The Amazing Balayeuse (HSM #8)

I am super pleased with a recently completed addition to my historical closet, my brand new balayeuse! Practical, utilitarian, and still managing to be a little frivolous looking, this thing is amazing!

I’ll tell you all about it, but first… what is a balayeuse? Our go-to source for etymology, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), has the following information.

balayeuse, n.
Pronunciation:  /balɛˈjəːz/
Frequency (in current use)
Etymology: French, feminine of balayeur sweeper.
Dressmaking.
1882   S. F. A. Caulfeild & B. C. Saward Dict. Needlework 18/2   Balayèuse, or Sweeper.—A French term to signify the frilling of material or lace which lines the extreme edge of a dress skirt to keep the train clean as it sweeps along the floor. The balayèuse is allowed to project beyond the edge of the dress, so as to form a decorative as well as a useful trimming.
1894   Daily News 20 Jan. 5/7   Three flounces of..silk forming a richly-rustling balayeuse beneath the hem.

Please note: The Oxford English Dictionary is only available by subscription, therefore I have not included links to this definition as you will not be able to access it simply by clicking a link. Many libraries have subscriptions to the OED, so I suggest you start there for access.

Are you curious how to pronounce balayeuse? The OED provides us with the correct pronunciation, but the official pronunciation notes don’t mean too much to me. I think of the word as bal-ay-yuhz.

Ok, so now we know what this thing is and how to pronounce it. We even have an idea of the purpose, from the OED definition.

As you saw in the first photo, my balayeuse is it’s own garment. But there is another type of balayeuse mentioned in the first OED quote, from 1882. Also called a ‘dust ruffle’, this type of balayeuse is directly attached to the skirt. I’ve had great luck with this in the past and I really like the look of lace peeking out from under a late 19th century skirt, so I included that type of balayeuse on the pink skirt as well, but that alone was not enough to keep its shape.

I decided to make a second type of balayeuse–one that, in addition to the wonderful job of keeping the underside of the skirt’s train from becoming soiled, also helps the train to keep its shape and not collapse on itself. Caroline (of the blog Dressed In Time) mentions this function in a blog post showing her own balayeuse. Here is the train of my skirt laid out (sneak peak!).

I felt I had to make my skirt before the balayeuse, in order to make the balayeuse the right shape to hide under the skirt when it was finished, and so I’ve tried it on a few times without the balayeuse. The train is great looking when I twist and turn in my corset to get the skirt to lay just right, but it doesn’t stay that way when I move around.

But with the balayeuse it was so different! The skirt just magically lays exactly how it should as soon as I put it on and it stays that way no matter how I move–backing up, turning, it is amazing!

So how does this balayeuse really help keep the shape? Well, the main thing is that the base is a double layer of stiff cotton poplin (from Dharma Trading–I love them for my natural fiber, white, black, and unbleached fabric needs). This photo of the balayeuse with the ruffle side face down (as it would be worn) shows the poplin off nicely.

The poplin base is basically a big rectangle with the bottom edge curved up at the sides. I used the full width of the poplin, which was a little less than 60″ wide. The center is 17″ tall and the sides taper to about 9″. The base is gathered to a band that is 28″ wide and 2″ tall. I didn’t add extra stiffening to the band, as the poplin is pretty hardy all by itself. This blog post at Atelier Nostalgia has an image that was great inspiration for my shape (though my balayeuse is wider than this) and the button attachment method I’ll show you below.

The poplin base has three rows of ruffles attached to it. I decided to use unbleached muslin for the ruffles for a few reasons: #1 gathering three rows of stiff poplin didn’t sound like fun (and the base is plenty stiff enough as it is), #2 I figured that the muslin would be less obviously dirty looking, already being unbleached as opposed to very white, and #3 the muslin will be easy and cheap to replace someday, if needed.

As you can see in the photo above, the band of the balayeuse has buttonholes in it. This allows the balayeuse to be easily removed for cleaning and storage, or use with a different dress (thinking ahead, here!). To accommodate the buttonholes, there are buttons sewn to the lining of the skirt.

