1875 Hair & Finished Hat (HSM #7)

Last post, I shared details about the style I decided on for the hat to accompany my 1875 reception dress, as well as how I made the hat.

Today, we get to see the finished hat being worn and take a look at the hairstyle I created to support the it!

This hat qualifies for the Historical Sew Monthly challenge #7: No-Buy! I was pleased that I had everything I needed for this hat on hand and it was a bonus that I was even able to use scraps in a lot of places!

Make something without buying anything.  Whether it’s finishing off a UFO, using up scraps of fabric from earlier challenges in the year, sewing entirely from stash, or finding the perfect project for those small balls of yarn, this is your opportunity to get creative without acquiring more stuff.

Just the facts:

Fabric/Materials:  Scraps of buckram, scraps of cotton flannel, scraps of pink, green, and ivory silk, 2 green-ish/brown ostrich feathers, 9 vintage silk millinery flowers, and a bit of cotton velvet.

Pattern: My own.

Year: c. 1875.

Notions: Millinery wire and thread.

How historically accurate is it?: Let’s say 85%. It’s pretty good on shape, materials, and methods, I believe, and it would be recognizable in its time.

Hours to complete: 10 ¾ hours.

First worn: In May, for photos with my 1875 ensemble!

Total cost: This was a stash project, so I count it as free; however, not counting fabric scraps I think I spent about $12 on the other materials at some point in the past.

Hairstyle Possibilities

When I was deciding on the style of hat I would be making, I also had to consider what my hairstyle might be, as the two support and complement each other. The post showing how I made this hat also shows a variety of hat styles popular at this time.

Along those same lines, let’s look at possible hairstyles from the years around 1875. Hairstyles changed throughout the 1870s, sometimes in subtle ways… and sometimes in not subtle ways! Here is not subtle for you.

Guy Little Theatrical Photograph, V & A, S.145:535-2007

I love this look (though I can see why you might chose to have a differing opinion), with ginormous braids and twists that use much more hair than most people naturally have on their heads. However, this style (with all of the additional hair at the back of the head) does not coordinate with the type of hat I chose–one that would sit on the back of my head, creating a crown effect.

Looking at the years right around 1875 (the year of my reception dress), I found hairstyles with lots of curls and twists hanging down. 1875 is the part of the decade when the fashionable silhouette of dresses changes from the very round styles of 1870-1874 (like this, for example, from 1870) to the styles from 1875-1877 that have fabric starting to slide down the backs of skirts (like this, for example, from 1875).

As if in sympathy with the dresses, I notice that hairstyles start to slide down, too. It is these years when I see curls and twists hanging down the back, while the top parts of the hair are still sculptural, decorative, and large. Here is another example showing both the cascading fabric and the sympathetic hanging curls.

La Mode Artistique, 1875, via Yesterday’s Thimble

Interestingly, there are lots of advertisements for hair pieces to help achieve these styles–for ready-made curls, twists, braids… we know that women were not achieving this with only their own hair!

Ten illustrations of different types of wigs and hair pieces, May 1875, via Hats From History

Another hairstyle option is much more subdued and most popular starting in 1878. This is the Natural Form period, when skirts are quite narrow by comparison with earlier years (like this, for example, from 1880). In keeping with the streamlined silhouette, the hair is now generally swept up, but with much less ornamentation and volume than we see in the previous years. Here is an example. No hanging curls or twists and no masses of faux hair.

1880, Le Journal des Modes, via the LAPL

Hairstyle Decision

I settled on the mid-century hairstyle of decorative bits hanging down the back with sculptural hair on the top of my head, to complement the hat. This style provided a solid base that helped visually and physically balance and anchor the hat. Indeed, without all the extra volume on top of my head the hat just looks out of place.

