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…!

 

1920s Star Fancy Dress

The theme recommendation for the evening soiree at Gatsby On The Isles earlier this year was a masquerade. I took that to heart and decided to adapt an existing dress in my closet to make it fancy dress. (It turns out that the majority of people who attended didn’t adhere to the guidelines, so I was a bit out of place, but I enjoyed my fancy dress regardless!)

My requirements for this outfit were: to use a dress as a base that was already in my closet, to not cost much, to not take much time, and to have the elements of fancy dress be easily reversible.

I looked through my 20th Century Fancy Dress Pinterest board and settled on the image below as my inspiration. (Unfortunately, I can’t find a source for the image that isn’t Pinterest. If anyone has information, please share.)

I thought the idea of stars would work well with my 1926 Silver Lace Robe de Style. I briefly considered creating the stars myself and then I remembered that I didn’t want this too take too much time and I started researching purchasable stars. I wanted something nice looking but not costly, remember, and I also wanted to stay away from glitter–the shedding! Ugh! While considering various metallic and cardboard style stars I realized that: 1- those may not travel well (I didn’t want bent stars!) and 2- they probably wouldn’t be comfortable to wear. So I started researching felt stars!

I decided on these felt stars. They were a good size, I liked the color, and they weren’t supposed to be too stiff. Not being stiff would be more comfortable to wear and also easier to sew through! I’d considered making garlands of the stars but I figured they would get tangled, so instead I opted to sew the stars directly onto the lace.

I started by placing the stars in a line diagonally across the top of the dress. The goal was to capture the feeling of my inspiration but didn’t feel the need to add as many stars as the drawing has, so I stopped with the one line. I liked the stars hanging from the hem, so I did those next–one star per each dip in the pattern of the lace.

After that I didn’t have many stars left! I used a scrap of metallic knit fabric to make a veil and put a star on each corner. The veil is a square, with one corner turned under, gathered, and stitched to a hair comb.

I also used some black felt scraps to cut a few stars by hand to accent the star at the waist. I thought this might tie in the metallic knit veil and also draw attention to the grey stars on the grey dress!

I added some sparkly shoe clips, pearl bracelets, and sparkly stars for my hair (reused from my 1885 Night Sky Fancy Dress) and the outfit was complete! It pays off to reuse themes for fancy dress, I guess!

1928 Egyptomania Inspired Green & Teal Dress (HSM #2)

I was inspired to make a dress! That seems like quite an accomplishment these days as I’ve been so busy with other things that I haven’t made much for myself this year.

It was summer, you see, and I knew that Gatsby On The Isles was coming up. (I’ve attended in the past, check out the past posts from 2019, 2018, and 2016.)

I have plenty of dresses (and let’s be honest, not many of them have been worn in the last two years or so), but I also had fabric that was waiting to be turned into a dress… So it didn’t take too much self-convincing to decide that the fabric ought to be turned into a dress, right now!

My first idea was to create something like the dress on the bottom right (#2346) in next image, but after making a mockup I realized that I didn’t have enough yardage of my proposed fabric.

Needlework Magazine, March, 1925

I’d bought the fabric thinking I’d make a rather simple 1920s dress, but the dress I’d been pursuing wasn’t quite that–and the length was longer than I had yardage for. So it was back to Pinterest to find another idea. I settled on using the green dress below, another one I’d been eyeing for years, as my inspiration.

1928

I’d purchased the green and teal accent fabrics in 2021 and thought they would work well for this second design idea.

My bodice pattern was adapted from my 1925 Blue Coral Dress, to get the general size, in combination with my late 18th century shift, to get the cut on sleeves. The skirt is just a tube made from what was leftover after that. I wanted to get two full widths of 45″ but didn’t have enough, so the skirt is one full width and two additional sections.

I wanted to match the pattern perfectly at the seams, but that ate up too many inches of my circumference so I settled on not matching them–and frankly, you can’t tell! I spent a lot of time making perfect pleats (the print on the fabric makes that pretty easy, actually), but of course they smoothed out as soon as I wore the dress. Oh well!

The dress qualifies for the Historical Sew Monthly Challenge #2

The Roaring 20s: Make something from the 20s (any century) or that somehow incorporates a number in the 20s. .

Just the facts:

Fabric/Materials: 2 yds green cotton and 1 yd of teal cotton.

Pattern: Created by me.

Year: 1928.

Notions: Thread.

How historically accurate is it?: 95%. The pattern and construction methods are quite good. The fabrics are a bit stiffer than those that I think would have been used 90 years ago.

Hours to complete: Perhaps 12? I didn’t keep track.

First worn: August 2021.

Total cost: Approximately $9.

This dress is mostly machine sewn. The goal was to entirely machine sew the dress, including attaching and top stitching the trim, but then as I was reaching the end of the sewing process I realized there were a few things that would look nicer with a bit of hand sewing.

Why is this Egyptomaina inspired?

Well, ancient Egypt was all the rage in Europe and America in the 1920s, particularly after Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon discovered the tomb of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun in 1922. Egyptian motifs were used in Art Deco design elements for furnishings, jewelry, and clothing. So, while not exactly Egyptian… the colors and patterns in my fabrics remind me of Egyptian things: the Nile river, lapis lazuli, the Egyptian lotus flower, and the tops of many ancient Egyptian columns, for example.

Obelisks were often erected in pairs at the entrances to ancient Egyptian temples, so given the Egyptian association of my dress, I wanted to try and get a photo of my dress with the obelisk on the island. The photo is not quite just me and the obelisk, but it will do. (The problem is that the obelisk is so tall that if you’re close to it you can’t tell what it is… but being far enough away to get the full height means that other elements make their way into the photo, too!)

