A Practical Experiment: How To Use A Fluting Iron

Way back in 2012, I posted with great excitement about a new to me sewing tool that Mr. Q called the Cast Iron Crinkle Cutter. These antique specialty irons are actually called fluting irons.

Here is mine, in action!

 

Despite my best intentions of actually creating trim with my fluting iron, instead it has been used as a door stop and decorative item (near my modern iron in my sewing room!) since I’ve owned it. I’m currently working on a project from 1875 that has pleated trim around the skirt and I thought that perhaps instead of knife pleating I would try a sample with my fluting iron! I figured that if I liked it (and I could get it to work) I’d use it for the trim on the dress.

Brief History

Specialty irons have been used for hundreds of years to create different types of ruffles and trims. I came across two sites that had really interesting information about the fluting iron I have as well as many other types of irons from around the world and for the last few thousand years. This one is summary of ironing throughout history. This one is more about types of historical irons. Also, this video from the Oshawa Community Museum looks specifically at some ironing tools that were used to create late Victorian ruffles, including various types of fluting irons.

Along the way to learning more about fluting irons, I also learned that flat cast iron irons are called sad irons. (I might have read that before but didn’t remember the term, so it feels like new information!) They’re called that not because they’re melancholy, but because in the past ‘sad iron’ meant the iron was solid as opposed to hollow (to be filled with heating devices, such as charcoal). The word ‘sad’ also meant heavy and a sad iron could weigh up to 15 pounds. That only further reinforces the fact that laundering in the 19th century was strenuous work (hand scrubbing, hauling buckets of water to heat, maintaining the stove or fire, harsh soaps, refreshing the rinsing water… hard work!). *This is edited from my original description of sad iron. To read all about the etymology of the terms ‘sad’, ‘sad iron’, and ‘box iron’ (the term for a hollow iron), check out this post, published after the one you are currently reading.

Practical thoughts about getting started

In terms of my fabric, I had the strips I wanted to flute prepared and ready to go before ironing them. I had hemmed one long side and just pressed the other edge under (that would become the top edge). With the crisp silk I’m using I probably could have gotten away with just pressing under both the hem and the top edge, but oh well. I prepared and hemmed these long before I officially decided to flute them.

In terms of the fluting iron, I followed these steps (or considered them, anyway):

Cleaning: I used dish soap and a toothbrush, to really get into all the grooves on both pieces of my fluting iron and remove the accumulated dust and grime (I don’t want those on my silk fabric!).

Drying: To prevent rust from forming, I carefully dried the iron and then also let it air dry overnight (though I realized that if I were to immediately use it the heat would cause all of the water to evaporate anyway…).

Seasoning: This is done on non-coated cast iron pans to keep them from rusting. I chose not do this with my iron at this time. I might do it later (I read that well-seasoned cast iron will not release oil onto your fabrics), but right now I just wanted to get started on my experiment.

Supplies

It’s worth noting that the cast iron gets much too hot to hold with bare hands or put directly on the counter to use, so in addition to the two parts of the iron, I also used a variety of other kitchen tools in this experiment.

I used the baking sheet, cookie drying rack, and cast iron frying pan you’ll see in photos at various points, as well as the silicone baking supplies pictured below: a hefty mitt, a small trivet, and a large trivet.

I also used a spatula to help get a grip on the base of the iron while lifting it out the frying pan, a small spray bottle, white vinegar from my pantry, and tap water.

Method #1 (the slow and steady way to heat the fluting iron)

Heating/Using: I used my conventional oven to heat both parts of my fluting iron on a baking sheet. I could not find specific directions for temperature or length of time, so I started conservatively with 175 F for 15 minutes. (Partly due to the basic information on Wikipedia about specific temperatures for different types of fabrics, but also check out the image of the tailor’s stove on the right side of the page: a multi-sided stove to heat sad irons simultaneously makes so much sense if you’re ironing a lot, as tailors would be!).

When tested on my silk this hardly made an impact. So I put the iron pieces back in the 175 F oven for another 10 minutes. This was better, but not as effective at getting tight flutes as I wanted. On the left are the barely visible results from the first 10 minutes of heating and on the right after the second 10 minutes of heating.

I increased the temperature to 225 F and put the iron pieces back in the oven for 10 more minutes. This time I also decided to use vinegar to help set the flutes. I mixed ½ white vinegar and ½ water in a spray bottle and then sprayed the section of silk I intended to iron. Here you can see the sprayed silk ready to feed into the iron on the left and the results coming out on the right.

This worked much better, but still feeling like I needed more heat to get a good sizzle and press, I increased the oven to 275 F and put the pieces in for another 10 minutes. This seemed like the right temperature! A bit of sizzle from the evaporating liquid on the silk and tight flutes as a final result.

Here is a comparison of two silk samples. The one on the bottom used vinegar and lower heat: 175 F and 225F. The one on the top is the sample that used vinegar and 275 F for heating.

