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!)

Snowshoe Pads

I’m staying in the winter spirit with this post!

One thing I discovered about snowshoes in my recently posted about winter adventure is that the crampons (the metal spiked bits that help with traction) on the bottom are pretty sharp (see the photo below). That’s useful when walking, but less useful for transport, especially in a packed trunk!

I wanted to make sure that my snowshoes don’t inadvertently scratch or mar anything, so I decided to make some pads to cover the crampons for storage and transport. I wanted to use as many items from my stash as possible.

I found a few fabrics that were perfect candidates for this project. Purple wool (or at least I thought it was wool until my iron melted it a little… so it’s definitely not 100% wool!) scraps gifted to me, green quilted cotton scraps from about 25 years ago (that I made an elf costume for Christmas out of when I was a child, an amusing memory, to be sure), lavender grosgrain gifted to me, and a bit of velcro left over from recovering my couches in 2020.

I measured the area of the crampons and cut two layers of my quilted fabric for each area (which just used up the scraps perfectly!). I used my overlock machine to attach the two layers and finish the edges at the same time. Then I cut two layers of the purple ‘wool’ to cover the entire crampon area on each snowshoe, sewed those, and turned them right side out. I finished the purple edges by top stitching them twice around all sides. Then I topstitched the quilted pads on in the appropriate spots.

The only thing left was a way to hold the finished pads in place! For that, I sewed lengths of the grosgrain on one side, finished the other ends of the ribbons, and added velcro. Then I sewed a corresponding piece of velcro onto the purple base. Below are the results of these efforts.

Success! Now I have easily removable pads to protect other things from being damaged by the crampons. And, bonus, the pads are cotton and can help absorb excess moisture after I wear the snowshoes!

Winter Wonderland Adventure: Snowshoeing

Spring may be here now, but I haven’t finished my recounting of winter adventures! I don’t want to wait until next winter for these posts, so I hope you’ll forgive me for being in the wrong season for a bit.

The second day of my 19th century Winter Wonderland Adventure was supposed to include snowshoeing! I haven’t done much snowshoeing in my life, but I did do a little last winter. I was entertained and decided to purchase snowshoes.

Even though there wasn’t tons of snow… I was determined to use the new snowshoes! I thought it would be more fun to wear another warm historical outfit rather than modern clothes (even though the snowshoes are modern!).

I decided on my self-knit 1920 Deauville Sweater, which is acrylic and very warm, as well as a thrifted wool skirt with pleats that looks decidedly vintage to me. The skirt has a surprising mixture of colors in the plaid, including grey, green, blue, yellow, and magenta. The colors are muted enough to go with most things, but the touch of magenta felt like it would tie in with the Deauville Sweater nicely.

These garments were supplemented by modern base layers and fleece leggings. In addition, I wore locally sourced alpaca fiber gloves lined with fleece, modern snow boots, and a felted wool hat I made many years ago when I was learning millinery.

The hat is a nice olive color trimmed in grey. It started life as a derby, with a round crown, but that looks absurd on me, so I squashed in the top to make it look a little more fedora-like. The effect was quite jaunty! I’m very pleased with this first, very belated, hat outing! I hope I find more reasons to wear it!

Our snow shoe path followed along the same route as the sleigh ride the previous day, winding along a river and past the ice skating area. In contrast with the previous day, there was not a flake of snow falling from the sky, just bright sunlight.

It was a beautiful along the river, with rushing water gurgling along and massive chunks of ice thrown up against half submerged rocks and along the banks of bends in the river’s course.

The sunshine was a such a lovely contrast with the light snow of the previous day. It was an excellent adventure. I’m pleased that I managed to use my snowshoes this winter and even more pleased that I got to air out some historical clothes, too!

A 19th Century Winter Wonderland Adventure

Friends and I have been talking about going away for a historical winter outing for years to a particular establishment remembered from childhood outings. Nestlenook Farm, in Jackson, New Hampshire, boasts a variety of winter activities all in one place! There are sleigh rides (with real horses and actual runners, if there is enough snow!), a three acre skating pond, and snowshoeing trails.

I grew up in a different part of the country, so I hadn’t ever been Nestlenook Farm, but I have fond memories of going into the mountains with my family and best childhood friend to have winter adventures. My memories are of a man called Happy Jack who ran a small business driving draft horses pulling real sleighs through the woods to a hill that was perfect for snow tubing. He’d drop you off for the day, allow the kids to tire themselves out tubing, sledding, and hanging out by the fire pits, and then he’d return to take you back through the woods. It was very exciting!

This past winter I was able to experience all of this fun, but in 19th century clothes! We were worried there wouldn’t be snow. But not only was there snow on the ground, we also had a magical day of snow lightly falling while we took part in the various activities! We could not have asked for more picturesque weather!

We bundled up in our various 19th century (and hidden modern) warm layers, outerwear, accessories, and blankets for our sleigh ride. The sleigh trail circles the ice skating pond and there’s a lovely lookout where the sleigh drivers will pause to take a photo. Ours kindly took many photos, anticipating that we might accidentally make silly faces in some of them.

Now that’s a real smile! It was difficult not to smile, with good company, an obliging sleigh driver, the sound of the horses’ bells jingling, and snow lightly falling!