As you can see in the front view photo (above), I used a giant braid for the top/front of my style. There’s a whole blog post about how I created the braid here. Behind that, there is a bun form to help create volume on top of my head. This worked wonderfully for anchoring my hat pin, which you can just see poking out on the right side of the photo below–it’s tipped in a green glass leaf.

I attempted to create loops and swirls of hair around and below the bun, but I’m afraid that part of the style wasn’t as successful as I was hoping for. It’s difficult to do on the back of your own head and it’s hard to make the loops distinct, especially with my hair texture. I suspect it would be easier with smoother hair and definitely easier to do on someone else instead of yourself. I’ll have to try this style again some day. For this first attempt the back of my head was completely covered by my hat, so it doesn’t really matter what it looks like!

Below the loopy/swoopy bit I left curls hanging down at a few different lengths, as I saw in many fashion plates. This part turned out well!

That’s it, really. Massive hair, some hanging curls, plop the trimmed hat on top, secure it with a hat pin, and suddenly my head is about double the size it normally is! Here is another photo showing the hat and a sneak peak at more of the dress. Lots of details are coming up about the dress in future posts!

Style Decisions & Making A 1875 Hat

A reception ensemble would not have been complete in the late 19th century without headwear. To that end, I needed a hat to complete my 1875 reception dress. Despite having a number of hats in my historic closet, I’ve never needed one for this particular section of history, so… not finding anything suitable, I decided to make a new one!

I started by carefully observing hat styles from the 1870s to decide what would be appropriate and pleasing for my 1875 reception look.

Hat Style Possibilities

There were a variety of styles a lady could choose for her headwear in the 1870s. Here are some of the large categories I identified. All of these images are from about 1875-1877.

  • Forward perching hats: these sit upon masses of hair at the back and tilt down towards the face
via historicaltidbits.blogspot.com
  • Hats crowning the back of the head: these sit upon masses of hair, but tilt up in the front and have trim starting to drip off the back, mimicking the look of the hairstyles and dresses from the middle part of the 1870s
Journal des Demoiselles, 1875 via Guy RIVIERE
  • Bonnets: tiny little things with basically no brim, sitting upon the back of the head
MFA Boston ACCESSION NUMBER46.324

And then there are a variety of hats and bonnets that fall in between these categories. Fashion doesn’t always fit firmly within categories!

Journal des Demoiselles, 1877 via Guy RIVIERE

My Hat Choice

I decided to make the type of hat that crowns the back of the head. This seemed like an appropriate choice for an 1875 reception dress while also providing some new challenges in terms of patterning and hairstyling (and I do have a soft spot for crown-like hairstyles, be it in the 1810s, mid-19th century, or, apparently, the 1870s).

Making My Hat

I decided that this hat would have a buckram base covered in silk. It’s pretty wonderful that I had all of the materials on hand, including remnants of my fluted trim, scraps of the silks used for my dress, greenish/brown ostrich feathers that just happened to perfectly match the unusual shades of my silks, millinery flowers, buckram, millinery wire, and flannel for mulling the pieces.

I started by spending a bit of time with paper, scissors, and scotch tape, creating my pattern. Getting the brim to be the right shape and proportion took a few tries.

Once I had a pattern, I cut out my pieces from buckram and flannel (and was able to use up some scrap pieces, yay!). I used my machine to zig zag millinery wire around the inner and outer edges of the brim and the edge of the tip.

Then I used my machine (and a little bit of glue on the concave curves) to attach my flannel. Normally I would use a less brightly patterned flannel, but this is what was easily available and it doesn’t show through my silk. (I love that this fun patterned dot flannel is left over from a pair of pajama pants I made about 15 years ago! Yay for keeping things and eventually using them!)

After being sufficiently amused by my colorful dot choice, I cut out my silk pieces. I had very little pink silk left after my dress was done, so I had to piece the tip and both of the brim covering pieces. Thankfully, there is enough trim on the finished hat that the seams are not noticeable!

Here you can see the silk seam allowance clipped, curved over the edges, and tacked to the flannel with hand sewing stitches.