Reheating: I found that the iron lost heat pretty quickly. I reheated it for 10 minutes after every 5 minutes of use. It wasn’t the most efficient process (I can really understand why you would have a set with multiple irons to keep them heating while not in use), but it got the job done on a Saturday afternoon. Experimenting with temperature and fluting 106″ of fabric took about 4 hours.

Setting: In addition to using vinegar (which made huge difference in terms of getting crisp flutes!), I also found it quite important to move the iron very slowly over the base to create the flutes. A quick pass did not do the job and getting each and every flute to line up perfectly to go over it multiple times is much easier to say than to do! I rocked the iron from one side to the other, trying to hold each little section in place for at least a few seconds before moving to the next. I got through about two full rocks with the iron before needing to reheat it.

Method #2 (the much more efficient way)

Heating: After I completed the first of three 106″ sections of trim, a science-minded friend suggested that I would have much more efficient transfer of heat to the iron pieces if I were to heat them directly on my stove in a cast iron pan. This was genius!

I started with my pan on pretty low, as it’s much easier to heat cast iron up than cool it down. This particular burner on my stove gets super hot, so I kept the pan around 2 out of 10 in terms of heat. Harder to translate for other people, but I let the iron heat up for about 10 minutes, until I could feel radiant heat coming from the base when it was out of the pan and I held my hand 1″-2″ away. Another way I tested the head was with a drop of water. At this temperature it quickly evaporated when dripped onto the cast iron.

Reheating: Using the cast iron pan was much more efficient than the oven! I still reheated the iron after about 5 minutes of use, but now I only had to let it reheat for 5 minutes. And because I wasn’t lifting a pan in and out of the oven it was much easier to let the top part of the iron sit on the pan while I moved the fabric along the base piece of the iron. Because the iron was warmer than with the oven, and I’d had more practice at using it, I was able to do three or four full rocks of the iron before needing to reheat it. That meant that my second and third 106″ lengths of fabric only took about 1 hour each. So much faster than with the oven!

You can see the crisp flutes that this method acheieved.

Setting: I used the vinegar/water spray to help set all of these flutes. It should help the fabric to keep this shape permanently (short of me completely soaking the fabric). I experimented with a light spritzing, but the heat quickly evaporated the liquid so I started just making it pretty soaked. Sometimes I even sprayed a bit on the fabric right under the iron if it evaporated before I reached that section of the rocking motion.

Here’s another view of the half finished strip of fabric.

Post Experiment Thoughts

This was fun! I would definitely like to use my fluting iron for more projects–and it should be easier now that I’ve figured out how.

I will say that practice makes a huge difference in terms of being able to flute quickly, so that the iron doesn’t cool down. You don’t have too long to think once you take the iron off the heat source!

A finished pile of about 318″ of fluted trim! I’m curious about how I will sew this on. I think that a sewing machine would crush the flutes (and I don’t think I want a line of machine stitches anyway), so I will likely sew it on by hand, catching only the valleys and not the hills in the fabric. Good thing I like hand sewing!

 

I came across few people trying out antique fluting irons while looking for information to get started on this experiment. For the sake of anyone else who might be looking, here are a few other practical experiments to check out:

Katherine of The Fashionable Past tried out a fluting iron in 2011 and posted about it on her blog here, including a video.

@isabel.northwode tried out a fluting iron in 2018 and posted about it on Instagram here.

1896 Bicycling Ensemble: Construction Details

As promised, I have quite a few words and photos to share with you about the construction of my 1896 Bicycling Ensemble, so prepare yourself for a long post! This post is a great reference for me to have all the details in one place, but I also hope that some of my details might be helpful for other people who want to build 1890s cycling outfits as well.

If you want to read a bit more about the social history of the bicycle ensemble, see more finished ensemble photos than the few in this post, or read more about the accessories I’m wearing with this ensemble, check out my first post about it (this is the same as the first link). I also have a post looking specifically at patents and advertisements for women’s bicycling clothing from this time. It’s a great supplement to some of the information I mention in that first post.

This post is going to focus on the main garments that make up this ensemble: the jacket and bloomers. We’ll start with the two main similarities between these garments.

#1 Both garments are mostly machine sewn, with hand sewing for the tailoring steps of the jacket as well as much of the finishing of each garment.

#2 Both jacket and bloomers are made from a drab colored wool that has been in my stash since 2012. I purchased it from the remnant table at the local discount fabric store for the amazing price of $3/yard! I bought every piece they had, so I have about 10 yards broken up in about 6 different pieces. I used less than half of what I purchased for this project, leaving me plenty to use this for an 1880s dress as well. (That one has been in progress for the last 18 months… I hope to finish it this year!)

The drab colored wool is perfect for this cycling outfit, not only because I already owned it and it has been taking up space for years, but also because drab was a popular color for cycling outfits because it successfully hid dirt and dust. Other recommended colors were brown, black, and navy.

The Bloomers

Now that we’ve looked at the similarities let’s look at the differences, starting with the bloomers.

