Project Journal: 1863 Apricot Evening Gown Part VII: Finishing Details

Next post will be photos of my finished apricot dress… YAY! But first, I have the final finishing details to discuss. Most of the finishing left was on the bodice, so let’s start with that.

Bertha

Side note: have we ever talked about what a bertha is? A bertha is a collar of lace or other thin fabric, particularly popular during the 19th century. Check out this link to learn a little more about the history of the word.

In my last post, I included a photo showing the assembled front of the bertha for this dress before I attached it to the bodice. My goal was to make the bertha completely separate so that it would be easy to change if I decided to do that at a later time.

The foundation is a single layer of ivory tulle cut to the shape of the front (and one for the back) of the fully assembled bodice. A gathered piece of my lace trim was machine stitched to the bottom edge of the tulle, about ½” up from the cut edge.

On top of that foundation is a second layer of tulle that is gathered at both the top and bottom edges. The top edge is folded under by about ½” and the gathering stitch run through both layers so that the top edge is a fold rather than the cut edge of the tulle.

It took quite a few pins to secure the gathered tulle to the tulle underneath. It was finicky–tulle on tulle… not fun!

And I might have made a mistake while ironing my first foundation piece of tulle. Any guesses about what that was?

Oops! I like to iron with a hot iron but the nylon tulle was having none of that! I had to cut a new piece… and turn down my iron for a bit! The bottom gathered tulle in the above photo shows another failed experiment. That tulle is a full double width folded at the top and gathered top and bottom. I decided it was too bulky and not as elegant and decided to go with my previously explained method of only turning the top to create a fold.

After machine sewing my successful gathered tulle to the base layer of tulle it was time to add velvet trim. The velvet was cut on the bias, both edges pressed under, and then it was slip stitched over the stitch lines in the tulle. I also created velvet bows, as I hinted about last time. This is one of the bows I created before I realized I needed more than I had cut out… oops again!

After recutting my bows, this is the velvet I had left. I didn’t include anything for scale, but the longest piece in this photo is about 6″!

Remaking the bows (or rather, cutting new ones and disassembling ones I had already made) brings us back to where we were in the last post. The old velvet bows had top bow parts and dangling bow parts cut on the straight of grain, but due to my limited fabric I cut out the new bows with bias dangling parts. In the end I’m glad I did, because I think they hang more elegantly than the straight cut version.

Brooches

You might have noticed that the center velvet bow on the bertha has a gold filigree oval on it. In my inspiration it looks like these are buckles or brooches of some kind. I started by trying to use my stash, finding two matching football shaped buckles that I hoped could work. But the more I looked at them the more I didn’t like them.

So I spent a long time looking for something else low-cost that would work. Ideally, I wanted two sizes of the same style, but that quickly proved to be hard unless I wanted smallish very sparkly rhinestone buckles. But of course the scale of this dress is not small. Eventually I found the right search terms to find open centered brooches intended for creating your own cameos. I purchased these and painted them gold using acrylic paint. Despite being the same size for the bodice and skirt, I think they worked well!

Sleeves

I suppose I should also mention the sleeves. They made it onto the bodice but I haven’t talked about them at all. They are cut on the straight of grain and are basically a round-top trapezoid shape, with an outer layer of silk that is larger than an inner layer of my flat lining cotton. The silk was gathered around the bottom and around the armhole to fit. Due to the longer measurement of the silk it rolls up inside the sleeves by about 1″, which keeps the cotton from showing while being worn. Here you can see the poofy sleeves as well as the bertha before it had velvet added.

Oh, but those sleeves weren’t done yet! My inspiration had sleeves that appeared to be droopy continuations of the bertha. This is a detail that is different from all of my previous dresses from this period, so I felt it would be a neat detail to include. It took quite a bit of pondering to decide how to achieve the look and it was something I didn’t feel I could tackle until well into the process when I could see what the bertha and sleeves were doing without the extra layer.

My solution was to create sleeve caps of single layers of tulle with more of my lace and silk pleated trim on top. The tulle rather disappears when worn, giving the effect of floating trim. It’s pretty neat, actually.

Sewing the lace on was easy and relatively fast, as I did it by machine. But the silk… well, I thought I had enough left over from my crazy skirt trimming for the sleeves but those pleats eat silk so quickly! I only had about 75% of what I needed.

It was less than a week before the ball. I had returned the scalloped scissors to my friend so I couldn’t cut more silk. I tried spacing out what I had as much as possible without looking different from the skirt. And I was still short! UGH! Last minute challenges aren’t very fun. I pleated and re-pleated. Got a few more inches covered. Then I decided to harvest some pleated trim from my skirt, from underneath the big velvet bow where it wouldn’t be seen. Not terribly fun, to seam rip something you’ve just made. And the pieces I got were about 5″ in length. But I got them. And I put them on those sleeves. And even though they’re pieced you can’t tell at all and those sleeves got done!