The buttons are reinforced with extra squares of muslin whipped to the lining, as you can see in the photo below.

It seemed too much to ask the buttons to hang on to a single layer of muslin while dragging the balayeuse around. Here’s what those whipped on squares look like on the other side.

The end result is this. As you can see, the non-ruffled top of the balayeuse overlaps with the skirt lining and would not be dragging on the ground. The muslin ruffles actually continue the muslin underskirt nicely, I think, though no one is likely to ever see that!

It might not seem super stiff, but this ruffle-y contraption spreads out beautifully when it hits the floor. For comparison, here is a photo of my mockup balayeuse, made from an old sheet (and without ruffles). It’s spread out for the photo, but you can imagine how an old sheet would collapse on itself when picked up.

One last thought… the ruffles! I decided to try out a new tool for these ruffles: a narrow hem foot. This is one of those things I should have tried before but haven’t ever used for a project, but miles of ruffle edges seemed like the perfect opportunity to practice!

I can report that practice definitely helped! For example, I had some trouble going over my french seamed joins in the ruffles. In the photo below, my first try is on the left, my fifth try is in the middle, and my last try is just coming up on the right. The french seam was just too bulky to fit through the hook on the presser foot that turns under the hemmed edge. I discovered that if I eliminated some bulk with a diagonal cut of the seam allowance it worked so much better!

I didn’t bother to go back and fix my first few sad-looking french seam crossings. I figured this was going to drag around on the ground, and who would be looking? Also, it’s more fun to make beautifully colored dresses than muslin ruffles… There was a bit of ‘done is good’ on that front for this project.

Yay for learning things! I also found I needed to move my needle just a tad bit to the right of center to easily (and speedily) stitch the narrow hems.

The mention of the narrow hem foot reminds me that this project qualifies for the HSM challenge #8: Celebration.

Make something for a specific historical celebration, make something generally celebration worthy, make something that celebrates a historical hero, or just make something that celebrates some new skills you’ve learned.

Just the facts:

Fabric/Materials:  1 yard cotton poplin and 1 yard cotton muslin.

Pattern: My own.

Year: c. 1875.

Notions: 5 light yellow plastic buttons and thread.

How historically accurate is it?: I haven’t seen an extant stand-alone balayeuse before, so I can’t be sure, but I would say 90%. Materials and style completely recognizable and plausible for their time.

Hours to complete:  5 ¼ hours.

First worn: In May, for fittings. I need to complete my ensemble (only the hat is left!) so I can wear it with the dress it was made for to get photos.

Total cost: $6.25 for the poplin and $4 for the muslin. The buttons were gifted to me. And the thread was negligible. There was a bit of shipping to get the poplin, so let’s say $15 total.

Further information I found helpful as I made my balayeuse included this blog post at Yesterday’s Thimble. It’s also worth mentioning that if this idea sounds great, but patterning your own balayeuse is too much, Truly Victorian has a pattern for a petticoat with detachable train that you can check out.

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.

How I Stay Warm In Winter (Burgundy Wool ½ Circle Skirt)

It can be cold in New England during the winter and over the years I’ve lived here I’ve realized that I prefer bundling up for the cold more in skirts than pants. Wool skirts, in particular, are great for staying warm, looking put together, and warding off snow all at the same time (I even clear my driveway of snow before work wearing wool skirts and have no problem with wet clothes). However, it can be difficult to find 100% wool skirts in stores. And even if I do find them, new or thrifted, they’re not always styles I want to wear every day. So to solve that problem I’ve made a few wool skirts over the last few years to fix that hole in my wardrobe.

I have 3 wool circle skirts. The first is a brown ¾ circle skirt that I posted about in 2017. A second is a ¾ circle skirt in solid black that has yet to be photographed or blogged about despite having been completed in February 2019. The third is the burgundy ½ circle skirt this post is about!