These are entirely self drafted. While that might sound intimidating, these are actually quite simple! Each leg is the full width of the fabric, 60″ wide, and 33″ in length. On my 5’6″ frame that provides plenty of pouf in the legs when they are held in place around the tops of my calves. The only shaping is in the crotch seam, which is a curve ~5.5″ wide and ~12″ deep. The crotch curve is deep enough and the bloomers are full enough that I made the crotch curve the same for the front and back. Here’s a photo of the crotch curve drawn out before I cut it.

The fullness of the 60″ wide legs is pleated into the waistband with knife pleats folded towards center front and center back. Knife pleats are documented in sporting bloomers from the 1890s and are specially mentioned as being folded this way in order to help the bloomers maintain the full look of a skirt, in keeping with the social convention that skirts were acceptable wear for women but bifurcated bloomers were not. I experimented and decided I liked just a few deep knife pleats as they helped the bloomers fall nicely on my body.

I debated about how to gather in the fullness at the bottom of the legs, especially since I couldn’t find specific instructions on how this was accomplished or see this particular detail given the way extant bloomers are displayed. I decided on gathering each leg into a band that hooks so that it stays in place at the top of my calf. There is a 3″ slit in the leg as well. The raw edges of this are turned under ¼” and whip stitched by hand. There is also a small reinforcing bar sewn across the top of the slit to keep it from ripping. Here’s a closeup of the leg opening.

The inside of the bloomers looks like this. There are two decorative strapping details on the front of the bloomers (more on that when I get to the jacket). These conceal a placket opening on one hip (visible on the far left) and a pocket on the other! The crotch seam and inseams are left unfinished. This wool did a pretty good job of not fraying at the edges so there was no need to finish these seam allowances.

Here is a closeup of the placket opening that is hidden behind one of the strapping details. You can also see the interior of the waistband, which is whip stitched to hold it in place. To be entirely fair, I could have made bloomers on a waistband without the strapping and pocket and saved a fair bit of time. Stitching the strapping bits on and hiding the placket and pocket behind them required some extra brain somersaults and time to figure out and execute. But I really like the strapping detail on this extant bicycling ensemble from 1896 at The Met and really wanted to include that detail in my own garments, so here we are.

Here’s what the bloomers look like when the wind filled them out during our photoshoot. This gives a better idea of how much fabric is in each leg of the bloomers.

The Jacket

I wanted to have a tailor-made style with a lapel and collar that would follow the general style of men’s jackets in the 19th century. Most bicycling ensembles are of this style, due in part to the fact that this type of activity was traditionally a male pastime. The specialty clothing produced for men’s active pursuits was made by a tailor, so it follows that women’s clothing began to be tailor-made as well as they joined in these male activities in the later part of the 19th century.

I started with the pattern for my 1895 Skating Ensemble because I knew it had the general shape of the mid-1890s and that it already fit. That pattern was made by me, based on my inspiration jacket for that ensemble as well as patterns published in Authentic Victorian Fashion Patterns. I had already modified it to get the shape of the skating jacket, but I modified it even more to create this new jacket. I made these further changes:

  • Created princess seams on the front and back that run down from the shoulders instead of the armsceye
  • Joined the side back pieces to make a single wider piece instead of two narrower pieces
  • Moved the new side back seam towards the side seam
  • Added back pleats, front darts, and a lapel and collar
  • Shortened the length

At this point it’s really not close to the original pattern at all!

The sleeves are my standard 1890s gigot sleeve that originally came from Period Costumes For Stage and Screen. I wound up making a number of changes to the pattern to get a slightly different shape. Below you can see my progress.

After trying out the original sleeve I made two major changes to the shape, angling the underarm seam at the top/making the top less full and angling the underarm seam at the bottom towards the wrist/shortening the length. After pleating each side of the new sleeve towards center I ended up with the sleeve shape on the right.

After I had a pattern I was confident with I started cutting my pieces. Each exterior piece was cut in wool and cotton in order to be flatlined. The front and collar facings are single layers of wool. There are also canvas interlining pieces for the front and collar.

The proper way to flatline is to pin your layers together and then (preferably) hand baste around each piece to hold the layers together while working with them. I opted to eliminate the basting step, using pins to hold the layers together until they were sewn. My fabrics were pretty sticky so this time-saving shortcut worked pretty well. You can see the pins holding the non-sewn edges together in this photo of the exterior after assembling the front and back pieces.

This is also one of the only steps that show the front darts, as those were hidden under the decorative strapping I added to the jacket later on. The other amusing thing here is that because I was cutting my garment pieces from multiple pieces of wool you can see a color difference here between the center back pieces and the other pieces. But it’s not noticeable in the finished jacket, so that’s good!

And here’s the jacket at the same point in the process, turned over to see the inside. Now the flat lining is clearly visible, as are the box pleats along the back seams. You can also see the canvas that runs down the fronts.

Here is just one side of the front. It gives a clearer view of the front dart and the canvas that supports the lapel and front edge.

I pad stitched the lapel and taped the roll line in men’s tailoring fashion. These stitches help to support the roll of the collar. The tape running across the roll line snugs that distance in just a bit which helps the collar roll in exactly that spot.