I opted to wear my American Duchess carriage boots. How could I not? A sleigh is just a carriage with runners, right? Photo documentation of both the boots and the sleigh on actual runners was essential.

In addition to shoes, the rest of my outfit for the day consisted of modern ski base layers, my 1880s yellow corset and 1903 super silk petticoat, 1895 ice skating ensemble, matching faux fur hat and muff set (made for 1917 but with the ability to be used for lots of periods), and my 1855 wool cape because the other layers weren’t quite enough to be warm in the sleigh.

Following the sleigh ride, we went ice skating!

I’ve done a middling amount of outdoor ice skating since moving to the Northeast, but I can say with certainty that I’ve never been ice skating with accumulated snow on the ice. I wasn’t sure if it would be difficult to skate through, so I had to try it! It’s not bad, actually, if it’s only a few inches deep. (When I tried to skate through drifts that were more than about 6″ high I found the dramatic decrease in my momentum to be startling as it threw off my balance. But it was still fun to go flying through drifts!)

A few inches of snow on the ice sort of helps stabilize you (unless it obscures obstacles and trips you up!). That’s what happened to me here. There was uneven ice that caused me to do a super plop as my feet went right out from underneath me. This was the aftermath, as I caught my breath before getting up again.

There weren’t all that many people skating, so it was easy to find areas for nice photos. Skating made me warm enough that I didn’t mind taking off the cape for some ice-skating-outfit-only photos. How could I not, when this outfit was made just for this?

It may not be winter anymore (yay, spring is here!), but it’s fun to revisit this exciting adventure by including it here on the blog. Thanks for enjoying it with me!

An Outing At The Lippitt House Museum

I’m quite slow in posting about this, but better late than never, right?

In 2019, a friend and I had the opportunity to visit the Lippitt House Museum in Providence, RI  in historical clothing. The historic house, completed in 1865, is the former home of Rhode Island Governor Henry Lippitt and his family. (You can learn more about the house and the family here, on the Preserve Rhode Island website.)

Neither of us had been to this particular location before, so it was all new and beautiful! We were given a tour of the house by knowledgable docents who were tickled to see us in our historical clothes and kindly let us take photos of ourselves in the spaces.

This incredible house boasts marvelous details, from the advanced heating and plumbing systems to the intricate wood floor patterns, painted ceilings, and jaw dropping wallpaper. There are so many bits to see and admire!

The exterior of the house and the garden area boast their own lovely views.

If you’re ever in Rhode Island and haven’t had the chance to visit, I highly suggest it! Tours in 2022 open in May.

If you’re not in the area, you can check out a mini virtual tour of the house on the website, here, and perhaps you’ll be inspired to visit or donate to a historic house in your own local area.

1837 Blue Cotton Print Dress #1

I was on a bit of a 1830s tear back in 2020, when I made my 1834 yellow print dress followed up with a coordinating 1838 yellow print bodice and 1836 chemisette. But in fact there was even more than that, because I also made an 1835-1840 (let’s just call is 1837) blue cotton print dress for friend at the same time!

You can spot this dress in the photos from my 1830s Woods Walk blog post from 2021. The fabric for was a bargain at the the local discount fabric shop–only $3 per yard! It’s not technically a reproduction historical print, but the colors, motifs, and details (such as little dots for texture in the design) have the right look to me.

In terms of a pattern, I used my 1834 yellow print bodice as a starting point for this new blue dress, so the two bodices are very similar aside from size. The skirt of the blue dress is made in exactly the same way as the yellow dress (I blogged about that construction process in detail here).

The big different is the sleeves!

After trying a few silly sleeve shapes, we settled on giant elbow height puffs that are set off at the top and bottom with pleats and feature a bit of embroidery and corded bands to hold the pleats in place.

Here’s a view of the pleats and corded bands at the top of the sleeve. This dress has similar pleats.

And here are the pleats at the sleeve cuffs. These are held in place with a subtle bit of embroidery. This extant dress has a similar treatment, as does this one (and it has a matching pelerine!).

The sleeve puffs are supported by separate interior puffs that tie in. I used the method outlined in my 1830s Sleeve Puff Tutorial to make them.

In addition to the base dress, we decided to go all in on the 1830s aesthetic and create a matching fabric pelerine for this ensemble.

I looked at images of pelerines to determine what the shape and edges should be. We decided on a simple but flattering shape (as much as a matching fabric piece can be!) without extra difficulty in the form of scalloped or dagged edges, ruffles, etc. This is the finished shape we decided on.

Cording helps to define the edge and a similarly colored grey/blue cotton lining finishes off all of the raw edges. This was great, as the pelerine could be almost entirely made by machine!

On our woods walk, my usual photographer friend (who blogs at Plaid Petticoats) enjoyed taking a few photos with her Petzval camera lens, which creates the swirled background in the next two photos (you can read more about the Petzval lens in this Plaid Petticoats blog post). I can’t decide whether I like the color or black and white version better, so I’m including both!

So why is the title of this post include the #1? Well… because I enjoyed the effect of the fabric so much that I purchased additional yardage for myself and started making an additional dress for myself, too! What an excellent excuse to try out further 1830s sleeve variations!

Blue dress #2 has been cut out for quite awhile (a year, I think?). However, I’ve been busy and other things have been a priority, so the dress is 0% done in terms of being assembled. Someday…!