All of these skirts are variations on circle skirts because I like that they are easy to pattern, simple to sew, flattering to wear, and have a subtle vintage look. (I greatly admire people who dress in obvious vintage every day, but I generally think I’m more of a nod-at-vintage-style person.)

I decided to make this skirt a ½ circle mostly to vary up the silhouette from my other skirts. I love the silhouette of ¾ circles (I wear a lightweight vintage petticoat with them to help maintain the silhouette and swish–I talk about that in the brown ¾ circle skirt post), but it’s nice to have something different and this skirt doesn’t need the petticoat, so that’s nice, too!

I have a vintage pattern making textbook that I use to make my circle skirt patterns: Pattern-making For Fashion Design by Helen Joseph Armstrong.  This book has updated editions and is still available, but I have the edition copyrighted in 1987. The instructions create ¼, ½, ¾ and full circle skirts for any waist measurement and are easy to adjust to any length. I also reference a yardage calculator like this to figure out how much fabric I need when making these skirts.

This burgundy skirt is made from a lovely, soft, light-to-mid-weight plain weave wool. The seams are bound with hug snug, there is a pocket on the right side, and an invisible zipper on the left side.

I thought it would be fun to use the contrasting grey hug snug color for both the binding and the hem finishing, but I found that the hem looked like a mistake when it flipped around while walking. So I covered the grey hug snug with burgundy hug snug. Now it matches and looks more intentional (as in, you just don’t notice the hem when the skirt is worn).

I really wanted to be ice skating for photos of this skirt last winter. As you’ve seen, this was successful… but it was also hysterical.

I removed my coat, was posing for photos, and it was all going fine… until I lost my balance and fell right down on my backside! I actually have a hilarious photo with my legs in the air over my head as I hit the ice (because my photographer understands that capturing these things is better than rushing to help, usually!). With all my layers to stay warm all modesty was preserved, but you’ll just have to imagine the ridiculousness because I’m not convinced that photo needs to be officially preserved for all to see on the internet. I wound up with a bruised backside, but an amusing story and photos I’m happy with!

On the staying warm front, I would like to take a moment to praise some of the other garments I’m wearing, solely because they are awesome and not because I get anything for saying nice things. The cream wool sweater is from Emmy Designs. These sweaters are a bit expensive, but amazing and completely worth the price–I consider them to be investment pieces. They’re durable, warm, wonderfully cute and vintage styled, and the waist length is perfect for wearing with skirts and dresses. I cannot recommend them enough! Plus, Emmy Designs is a small, woman-owned business! From a second small, woman-owned business, the boots I’m wearing in the one photo without ice skates are made by the Royal Vintage Shoes–soon to be rolled into American Duchess, their sister company. The boots are wonderful! Made of real leather, durable, comfortable, and so, so cute… it is impossible not to walk with confidence in these boots. Also, I find the burgundy is a neutral (who knew?) and matches most things in my closet! I added shock absorbing insoles to these boots and that makes a huge difference in the comfort for all day wear.

Those special pieces aside, I thought I would also share the layers I wear to stay warm in a skirt in the cold, just in case I can inspire you to try it, too! It might seem intimidating, but it’s really not.

My layers include: fleece lined tights (I like the Berkshire brand, because the length is nice and long so they don’t sag between the legs), another layer of old fleece lined tights that I’ve cut the tops and bottoms off of so they’re full leg length leg warmers OR polar fleece base layer ski pants, a wool skirt, a long sleeve tee shirt, a wool OR acrylic sweater (wool is ideal but sometimes those non-breathing acrylics are great for staying warm, too!), tall wool socks, and boots of some type (ankle boots, knee high boots, snow boots… I love flats but I’ve realized they really don’t keep my feet warm. Accordingly, I’ve slowly built up my boot collection so I have boots for all occasions and weather types!). Accessories include a down coat, acrylic OR cashmere scarf, cashmere lined leather gloves (or if it’s really cold and I care less about looking put-together, ski gloves), earmuffs, and an acrylic OR wool hat (I like round, beret shapes, like the burgundy wool one in this post or the grey acrylic one in this post).