I decided not to try to pattern the strapping with the main body pieces. It just seemed too complicated to wrap my head around. I knew they wouldn’t be straight, as my body is curved, and I knew that making them on the bias would be a disaster to try and manage the edges of… I decided to deal with this step when I got there in the construction process.

Accordingly, when the jacket had all of the vertical seams assembled it was time to consider the strapping. I did this at this step, before sewing the shoulder seams, as I wanted the strapping front and back pieces to perfectly match along that seam. Easier to pattern flat than if I’d already sewn the shoulder seams!

I laid the jacket out on the table with a scrap piece of wool on top of it, put pins along the seam line to mark the location (so my strapping would hide the seam), and then drew a strapping shape I liked around that. As you can see, I didn’t follow the curve of the seam perfectly. That was an intentional choice, as I wanted the strapping to have a similar curve as the curve on the strapping of my inspiration jacket (here is the link to that again, in case you want to take a look and not scroll all the way up to the first link).

I repeated this process for the front (which was trickier with the shaping that dart creates!) then cut out four of each piece. I decided to finish the edges by making a tube that was topstitched by machine before being hand sewn to the jacket

I can’t imagine how horrible it would have been to try to topstitch the straps onto the jacket! Bad… very, very bad! And trying to turn the edges under and then topstitch would not have provided enough stability for crisp edges and would also have been a frustrating experience. Thank goodness I avoided those potential problems!

Here are two of the four straps, pinned and ready to be stitched together. The only edge I left open is the straight edge (at the right) that would go into the shoulder seam. After being sewn and trimmed these were turned right side out, pressed, topstitched, and carefully placed at the shoulder seam so that they would match up perfectly when the seam was stitched. The edges of the straps were then invisibly hand sewn to the jacket.

Here’s the end result. The straps look topstitched onto the jacket, but they are actually finished pieces that are fully sewn down in front but only attached above the pleats in the back, allowing the bottoms to flap amusingly! This detail is again taken from my inspiration jacket (and here is the link to that again).

As I mentioned earlier, the bloomers also have a strapping detail taken directly from my inspiration bicycle outfit at The Met. Those were carefully patterned–they look straight at first glance but are actually slightly angled and tapered. They are made in the same way as the jacket strapping pieces, though as I mentioned earlier, they were more complicated to put onto the bloomers as they conceal a placket on one side and a pocket on the other. That was a figure it out as I go experiment that required precision and quite a bit of puzzle-solving!

The collar was interlined with canvas and pad-stitched to provided stability for the shape. Then it was sewn around the edge by the machine and the seam allowances were graded before I turned it right side out.

The sleeves are pleated to take in the fullness to fit the armsceye. There are 10 pleats total, each about ½” (1″ total) in depth. Here’s a photo looking down into the sleeve with all the pleats pinned in place. The box pleat (that is slightly off center in the photo) is the top of the sleeve when it’s set into the armhole of the jacket.

In this next photo we’ve progressed quite a few steps! The sleeves are set, the collar is on, the front wool facings are on, the collar edge and facing edges are turned under and hand sewn in place. I’ve finished the bottom edge of the jacket with a bias strip of cotton that was machine sewn then pressed to the inside and hand sewn into place (this is also how I finished the sleeve cuffs). The buttons are on and the buttonholes sewn by machine. I’ve whip stitched all of the seam allowances to keep them from fraying and added some extra support for the sleeve caps. I’ve also added a waist stay. Quite a few hours of work to condense into one paragraph!

The waist stay is a grosgrain ribbon sewn to the seam allowances that hooks in the front. Its purpose is to keep the jacket tight against my lower back and to keep the jacket from riding up as I use my arms. The photo below shows a close up of this as well as a number of other details–the bias binding at the bottom, the whip stitched seam allowances, and the pleats tacked to the lining along the top edges.

The sleeve pleats wouldn’t stand up on their own which made me a bit sad. My solution was to give them a bit of support… in this case I reused stiff net sleeve headers removed from 1980s dresses that I have a whole bag of in my stash. Each jacket sleeve has two of these sewn into the armsceye such that they stand up off my shoulder and help to support the pleats. In this photo I’ve just flipped them out to make them easier to see, but normally they’re tucked up inside the sleeve.

I also tacked the pleats together by hand about 1.5″ away from the seam. This helps keep the pleats nicely arranged and pointing up, which helps keep the fullness of the sleeves in check. In the end, this sleeve isn’t quite the same shape as my Met inspiration (here’s the link one more time), but that’s because it would have taken a lot more patterning time to determine exactly how the Met sleeve is shaped. I wanted to use my existing sleeve pattern and so I’ve decided to be happy with the sleeves I have.

To recap, all these details and construction steps produce this! Slightly subdued 1890s puff sleeves, tailored jacket details, interesting strapping patterns, and bloomers!

People sometimes ask me how long it takes to make my garments and often I don’t have a good answer as I don’t actually pay attention. I’m in it for the enjoyment of sewing and unless something is going wrong and I’m frustrated I generally enjoy the process. For this ensemble I kept track, though, and I can report that it took me 22 hours to pattern, fit, cut, tailor, sew, and finish this jacket and bloomer ensemble.

