Mid-Century Birthday Croquet At Roseland Cottage

Finally, a break from stay-related blog posts! (Slow sewing progress is being made, but not enough to post about…)

In the meantime, I have an armchair peep into a lovely birthday outing with friends on a gorgeous autumn afternoon.

The location of the outing is Roseland Cottage, in Woodstock, Connecticut.

Built in 1846 in the newly fashionable Gothic Revival style, Roseland Cottage was the summer home of Henry and Lucy Bowen and their young family. While the house is instantly recognizable for its pink exterior, Roseland Cottage has an equally colorful interior, featuring elaborate wall coverings, heavily patterned carpets, and stained glass, much of which survives unchanged from the Victorian era. The house is a National Historic Landmark.
(from the Historic New England website)

We made special arrangements with the staff to picnic and croquet on the lawn in mid-19th century clothing, followed by a house tour. Some of us had seen the house before, but the details never cease to amaze and hold our interest. If you’re ever in the area, I highly recommend a visit!

The grounds of the house are well maintained and provided an excellent area to set up croquet.

We enjoyed serious croquet as well as a few silly rounds of our own invention. The shadows made for fun photos, too!

The day was sunny and beautiful. There was a slight bit of chill to the air, but it was quite comfortable in full length sleeves and long dresses.

One zealous croquet ball whacked me in the ankle and caused a small scene. Thankfully, it wasn’t too bad after the initial pain wore off (no bruises or anything worse!)

In fact, the croquet ball whack didn’t stop me from enjoying the gardens in Sophie, my 1861 reproduction cotton print dress.

The gardens are maintained with the same plan and variety of plants that would have been evident in the 19th century. They were in full color during our visit!

I greatly enjoy this photo, which was completely unintentional. I just started running around because it was fun, and then was told to go back and do it again because the photo opportunity was so exciting. So I suppose in a way it was intentional?

Croquet was followed by a house tour, during which the staff invited us to remain in historical clothes and take photos. This was my favorite! There’s a little built-in seat with a bay window in one room. It was well suited to sitting in hoops. Looking for friends arriving, perhaps?

An exciting, beautiful day! Thanks for enjoying it with me!

c. 1785 Stays (Of Fail), Part V: Middle Construction Details

I had hoped to get all of my remaining construction details into this post, but progress on the stays has slowed. Plus, I realized I didn’t have enough linen tape to bind the edges, so new binding needed to be ordered. That has been done but I’ve been so busy that no sewing has happened yet. So for now, here are the middle parts of the construction update.

Updating Gussets

After all the initial steps of putting the stays together (which I detailed in my previous post in this series), I had a fitting that left me feeling rather disappointed. I’ve already detailed the results of that fitting, in Part II of this series.

To summarize: I wanted to raise the gusset I’d added to the back with the goal of providing more width at the waist and hopefully increasing the comfort of the stays on my back. Accordingly, I removed the offending short gusset out of the stays, but, instead of piecing new gussets out of my meager scraps, I realized I could cannibalize the straps I’d originally cut (but decided not to use) to make longer gussets.

Below: the new, longer gussets in place.

This worked well for the exterior linen and one layer of interlining linen, but the straps were only ever going to have one inner layer of linen. And none of my scraps were quite long enough to make a second layer now that the piece would be used in the main body of the stays.

So, I used what I could and layered a second piece near the bottom tab to extend the second layer of linen. Work with what you have, right?

This new gusset had a wider bone channel already sewed… and I really didn’t want to deal with my narrow bone idea again. Therefore, these two pieces will have permanently wide boning channels. It’s all in the spirit of making do! I did have to extend the bone channels after adding the extra bit of linen near the tab, but that was easy to do.

Covering Seams & Finishing Edges

Following the information in Patterns of Fashion 5 (see my fourth blog post in this series for more information on this incredible book), I covered the visible whip stitches that formed the seams of the pieces with 1/4″ linen tape.

