A few months ago, I had the privilege of being present once again at the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers’ annual Returning Heroes Ball. It was a lovely evening full of dancing, admiring the well turned out ladies and gentleman, chatting…and lots of dish washing (that’s what happens behind the scenes at these things–someone has to do all of the dishes.)
Here are two very similar views of the ballroom. I thought I’d include both because you see different dresses in each one and that’s one of the things that I greatly enjoy about attending historical events!
I didn’t spend all my time watching, however. Here I am participating in a quadrille. I wore my most recently constructed mid-19th century dress, Eleanor. I was grateful that the only change I needed to make after the first wearing was shortening the hem one turn so I didn’t step on it while dancing.
I made my refreshing apron a few years ago, but since then others have joined me in my apron endeavors (they really are quite practical when doing dishes, filling punch bowls, and setting out refreshments!). Aprons in a row!
Well, I went to the fabric store today looking for fabrics to cover some gifted pillow forms to grace our newly redecorated rooms (they’re still not quite done after two weeks of work, but hopefully soon they’ll be done and I’ll have pictures!). I found some truly horrendous fabrics like the one below… (don’t worry! I didn’t buy it. I can only imagine this being in a farmhouse kitchen and even then I wonder about all the mixed motifs…)
I did find a few pillow possibilities that I liked, but they all had oatmeal/neutral backgrounds that would not look good in our space, so I didn’t purchase any of those. (I’ve got more places to check out, so I’m not concerned on that front, yet.)
And I did look through the silks, as I always do. Danger!!!! I found lovely plaid smooth silk taffeta (no slubs, hooray!) and it just wanted to come home with me to be made into an 1850s/60s evening gown. I finished off the bolt, which was just under 7 yards. Hopefully enough to make a skirt, possibly both day and evening bodices, and also maybe self trim. Someday (maybe next year?).
A very kind and enabling friend who happened to be with me helped convince me that the silk was a good idea. So in the grand tradition of all my 1850s/60s gowns which have names, when I get around to building the new plaid one I affectionally plan to name the new gown “Johanna” after her. It’s actually a bit more subdued in person. More of a “bruise palette” collection of colors than my usual jewel tones, but “bruise palette” is Johanna’s go to for color choices, so that is perfect. And it’s patterned, which is in keeping with my need to add more patterns to my wardrobe. I think I’ll play up the purple in this rather than the green, since I already have a green 1860s ball gown.
We performed on George’s Island again this year and were quite thankful that the weather was slightly cloudy and at least 15 degrees cooler than last year! It was a great opportunity for all of us to wear our cotton print day dresses again and it was neat to see the entire dance troupe all wearing cotton dresses with a pattern (no solids to be seen!).
I wore Georgina just as I did last year, the only difference being that I took a little bit of time to make a collar for this year. I had wanted to last year but ran out of time. It seemed more important to have the dress than to have a collar without the dress… But it was entirely feasible this year to add just the small item of the collar and I do think it really completes my outfit quite nicely.
This year, our friend with the camera had purchased a new, special, Petzval lens (you can learn more about it and 19th century photography here at her blog). It’s a modern digital version of a historic lens. I love the pictures it produces! I’ve been told that the background is sort of swirled when the picture is captured, but to me it just looks nicely diffused and out of focus. It’s a lovely contrast to the foreground, which stays nicely in focus. All of these pictures were taken in color, but some of them are much more stunning in black and white.
This last one made use of a special part of the new lens. There is a piece which can be changed out and which creates the interesting background variations. All of the previous pictures were taken using the piece which blurs the background, but this last one was taken using the piece which causes the light in the background to be star shaped. Isn’t that neat?
The collar is constructed from 2 layers of ivory cotton from my small bits stash (at least, it’s likely cotton… I don’t remember where it came from and there was the perfect amount, so I just went with it without knowing the details). It is edged with ivory lace. I made the pattern directly on Georgina’s day bodice so that it would fit the neck perfectly. It’s mostly machine sewn with hand finishing. It is lightly basted on to the piping at the neck edge of the bodice so that I can easily remove it if I want to in the future. I’m quite satisfied. I like the scale, the lace, and I think it adds a nice 1850s touch, completing the ensemble.
Here are a few group pictures from the recent ball at which Georgina’s new evening bodice made her first appearance. As I mentioned before, it was a lovely ball with enthusiastic and elegant dancers. I had a fantastic time.
And remember this picture, from Newport Vintage Dance Week back in 2012? Different time period, obviously, but The Next Generation of vintage dancers is still going strong, so we thought we’d take a TNG picture at this ball, too!
