother with seam finishings (in hindsight I should’ve just serged my underlining to my fabricĀ as the inside is fraying like crazy.) But despite that I was still going for as much “authenticity” in my construction methods as I could handle—so there’s boning, and the edges are faced with bias tape, and I generally tried to follow the method described in Plain Needlework and Amateur Dressmaking. To the best of my limited comprehension and/or patience, anyway.

2016-01-29 19.23.58It felt like itĀ took basically forever, though really I got it done in a week so that’s actually pretty fast.

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Guts

The guts aren’t pretty but they are complete—boning in channels, plus a waist stay. I think that’s a good idea with the long tails on this pattern. My materials range from vaguely plausible (cotton twill tape for the bone channels) to completely inappropriate (poly grosgrain ribbon for the waist stay. Rayon suiting)

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Bodice interior from Plain Needlework and Amateur Sewing

And then there were the buttons. Plain Needlework suggested 1″ between buttons. In hindsight (funny how perfect it is) this was a bit much for the size of button I ended up with—I think 1 1/2″ between them would’ve been adequate.

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Fabric-covered buttons!

Still determinedly stash-busting, I settled on some smallish coverable buttons that I had three packs of for some reason. I’ve never had much luck with covered buttons before. These went really well, in that I could easily pop them on to their bases once they were fabric-covered, but less well in that they tend to pop back off again quite readily.

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Lots of buttons. Also, a possible neckline trim.

They look nice, though. I did have all the stripes lined up, but as the tops kept popping off it was too annoying to try and get them back on straight. I made the buttonholes on the machine. I’ll drive myself nuts with the hand ones on the Good Copy.

(Oh, the pattern itself has a curve out at the CF bust area. This is a bit of an odd feature, but I gather is period. I had reduced it a wee bit with all my dart-moving, but I wound up making it completely straight for this version due to the stripes. Will I keep that for my “good copy”? If I don’t, my whole test fitting idea becomes kinda useless… if I do, my authenticity quotient goes down (not that I am expecting this to be overly high, mind you…)

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Sleeve with bias facing.

I muslined with long sleeves and (gasp) didn’t even add any length. I did take some width out of the sleeve, especially around the elbow curve, and tweaked the hell out of the sleeve-cap/armscye. It’s still not exactly perfect, but I have a pretty decent range of motion. The sleeve as drafted came just above my wristbone—which, actually, looking at my pinterest boards, seems to be accurate for the period, but would drive me absolutely batty. So I cut back to 3/4″ sleeves. Those I can handle. As per Amateur Dressmaking instructions, I faced both sleeves and bodice with bias tape made from the fashion fabric.

2016-02-16 06.02.37Back in the fall I was playing with some satin ribbon and my ruffler and made this pleated trim. The slightly rusty red colour is perfect—I’m a bit torn about whether to use it or not. I actually like the simplicity of the plain bodice with the menswear-type fabric, but the lower neckline I chose is more of an evening style (which does not go with the menswear fabric at all, by the way, but it’s my party and I’ll show off my upper chest if I want to) and should probably be adorned. We’ll see how I feel once the skirt is gussied up a bit more.

2016-02-21 00.09.06Which brings me to the skirt. Um, yeah. I didn’t have quite enough of the striped suiting for the skirt, or at least not for the skirt plus whatever overskirt draping I might eventually want to do. So I ended up breaking my stashbusting streakĀ and picking up a few metres of this rusy red “wool crepe” (allgedly 65% wool… I am dubious). It was cheap, though, so it’s ok? Anyway, right down to the wire I managed to get it cut into gored panels, mounted on some black broadcloth underlining (salvaged from the same curtain asĀ the cuffs for my blazer, so the walk through Deep Stash was not entirely finished). At 10:30 am Sunday morning, I had to admit, even as I finished pressing the hem facing, that it wasn’t going to be stitched in the hour I had left before I had to leave the house (and be showered and costumed), so I reluctantly but effectively broke out the safety pins. And I won’t even show you the joke of the waistband (more safety pins), but it covered my bottom half adequately, at least once I managed to half-ass a bustle for it.

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Bustle, otherwise occupied.

(I made a perfectly good bustle already, but it’s adorning the mannequin that is holding my half-constructed blue skirt at the Marr Residence, so not actually accessible for wearing to said residence. I never said I had good planning skills. (Incidentally, yes, this does mean that I got further on my red skirt in approximately three hours of work than I have on the skirt I’ve been working on since October.)

2016-02-21 11.00.35I did have a teeny little bum pad I made last spring, fairly softly stuffed—probably perfect for an 1890s “figure enhancer,” but not what I was looking for here. I decided to amp it up with a bigger cousin to get something a little more satisfactory; I stuffed it with fabric scraps (serger offcuts work well as they’re so teeny) from the sewing room garbage bag and had to largely hand-stitch it to the other as I couldn’t get the seam allowances anywhere near the sewing machine’s presser foot. This is a much heavier and less convenient option than the collapsible wired bustle I made before (especially for driving) but it was definitely functional, and didn’t collapse much, which I’m a bit worried the wired one will.

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1880s outfit!

It made for a very plain ensemble, but at least the silhouette is there! Well, as close as I am likely to get to it, anyway. I meant to get some pics while at the Marr because DUH, but of course completely forgot. So rather than a beautifully restored period setting, you get narrow-cropped kitchen shots of my bathroom door. Which is probably close to period (well, early 1900s, anyway, and the only original door in our old wreck of a house), but not exactly gorgeously restored.

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Back view.Ā 

I thought the plain tails of the waist (aka bodice) were a little, well, plain, so I tried pinning them up. I think the general principal is sound, but should probably be done by someone who can actually see what they’re doing, and not by me just randomly grabbing bits and pinning them blindly behind me while already dressed.

And just in case you aren’t thoroughly sick of this half-ass outfit yetĀ have some mannequin shots of the half-finished skirt!

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Skirt, front

Why did I let it sit wadded up on the ironing board for two days before I took these?

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Side view. I think my other bustle definitely has a nicer shape (the fluffy petticoats would help, too.)

Pleats in the back. Also, the half-ass waistband. It’s just the black broadcloth (thin yet strong) basted quickly to the inside, and held closed with safety pins. I’ll do something better for next time.

IĀ 2016-02-23 19.11.54Why yes, there’s a dress form beside my front door in half-Victorian costume.

2016-02-23 19.12.29I’m kinda tempted to leave it there all month.

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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? šŸ˜€

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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