Then, I basted all around every exterior edge, to hold the layers in place while I continued to work on the stays. I followed that by whip stitching the raw edges, in order to create a more stable edge for the binding.

In the photo below you can see the linen tape covering the seams and the edges that have been basted and whipped.

Finally, I was ready to bind the edges!

You can read previous posts in this series here:
c. 1785 Stays (Of Fail), Part IV: Early Construction Details
c. 1785 Stays (Of Fail), Part III: The Pattern
c. 1785 Stays (Of Fail), Part II: Fitting Update
c. 1785 Stays (Of Fail), Part I: Beginnings

c. 1785 Stays (Of Fail), Part IV: Early Construction Details

Construction Process Resource

The book I used to create the pattern for my stays (Stays and Corsets: Historical Patterns Translated for the Modern Body by Mandy Barrington) gives very little in the way of construction information for stays (process, materials, and details). I found this to be really disappointing.

Thankfully, however, there are other resources that one can go to for this type of information. I chose to reference Patterns of Fashion 5 (PofF5), authored by Janet Arnold, Jenny Tiramani, Luca Costigliolo, Sebastien Passot, Armelle Lucas and Johannes Pietsch.

The great thing is that I could go to PoF5! It had not yet been released when I started this project, but I have it in hand now… and I must say that it is an absolute gold mine of information! There is so much research, expertise, and detail included. There are so many color photos. There are x rays of extant garments. And of course there are patterns. And information about patterning and making both in the past and now.

I cannot do anything but rave about this book! It is almost double the length of the earlier Patterns of Fashion books. I actually sat down and read this book cover to cover, which is not how I usually deal with pattern books (usually I read the bits that are relevant to a certain project). This book is amazing!

On To The Construction Process

Despite creating a pattern from another source, PoF5 was invaluable for the construction process of my stays. Using information in PoF5, I decided to make my stays from an outer layer of linen, 2 layers of linen buckram, and a lining (that will likely be linen).

To start, I cut out the exterior and 2 layers of heavy linen for the interlining. Below is a photo of my inner heavy linen with the pattern laid on top. I used stash fabric and found a piece that just barely fit my pieces. No seam allowance is included in the pattern, so you can see that I really eked my pieces out!

To nerd out on history fun and try something new, I decided to make my own stiffened buckram for the inner layers. So, on a hot August afternoon I was to be found sitting on my deck dripping with sweat while painting gum tragacanth onto my linen pieces instead of being inside where it was cool.

So what is gum tragacanth? It is a stiffening agent used to make linen buckram, which is a material used to stiffen 18th century stays.

Burnley and Trowbridge has a great video about making buckram that describes fum tragacanth and Leimomi, The Dreamstress, has a great blog post discussing gum tragacanth and xanthan gum. The post includes videos and lots of wonderful how-to information.

I used a paintbrush to spread my gum tragacanth on my linen. By the end I was definitely getting a little sloppy because I wanted to get out of the sun as quickly as possible, but I was still impressed with myself for the lengths I go to sometimes for the sake of historical exploration!

Below is a photo of my set up. Cardboard from the recycle, a dish-shaped piece of packaging from the recycle, and a paint brush.

I used a full 4.4 oz bottle of Eco-Flo Gum Tragacanth for my double layer linen interlining. In the dish you can see the consistency of it. It was wonderful not to need to mix or heat it, as you would need to do with xanthan gum.

To be honest, I didn’t notice too much of a difference in the linen after applying the gum tragacanth. (This could be because I was already using a heavy linen?) It also seems, and makes sense, that the stiffness has been reduced as I’ve worked with the fabrics. Regardless, I am still entertained and enriched by my experiment.

After the gum tragacanth dried, I flat lined my 3 layers for each piece (2 layers of heavy linen and the exterior linen) and marked my boning channels. I found that using Frixion pens worked well, because the marks easily erase with a hot iron after the channels are sewn (and the pen marks don’t rub off while being sewn, as with chalk). Magic!