There are lots of additional photos from tromping around looking for good photo opportunities for this dress, so you’ll be seeing more of it and my accompanying adventures in more posts soon!

1838 Yellow Bodice Construction Details (HSM #4)

Last year, I made a yellow cotton print 1834 dress (there are tons of details about it in this past post). The yardage leftover after that project wasn’t enough for another full dress, but it was enough for another bodice, and I’d been caught up in 1830s fever!

There are so many ridiculous sleeves to explore! Accordingly, I decided to make a second 1830s bodice with different sleeves. I finished the new 1838 bodice earlier this year and over the summer I was able to wear it with my recently finished chemisette.

The 1834 dress was made in two parts, a skirt and separate bodice, so that it was easy to make a second bodice and save yardage on the skirt.

Construction Overview

First, the construction details of the new 1838 bodice, starting with the HSM facts, because this bodice fits Challenge #4:

The Costumer’s New LookGive an old costume a new look, either by creating a new accessory or piece which expands or changes the aesthetic and use of an outfit, re-fashioning something into a costume item, or re-making an old costume.

Fabric/Materials:Approximately 2.5 yds reproduction print cotton and 1 yd of muslin.

Pattern: The pattern for this bodice is based on patterns contained in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 1 and Norah Waugh’s The Cut of Women’s Clothes, as well as sleeve information fromThe Workwoman’s Guide.

Year: 1838.

Notions: 2 ½ yds narrow cotton yarn for cording, about 10 hooks and loops, and thread..

How historically accurate is it?: 90%. The pattern, construction methods, and fabric are all quite good. Inside seams are sewn by machine.

Hours to complete: 22.

First worn: August 2021.

Total cost: Approximately $15.

Construction Details

The back of this bodice is made just like the 1834 bodice, with piping in the side back seams. The armsceyes and neck are also finished with piping.

The main difference in the bodice (aside from the sleeves, which we’ll get to shortly) is the front, which has a deep V shape.

I looked at extant garments to see how this style was constructed. There are a collection of pertinent ones on my Pinterest board for this sewing project. The main inspiration for my observations was this garment, featured on All The Pretty Dresses blog (and included on my Pinterest board).

What I saw is that instead of being flatlined (as with the yellow and muslin layers of the back pieces), the lining was stitched separately from the gathered front panels. The muslin provides a fitted shape for the yellow exterior layer. There is a photo of the inside of the bodice of the extant bodice that shows this very clearly.

For my dress, the piping that finishes the back neck continues around the muslin to finish the edge. The yellow exterior pieces of the V edges (which are cut on the straight of grain) are simply pressed under twice.

Here is a closeup of the armhole of my bodice from the inside. The muslin front edge and exterior yellow layer are on the right of the photo. You can also see the ties that hold the sleeve puffs in place.

In addition to those details, the photo below also shows the hooks that are used to attach this bodice to the skirt.

Ok, but the sleeves are the star of the show here, so let’s discuss them! Being from 1838, they still use a lot of fabric (a yard each), but the fullness is pleated to force the puff down to the elbow level.

Here’s a closeup of the completed sleeve. The pleats are held in place by two bands of double piping that are hand sewn in place.
To make the double piping I machine sewed the cord into one side of my bias and hand sewed it into the other, then pressed the bias in half and attached it through all the layers. In my sample below I didn’t bother to put the machine stitching on the under side, but on the dress the machine stitching is not visible.

Before the piping was added, the pleats were machine basted in place. My machine basting wasn’t exactly where the piping ended up, so I removed the basting anywhere it showed.

Backing up some more in the process, below is one of the sleeves with the pleats pinned in place. I did this while the sleeves were flat, before I sewed up the inseams.

There’s no pattern for the pleats… it was just a matter of knowing what dimensions I wanted to end up with for my top edge and bicep and then eyeballing it. The pleats vary in depth on the inside, even though the outside is pretty even at ¼”. Part of this is due to the fact that the pleats have to angle in order to create an armsceye that keeps a curve up in the middle. Figuring it out is a great mind puzzle!

Below is the sleve before being pleated, etc. Between being over a yard high and also being cut on the bias you can see why each sleeve takes a yard of fabric!

After pleating and sewing the inseam the sleeves had this shape (below is my mockup sleeve). I really wanted an exaggerated elbow puff, so this isn’t quite the shape I wanted to end up with. To get the shape I wanted, I took horizontal tucks about halfway down the sleeve. This keeps the forearm relatively unwrinkled while creating lots of elbow puff. The tucks are lost in the pattern of the finished dress.

Could I have altered my pattern to not have to take tucks? Sure! I’d probably change the curve of the sleeve inseam to do that. But… I’d already cut my pieces. And adapting sleeve shapes to adjust for changes in styles seemed very appropriate and in the spirit of what 1830s ladies might have done.

So for a bit more sleeve information… These sleeves have an opening at the cuff to allow for the tight fit of the forearm. The openings are finished with self fabric facings and then the hem is turned up.

Here’s what that looks like on the inside.

And that’s it for construction!

Here’s a bonus photo of the dress with a quince tree. I’ve heard of quinces but never encountered them before.

They sort of look like pears!

I’m very pleased with this cross front bodice and the sleeves that go with them. I appreciate their minute detail even though they were definitely the most time consuming part of this bodice!

An 1836 Chemisette (HSM #3)

The third challenge for the Historical Sew Monthly 2021 is ‘small is beautiful’. Little things can make a big difference to the finished look.  Make something small but perfect. My entry for this challenge is an 1830s chemisette to fill in the neckline of my 1838 bodice (the sister of the 1834 dress I posted details about last year).

Just the facts:

Fabric/Materials: Approximately ½ yd of silky cotton voile from Dharma Trading.

Pattern: Adapted from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 1, with adjustments for fit and style.