I’ve collected some (but by no means all!) images of bicycling ensembles on my 1890s Sportswear Pinterest board if you want to see more of my visual research and inspiration. Thanks for sticking with me for a lengthy post!

1890s Women’s Bicycling Clothing: Patents & Advertisements

There’s still a post coming soon about the construction details of my 1896 Cycling Ensemble, but I have quite a bit to say so it’s taking a bit of time to write. While working on it I found some great examples of other ingenious bicycling clothing for women patented and advertised around this time.

I mentioned the skirt variations in the introduction post for the cycling ensemble:

“Most women in the 1890s stuck to the traditional, socially acceptable silhouette of an ankle length skirt for bicycling, but this could be dangerous as the skirt could become entangled in the spokes and chain while riding. Solutions to this problem included adaptations to the bicycle, such as a ‘skirt guard’ that sat over the rear wheel and kept the skirt from entangling itself, and adaptations to the clothing, including skirts with cords that could allow them to be raised while riding and skirts that were one piece in the front but split into legs in the back, as with a modern ‘skort’ (a skirt/short combination garment).” 

I thought it would be fun to share the patents I found that illustrate these other styles of skirts!

First, an example of a bicycle ‘skirt guard.’ The ‘skirt guard’ is visible on the back wheel on the bicycle. Here is a patent from 1898 showing a skirt guard, as well.

Next, I have a patent from 1896 for a skirt with an ‘elevator’ which would allow the skirt to be raised with cords to make cycling safer. You can see the bloomers she is wearing underneath when her skirt is raised. This would allow the cyclist to be appropriately clothed while not riding and safely clothed while on the bicycle.

The next patent from 1895 shows the ‘skort’ style. This looks like a skirt in the front but is split in the back. The back is quite full, so that the appearance is that of a skirt.

Then I also came across this unusual method of a skirt with pieces that button on and off in front and back to reveal a bifurcated style underneath from 1895. It looks like this was designed so that the folded up pieces will hang from the front of your bicycle so you have them handy when you arrive at your destination. But I wonder how hard it would be to twist and bend in your corset to button and unbutton all of these connection points? My guess based on personal experience twist and bending in a corset is that it would be quite a challenge to do by yourself!

Here’s another interesting patent from 1896. These very full ankle length trousers that look like a skirt can be buttoned up around the knees to turn into knee length bloomers.

This image shows a women clearly wearing bloomers, but with a knee length skirt on top to still give a nod to the 19th century aversion to women opening wearing trousers (or bloomers).

I love that most of these women are shown wearing their gaiters! It’s justification for my own pair. I came across this advertisement for ‘bicycle leggings’ as well. Neat!

Finally, here’s an example of a corset intended specifically for sportswear and athletic pursuits. It makes use of some stiffness as well as some elastic and is expressly made for activities such as bicycling.

Daring & Dedicated: My 1896 Cycling Ensemble

I’ve been hinting at the 1896 Cycling Ensemble I’ve been working on since December, first by sharing the black gaiters I made as part of the ensemble, then by sharing my deliberation and eventual decision to take a shortcut with two of the other accessories for the ensemble, and most recently by sharing photos of the shortcut accessories: a dickie and bow tie. Now it’s time for the reveal of the finished outfit in its entirety!

My inspiration for creating this ensemble is a talk I’ve been invited to give at both the Rhode Island Historical Society and the Newport Historical Society. The talk, titled Undressing History: Active Pursuits, Women’s Sportswear c.1900, will take a look at the clothing women wore to participate in sports and athletic activities during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I’ll be actively dressing in multiple of my sportswear ensembles from 1885 to 1925, including clothing that could be worn for tennis, ice skating, bicycling, croquet, and swimming. I’ll discuss the cultural context of women’s participation in athletic activities during this time as well as the garments themselves: how they functioned while being worn for active pursuits, what they were made from, and how the silhouettes compared to non-sports clothing. I’ll be presenting this talk twice: on February 28 in Providence, RI and on March 28 in Newport, RI. If you’re interested in joining me, you can find more details about the event here.

As you might have noticed from my links to other sportswear ensembles I already own, I was missing a cycling ensemble. Bicycling became hugely popular for women in the 1890s, with a peak in 1896, so I felt that I must include this form of sportswear in my talk. And while I could use my 1895 skating ensemble as an example of the silhouette that would have been worn for bicycling while wearing a skirt, I felt it would be fun to show what the more daring and dedicated sportswomen of the 1890s wore: a bloomer suit. Full they might be, but those are pants!

Daring and dedicated, that’s me in this outfit. Most women in the 1890s stuck to the traditional, socially acceptable silhouette of an ankle length skirt for bicycling, but this could be dangerous as the skirt could become entangled in the spokes and chain while riding. Solutions to this problem included adaptations to the bicycle, such as a ‘skirt guard’ that sat over the rear wheel and kept the skirt from entangling itself, and adaptations to the clothing, including skirts with cords that could allow them to be raised while riding and skirts that were one piece in the front but split into legs in the back, as with a modern ‘skort’ (a skirt/short combination garment).