There was lots… and lots… of sewing boning channels, as you can see blow.

After all my channels were complete (and I’d pushed in all those narrow zip ties I ranted about in my first post about these stays), I moved on to the eyelets. There are eyelets for the center back closure and eyelets for front adjustability, as on the inspiration Chertsey stays (which you can see in my third post about these stays).

I realized that I hadn’t cut my center back pieces with enough fabric to wrap around past the eyelets (though I didn’t have enough fabric to do that, anyway!), so I pieced strips together and whip stitched them on to make the extension, as you can see on the right side of the next photo.

After the eyelets were done, I assembled my pieces with whip stitches.

I whip stitched the seam allowances down as well, thinking that might help make the stays fit smoothly for a fitting.

That basically brings the project up to the unfinished state it is in now, minus a few fittings and adding that back gusset.

You can read previous posts in this series here:
c. 1785 Stays (Of Fail), Part III: The Pattern
c. 1785 Stays (Of Fail), Part II: Fitting Update
c. 1785 Stays (Of Fail), Part I: Beginnings

c. 1785 Stays (Of Fail), Part III: The Pattern

The Beginnings, The Longer Version

Let me back up from the current state of the Stays Of Fail to all the wonderful documentation I did about making them, at least to this point. When I started these stays back in 2018, I intended them to be a sort of in-between-projects-project for when I wanted a bit of hand sewing to do. Given that, the project moved at a pace only slightly faster than a glacier!

Somewhere very early in the planning stages of these stays I decided to try out a new book for patterning them: Stays and Corsets: Historical Patterns Translated for the Modern Body by Mandy Barrington. This book presents the idea that you can use any person’s measurements to draft a basic block of the body and then use the basic block to draft any of the historical stays in the book. It’s a neat idea, in theory, and I wanted to try it out.

The Pattern

I didn’t keep track of how long the patterning/drafting process took me. But it was a long time…

There was lots of math, which always happens with drafting a body block and is to be expected, but on top of that there was also the drafting of the specific pair of stays I’d decided on: the 1785-1788 Half Boned Stays (patterned from a pair of stays held at the Chertsey Museum). I was doing my pattern drafting while being often interrupted, so that slowed me down, but despite that the process was longer than I was expecting (and I’m not new to making body blocks or patterns).

This is the original pair of stays at the Chertsey Museum. (Accession number M.2008.53)

(The nice thing is that if I were to use this book to pattern another set of stays or corset I would be halfway there, having already now created a custom body block, but I suspect it would be faster for me to start with a pattern from another book source, because I think my brain wraps around the idea of resizing a pattern without the body block drafting pretty easily.)

I eventually had my body block and was able to draft my pattern using the instructions. The instructions were quite detailed, so that was great. I finally had a pattern that I was able to cut out and make a mockup out of! I was able to get into the fun part: sewing!

Testing The Pattern With A Mockup

I had expected that, after spending a lot of time spent patterning the stays to fit my measurements, I would have stays that basically fit. And I did. But they fit my measurements with the center backs touching and no compression, just sort of lightly surrounding my body without providing support.

The drafting did it’s job of making stays to my measurements, but I was dubious about whether they would do their supporting job when fully boned and finished. So I decided to adjust the mockup a bit–taking some in at the waist, in particular.  (While this is a small adjustment to make, it reminded me that at the point at which I had to alter the mockup I might as well have started with a pattern that took less time to create.)

But perhaps, that alteration was my downfall. As you’ll see in later posts, I later had to add fabric back into the waist size.

That’s all for now. Next post, I’ll detail the early construction process, including stiffening my own linen!

You can read previous posts in this series here:
c. 1785 Stays (Of Fail), Part II: Fitting Update
c. 1785 Stays (Of Fail), Part I: Beginnings

c. 1785 Stays (Of Fail), Part II: Fitting Update

In March 2022, I had another fitting on the pair of stays I started posting about recently. I tried a few different things and some seemed to work. It gave me hope!