Year: 1836.

Notions: 1 ½ yds ¼” white cotton twill tape, 1 metal hook, 1 cameo button and thread.

How historically accurate is it?: 90%. The pattern, construction methods, and fabric are all quite good. It is entirely hand sewn. The most modern element is the plastic cameo button.

Hours to complete: 19 ¾.

First worn: August 2021.

Total cost: Approximately $5 for the fabric/shipping (though it is leftover from another project), $1 for the twill tape, and $1 for the button = approximately $7.

The chemisette pattern shape was based on this fashion plate from 1836.

Without a body in it, the chemisette looks like this. It is entirely hand sewn, with small rolled hems and drawstring channels on the bottom edges.

The shoulder seams are sewn with French seams to encase the raw edges. The collar is attached with a flat felled seam for the same reason.

The gathered ruffle on the edge is hemmed on all sides with a tiny rolled hem and then whip gathered to the hemmed collar edge. I haven’t tried whip gathers before and this seemed like it would be a fun project to try them out.

On the underside of the ruffle the whip stitches are more visible.

The inspiration fashion plate doesn’t show the back of the chemisette, so I had to decide on what I wanted. After looking at extant collars and chemisettes, I settled on a rounded point that extends just under halfway down the back.

On a body, it looks like this.

The final touch is a hook and thread loop to close the collar, with the decorative cameo button on top. The plastic is obviously not correct for the 1830s, but it does have the benefit of being lightweight! I was worried that if I used a metal brooch (not that I have one, but if I did…) it would pull the collar down or out.

And that’s it! There was no rushing with this project. I took my time and enjoyed the hours of tiny hems and whip stitching.

1880s Blush Duchess Satin Corset

In 2015 and 2016, I posted a ‘project journal’ series of blog posts about making a yellow duchess satin c. 1880 Steam Molded Corset (this link will take you to the whole series, which includes specific posts about the plan, inspiration, mockups and patterning, the final pattern, construction, steaming, and finished garment photo shoot). Late last year, I made another one as a commission for a friend, this time in a blush pink duchess satin I picked up at the fabric store with no particular purpose, but thinking it would be really good for this specific use (in fact, I mention this exact idea in the fabric stash additions post where I shared about the purchase of this fabric in 2020).

Having already figured it out once, I used my old blog posts as a guide for making the new corset. This post is intended to document the new corset and the changes and updates I made from the yellow one.

To start, I adjusted the pattern I’d developed for size as well as some of the boning patterns to accomodate the adjusted seam lines and to simplify some of the boning patterns, especially in the back. The yellow corset has a whole bunch of bones… It’s great and based directly off my inspiration image, but time consuming and unnecessary for this purpose.

Once I had a solid pattern, I cut out all my pieces: one layer of silk satin for the exterior and two layers of white coutil for the inner layers. For the most part, the layers for each piece are exactly the same, but there are some differences at front and back panels.

Below are the front panels, where I’ve intentionally cut the coutil to be smaller than the silk. This allows for the seam allowances to be less bulky and therefore more crisp as they fold inward around the busk. The piece on the left is for the proper left side of the corset while the two other pieces are both for the proper right side of the corset. I’ll show how these pieces are put together later in this post.

Next are the back panels, again showing that all of the layers are not cut to be exactly the same. The cut edge of the narrowest coutil layer provides a crisp edge over which to turn the other piece of coutil for the back edge. It also creates 3 layers of coutil where the grommets will be while allowing the silk to fold under the outermost edge of the coutil for a crisp line there as well.

You can see in both of the above images that I machine flat lined the layers for each piece together on almost every edge (some were strategically left alone).

Next, I prepared the center back grommet areas. The silk only seam allowance was crisply turned back over the straight cut edge of the coutil, then the coutil was crisply pressed back over the narrower layer of coutil. You can see the folds opened on the right and the resulting crisp panel on the left.

These were very carefully pinned in place (duchess satin does not hide pin marks!) and then the channels were stitched. I made sure to make them wide enough to not struggle when putting in bones (the last corset had boning channels that were a bit narrow for the bones and it was terribly hard to put them in!).

I used an edge stitch foot to get the lines of stitching right along the folds. Edge stitch feet are magical! I discovered mine while making masks last summer and have since started using it for all kinds of projects–any time I need to stitch close to the edge of a fold! My machine, which is pretty basic, came with one (though I hadn’t used it in, oh… 12 years???). I encourage you to it out if you haven’t before!

Here you can see the exterior of the grommet panels on the left and the interior on the right.

Later, I added size 0 silver grommets. Skipping ahead in construction, here’s a finished image of the corset, showing the finished grommets in place.

After preparing the grommet area, I assembled each side of the corset. No photos of that here, since I did this in the same way as my last corset: grading my seams, binding them with ⅝” cotton twill tape, and then stitching these down to create channels for the bones. (My original construction post has detailed pictures and explanation of this method. The part of the post discussing this also has some images showing the many bones on the back of that yellow corset that I mentioned earlier.)

Next, I put in the busk, starting with the socket side, which is the proper right side of the corset. I used a different method on this corset than on my yellow one. Further inspection of originals shows a seam that the busk sockets are pushed through, rather than reinforced holes without a seam, so that’s what I wanted to do!

This is where I used the two pieces I cut. In the photo below you can see that the two pieces are pinned together (pin heads are on the underside, in case you’re wondering) and I’ve marked small lines where the sockets will land on the seam. This allows me to leave openings in the seam for each socket. The openings need to be snug, but not too tight. The seam is sewn just outside of the coutil, so that the layers fold crisply. As you can see, my seam allowance is uneven. I left the side of the silk that will be visible as the busk is pulled on a little wider to make a solid facing even after years of use.