While that is amusing, I thought it would be more fun to make the most socially daring option: fully bifurcated bloomers. Some women wore these under a skirt while riding in order to maintain modesty. And some women, daring in terms of breaking the social conventions of the time and dedicated in terms of taking advantage of the newfound freedom a bicycle afforded, wore skirts that they would remove while riding, with bifurcated bloomers such as mine underneath.

Interestingly, a fashionable, tailor-made wool jacket like this could cost as much as $50 in 1896. Calculated in today’s dollars, that would be over $1,000. Quite a sum, and that doesn’t even include the bloomers or accessories! For those who had less disposable income, a linen suit provided a more economical option. With cheaper fabric, a dressmaker instead of a tailor, and patterns shared amongst customers, a full linen suit could be obtained for $7. That’s down to just about $150 in today’s dollars.

I have lots of construction details to share from making the bloomers and jacket, so there will be a detailed post focused on that soon. For now, here are a few close up photos of details, including my hidden pocket!

It was an exciting adventure to get photos of this outfit. In order to get timely photos I had to take the outdoors as I found it, snow and all. I valiantly tromped around, but I’ll admit that my feet were getting pretty wet and cold by the time we were done! Here’s a behind-the-scenes action shot on the way to getting the more finished photos–following my photographer’s path in the snow in a rather futile effort to keep the snow out of my shoes.

Sometime in the spring, perhaps, I’ll be able to ride a bike in my ensemble and get photos that give more context. In the meantime, we got some lovely winter-y photos and had some good laughs! Thanks to my intrepid photographer for making the time to take photos!

 

Sometimes A Shortcut

…is ok. This is a moment of shortcut-ing for me.

I was going to call this post ‘Sometimes A Cheat’, but then I realized that ‘cheat’ isn’t the right word. It’s too unfair and generally harsh. What I wanted to communicate is that it can be ok to start somewhere other than at the very beginning with uncut fabric waiting to be turned into a project.

You see, I need to have the 1896 cycling outfit I’ve been hinting at and sharing accessories for done by early February. This is a project that started at the very beginning. I made my own pattern and started with an uncut pile of fabric. I’ve already put a lot of time into tailoring the jacket (a progress photo is above–it fits!), making the bloomers, and making gaiters to accessorize the ensemble… all from the very beginning. One of the finishing touches that my ensemble needs is a shirt collar and some sort of neck tie to finish it off. I don’t need a full shirt under the jacket and I don’t want the bulk, so I debated about making a dickie (from the beginning…). I also thought about making a neck tie (from the beginning…).

After a bit of deliberation, I decided that I want a shortcut for these pieces and I’m ok with that. Accordingly, I’ve ordered a ready-made dickie on Amazon, re-confirmed that neckties look stupid on me (a thought I’ve had since I needed to wear one 13 years ago, though I thought that might have changed, haha), followed the necktie-looking-stupid-on-me thought with the decision to go with a bow tie, and ordered a knit bow tie, also on Amazon. (I’m hoping the quality of these items is acceptable. Thankfully they come via Prime and have free returns, so if I don’t like them there’s still time to come up with Plan B. If I’d thought of this a month ago I could have saved at least half the price and purchased these exact items on eBay. Now that I’ve made up my mind the shipping would take too long. Oh well!)

Do you ever take shortcuts like this? How do you feel about them? I feel rather relieved that I don’t need to cut, sew, and finish a collared dickie and a bow tie!

1896 Black Gaiters For A Sporting Look

Five years ago (yikes, where did the time go?!?), I made ivory gaiters. They were made to wear over heeled shoes, giving the look of two tone boots. Unfortunately, the ivory gaiters I already have don’t work for the the 1896 cycling ensemble on my sewing table! Ivory gaiters would show dirt and be rather impractical for the sporting look, so I decided to make utilitarian black ones for this outfit.

I used the same pattern as for the ivory gaiters with only a few modifications: the top edge curves in a bit more over my calf and the back heel is longer so it stays on top of my shoe (in my blog post about the ivory gaiters I share about how they were riding up over my shoe–I solved this with a little piece I added in after the photos were taken, but for the new pair the pattern was cut longer instead). It was lovely to have a pattern ready to go!

I’m pleased that I squeezed this small project into 2018. I can count it for the HSM Challenge #12: Neglected! This challenge is sort of a catch-all for making something that fits into a previous challenge either from this year or a previous year. I chose the September 2018 challenge, Hands and Feet, for this December challenge.

Just the facts:

Fabric: About ¼ yard slightly stretchy black cotton.

Pattern: Created by me.

Year: 1896.

Notions: Thread, ¼” and ½” cotton twill tape in various widths, and plastic buttons.

How historically accurate?: 90%. The look is right but the materials are a mix and match of right and modern.

Hours to complete: Approximately 5.

First worn: Not yet!

Total cost: $5 for the buttons. The fabric and twill tapes were in my stash!