I decided to add tape straps to these stays, partly to help counteract the back pulling away from my shoulder blades and slouching in towards center. This method of straps comes this pair of stays at the McCord Museum (accession number M969X.26), which is dated 1785-1790.

The idea has intrigued me for awhile and specifically appeals for this project because I didn’t like the fit and feel of the attached fabric straps and had already cannibalized them to make gussets, anyway.

Adding the tape helped the stays feel better, but the gussets were still a problem. I decided to move the gussets up higher by about 3″. I didn’t have quite enough fabric length to do that but I decided to piece on additional sections at the bottom. Piecing is completely period and seemed like a better idea than not having stays that I could wear!

Additionally, I maxed out the seam allowance on both sides of the gussets and the abutting pieces. I’m hoping those things will help narrow the back gap. I’ll also add a new boning channel in the gusset.

In terms of fit, the side view actually isn’t bad with the added strap!

The tape shoulder straps wrap across the back and then will hook in the front. For the fitting the test strap is just safety pinned. Other pins are marking where the strap hits as well as the finished length of the tabs.

After this fitting, the to do list includes:

  • resetting/piecing the gussets and adding boning channels and boning to them
  • whipping the edges of the stays in preparation for binding them
  • binding the edges of the stays
  • adding the tape straps for a final fitting

I’ve been very busy, so those things are moving along quite slowly. I did update the gussets and start whipping the edges, so there is some progress.

That’s all for now. Next post, I’m going to go back to the early construction details of these stays.

c. 1785 Stays (Of Fail), Part I: Beginnings

The Beginnings, The Abbreviated Version

The very late 18th century (1780s and 1790s) is a mostly new period for me. I have a chemise… but no other underclothes that fit, no dresses, and quite likely no accessories… I’m starting mostly from scratch! And as one does (or at least as I do) when faced with a new period, I decided to make completely hand sewn stays as the foundation. That was in 2018!

I thought I had a grand plan. I was so excited about my stays! I tried a new way of patterning, tried a new method of stiffening my fabric, sewed oodles of boning channels by hand, shoved bones into all the channels that were just a little too tight, put in my eyelets by hand… And I documented all of it to share it here.

Catching Up To The Current State Of Things

Then in mid-2021, I did a fitting… and realized that I was really unhappy with the stays. Really unhappy. Mostly due to the fit.

The stays pushed my tummy downwards so it rounded out underneath the front point and tabs, but, even worse, the back pushed down on my lower back and was super uncomfortable! AHHHHH! After all that time spent hand sewing! And it’s not like I jumped right in to hand sewing stays without mockups and thinking that the pattern fit. No, I’d done those steps and hadn’t noticed anything wrong! GRRRR.

My immediate reaction was to put the project away. I just couldn’t bear it. After I calmed down (weeks later, mind you!), I tried to see what I could do to fix the issues. I decided to add a gusset into the back, since the pressure seemed partly to come from the bottom of the lacing gap being quite wide. I had only very small scraps left, so the only way to do this was to cannibalize my straps (which is fine, because I wasn’t super keen on them restricting my shoulders, anyway).

Here’s a photo of the back of the stays with the triangular gusset already added (and some other things that I’ll talk about later). The gap at the bottom was even wider before I added the gussets!

Fast forward a bit more and I had another fitting. The gusset helped a little, but I still had pressure on my lower back. And… the front problem, I realized, was due to a combination of the front being too short for my frame and this idea I had to use ⅛” bones, to mimic the size of originals…

I’ve had success with plastic zip ties as bones, so I thought I could use narrow ones to create the width I was looking for (I used these, purchased on Amazon). Unfortunately, they were very tight in the channels. It took a lot out of my wrists to cut and push in all the bones. The width of the zip ties looks great, but they’re too flimsy. Look how much I can bend back the front tab!