Here is the finished seam, pressed open. If you look carefully you can see the gaps in the seam that I left for the sockets of the busk. My ruler at the bottom shows the scale. (This photo also shows some of the finished seam allowances and boning channels on the other seams, as well.)

Now the socket half of the busk is pushed into place. The single layer of silk seam allowance is pressed over the cut edge of the coutil and the whole thing is carefully pinned in place. I made sure that the busk is quite snug, so that it can’t shift in any direction.

To do this, I started with pinning the inside, to ensure that the silk is perfectly wrapped under the busk–no gaps or bubbles there! Then, I very carefully pinned from the outside. As you can see, I only pushed the pins through the silk once (they come up through the coutil again, but not through the satin) to minimize holes.

After that, some very careful stitching with a zipper foot was in order. I curved my stitching around the top and bottom of the busk (a detail from extant garments). It’s tricky to make the curves look nice, but it’s a small detail that helps elevate the finished garment, I think.

On the inside, it looks like this. I was able to keep the stitching a consistent distance from the fold in the silk due to my careful pinning. I’ll admit that this turned out better than my yellow corset! The yellow corset has a few bubbles and variation in the width of the turned under seam allowance.

Here is the busk from the side. You can see the seam and the snug openings, with solid back stitching, which leave space for the sockets to push through.

Ok, on to the stud side of the busk! This is the proper left side. Here, you can see the marks I’ve made to show where the studs will poke through and where the edge of the busk will fall. It is intentionally set back from the cut edge of the coutil.

One thing I was very careful about was poking my holes for the studs, because I found that on my yellow corset the silk pulled where I used an awl to make the holes. No one but me would probably see this, but I wanted to do better with this corset. I believe I used very sharp snips to cut small holes rather than using an awl to push the fibers apart. This is fiddly work, because a hole too big can’t be saved and will fray and cause the stud to move around, but it produced better end results, I think.

After making my holes and getting all the studs through, I carefully pinned and then stitched around the busk just like I did on the socket side.

Ta da! Busk!

Next up was binding the top and bottom edges. I used almost the same method as on my last corset. To quote myself:

The bottom binding is bias strips cut 1″ wide. I stitched them first to the right side of the corset with ⅛” seam allowance on my bias, trimmed my corset seam allowance to just about ⅛”, folded the bias over the edge, turned the raw edge under on the wrong side, [basted the seam allowance in place on the inside instead of hand whip stitching the bias down on the inside (slow, but a more effective method than pinning in this case)], then turned the corset back to the right side and topstitched very close to the edge of the first fold. This narrow topstitched binding seems to be common on late 19th century extant corsets and looks very tidy.

Below you can see the bias turned to the inside, pinned, and being basted in place. On the right are finished edges from the inside and outside.

This corset is boned with spiral steel for the bulk of the seams and flat steel on either side of the grommets.

I usually apply the bottom binding first, then put in my bones, and then bind the top. It’s a bit trickier sometimes to bind the corset after the bones are in, and if the top will have decorative lace then it can help hide any struggles that occur. (Thankfully, I learned from my last experience and made a test sample of the boning channel width that was perfect, so it was relatively easy to bone this corset!)

At this point the corset was basically done! The only things left were to add ivory beading lace and ribbon around the top and silk flossing along the bottom of the boning channels.

I was excited that I had all of the necessary materials in the stash, including the silk thread in the perfect ivory color.

I’m very pleased with the end result. It takes all the struggles and things I learned along the way with my yellow corset and perfects them, creating crisper folds and finishes and a comfortable garment with a great silhouette.

There’s no trickery in the next photo, this corset holds its shape with no support other than what is built in!

Early & Mid 19th Century Commission For NSCDA-MA

I find great joy in the pursuit of researching and making historical clothing. Here on the blog, I post most often about the garments I make for myself, but I rarely post about commissions to make custom historical garments for private individuals, museums, historical institutions, etc. Today’s post is different from the usual in that I’m going to share a commission project with you!

This commission came about through the kindness of Myrthe, who blogs at Atelier Nostalgia. (And how fitting, that we were just communicating about how wonderful it is to connect with people who love historical clothes from around the world!) The commission was from the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America (NSCDA-MA).

The NSCDA-MA owns the beautiful William Hickling Prescott House in Boston, which was built in 1808 and upgraded throughout the 19th century. The NSCDA-MA website (linked above) shares many more details about the various owners of the house and its architecture. In addition to the house itself, the NSCDA-MA also holds a wonderful collection of historical clothing, some items of which have been used for display purposes throughout the house (though most of the garments are in storage and only available for research visits by appointment). Unfortunately, historical garments are often not suited to permanent display as they can be made of delicate fabrics that can be damaged by light, dust, and gravity, just to name a few possible problems. The NSCDA-MA was looking for custom made historical dresses to display instead of the extant historic garments and I was very excited to work with them to make that goal a reality!

The commission involved two dresses: one from about 1810 and one from about 1845. The two dresses haven’t been mounted yet and aren’t available to visit due to ongoing closures, but I hope to eventually go see them in one of the glorious rooms of the house. For now we’ll have to make do with flat photos that were taken for my own archival purposes.

The c. 1810 dress was inspired by a few different dresses, including this c. 1810 cotton dress held by The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The goal was to merge the inspiration dresses into one dress with a repeated pattern on cotton, an adjustable drawstring neck, and long sleeves. In order to support the silhouette and provide opacity I also made a bodiced petticoat to go with the dress. Below are front and back views.

Unlike the first dress, the c. 1845 dress was inspired by this specific c. 1848 silk dress held by The Met. The goal was to keep the details of The Met inspiration dress but make the new dress proportional to the measurements of the form that would be wearing it. The dress includes extra structure to help the bodice keep its shape even without a corset underneath. Below are a full length front view and a close up of the bodice.