And here is what the brim looked like flipped over at this stage. I also hand tacked the silk around the head opening, to keep the tension even across the curves of the brim.

This is the crown of the hat, showing off my center seam and those hand sewing stitches that hold the clipped seam allowance in place.

Next, I covered the top of the brim. To do this, I clipped and turned under the outer edge seam allowance, pinning it in place. The head opening was also pinned in place. Then both edges were carefully sewn by hand.

Once that was done, I attached the brim to the crown with sturdy hand sewn stitches through all the layers. These stitches were covered with a green silk band (that really can’t be seen after all the trim was added…).

Here, I am laying out trim options. I am amused at the feathers, which at this point have zero shaping and so are standing out like propellers.

I thought it would be fun to use the remnants of my fluted trim on the hat (read all about how I made it here). I wanted it to resemble wide ribbon (and I wanted to hide the hems, partly because they are only pressed and not sewn in place).

To achieve this, I carefully tacked two layers with the wrong sides together before attaching the loops of fluted trim to the hat.

The tip of the hat is mostly covered by a radiating section of fluted trim with an opening in the middle that was eventually covered with flowers. There are loops of the fluted ‘ribbon’ trailing off the back of the hat as well as standing up in the front.

Then there were the feathers that needed taming.

I started by curling the feathers, as having them stand straight out around the brim of the hat looked a little mad rather than elegant. Curling was achieved using a butter knife. It’s a motion similar to curling ribbon, and requires just the right amount of pressure and firmness not to just rip the feather to shreds. It took awhile to get the hang of the motion and find the point on my knife that worked best.

It wasn’t the most fun… it rather hurt my wrists to twist the knife each time… but over the course of a few hours (yes, this took awhile), I was able to get softly curling feathers.

Here is a half curled feather (on the left) next to an uncurled feather (on the right). In addition to curling the feather fluff I also shaped the center shaft of the feather to curl around the brim of my hat. You can see that I’ve started that process with these feathers, as well.

At this stage the hat has the hat band and fluted trim attached. The curled feathers are prepped and ready to be placed.

After adding the feathers, I added the flowers on the top of the hat and underneath the brim. Trim under the brim of hats is pretty common in this period. It adds to the floating effect of these hats on top of the grand hairstyles.

Though it seems a bit abrupt to me looking at the underside of the hat, the transition from flowers to brim is more subtle when the hat is placed on the head. The flowers here also serve the purpose of hiding the center front seam I added due to my small pieces of silk!

This photo shows the stitches holding the brim to the crown as well as all of the tacking stitches that hold the trim in place.

The final step was to add a lining to cover all of those tacking stitches!

The lining of this hat is silk shantung, leftover from my 1903 petticoat. The join between the pink silk and the lining is covered by a band of brown cotton velvet. The velvet helps grip the hair to keep the hat in place. I chose dark brown because that will camouflage against my hair. (And, both the silk lining scraps and the brown velvet are leftover from projects in 2011, so yay for using what is on hand!)

And that’s it! It takes a bit of time to hand sew all those sections of the hat (even longer if I don’t machine sew the first few steps), but it’s worth it to have a super sturdy, beautifully covered saucer of trim.

This post is getting long enough, so photos of the finished hat being worn are coming in a future post!

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.

Sad & Box Iron Etymology

I shared a new adventure with you in my last post as I learned how to make use of my late 19th century fluting iron.

I’ve received lots of interest in this experiment from family, friends, blog readers, and Instagram followers. Yay! Thanks! It’s been great fun to connect with you. I’ve heard about people’s memories as well as stories of lurking, unused, antique irons that people are feeling motivated to try out. I’ve also received enthusiastic feedback about the etymology of various antique iron terms.