After much deliberation that included going back to look at the original that the pattern I used is based off of, and the reproduction made from it that is in the book I used, I realized that the original stays are just really short in the front. AHHHHH! (More about the book I used will be coming in a future post.)

I didn’t process this earlier, in any of my fittings, or my mockup, or my patterning, or my looking at the book! And I’m incredibly low on fabric! Below are my scraps, minus the long ones in the center, which were already used to face the eyelets.

So… I was left with a half finished pair of stays that took many, many hours to even get to this point–wonderfully sewn in terms of methods, but which I couldn’t wear. I was very upset and put the stays into time-out (again!).

I’ll stop the story of the stays here and continue on with my updates from the most recent fitting next time.

Genevieve At A Spring Fete

Genevieve, the name I gave to my most recently constructed mid-19th century sewing project back in 2019, was only able to be worn once before all events ceased. So when friends and I decided to gather for a private ball earlier this spring, I knew that of the multiple ball gowns from this period in my closet Genevieve was the one I most wanted to wear.

I was having such a lovely time dancing that I didn’t take any photos of that activity, and the dress had already been documented, so I didn’t take photos specifically for that purpose, either. Refreshments, however, were definitely worth taking photos of, because we decided to cut our cake with a sword.

Why? Because it is amusing! We had been at a ball a number of years ago in which no one had a knife, but someone did have a sword! We used it at that time and it’s been a running joke ever since. In this case, we did have knives… but swords are far more dramatic!

The beautiful and delicious cake was made for us by a local bakery, Dolce Amar. Friends contributed flowers and vessels to add to our springtime theme.

If you’re interested in learning more about Genevieve, my 1863 apricot silk dress, I documented the creation of the dress in nine separate blog posts over the course of 2019. All of those posts can be viewed here in the project journal for the dress.

1953 Dot Dress Summer Outing

I recently attended a casual picnic with friends that we decided would be vintage-inspired in terms of dress code. I thought it would be a great opportunity to bring out my 1953 Dot Dress!

This dress has a story… being made in 2013 and worn for a few years, then retired in 2016 due to closet shrinkage, and altered in 2020 so I could wear it again. You can read all about these stages of the dress here, in a past blog post from when I altered the dress in 2020.

For this wearing, I chose to do my hair in a similar fashion to what I did in 2016, the last wearing of this dress before its hiatus in the closet. I enjoy the hair scarf with this dress for vintage looks.

I like this dress, so I’m pleased that my alterations mean I can wear it again! Not only for vintage things, but also in real life (without the big petticoat). The unusual color combination in the dots is fun to match with various cardigans… cinnamon/rust, pale peach, and plum… Turns out all the colors of the dots are food related!

The day of the picnic proved to be glorious… bright blue sky, skidding clouds, and a comfortable temperature. Our picnic featured catching up, an elegant game of croquet, and a  round of ‘speed croquet’ in which everyone starts at the same time and no one takes turns!

All in all, a lovely summer day!

Homemade Slippers

Months ago, I had a conversation with Kelly, author of the blog Seam Racer, about making one’s own slippers. Based on that, I was inspired to try making a pair for myself.

It can get awfully cold in the winter and I felt that an insulated bit of polar fleece for my feet would be toasty and pleasant.

There were a few things I knew I wanted to incorporate into my homemade slippers.

1- I like bootie shaped slippers in the winter because they insulate even more of the foot than a regular shoe shape.
2- Polar fleece has the possibility of being quite slippery on wood floors, so I wanted to use a different material on the bottom to have better grip.
3- My feet like extra squish under them on the wood floors, so a plush insole would be helpful.

I used scraps from old projects to achieve all of these goals, including polar fleece, leather, and quilted velvet.

To start, I draped a basic pattern. There are two pieces for each foot that are the shape on the left, and then there are soles shaped like the center piece.