It’s very rewarding to be continuing the legacy of historic dancing in beautiful clothes with lovely companions and in stunning places. Next weekend, Georgina’s day bodice will be making another appearance on George’s Island for another vintage dance performance. I’m sure we’ll have pictures!
A few months ago, I had a master plan to use the leftover yardage from Georgina, my 1858 cotton print day dress, to make an evening bodice in addition to her current day bodice for versatility and washability. Luckily, I was able to complete the bodice and a new hair crescent before my life exploded in June and I was smothered under an immense amount of work. I am pleased to have work, don’t get me wrong, but I was so exhausted by the end of the month all I could do was sleep and be disoriented! I’ve just come back from a vacation and feel like I can peer out from under my rock and join the world again! So, to celebrate constructing historic clothing for myself rather than other people, here is a post about a really neat addition to my historic wardrobe! And it fits into the current HSF challenge #13: Under $10, a bonus since the HSF challenges haven’t lined up very well with a lot of my projects this year.
Pattern: I began with Past Patterns #701 but altered it extensively to fit me, to have pleats and gathers on the exterior, and to have an evening neckline. The sleeve pattern was drafted by me.
Year: c. 1855
Notions: Thread, plastic wire ties for boning, hooks and eyes, and cotton cording.
How historically accurate?: Based off of historic examples, constructed with accurate details… I think the only compromise is the plastic boning, which I used because I didn’t have the right length in metal, and because plastic is easily washable (and I want this to be a garment that can be washed easily–that’s part of the goal in having a cotton evening bodice!).
Hours to complete: I have no idea… 32 hours maybe? I really didn’t keep track at all on this project.
First worn: To a mid-19th century ball in June (one of the few moments of respite in my crazy month).
Total cost: About $3 for approximately 1 yard of historic cotton print and a lot of stash materials, which count as free, since I have no idea what I paid for them at this point! Let’s call the total about $8.
As you know, I like things to be tidy. All of the seam allowances are either hidden between the layers of fabric or nicely finished. There are plastic bones in the darts and the side seams. The bodice is machine sewn and hand finished. (One amusing mistake is that I cut the lining with a center front opening for fitting purposes (and left lots of seam allowance, as you can see) but then forgot to leave seam allowance in the back… So the lining doesn’t extend all the way to the folded edge of the print, but it’s all covered up so no one will ever know and it fits just fine… it’s just one of those amusing things!)
The bodice closes with hooks and bars. I wanted to use metal bars but make sure they wouldn’t been seen, so I let about ¼” of the print extend past the points of the hooks to create an overlap. I also left extra print extended past the bars, in addition to all the seam allowance, in case I want or need to adjust the size of the bodice in the future. The bars are especially hard to spot on the print, but if you look carefully on the left you can see them. The neck and armsceyes both have very narrow cording.
The defining design details were obviously the low neck and short sleeves, but there were other common details as well, such as double puffs or pleats to trim the sleeves, tubular sleeves without very much fullness at the top or bottom, 1.5″-2″ waistbands sitting on the outside of the skirt waistband, and gathered or pleated fullness on the fronts and backs (no darts on any of these cotton bodices). Some of the bodices have a yoke around the top so that only the bottom portion of the bodice is gathered, but this look says “young girl” not “grown woman” to me, so I opted for a bodice without a yoke.
In terms of construction, to have enough fabric in the print for the pleats and gathers on the print fabric, I first constructed and fit the lining. Then I separated one side of the lining to use as a pattern and added width to have space for the pleats I had planned. Once I had cut the print, I reassembled the lining and mounted the pleated print on top. From there on I treated the two layers as one.
As I’ve looked at 1850s images and fashion plates in comparison to early 1860s, especially, what I’ve noticed is that the 1850s really attempted to make a woman’s head look round or wide, whereas by the early 1860s the styles begin to grown upward and become vertically elongated. Here are some great examples of the round 1850s hair look: from 1851-53, c. 1855, from 1857, another 1857, yet another 1857, one more from 1857, and one from 1859. Here’s a super wide 1850s style and here is an example of the different shape of the early 1860s. The very round shape is what I was attempting to complement my 1850s bodice.
How? Well, I put gel right at the roots of my hair while it was still wet and then encouraged it to stand up from my head rather than being pulled back. I let it dry like that and it stayed all day. Later in the day, I styled it for my 1940s Anne Adams dress photos by brushing it out (and brushing my hair when it’s dry makes it big!!!). There was lots of added hair spray for that style, so when I went to restyle it there was plenty of fullness and air in my hair. I puffed the fronts and pinned them up and behind my ears then did a big roll with the rest.