This would likely be expensive if I went out and bought all of these things at once, but I have a few strategies to save money while still buying high quality items that last for years. First, I buy items such as tights when they are on sale and items such as cashmere at discount stores rather than from full price retailers. Second, I keep these garments until they are full of holes… and then I try to fix or re-use them (for example, I repaired holes in my cashmere scarf and turned old hole-y tights into leg warmers). Some things, like the fleece ski pants, I’ve had for about twenty years. (Thankfully, they still fit!) The point is that you can slowly accumulate warm items, and look for them at discounts, so that building this type of wardrobe can be economical and long-lasting.

And sure, I could wear all the same layers of tights and socks under pants, but it gets a bit tight and uncomfortable. I’d rather wear a skirt and have a great vintage shape while staying warm!

My Interview With Maureen Taylor, The Photo Detective

As you probably know if you read my blog on a regular basis, I love making and wearing historical clothing. It’s rather common for me to pull historical clothing out of my closet and wear it to lovely places.

Below, I’m wearing my 1885 summer ensemble at the Lippitt House in Providence, RI. Look at that wallpaper! It’s fantastic! If you’re ever in Providence and the house is open I highly suggest a visit. The details are absolutely stunning and I found the guides to be engaging, knowledgeable, and truly invested in the information they were sharing.

While at the Lippitt House, I met a woman who was incredibly interested in my clothing, how it feels to wear, how I make it, and where my inspiration comes from. She eagerly asked lots of questions and shared about her own fascination with history as well.

I learned that Maureen Taylor is a genealogist and historian who now focuses on photo identification, photograph preservation, and family history through her work as the Photo Detective. In addition to being an engaging person who loves history, she has extensive experience and has had opportunities to share her knowledge in prominent publications. When she asked if I would like to be a guest on her podcast I very readily agreed.

A number of months later and here we are: my interview with Maureen is available for a listen on her podcast! We discuss the 1885 ensemble I was wearing when we met, the 1863 dress I made last fall, and other historical clothing topics as well. Check it out and enjoy!

You can find Maureen Taylor around the internet in these places:

Web Maureen Taylor
Facebook @MaureenPhotoDetective
Instagram @photodetective
Twitter @PhotoDetective

c. 1855 Wool Cape

Finally, I actually have photos of a garment I made back in 2011!

The story starts with my desire to be warm for caroling at the Christmas ball, so I went looking through my books and came across the image below in ‘Victorian Fashions: A Pictorial Archive’ by Carol Belanger Grafton. It looked warm and I liked the fringe, so off I went on my sewing adventure!

Since then, I’ve managed to wear my cape a number of times, often for Christmas caroling. Even though its date is c. 1855, I’ve found that the loose shape is perfect for wearing over the large sleeves of my 1830s dress as well. Here’s proof, from 2017:

 

That’s really the only photo I have that looks nice and shows the cape. Other photos that show the cape are washed out or blurry.

Last year I decided it was time to get pictures. I settled on a day I’d already be wearing 1850s (Annabelle is my dress and I’m also wearing a matching chenille headdress). It was important that there would be daylight (that’s the other problem with some of the photos I have, they’re taken during dark winter evenings–that’s usually when I’ve been caroling). Then I brought the cape (despite not actually needing to be outside for the event) and coerced the usual camera toting suspect into taking photos.

I made the pattern by looking at the inspiration image and drawing the shapes I thought would make it up, although I did take a bit of liberty in terms of closure and arm openings. I also referenced shapes and proportions in ‘The Cut of Women’s Clothes’ by Norah Waugh and ‘Patterns of Fashion 2’ by Janet Arnold.

I wanted simplicity for the closure, so my cape has a single heavyweight hook and loop at the neck. For the arm openings, the fronts are simply separate from the curve that wraps around to the back of the cape.

For warmth, I decided on a wool exterior (also good for shedding moisture). To add even more warmth, I also added a layer of high loft polyester batting to the entire cape. That may not be the most accurate choice (at least in terms of fiber content), but it is quite practical. I thought of quilting the lining to the batting but decided it would be too time consuming. I’m sure the batting extends to the edges and is stitched down, but honestly I don’t remember exactly how that was accomplished.