On that note, a friend-who-shall-not-be-named who was most intrigued about iron etymology shared a variety of sources with me with clear images and descriptions of different types of irons as well as pointing me towards the Oxford English Dictionary for the meaning of the term ‘sad iron’ (the OED is source which I greatly enjoy but hadn’t thought to make use of during my experiment as I was more focused on how to use a fluting iron in that moment). I thought that some of the information contained in the OED might interest some of you, as well, so here is a rather long, word-heavy post looking at the meaning and history of words… I hope you enjoy!

To start, let’s look at the word ‘sad’ followed by the term ‘sad iron’.

‘Sad’

‘Sad’ in the OED has an extensive list of definitions, many of which are noted as being obsolete and no longer in use.

sadadj.n., and adv.
Excerpt from the Oxford English Dictionary, with quotations, phrases, and compounds omitted

A. adj.
I. Of persons and immaterial things: satisfied, full; steady, serious.
1. Having had one’s fill; satisfied, sated; weary or tired (of something). Chiefly with of or infinitive. Obsolete.
†2. 
a. Settled, firmly established in purpose or condition; steadfast, firm, constant. Obsolete.
b. Strong, firm, standing fast, esp. in battle; capable of resisting; valiant. Obsolete.
3.
a. Of looks, appearance: dignified, grave, serious. Obsolete.
b. Of a person: orderly and regular in life; of trustworthy character and judgement; grave, serious. Also, in extended use, of a person’s behaviour or age, of a period of time, etc. Often coupled with wise or discreet. In later use archaic or regional (chiefly Scottish and Caribbean).
c. Of thought, consideration, etc.: mature, serious, grave, considered. Obsolete.
d. Profoundly or solidly learned (in something). Obsolete.
4. Unmistakable, certain; true, genuine. Obsolete.

II.Feeling sorrow or regret, and related uses. (Now the principal use.)
5.
a. Of a person, or his or her feelings, disposition, etc.: feeling sorrow; sorrowful, mournful, heavy-hearted.
b. Expressing or showing sorrow; (esp. of a look, tone, gesture, or feature) mournful.
c. Causing or evoking sorrow; calamitous, distressing.
d. Of a period, place, action, etc.: characterized by sorrow, full of sorrow; (in early use esp.) hard, sore, bitter.
6. Used as a general expression of censure, depreciation, or regret. Originally: exceptionally bad, deplorable, shameful. Later (also): unfortunate, regrettable, sorry, miserable.
7. slang (depreciative). Esp. of a person: pathetically inadequate or unfashionable; socially undesirable or inept.

III. In various physical senses, principally developed from branch A. I.
8. Of material objects.
a. Firmly fixed or established, stable. Obsolete.
b. Solid; dense, compact; massive, heavy. Also figurative. Now rare (regional in later use).
c. Solid as opposed to liquid. Also figurativeObsolete.
d. Of soil: stiff, heavy; difficult to work.
e. Of a number of persons or things: forming a compact body. Obsolete.
f. Of pastry, dough, etc.: that has failed to rise, heavy. Now chiefly regional.
9.
a. Of a blow: heavy, delivered with vigour. Obsolete.
b. Of a fire: violent. Obsolete.
c. Of rain: heavy. Obsolete.
10.
a. Of colour: dark, deep. In later use esp.: not cheerful-looking; neutral, dull, sombre.
b. Esp. of clothing or fabric: of such a shade; dark-coloured; sombre. Now rare (archaic and poetic in later use).
11. Of sleep: sound, deep. Obsolete.

B. n.
1. Satiety, weariness. Obsolete.
2. Now chiefly with the. Sad or sorrowful people as a class. Also: something sad or suggesting sadness (rare).

C. adv. In a sad manner (in various senses of the adjective). Chiefly recorded in poetical and literary contexts.
1.
a. Firmly, strongly, fixedly; soundly. Obsolete.
b. Heavily, with force. Obsolete.
c. Steadfastly. Obsolete.
2. Seriously, solemnly; soberly, discreetly, wisely. Obsolete.
3. Thoroughly, truly, certainly. Obsolete.
4. Sadly, sorrowfully, mournfully. Now rare (poetic in later use).