The finishing touch was a new hair crescent that I made specifically to complement the colors in the cotton print. The crescent is made up of fully wired millinery flowers in ivory, some of which I dyed to be pinkish. Each extension is a singular stem and I just twisted them together until I liked the result. Lastly, I sewed a hair comb in the center to help attach it to my head and stabilize the wires. Each side also has a bobby pin to secure it to my head so the extended bits don’t flap around while I’m dancing.
I’m super pleased with the end result: the bodice, the hair style, and the hair crescent! Oh, and the pictures (thanks!). And I had a marvelous time at the ball–it was one of the class of events which makes me feel radiant and at which I really enjoy myself (compared to those when I’m grumpy and grouchy at the world). And all the smiling and dancing gave me a lovely natural rosy glow in the pictures. The aloof face is my attempt at a 19th century portrait face (it took a long time to capture a picture then, which is my rationale for why everyone has a generally serious face!). You had to pick something you could keep still for a long time, and a big smile is hard to maintain without movement or looking staged.
This is a follow-up post to my last post: ca. 1860 Corset For Me! (HSF #4). That post has a short background on my reasons for building the corset, but it doesn’t mention other details, so that’s what this post is for!
So let’s start with more background, since this post is all about intense amounts of details! We’ll start with the pattern I made for this corset: you’ll notice it has bust and hip gores as well as that curved piece on each side of the front. The bust gores aren’t so unusual for a modern 1860s corset recreation, but I don’t see too many corsets made (and certainly not many corset patterns) with hip gores and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone reproduce an 1860s corset with that curved piece in front. I found these details intriguing and wanted to make this style for two reasons: 1, because it’s a style I haven’t seen recreated, but which I have multiple examples of in my research, and 2, because it seemed like it would fit into a new thought I absorbed a few months ago.
First, a discussion about the style. It seems like a lot of modern ca. 1860s corsets are cut with vertical seams that run from top to bottom of the corset to create shaping, sometimes with the addition of bust gores. (The corset on the right is an example of one from the 1860s that uses this style of seaming to create shape.) These corsets are cut with shaping in the seams to create space for the bust and hips, but an alternative to this is to use bust and hip gores to achieve shape for the body. The interesting thing is that hip gores do not seem to be very commonly used in historic corsets made by modern people, despite their use in historic clothing. I attribute this to the fact that shaped seams are easier to execute than inserting gores of any type, but especially gores that are not in a seam (like the gores in my corset). Also, I would think that pattern companies have an easier time grading patterns using the shaped seams, because the gores (particularly hip gores) really need a lot more individual adjustment and fiddling on a body than shaped seams do.
Second, about this new thought that I absorbed. While reading Merja’s most recent blog posts about corset construction, I was rather surprised by a simple statement that makes so much sense but which I haven’t necessarily followed in corset making in the past (here are Merja’s gusseted 1870s corset, which has the sentence which mentions this magical new thought, as well as her 1880s purple corset and 1860s white corset with seaming like the Met corset, above, which exhibit the thought without it being explicitly stated). Essentially, she says that she always makes adequate space in the corset for bust and hips, so that the corset is only constraining her waist. Duh! A related thought is that when you tighten your corset you displace some bits to your bust and hips, so your corset really does need adequate room there to accommodate the normal and the extra. That makes so much sense and sounds so much more comfortable than having a corset that digs into your hips or pushes your bust around uncomfortably. I made the goal to take this approach for the new corset and all future corsets! and this new corset was my first attempt at really following this sound piece of information.
So given that the style I set out to make is one that I haven’t ever seen a pattern for, where did I get mine? Well, it’s loosely based off of one in Corsets and Crinolines by Norah Waugh (the pattern is ca. 1873, pg. 80). I say loosely, because I started there, but then began combining pieces and changing the shape of them to suit my measurements and the seam placement that I wanted (most importantly the hip gore and that curved front piece). Interestingly, Waugh notes on a different corset pattern (ca. 1860, pg. 78) that the 1860s style of corset without bust or hip gores (more like what I seem to see in modern made ca. 1860 corsets like the one from the Met at the top of this post) was a style preferred in France. The English preferred the style of corset I am making with gores. (Merja’s white 1860s corset I mentioned in the pervious paragraph uses this French corset pattern in Waugh, if you’d like to see what it looks like made up.)