These are constructed in the same way as my previous pair. The seams are covered with ½” twill tape, the edges are bound with ¼” twill tape, there is a strap (in this case made of the exterior fabric), and then buttons and buttonholes finish it off.

The great thing about my gaiter pattern is that they work for a few different decades. The ivory pair was made for a 1917 outfit, but I feel perfectly confidant that the pattern works for the 1890s and 1900s as well. I’m looking forward to trying these on with my cycling ensemble once that is far enough along to put all the pieces together!

1899 Elusive Blue With Train

My last post recounted a fun event that I recently attended which explored the Victorian fascination with ancient Egypt. The event was unusual in topic, quite well done, and interesting, especially as I rather like ancient Egyptian history myself. I felt that I knew a good portion of the information in the lecture, but I also learned some new things.

I decided to leave my outfit for the event for this separate post so I could go into detail without getting too long winded. As sometimes happens, I committed just about two weeks before the event to having a new garment. A trained skirt! This event seemed very suitable–dramatic surroundings and no dancing being the biggest factors.

I had started a second, trained, skirt to go with my 1899 dress back in January, but it had languished at the point of needing hemming. Despite all the other projects also needing to be completed around this time, I decided to furiously work to hem the trained skirt so I could wear it to this event.

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Success! The construction of the trained skirt is based on this gorgeous green gown at The Met. There is a side view of the skirt which shows just a bit of the under layers that support the hem. With that in mind, I scrounged for other extant examples of trained hem finishes and included them on my inspiration Pinterest board. This example, also from the Met, shows a clear view of the hem finishing on the inside of the skirt.

To replicate the wide and stiffened hem of the exterior I purchased polyester organza in a closely matching color and used it cut on the bias. The width of organza was folded in half to add an extra bit of support before being hand hemmed. The lining is hemmed with a bias band of an ivory cotton/poly blend that has a gathered section of lace machine sewn to the top edge prior to the hand hemming so the machine stitching doesn’t show. (Given that the whole dress is mystery fabric, I had no qualms about continuing to use polyester to keep the cost down on this project.) After hemming, I put the skirt on a dress form and pinned the lining and exterior together at five strategic points, then swing tacked the layers together. These tacks keep the exterior perfectly positioned over the lining.

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All of the extra work to support the hem layers was worth it. Along with my super silk petticoat to support the skirt, they nicely support the train, allowing it to elegantly float behind or swirl around me with just a small movement. It was quite fun to swish through the lovely rooms at the Castle with a dramatic train without it being so long that it becomes a nuisance. I’ll have to find more opportunities to wear this fabulous ensemble!

Victorian Egyptomania & Mummy Unwrapping

It is evening. The rain is pouring down outside. Hurry up the front steps, push open the heavy front door, and join the gathering of late Victorians interested in archeology and ancient Egypt that are inside. The guests have been brought together for opportunity to see artifacts, listen to a lecture on Egyptology, and finally to witness the unwrapping of a mummy.*

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The location is the Tudor style Bosworth Castle.** Dark wood, intricate detailing, and interesting artifacts abound. The rooms are filled with the light chatter of guests greeting friends and curiously examining artifacts. A pianist provides background music in the main hall. There are tables and mantels filled with artifacts and interesting objects to explore.

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In one room, the mummy rests on a table with its canopic jars. Tools are laid out, ready for the unwrapping which will occur later in the evening.

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Following the lecture and mummy unwrapping, guests are invited to ask questions and look more closely at the mummy and his amulets. It is concluded during the unwrapping that the mummy is indeed a prince, as suspected.***

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Guests are given souvenirs from the evening as they depart, including a note regarding the identity of the mummy and a scrap of his wrappings.

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*No mummies or artifacts were harmed in the course of this event. The evening included a discussion of Victorian archeology compared to modern methods and used a recreation of a mummy as well as reproduction tools.

**This event was created and hosted by the Archeology Department of Boston University. It was hosted in a building a BU actually called the Castle, though the Bosworth part was added for fun.

***Actually, the character of the mummy was decided specifically because the mummy of the prince does not actually exist, allowing for some creative liberties. In fact, the amulets were all placed just so within the wrappings to allow for their context to be explained during the unwrapping. The mummy was carefully crafted to look, and even smell, authentic while of course sticking to modern materials. It was quite impressive!

June Fabric Stash Additions

Twice recently I’ve wound up at the local low-priced fabric store not needing fabric, but finding fabric that I knew wouldn’t be there if I went looking for it again in the future. Those trips resulted in three new dress lengths of fabrics for the stash.

The first two were from the first trip, when a friend and I stopped by the fabric store so she could get some supplies… I didn’t need anything…

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Fabrics 1 and 2: rayon velvet and good imitation silk

But I bought the gorgeous burgundy rayon velvet specifically to make an 1830s evening gown I’ve been thinking of for the last year or so. It’s nice and lightweight and won’t weigh down the silhouette!