I had lots of fun finding trimmings for this dress that recalled the original. In the case of the tassels, I combined sections of the fringe with tassel tops and vintage passementerie buttons in order to get the right look and create tassels. Below, a closeup of tassel parts and the final result.

The designs of each dress were settled on with much collaboration to determine fabrics, trimmings, style details, and more. Both patterns were individually created to fit the requirements and specifications for each dress. Both dresses use a mixture of machine sewing/modern methods on the interiors and hand finishing on the exteriors. This speeds up construction and provides the necessary foundation for the dresses even without a full set of supportive undergarments.

I love projects like this! It’s so wonderful to collaborate with others who appreciate the minute details of historical clothing while also making garments that can be used to help interpret history to the public. These sorts of projects are often initiated through word of mouth suggestions, so please reach out if you know of museums, historic sites, historical societies, etc. who are looking for this type of collaboration!

New Grey Sweatpants

I made a pair of sweatpants! It isn’t the most fancy project, but I’m quite pleased with them because they are a re-creation of a very loved pair that I’ve had for about 20 years.

After looking for replacement pants with a similar cut for years (and coming up with nothing), I decided to take advantage of Blackbird Fabrics restocking their Bamboo/Cotton Stretch Fleece and try making my own! I’d already taken a pattern from the old pair, so there wasn’t much to do except cut out and sew the wonderfully soft fabric I’d purchased.

I didn’t track how long taking the pattern took, but I did track the construction: these new pants took just 2.5 hours–a short project by my usual historical dress standards! I used 1 ¼ yards of the Bamboo/Cotton Stretch Fleece and ½ yard of Bamboo/Cotton 2 x 2 Ribbing in matching grey, also from Blackbird Fabrics.

I reproduced all of the details from the original, including the pockets, wide hems, and wide elastic encased in the waistband.

First, a look at the wide hem from the exterior and interior. I stitched twice, to replicate the look of a twin needle stitched hem.

Next, a look at the wide waistband and the western style pocket. You can also see some of the topstitching that I replicated from the original pants.

Here is the inside of the pants, showing the yummy new fleece interior (so soft!) and the nicely serged edges.

The only thing I left out was a drawstring, because I didn’t have an easy way to make small metal eyelets in my new pants and I didn’t have a matching drawstring, either. This means the waist can’t be cinched in quite like the old pair needed to be (earlier in their life when I was skinnier and later in their life when they were super stretched out and old), but they stay up pretty well. The next pair might get a smaller elastic…

And yes, there will be another pair! After these were so successful I decided to buy fabrics for a second pair (again from Blackbird Fabrics), this time in dusty pink.

1885 Mantle (HSM #5) & Accessories

Last post was a detailed look at the 1884 Plaid Wool Bustle Dress that I completed last year. This post is going to look at the details of the accessories I made and wore to stay warm while taking photos of the 1884 dress: a mantle, a new muff cover, and a quick mention of the hat.

First, the mantle, which qualifies for the Historical Sew Monthly 2021 Challenge #5:

Purple: Make an item in any shade of purple.

Easier to see the color in the next photo! Purple!

Just the facts:

Fabric/Materials: 1 ½ yards purple wool, 2 ¾ yards drab polyester lining, and about 1 yard of faux fur.

Pattern: Adapted from a pattern on page 33 of The National Garment Cutter Book Of Diagrams.

Year: 1888.

Notions: 4 ¼ yards brown braid trim and 4 coat size hook and loops.

How historically accurate is it?: 85%. The pattern and silhouette are good, but the polyester lining and faux fur are not accurate. I’ve also never examined an extant 1880s mantle up close, so the construction methods are guesses that made sense to me.

Hours to complete: 18.5 hours.

First worn: In January, for a ramble and photos!

Total cost: Approximately $40.

Mantle: Beginnings

This accessory adventure started with a passionate desire to make a specifically 1880s shaped mantle to go with my new dress. I don’t remember the details exactly, but it’s possible that I fell in love with the red mantle on the right in the fashion plate below even before I fell in love with the shape of the bustle dress that I’m wearing underneath my mantle.

The shape! The fur! The matching muff! So cute! It seemed like it would go very well with my dress.

Mantle: Patterning

I started the mantle soon after finishing the 1884 dress last year, beginning with the pattern. The pattern is from The National Garment Cutter Book Of Diagrams published in 1888 (the entire book is digitized and available here).

The pattern I started with is on page 33: Ladies’ Wrap. It has the same general shape as my inspiration plate, including the very specific-to-the-1880s outerwear sleeve set into the side back seam. Figuring those out was an eagerly anticipated part of the challenge.

The brief instructions are to use the scale corresponding to the bust measure to enlarge the pattern. I didn’t feel like finding the right scale in the book, so instead I guessed at a scale that generated proportions that made sense for my size. I think it was somewhere in the realm of ⅛” to 1″.

After the pattern was enlarged, life became busy and I put this project on hold. Fast forward to the first days of 2021 and I decided to knock this project off the to-do list so it would be ready at the first sign of snow for photos!

I made a mockup from my pattern, adjusted a few things including the length of the front piece (it was much longer than my inspiration!), then altered the mockup to check the changes. At that point, I was satisfied and ready to move on to real fabric!

Mantle: Sleeve Puzzling

Along the way in this process I had to figure out the sleeves. Below is what the sleeve pattern piece looks like when cut out. It’s not your usual sleeve shape. The top looks mostly reasonable, but what’s with a dart on the bottom edge? And the point at the bottom? Odd! Folding this in half (as you would normally do for a sleeve) would produce a strange sleeve, indeed.