I sewed the back and front seams of the uppers up to where the cuff would fold down (already done in the photo above). The top part of the cuff was sewn with the seam allowance the other way, so that it would hide when the cuff was turned down (that’s what’s pinned in the photo above).

I also zigzagged my leather sole to the fleece insole. The sole was then machine sewn around the edge to the assembled upper section (also in the photo above).

Then the whole thing was turned inside out… producing boots (as in the photo below)! I also made an additional double layer fleece insole to add squish. I thought the texture of the polar fleece would be sticky enough to keep them in place, but they just scrunched up under my feet while I walked, which was neither helpful or comfortable. And, even when they stayed in place they weren’t quite squishy enough for my taste.

To fix this, I first decided to add a quilted layer to the insoles. I used scraps of quilted velvet leftover from a decor project. I only had about ⅛ of a yard leftover, so this was a great use for the scraps.

I machine quilted the quilted velvet to my fleece insoles. Then, I zigzagged the new-and-improved insoles to the seam allowance of the boots to keep them in place. Below is an inside view.

And now I have finished fleece slipper booties, with squish!

1850s Ivory Quilted Winter Hood (HSM #5)

I was mentally preparing for my 19th century winter adventure a few months ago by taking note of the suitable warm winter outerwear in my historic closet. One of the warmest garments I have is my 1855 Wool Cape; however, my thoughts ran along the lines of “I don’t have any 1850s winter appropriate headwear to go with the cape….”

That was easily remedied!

Last fall, I’d purchased Anna Worden Bauersmith’s Quilted Winter Hood pattern on a whim (the pattern was being discontinued for the moment and I didn’t want to miss out). I hadn’t had a project with a deadline in awhile and so I decided to quickly make up the Quilted Winter Hood for the winter adventure… by hand (including the quilting!), of course, because I can be a bit crazy sometimes.

Since the goal of the hood was to keep me warm, it is a perfect garment for the Historical Sew Monthly 2022 May Challenge! Protection: Create a garment that protects you from something: weather, dirt, wear, weapons, etc.

As such, here are the facts:

Fabric/Materials: ½ yd of ivory silk taffeta, ¾ yd  ivory cotton, and 1 yd cotton batting.

Pattern: Anna Worden Bauersmith’s Quilted Winter Hood.

Year: c. 1850.

Notions: 1 ¼ yds 1 ½” ivory satin ribbon, 1 yd millinery wire, approximately 45 yards of silk quilting thread, and regular sewing thread.

How historically accurate is it?: 90%. The pattern, construction methods, and fabric are all quite good and it is entirely hand sewn. I’m sure it’s not quite the same as an original, though.

Hours to complete: 13.

First worn: February 2022.

Total cost: $27 (approximately $17 for the materials and $10 for the pattern).

The pattern offers ideas for quilting patterns as well as detailed observations on extant hoods and their common features. While straight lines of various sorts seem more common for quilting patterns, I decided to go with the scalloped suggestion taken from a period magazine.

This front view photo looks like a little silly to me because of the very square shouldered silhouette (that isn’t 1850s at all!). It’s due to the 1890s sleeves that are underneath the 1855 cape…

A woman has to stay warm!

Some of my favorite inspiration hoods are on my Pinterest board for this project. (Many more quilted hoods can be found on Anna Worden Bauersmith’s Winter Hoods Millinery Pinterest board, as well.)

In the process of creating my board, I was drawn to a few other winter hoods and cloaks. That set me off down a brainstorming path to see what else I have in my too-full wool stash that could be made into more 1850s and 1860s winter outerwear!

Not that I need more… I’m only one person, after all, and how many wool capes can one person reasonably wear at once? But… there are at least two other hoods and another cape that I’m now seriously pondering. So this quilted hood (and the cape I already have) might just be the beginning of a whole series of mid-19th century winter outerwear someday. (And maybe I should eventually take a photo layering all of it at once, just to be silly!)