And the icy pink shot imitation silk I also purchased. I’ve used this fabric in other colors in the past multiple times, in my 1813 Regency dress and my 1811 Regency dress. It’s a little poofy, but looks like silk. I also have it in gold, which has been sitting in my stash for a few years. I have no current plans for this fabric, but I finished off the bolt so I have enough to make a dress from just about any decade in the 19th century I eventually decide on.

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Fabrics 3 and 4: very slightly slubbed silk and figured purple lightweight silk

The lovely pumpkin silk is a color I’ve been dreaming of having a dress made out of, but it’s one of those colors you don’t often find. I carried it around the store for probably an hour before purchasing it. I’ve thought specifically of an 1820s dress, but really this color could be used for many decades in the 19th century. I also finished off the bolt on this one with hopefully enough yardage for any project I eventually decide on.

In addition, I found a lovely figured silk online at Blackbird Fabrics that I also knew was a fabric I wouldn’t find if I went looking for something similar in the future. That’s how fabric shopping often is, at least near me. You have to buy great things when you see them because if you go looking for specific and similar things you’ll likely not find them. Is it like that near where you live?

The purple color is so very 2nd-half-of-the-19th-century-chemically-dyed and it’s figured. It’s hard to find good silks these days for a reasonable price that aren’t just solid. I’m eventually planning a new 1890s gown, though who knows when. Maybe when another 1890s ball pops up on my calendar?

For now I need to get back to using up stash fabrics for my summer projects instead of adding to the stash!

Suggestions For Dressmakers, 1896

“When it comes to making, the actual sewing and finishing, the American dressmaker has nothing to learn from anyone. First class American dressmakers turn out the best work, so far as the mechanics of dressmaking go, of any dressmakers in the world. In point of fact, they make dresses too well. They might with advantage to themselves, and with no disadvantage to their patrons, unlearn something about sewing, and let some of the fussy details, over which they now bother their heads to very little purpose, go by default.

But the A-1 American dressmaker puts too much fine sewing into her dresses. They look well; they look about as well on the wrong side as upon the right side; perhaps if they were not such marvels of patience in the inside finishing, they might be more artistic to look like on the outside. Look at even the highest priced foreign made dresses; by comparison, they seem almost slovenly in workmanship, compared with American dress, but after all to what end put such an infinite amount of pains into finishing off a dress that, nowadays, is worn but a few times…house dresses and evening dresses might be slighted in finishing just as the Parisian dressmakers slight them without suffering an iota in looks or wearing possibilities, and with a notable saving in time and trouble.

The Parisian dressmaker is clever. She knows every trick in putting her work where it will make the most show. So long as she gets the effect she wants, and it stays as long…as it is required, which is not long, for instance, in a tulle party frock, she doesn’t try to make the sewing in every part of the sort that would win a prize at a school exhibition. The Parisian Milliner long, long ago, found that she could get effects by pinning on her hat and bonnet trimmings that absolutely defied sewing, and the Parisian dressmaker will catch a flounce of lace here and a ribbon there with fascinating grace, and never bother her head about what it looks like on the wrong side. Why should she?”

7138bd5bed5bd5a8921d1fd61bbdfd27I came across this passage in Suggestions For Dressmakers (1896) a number of months ago around the time I was completing my 1899 elusive blue evening gown. It is from the chapter called “Making” on pages 27-28.

The passage immediately brought to mind my process for making historical garments, which is usually along the lines of the “American dressmaker” in that I put many hours of fine sewing into my dresses to make the insides just as much as work of art as the exterior.

The obvious and most current example that came to mind was the dress I was completing at the time, but there are many others as well. Here are a few made during the last few years and spanning the 19th century in terms of their origins.

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In the style of the “American Dressmaker”, the beautifully finished interior of my 1899 elusive blue bodice made in 2016.
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Another beautifully finished bodice in the “American Dressmaker” style from 2014. This is Georgina’s 1858 evening bodice.
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Tidy insides in my 1813 evening gown made in 2013, also in the “American Dressmaker” style.

I also had this passage in mind while working over the first part of this year on my recent 1885 Night Sky fancy dress. I decided with that ensemble to follow the suggestion to adapt to the “Parisian Dressmaker” style and not worry about the insides as I usually do. While still quite tidy, I did not spend time finishing unseen seams inside the skirt or finishing the edges of the vertical seams on the bodice, as you can see below. It was a bit of a struggle with my natural instincts, but worked out very well in terms of the working on this right up until the deadline and not having time for all the pretty finishing anyway.

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I couldn’t entirely shake the urge to be tidy and nicely finish things, but I did leave some edges raw and basted on the trim in case I want to easily remove it in the future.

There’s also the mention of pinning trim on hats. That is a suggestion that I often make use of! I can think of multiple examples of hats that have had trim pinned on for years even while the hats are in storage. For example, remember the hat that I wear with my 1895 Skating Ensemble? That’s the same hat from my 1883 Tailored Ensemble with fur trim and extra feathers that have been pinned on since early 2015. I’ve felt no need to sew those on!

Do you sew like American dressmaker or a Parisian dressmaker? Is it a conscious choice for you to pick one style or the other, or is it just your natural sewing method? What about hats? Do you ever pin your trimmings on?