I wound up making two mockups to get the pattern the way I wanted it even after adjusting the pattern from the beginning (and still made a few alterations before cutting out my real fabric). The original pattern in the book had a waist that was much too small and a bust that was a little large relative to my measurements. Despite my changes, the first mockup was too short waisted, needed bigger and longer bust gores, smaller hip gores (I had overestimated how much ease I needed there), and a little bigger waist. The second mockup was still a little short (I added another ½” to the top), the hip gores were still just slightly too big, and the lacing gap between the back pieces was wider than I wanted it to be by about 3″. Ugh! I actually determined that last fact after cutting out and sewing up my actual fabric. Turns out my shoulder blade area is bigger than I thought. I had an inner struggle about if I wanted to take out the small stitch size flat felled seam to insert a piece or if I wanted to just let it go. Adding a piece won in the end, because I figured that I was spending so much time on the corset that I really wanted to be pleased with it and not have nagging doubts for the next number of years until making a replacement. (The piece I added is between the front and back pieces. You can see it easily in the first picture in this post. It’s a v shaped piece that extends from top to bottom.) Adding the piece actually wasn’t so bad, despite all my inner complaining and I’m very pleased I did it, because I am happy with the result.
That’s all the aspects of choosing the pattern and executing it. Now I can move on to my inspiration for creating it. This blue corset at the V and A is the most thoroughly photographed piece of inspiration (click through, there are lots of different angles of the corset, and close up pictures!). As you can see, the blue corset has bust gores, that curved front piece, (and if you look at the pictures of the back…) hip gores, as well as useful close up construction photos showing the flossing, how the busk is sewn in, how the binding is sewn on, etc. You can also see great detail for things like how to sew the points of the bust darts and the tops of the hip gores: they are overcast near the tips of the bust gores and tops of the hip gores before being machine sewn with topstitching to the binding. I used this method in my corset, sewing the overcasting by hand. I found that it was very useful on the bust gores (since mine are set into a slit in the fabric, not a seam) because the amount of seam allowance near the points is negligible (like, less than ⅛”) and that would have been extremely frustrating to try and machine sew! Also, the overcasting kept the edges from fraying as I was working with them. It also adds an extra measure of stability and sturdiness to those areas.
Other very useful images to me were this orange 1860s corset front and side views (with generally similar lines as the blue V and A one) and this 1862 Godey’s image of a corset (with very similar lines as the blue V and A one). (As a side note: Does anyone know what collection houses the orange corset? I’ve only been able to find images, but no real source.) These corsets provide a nice end date range for my corset pattern, because in the 1870s the corset begins to change shape. But to determine a good start date for my corset I had to look elsewhere. The Met has a corset dated 1839-1841 with similar hip gores and the front curved piece (great zoomable pictures including an interior view, click through the image!), but it does not have separate bust gores (they are cut in one with the front pieces as is usual for 1840s corsets) and it does not have a front opening busk (those weren’t in general use until 1849). The 1839-41 corset is more curvy than the 1860s ones, as you would expect from an 1840s corset, but it still looks like a forerunner to me! Waugh has an 1844 corset pattern (pg. 77) that has similar lines to the 1839-41 Met one, with bust gores but without hip gores or the curved front piece. These 1840s corsets are useful for determining the start point of my date range, which seems to safely be the 1850s. Thus, my corset is dated ca. 1860, which is just a shorter way of saying 1850-1870. That makes sense looking at the silhouette of the dresses from these decades, as well, since neither the 1850s or 1860s require the curvy shape of 1840s or 1870s corsets.
EDIT: The orange corset mentioned above is in the collection of the Manchester Art Gallery via this link.
I used all of these different images to look for construction details to use in my corset. Specific things I was looking for include: stitch size, width of the binding, method of sewing the binding, placement of bones, design of flossing, seam placement, method of setting bust and hip gores, location of topstitching, placement of eyelets down the back, finishing of the interior of the corset, and length of the busk. Some of these things can be determined by looking at the extant corsets I’ve shared in this post, but others required other helpful research. Specifically, the gusset construction method I used came from this image that Merja shared in her 1870s corset post. It’s from 1872, but is still relevant for my corset, because if you look at the blue and orange corset pictures you will see it used on the overcasting at the bust and hip gores. This image, from 1868, shows similar methods as well (and has a selection of mostly French and a few English style corsets if you’d like to see more examples of those).
And now, here are the close up construction details of my corset that I promised.
I’m hoping to get pictures of the corset on me this weekend at its first ever wearing. Hopefully I’ll be able to share those in the near future!