That’s a lot of meanings for the word ‘sad’! Even a quick scroll and skim makes it clear how many of these definitions are obsolete. Fascinating!

‘Sad Iron’

To think about how the definition of ‘sad’ influences the definition of ‘sad iron’, I would like to draw your attention back to III. 8. b. from the OED definition of ‘sad’. (Here it is again so you don’t have to scroll back up.)

sadadj.n.
Excerpt from the Oxford English Dictionary

III. In various physical senses, principally developed from branch A. I.
8. Of material objects.
b. Solid; dense, compact; massive, heavy. Also figurative. Now rare (regional in later use).
[In the OED, this definition is followed by this note:]
In early use frequently ‘solid, as opposed to hollow’; cf. sad iron n.sadware n. at Compounds 2.

Ah ha! This is the most relevant part of the definition of ‘sad’ for this discussion. While III. 8. b. does list heavy as one of the meanings of the word ‘sad’, the following note clarifies that in terms of ‘sad iron’ the meaning is focused on the way the object is made: ‘solid, as opposed to hollow’. What does that mean? Let’s allow the OED explain it to us.

sad ironn.
Excerpt from the Oxford English Dictionary

Now historical.
A solid flat iron for smoothing clothes, in contradistinction to a hollow box iron.

As with every definition, the OED has provided a list of relevant quotes using the word over hundreds of years. I omitted those for the word ‘sad’ as there were just too many and it was less directly relevant, but for ‘sad iron’ I’ve included the quotations provided by the OED below. Again, I find it fascinating to see where the quotes were published, what years they are from, and how the term is used.

1759   Newport (Rhode Island) Mercury 9 Oct. 4/3   Imported from London & Bristol, And to be sold by Samuel Goldthwait..Sad Irons, Box Ditto, Brass and Iron Candlesticks.
1787   Maryland Gaz. 1 June 1/2   Hardware of all kinds… Sad-Irons in casks of 2 cwt.
1833   J. Holland Treat. Manuf. Metal II. 253   Dealers commonly distinguish these useful implements by the terms ‘sad-iron’, ‘box-iron’ and ‘Italian-iron’.
1899   Daily News 30 Oct. 2/7   Sadirons 10s. per ton [dearer].
1936   M. Mitchell Gone with the Wind i. v. 84   Hands like sadirons when it comes to reins.
1964   F. O’Rourke Mule for Marquesa 99   Washday smell,..don’t forget to damp and starch, spit on the sadiron.
1995   Mother Earth News Feb. 75/3 (advt.   Hundreds of old time general store items you thought they’d quit making years ago, including wooden kegs, pickle crocks,..sad irons, [etc.].

 

8.III.b. also mentioned ‘sadware’. Now that we know so many meanings for the word ‘sad’ we could take a guess at the meaning, but I thought I would include the OED definition to clarify.

sadware n.
Excerpt from the Oxford English Dictionary

Now historical.
(Heavy) pewter flatware

‘Box Iron’

So what does the OED have to say about box, or hollow, irons? The OED has ‘box iron’ contained within the definition for ‘box’. (The OED does not have a separate entry for ‘hollow iron’.) Here is the relevant bit.

boxn.2
Excerpt from the Oxford English Dictionary

I. A container or receptacle, and related uses.

C1. General attributive.
c. With the sense ‘of the nature of, or resembling a box’.

box-iron  n. a smoothing iron with a cavity to contain a heater; also attributive.

1723   London Gaz. No. 6195/6   John Brown..Box-Iron-maker.
1746   H. Miles in Philos. Trans. (Royal Soc.) 44 56   Box-Irons for smoothing Linen-Clothes.

Images of Irons

Here are some images of the types of irons mentioned above as well as some other interesting iron variations as well.