I pondered this… looked up extant garments (there are a number of mantles with sleeves like this on my general 1880s outerwear Pinterest board) and did some searching for other people who had made this type of garment before.

The thing that suddenly made the sleeve click for me was a series of posts from Caroline (who blogs at The Modern Mantua Maker) showing the construction of an 1880s dolman that she made. This post, in particular, contains a photo showing the sleeve before it was set into the body of the garment. Ah ha! I realized that the bottom of my sleeve folds up and the dart goes against the body. That creates the right shape!

This post from Caroline shows her finished dolman. It was also very helpful as I tried to wrap my brain around these unusual sleeves. And, Caroline has another dolman she made as well, which I also looked at as I was figuring out my pattern.

Mantle: Materials

I had the fashion plate to reference for the overall design of the mantle, but I needed a bit more detail to confirm my material choices. Many 1880s mantles are made from fancier fabrics: silks, velvets, brocades… I only had a heavy purple wool in my stash in a quantity I thought would be just the right amount for the mantle and I didn’t want to buy something new (especially something likely to be expensive, as many of those fancier fabrics would be).

After some searching, I found this c. 1880 opera cloak at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that seems to be made of a plain wool. I decided to use some of the details from it, like the braid trim, to upgrade my mantle from plain to more interesting.

I had the braid trim in my stash already, purchased a few years ago from Deb’s Lace and Trims because I liked the look of it and thought it would be useful someday (I love Deb’s Lace and Trims–you absolutely can’t beat the prices and the products are lovely–I’ve been using them for historical projects for the last ten years!). It was great to find a use for this braid.  With just five yards on hand I had to reduce the amount used relative to the Met inspiration mantle, but I think the end result is in keeping with the simple style of the dress. The braid highlights the shape of the mantle but doesn’t distract or seem too gaudy for the plain wool base.

After creating my first mockup I did have a very justified fear that my purple wool would not be enough for the mantle. Thankfully, after altering the pattern to suit my taste and size I was just able to eke out all of the pieces. Whew!

I love the quilted lining of the Met opera cloak and I considered quilting silk myself to do it. My stash didn’t have any appropriately colored silk, though, so that idea was out if I was to stay on the stash busting course. I thought of buying pre-quilted silk (completely abandoning my stash busting idea), but the colors I could find were bland and the dark brown I eventually decided on after months of indecision was sold out.

In the end, I decided I just wanted the project to be finished, so I would go the low-cost route of purchasing a polyester lining from the $3 per yard store. It helped me use other stash materials, so it seemed a reasonable trade off.

Mantle: Construction

Here’s that polyester lining. It’s unintentionally the same greyish-brown drab color as the cotton lining of the 1884 bustle dress. The mantle is fully lined, as you can see.

In order to make the lining of my mantle tidy, the sleeves were fully lined before being set into the side back seams. Here is one sleeve assembled and ready to be set in.

The assembled/lined sleeves were set into the exterior wool side back seams while the lining side back seams were sewn plain. After attaching the sleeves around the armsceyes in the exterior wool, the lining was turned under and whip stitched to finish the edges.

All of the braid trim is machine sewn on using a zipper foot. I was able to sew it in place on the wool before setting in the lining, so none of the attaching sew lines are visible.

The lining was machine sewn around the edges with the neck left open to turn right sides out. After that was completed, I machine sewed the collar lining (interfaced with cotton) to the neck edge by machine. Then I sewed the exterior fur collar on the neck edge by hand (shown in the next photo).

After that I flipped the lining up, turned all of the seam allowances in, and whip stitched the lining to the fur edge. It seemed easier to do it this way rather than machine sewing the fur.

The faux fur trim around the bottom edge is pieced where there are seams in the wool. This allows the fur to have the exact same shape as the wool underneath. These edges have no seam allowance. The edges are just butted together and then (roughly) whip stitched, as in the photo below. From the right side of the fur the seams are completely invisible.

The top and bottom edges of the fur trim have seam allowances that are turned in and hand sewn along both edges. The outer (bottom) edges are sewn right sides together with the bottom of the purple wool. Then, the inner (top) edges are turned under and stitched. Here is that process in progress.

The mantle closes with 4 coat weight hook and loops spaced down the front edges. They kept popping open while being worn, so when I got home I pinched them with a pair of pliers to make the hooks grab onto the loops better. I haven’t been out wearing this again since then, but I’m confident this solves the problem, as I’ve used this trick in the past.

New Muff (Cover)

Next, I want to share a bit about the muff I have in these photos.

Despite having a number of muffs, none of them are the right size and material to match my new mantle. I have a dark muff that matches the hat I wound up wearing and I have a muff made from the same fur I used to trim the mantle, but the dark muff didn’t match my mantle and the one that does match is an intentionally oversized early 19th century muff. Neither would do!

But I didn’t want to make an entirely new muff. Instead, I decided to make a new cover for a muff I’ve had since 2012 (you can see it in this post from 2019, when I used it with an early 19th century outfit). The muff is from a workshop I took with LadyDetalle. (She has an Etsy shop that often stocks muffs like this as well as many other beautiful and historically inclined goodies.)

The base is essentially a pillow (stuffed with real down–quite luxurious!) that can be rolled into a tube and have a cover put on. The idea is that the muff cover can be changed out so that you can have all sorts of beautiful muffs and only need to store the one base. The muff is sized for the 18th century, but I thought it just might work for my 1880s look, too.

Accordingly, I measured my existing muff cover and cut a rectangle of faux fur that size. I butted my edge to make a tube and whip stitched it, in the same way as I whip stitched the mantle trim. Next, I machine sewed twill tape on the tube ends. (I had no worries about the fur getting caught in the machine sewing because that whole edge turns into the muff in the end anyway, so none of that will show.)