I loved the fringe in the image and wanted fringe on my cape, too. But not just any fringe. Wool fringe. That was a hunt! I eventually found it at an upholstery company called The Fringe Factory.

To keep the lining soft against my skin,  I decided to line the entire cape with natural cotton flannel  to match the fringe as well as including a stand up ruffle of the flannel at the neck.

As you can see, the cape is quite long. That’s quite a bit of wool, batting, and flannel! I achieved my goal of warmth, but this cape weighs quite a bit!

Looking back at my notes, this cape was more expensive than I remembered (though that’s not actually surprising, given the yardage I needed and my desire for 100% wool). I didn’t record the yardages, but I did record the costs. I spent $58.67 on the flannel at JoAnn, $81.00 on the wool at Dorr Mill (I love their wools! They are gorgeous!), and $96.36 on the fringe at The Fringe Factory. The total is $236.03. That’s way more than I often spend on a single historical garment! I had better keep wearing this to get the cost-per-wear down!

Despite the cost, I’ve been very pleased with my cape over the last 9 years and I’m extra pleased to finally have well lit, full length photos so this garment can make an official appearance on the blog!

A New Faux Hair Braid (HSM #12)

December’s HSM challenge was On a Shoestring. The description is as follows: 

It’s an expensive time of year, so make an item on a tight budget (say, under $15, or less than you’d spend on a reasonable priced takeaway meal for one person in your country – and no ‘stash’ doesn’t count as free: you still have to count what you would have originally paid for those items)

I haven’t been sewing much in the past month and so I was having trouble coming up with any ideas for this challenge. Then I remembered that I had, in fact, sewn a small item that fits this challenge–a new faux hair braid to add to my 1830s hairstyle for the annual Christmas ball!

Just the facts:

Fabric (we’ll call this ‘materials’, for this entry):  1 pack of Kanekalon faux hair in dark brown.

Pattern: None.

Year: 1830s, but it can be used for most of the 19th century.

Notions: 3 black hair nets, 2 black hair ties, and thread.

How historically accurate is it?: 95%. Adding faux hair to make complicated styles was a popular practice in the late 18th century and through most of the 19th century, but of course my braid is made of modern materials.

Hours to complete: 3.

First worn: December 14, 2019.

Total cost: Approximately $9.

The wonderful thing about covering the braid in hair nets is that it stays super smooth and not frizzy. Sometimes I like the frizz (to match my own) so I also have a braid that does not have the hair nets on it. And, I’ve decided that it’s fun to have a sleek braid, too. You can see (and read about) my method for covering the braid with the hair nets in this post.

This braid is 40″ long. It is simple and ready to be styled in any way I can think of!

The Sweater Of Determination, Or The Deauville (HSM #11)

I’m really excited to have finished this sweater and even more excited that I like the finished product! It’s been a bumpy road to completion… but more on that later in this post.

First, I’m excited that this sweater qualifies for the Historical Sew Monthly challenge #11: Above The Belt!

No hitting low! Let’s keep things on the up and up as the year closes, and make something worn above the belt.

Before I go into the story of this sweater, here are just the facts:

Fabric:  1 ¾ skeins of Red Heart with Love acrylic yarn in Boysenberry, ¾ skein of Red Heart with Love acrylic yarn in Eggshell, & ¼ skein of Lion Brand Vanna’s Choice acrylic yarn in Dusty Purple.

Pattern: An ad for Fleischer Yarn published in The Ladies Home Journal.

Year: June 1920.

Notions: None!

How historically accurate is it?: 90%. The weight of the yarn is a bit heavy, though the fiber content and color are plausible. My crazy alterations make sense but of course the goal would have been to avoid their necessity.

Hours to complete: So, so many. At least 100, I would think.

First worn: November 23, 2019.

Total cost: Approximately $39.