This site has a photo and information about an extant sad iron.

This site (also linked in my last post) has a helpful description of box irons and how they were heated in the past as well as how they are used today. There are also a few helpful images, including box irons and sad irons.

This site has drawings of all kinds of irons, including a box iron (and variations such as charcoal and gas), a polishing iron, a millinery iron, an egg iron, an Italian iron (and the bolt used to heat it), and two different types of specialty tongs used for pressing trims.

This site has a photo and information about an extant charcoal (box) iron.

The Italian iron, also called a goffering iron, is mentioned in the OED quote from 1833 in the entry for ‘sad iron’. One of these was featured in the video from the Oshawa Community Museum that I included in my last post, and here is another extant one, with a photo and information.

Other specialty irons existed, too. Check out this billiard table iron.

Please note: The Oxford English Dictionary is only available by subscription, therefore I have not included links to the definitions in this post, as you will not be able to access them simply by clicking a link. Many libraries have subscriptions to the OED, so if you would like to conduct your own adventures in etymology I suggest you start there for access.

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.

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

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!

1926 Silver Robe de Style Second Styling

Today I have a new dress adventure to share with you: the second wearing of my 1926 Silver Lace Robe de Style to a Gatsby Ball in January. The last time I wore this dress was last August, so it was fun to bring it out again. I thought it fit in nicely with the idea of blue and silver for the new year, even though it wasn’t technically a new year themed event.

The robe de style dress was popularized during the 1920s particularly by the designer Lanvin. This alternative to the popular straight silhouette dresses of the 1920s is characterized by a dropped waist with wide skirts. Many of these dresses have panniers in them that are borrowed from the style of 18th century court dresses. Here is a little more information about the robe de style from the FIDM museum if you’d like to read more.

I have another more dramatic robe de style already, so this lace one is more of a nod to the robe de style, with softly gathered sections at the hips and no panniers or other understructure.

(My 1924 Golden Robe de Style is the more dramatic one. I made that dress in 2015 and posted about the construction of it this past post. Since then I have updated the trim on it to be much better suited to the dress. You can see the new trimming in these two past posts: in 2016 and in 2017.)

Last August I wore this dress with silver accessories: silver American Duchess Seaburys and silver hairpins. This time I decided to try my black Seaburys with silver rhinestone shoe clips, an ostrich feather/rhinestone hairpin (this is the same decoration I had in my hair for my 2016 Versailles look–how fitting to wear it again with a dress that has a nod to the shape of the gown I wore that night!), and my newly made black velvet handbag. It’s a bit hard to see the handbag in these photos, but if you look for it you can spot it in one hand or the other in most photos. Trying to show it off and not look ridiculous was a bit of a challenge.

(As a another side note, that same hairpin works really well for the 1890s, too! Who knew it could so easily shift between not only decades, but centuries!)

While packing and getting dressed, I couldn’t decide which dress to wear to the ball: this silver robe de style or my 1927 Blush Sparkle Dress. I brought both of them with me to the event and only made a decision when I realized that a friend hadn’t brought a sparkly dress to wear. (Never fear, she had a dress, just not a sparkly one!) The fabulous architecture of the The Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel really called for some sparkle, so I wore the robe de style and loaned her the blush sparkle dress. It was fun to see it sparkling around the ballroom!

Showing off two different styles of 1920s dresses. Blush Sparkle on the left and Silver Robe de Style on the right. It’s hard to lounge and not look silly. This was one of the best we got!

After the second wearing, I am still pleased with this dress. It’s fun to dance in and a bit unusual in style: qualities that suit me perfectly.

I think I like this dramatic black and ostrich styling best so far. Do you have a preference between the first styling with silver accessories and this second wearing?

 

1896 Bicycling Ensemble: Construction Details

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bloomers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Jacket

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1890s Women’s Bicycling Clothing: Patents & Advertisements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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