Once whip stitched in place the twill tape covers the raw edge of the fur and also provides a casing for the ribbons at each end. I used tobacco brown polyester ribbon that was gifted to me. By way of justification for the polyester ribbon, I’d already used polyester for the mantle lining and this seemed like a good use for this particular ribbon.

Below is the muff cover after those steps were completed.

And here is a closeup of the twill tape with machine stitching on one side and whip stitching on the other. The ends of the twill tape are just turned under and butted together, leaving an opening for the ribbon ends to come through.

And ta da! A muff that is the right size and perfectly matched to the mantle! The additional muff cover takes up hardly any storage space and now I have more versatility in my wardrobe.

Hat Baubles

While making my mantle and debating how to stay warm, I figured I would need something to keep my head warm. I’d already made the dress and the mantle and I didn’t feel like creating something all new for my head, as well. And I loved this image from the McCord Museum of 1880s ladies curling in the cold with their hats.

I thought I could repurpose my 1917 faux fur hat to suit the purpose, as it has a generally similar tall, straight shape. That hat is nice and warm, being lined in flannel and interlined with layers of batting to insulate the head.

The look of it was a little bland with this outfit, though, and not really coordinated with everything else.  I liked the idea of bringing in some of the mantle fur to make the hat look like it belonged. After fussing with various ideas I decided on fur poms, or baubles.

The baubles are sort of like large-scale cloth stuffed buttons. They are a circle that is gathered, the edges turned into provide stuffing, and the backs sewn together to close up the opening. (This tutorial shows how to make these types of buttons, though I started with a circle of fabric rather than a square.)

I like that the finished baubles pull in the look of the tan fur, that they are silly and amusing, and that they are easily removable. In fact, they are attached with safety pins on the inside of the hat! You can’t get much more easily removable than that!

I’m very pleased with my stash-busting-and-using-things-I-have-on-hand winter bustle ensemble. It’s warm. It was a great patterning challenge. It’s really fun to wear (it feels super elegant!). And it (mostly) reduced my fabric stash.

Thanks for sticking with me through this second detailed (and rather long) post! Next post will be further photos of the bustle dress in action on a woodland adventure.

1884 Plaid Wool Dress Details

I’m very excited to share the details of my (somewhat) new 1884 Plaid Wool Dress! It’s ‘somewhat new’ because I actually finished it 8 months ago, but at that point it was July and the temperature was absolutely not acceptable for wearing a wool dress for photos! Instead of putting the dress away, I kept it out, waiting for colder weather and the opportunity for a photo shoot. I was hoping for snow… and this winter, I got it!

This dress is entirely inspired by the dress on the right in the fashion plate below from La Mode Illustree. I love the relative simplicity of the overall design and the waterfall of folded fabric on the skirt. Unfortunately, I don’t have an official source of the fashion plate or the year it is from, though my best guess is 1884.

I thought the design would be a great use of the tan and plaid wools that have been in my stash since 2012 (wow… that’s longer than I remembered!).  In addition to those, a small piece of plain purple wool had made its way into my stash over the last eight or nine years and when I started this dress in November 2017 I decided it would be a nice addition to the tan and plaid wools in the form of trim. While not an exact match to the purple in the plaid, I think it helps to perk up the plaid and bring out the non-tan tones (the green and purple).

Skirt Construction

I started the process of this dress with the skirt. I wanted the fabric to hang just like the fashion plate, so I decided to drape a custom pattern as opposed to starting with anything that already existed. The only exception to that (in the skirt) is a base of drab greyish-brown cotton. The base pieces were adapted from a Janet Arnold pattern.

I used the skirt base for the front and side areas, in order to have something for the wool layers to be attached to. In the back of the skirt there is nothing but the tan wool.

Here is a look at the inside of the finished skirt. You can see the tan waistband along the top and the drab cotton base with tacking stitches all over it. The tacking stitches are holding the plaid fabric in place–you can just see the plaid selvedge poking out on the right side.

The pleats in the plaid aren’t part of the original fashion plate, which instead has a draped apron-type front. I tried that, putting my plaid with a vertical grain and a tan apron over top, but I really hated how it looked in wool–too heavy and rather unattractive. I played with the fabrics until I settled on the bias plaid. I hinted at the draping in the fashion plate by adding tucks to the plaid to help it drape just slightly rather than just being flat. You can see the resulting folds pretty clearly in the next photo.

The various overlapping pleats of the plaid front, waterfall side, and back were complicated. I was trying to achieve a back that looked like this dress held by the Met, in addition to the various lovely folds shown in the fashion plate.

It’s easy to draw things, but sometimes they don’t really work in actual fabric… I found that with the waterfall, especially. There’s actually an added loop of fabric tucked between the folds that isn’t part of the side piece at all! It’s just a little fake bit to help create the look of the fashion plate. I couldn’t figure out any other way to do it!

Given these various challenges and lots of other things to keep me busy in life, this poor skirt sat in a half finished state on the dress form in my sewing room for at least a year. I couldn’t remove it without marking everything… and I couldn’t make up my mind about what I wanted! (I say poor skirt, but it was sort of poor me, as I definitely reached a point of wanting the dress to get put away!)

Eventually, I did make up my mind and remove the skirt, but the partially finished skirt still sat around for ages before I finished it. Part of marking the skirt also meant figuring out the facings of the waterfall bits, because the fully finished edges had to be set into the waistband. Mr. Q actually asked at one point after the skirt was off the dress form whether I had intended it as decoration in my sewing room because it was there for so long… Nope!

All the various pleats on the skirt wound up making for a rather thick layer of things to sew through for the waistband. Here’s what the side with the waterfall trim looks like on the inside. I count at least 9 layers of wool in one spot! Given that, I decided to cut the inner side of my waistband on the selvedge of the fabric and leave it hanging down into the skirt instead of turning the seam allowances up as you would normally do for a waistband.