Inspiration

The story of this sweater starts with inspiration I found on Pinterest for 1920s sweaters. I think I came across these while making my last sweater in 2013, the 1917 Sweater of Angorina. Fast forward a few years to the summer of 2016 when I got all excited and ordered tons of yarn. Enough for three sweaters…

(Let’s get side tracked for a moment to tally my successes at using all that yarn. The 1st of those three sweaters is made but has never been photographed (it’s on the list of things to do!). The 2nd sweater is the Deauville this post is about. The 3rd sweater hasn’t been started… the yarn is still sitting in my stash. But after making two quite thick sweaters out of this weight of yarn, I’m pretty sure that the yarn I have for the 3rd sweater will not make what I want. Here’s the inspiration for the 3rd sweater–despite knitting rather often I’m not confident in my ability to pick the right weight of yarn and size knitting needles for a project like a sweater. I think that a sport weight yarn might be better for that 3rd inspiration, but I’m not sure. I’ll have to do more research!)

But back to this sweater: below is the inspiration for The Deauville sweater, including the instructions provided by Fleischer Yarns (this advertisement was listed on eBay). It is dated June 1920.

Making and Remaking

So I think I started on The Deauville in 2016. That means it’s been on my knitting needles for about three years… which is not to say that I’ve been working on it that whole time. Oh, no! This was definitely an on-and-off (mostly off) project–partly due to the fact that I just don’t pick up my knitting needles that often, but also because I encountered problems with this sweater that were demoralizing and time consuming.

I tried to follow the instructions as best I could. I think I did pretty well with the back and front. Then I started on the sleeves. But it became apparent as the first sleeve took shape that the sleeve I was knitting was not going to make a sleeve shape that made sense for the shape of the sweater. The top of the sleeves would have had three separate curves and the bottom of the sleeve would have curved down like a bishop sleeve. What???

Here’s the point in knitting that sleeve when I stopped. The top of the sleeve is the top of the photo. You can see that’s started to go downhill, but that was only about ⅓ of the way across rather than about ½, as you would expect for a sleeve. And the bottom curves down… why? I have no idea. It doesn’t make sense given the illustration of the finished sweater.

I could not see how the directions would produce usable sleeves, so I took apart what I had knitted and created my own instructions that made an expected sleeve shape. The sleeves took a really long time to knit… because it turns out that I had made them much wider and longer than they needed to be! I had lovely bell shaped sleeves, but that wasn’t the shape in the inspiration… ugh! (No photos, because I was frustrated at this point and just wanted to keep moving.)

I discovered the sleeve shape after having sewn up the sleeve inseams, the shoulder and side seams of the body, and attaching one sleeve. I was not inspired to re-knit two sleeves again, so I had to think of other solutions. In addition, I’d discovered other problems during my first fitting… I realized that the back of the sweater was 5″ smaller across than the front. What??? This pulled the side seams to the back and also made the sweater waaaay too tight around my body. That’s not the right style at all! It also explained why it was hard to set the sleeves in nicely–there was way more sleeve than armsceye!

If you look carefully at my shoulders in this photo you can see that the armsceye seam sits pretty far back on my shoulders in the back, due to the narrow back panel. Luckily the sleeves have a shape that accommodates being pulled so far back.

It was my goal to wear this for an event in November and by now it was mid-October, so I had to come up with solutions that wouldn’t take too much time to execute (or add too much frustration). I’d put in so much time already–I was annoyed with the sweater but determined to carry on! I decided that I could take in the sleeves, hem them, add in two 2.5″ panels to the body, and hem the very long bottom of the sweater. That would solve most of the problems, but it required taking apart most of the seams I had just sewn. Ugh!

Oh, and one other problem from that first fitting? The v-neck was unreasonably deep! It went all the way down to the middle of my ribcage. And there was really nothing to do about that in terms of knitting something new. I decided to stitch it partway shut, hoping that the tassel in the front would hide my Frankenstein seam.