Setting the hems on the skirt was another challenge, though this was due to the fact that I did it by myself. It involved dressing in my corset, bustle, petticoat, and skirt, twisting and contorting while putting pins in the hem to mark the floor, then standing to look in the mirror to see if they were even, then adjusting… many times!

I eventually had everything marked to my satisfaction and could move on with the sewing. All sections of the hem are finished with wide bias strips of the drab cotton, the goal being to make the hems durable and less likely to catch on twigs, etc. than if they had more textured wool exposed (and I can say, after romping about the woods in this dress, that the hems did an admirable job!).

After using the drab cotton for both my 1896 Bicycling Ensemble and to line my 1863 Apricot Evening Gown I was starting to run low for this project. I cut the skirt base pieces, cut the bodice lining pieces, and then used pieced scraps to make the wide bias to hem the skirt. As you can see in the above photo, some of my bias pieces were only 6″ or so in length. And in the photo below, you can see the only bit of wide bias that was leftover when I was finished!

The final skirt detail to share is a hidden patch pocket! The skirt opens on the side front, along one side of the plaid, and underneath that opening is a pocket, perfectly sized to fit a cell phone and keys. The pocket is oddly low, near the knees, but that is because I wanted to make sure that any bulk from items in the pocket would press in towards my legs and not make an unsightly bulge on the exterior of the dress.

The photo below shows the pocket, as well as some of the hooks and thread loops that allow the tan fabric to attach to the plaid wool.

Bodice Construction

In addition to this rather complicated skirt, there was also a bodice to be made! The bodice is actually pretty straightforward. The pattern is adapted from the one I used for my 1885 Frills and Furbelows summer dress which in turn was adapted from a Janet Arnold pattern.

The bodice is completely flat lined in the drab cotton. There is a ribbon waist tape to help keep the back of the bodice tight against the body and to keep the bodice from riding up while being worn.

The bottom and front/neck edges are finished with bias strips of the drab cotton. The seam allowances are unfinished. The bodice closes in front with hooks and loops.

There are two other details I want to discuss, as well. First, there are the bust pads! I came across these in this c. 1885 extant dress and decided I wanted to give them a try to see if I could get that really exaggerated bust to waist ratio in my inspiration fashion plate (here’s the link to it again).

Turns out… no. I did not achieve that bust to waist ratio… but I think that’s more a factor of my waist size than anything. (It’s not as small as it was 10 years ago…) To keep the proportions of the fashion plate I would drastically need to increase the bust size. Perhaps in another dress.

In the meantime, this dress tried out the bust pads. They are made from cotton scraps with shaped batting layers inside. Below you can see the steps to creating the pads. Once sewn, these were tacked inside the bodice to keep them in place.

The second detail still to discuss is the neck ruffle. I finished this dress shortly after completing my 1875 Reception Dress last summer and I had my antique fluting iron on the brain. After pondering the fashion plate neck and sleeve ruffles for awhile I decided to use my fluting iron to ruffle some cotton to use for my dress’s neckline and cuffs.

I was well practiced by this point, having fluted lots of silk for the 1875 dress, so away I went! The cotton strips are cut on the grain and folded along the long edge–no hemming required!

Attached to the neckline the trim looks like this. The waves are a little crushed where they are tacked down, but the folded edge maintains a nice wavy shape. I found that my cotton frayed more than I wanted it to, so I went back and whip stitched over the raw edge to keep it tidy.

I used the same cotton for small ruffles on each cuff, as well. Like the neck ruffle, these are hand sewn inside the finished sleeve openings.

You can see the finished effect of the ruffles in the next photo! Subtle, but adding a nice edge finish.

While the ruffles are sewn to the inside of the finished bodice, the purple bodice trim and plaid cuffs are sewn similarly but on the outside of the finished bodice. I didn’t want them to add bulk by turning all the way under into the bias edging, so they have the raw edges turned under and then they are hand sewn to the outside of the bodice.

I decided the purple trim around the neck wasn’t quite interesting enough and so I added a narrow fold of bias cut plaid to help transition between the two solid colors. This also helps the bodice to feel that it belongs with the skirt, so that the only plaid isn’t just on the skirt front and cuffs.

Final details

Both skirt and bodice are mostly assembled by machine with hand finishing, including trimming, hemming/facing, closures, etc.

I used about 8 yds of the different wools and drab cotton for the ensemble. These materials, plus notions etc., cost just under $30. This was definitely helped by the fact that most of the fabrics were purchased for just $3 per yard at the local discount fabric store!

The skirt is a bit heavy, being made of about six yards of wool and cotton, but it’s not unreasonable. And, it’s quite warm! I was perfectly warm in the approximately 20 degree Fahrenheit cold for all of these photos except for my nose, chest, and hands. Never fear, though, I was wearing the additional layers of my newly completed mantle and muff except for during these photos! (And there will be posts coming up about them as well, with lots more photos!) With all my layers the only part of me that was cold was my nose!

In the end, I’m more pleased with the overall dress than I expected to be! I was always excited about the skirt and the purple swoop of the upper bodice trim, but once I started making the dress in wool I was worried the bodice might be too plain and maybe even boring… but I like the fit and shaping very much (especially in the back!) and I think that helps balance out the relatively simple style. It makes sense for a wool dress to be well tailored but more simple in decoration and style than its silk counterparts.

Also, I’m very pleased that my idea from 2012, to use these fabrics for a bustle dress, has finally been achieved! I think there’s still a yard or so of tan wool in my stash, but I’ve sewn my way through a good 8 yards of it. That’s great stash busting!