Happier Progress and Finishing

I unstitched my seams and knit my new panels, hoping that my side panel additions would look intentional or mostly not noticeable. (Luckily, from the outside they’re really not noticeable, are hidden under my arms, and symmetrical, so vaguely intentional looking. Yay!) After making the new panels, I sewed up all the seams again. I found that the sleeve to armsceye ratio was much better, so that was positive.

Here’s the inside of the sweater, showing one of the added-in side panels, as well as the hemmed bottom edge, and the white contrast band.

The next step was to take in the sleeves (more unstitching and restitching). Finally, I hemmed the sleeves and bottom edge, making for rather thick edges, especially at the sleeve hems, where the seam was taken in and then the sleeve was hemmed! Luckily it’s not too visible, just a little bulky when you can feel it–which I didn’t really notice while wearing the sweater, so that’s good.

Here’s the inside of one sleeve, showing the taken-in-seam (which was whipped down to keep the bulk in place), the hem of the sleeves (also whipped down), and the white contrast band.

At some point along the way I’d made the long rectangle for the belt, so that was done. It was an easy no-stress step to add in during the midst of all the frustrating sleeve/side/seam ripping business.

The final steps were to make and add the white bands of trim as well as the collar and tassels. At this point I threw the instructions out the window, using them for general guidelines but making it up as I went along. I decided that my rounded hemmed bottom edges wouldn’t look proportional with a single layer of white knit band, so I decided on the final widths I wanted, knit them double wide, sewed them into a tube, and then sewed the tube to the sleeves and bottom edge. I like the result!

I mostly followed the collar directions (I changed the length to match my neck opening and changed the curve slightly), but wanted a rounded, doubled collar look to match the bands. To do that, I made the collar a bit wider than I intended for it to be, turned under the outside edge, and whip stitched it down. The instructions gave no information on how to attach the collar, so I whip stitched that, too. (In addition to the collar, this photo also shows the inside of the v-neck that was stitched together. I finished those stitches off with a bow, to offset the frustration of the sweater.)

Done!

And that was it! It was a bit of a rush at the end, but I got it done in time to wear to the event–a Thanksgiving parade in which friends and I represented support for women’s suffrage. The 19th amendment granting women’s suffrage was ratified in 1920, but did you that it was approved by the House of Representatives and the Senate in 2019? Any year is a year worth celebrating suffrage, in my opinion, whether it’s a 100th anniversary year or not!

About Fleisher Yarns

I did a bit of research on Fleisher yarns, and Silverglow in particular (as that is the specific line of yarn that my inspiration advertisement is promoting). This blog has compiled an amazing resource, listing Fleisher Yarns from the 1890s through the 1970s, with photos. Here is the listing from that resource for Silverglow:

Silverglow

1904: ​​ “A soft and lofty two-fold yarn, a mixture of wool and art silk, having a rich, lustrous appearance. ​​ Adapted for light weight sweater’s, scarfs, sportswear, etc.”

Back to my thoughts about the weight of my yarn, this description pushes me towards the thought that my yarn was a bit heavy for the original intentions. Although, I was thinking of this sweater as being on the sporty side of things (hence my accessories of the pom pom hat and wide scarf with tassels–inspired by ads such as those below), so I think it is still tangentially possible for this yarn weight to make sense–and it certainly did a great job of keeping me warm!

Interestingly, you can still find Fleischer Yarn. Here is one example, and though it’s not clear exactly when these skeins are from, I bet that a bit of looking at the labels on the first resource I linked might answer that question.

About The Color Of My Sweater

The color of my sweater color is one that I love. Berries of all kinds are yummy and pretty! But is it a reasonable choice for 1920? Well, I did a bit of researching that, too. Here is a color chart for Fleisher Yarns from 1929. My boysenberry color isn’t represented, but there are yarns with a similar depth of color and saturation, so I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility for a color like this to have existed at that time. For example, combine Wild Aster and Cardinal on the color chart and you might get a color similar to my yarn.

A Few More Photos

To finish off, here are a few more photos of my Deauville sweater, which was most definitely an exercise in determination!