This photo shows the first sleeve in progress, before I realized I didn’t have enough silk trim…

I sewed the sleeve caps on with small top stitches to the outside of the bodice at the armsceye seam. Again, this makes them easy to remove if I want. Also, I’d already set the sleeves… so I couldn’t easily put them into that seam (oops?). In the end, it doesn’t matter that they’re on the outside, because the bertha lace completely hides the armsceye along the top of the sleeve.

Bodice Finishing Details

In addition to sewing on the sleeve caps, I also attached both the front and back bertha layers to the bodice.

I finished my eyelets and ran the lacing ribbon through the top half. I find that 3 yards of ribbon allows me to leave the ribbon laced through the top eyelets and still get in and out, which makes getting dressed faster as the person helping me then only has to lace the bottom half of the bodice and tighten the ribbon at the top.

I also made and whipped in a placket. That’s the rectangular piece that’s rather wrinkly in the center of the photo below. While this bodice fits perfectly now, you never know what the future will bring and this will allow for a slight gap (if needed) that will still look like dress fabric and not like underwear.

I added hooks and thread bars to the bertha at the right shoulder, as well as two along the right back neckline to hold it in place along that edge. There is also a hook on the lace to secure it to the lace on the front of the bertha. Once hooked it looks seamless!

The final step was to sew hooks on the front and sides inside the bodice to allow it hook to the skirt. You can see the hook on the boning at the center front in the photo below.

Skirt Finishing Details

The skirt was basically done once I added my giant velvet bow except for a few things.

I added two hooks and bars to the waistband to close the skirt. The narrow hemmed opening is hidden under a pleat and will allow for future changes in waist size if needed.

I added loops to hook the bodice to. You can see one of those on the left. Turns out I didn’t line the side ones up very well (I think this was the very last task late one night on the last night I was stitching), so we added a safety pin at the ball and hooked the bodice to that. The safety pin is visible just to the right of the loop. At some point I need to move the loop to the location of the safety pin. Boo! There’s always something to fix or repair or change once you wear a garment!

And finally, when I added the waistband I also added hanging loops for the skirt. There’s one poking up on the right. These allow me to easily hang the skirt to keep it from getting wrinkled in storage.

And finally… after many, many hours of sewing, this dress is done. I like big projects but I confess to getting a bit sick of this one after sewing on it every day for about a month at the end of the process. Next post will be photos of the finished dress. (And I can report that I was happy with it in the end! Yay!)

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Shortcut Dickey Report

When ordering things from the internet sometimes you just don’t know if what you pull out of the shipping envelope will be what you hope for… but I’m pleased to report that my dickey and bowtie shortcut was successful!

The dickey has a neck size that fits me perfectly (I measure 14 ¾” around the neck), is a nice plain cotton material (not polyester-y at all), has a nice collar shape, and has reasonable stitching (some of the reviews said it was horribly stitched, but the one that I received was just fine). The bow tie’s fabric has a nice texture and body, is also not polyester-y (even though it probably is made of polyester), and has solid bow tie hardware.

(For the record, polyester-y means shiny, thin, slippery, or generally wrinkle-your-nose and hard-to-deal with-y. I’m not saying all polyester is bad. Just the bad stuff!)

Bow tie!

Merriam-Webster’s defines dickey (also spelled dickie and dicky) thus:

1: any of various articles of clothing: such as
a: a man’s separate or detachable shirtfront
b: a small fabric insert worn to fill in the neckline

In this case, the dickey I am referring to falls under definition B.

The one thing about the dickey that was ridiculous are the supposedly under the arm elastics that come attached. There is no way they would have sat under my arms and been comfortable! They were only about half the distance from the shoulder they would need to be to even go under my arms! Luckily, a seam ripper easily took them off. Since I’m using this dickey for historical purposes I decided on a more complicated system of vertical tapes and a waist tie to keep my dickey in place under my clothes. Here it is!

The tapes keep the dickey pulled down in the front and back so that I can get dressed without the shirt parts flapping around and looking disheveled.

The only other change I made was to change the angle of the shoulders so they would slope a bit more towards the arm sides. That’s a detail that would be best to customize on each body wearing this garment, so I can’t fault the makers too much–they made a general pattern and it just happens to not have my shoulder angle. No problem!

Yay! Now all of the accessories for my 1890s cycling ensemble are assembled and ready to go. Soon there will be photos of the finished ensemble!

Vernet Project: A Witzchoura Tangent

I started this post soon after joining the Vernet Project, so I think it must have been in my drafts for close to two years at this point. I didn’t want to leave it in the drafts folder forever, though, so I thought I’d include it as I’m wrapping up my Vernet posts.

Throughout my research, I’ve looked through many hundreds of pins on my Pinterest boards from the 1810s, 1820s, and 1830s and have found only a handful of plates that show outerwear specifically labeled as witzchouras (these can be seen in this past post showing examples). There are a much larger number of other, similar, types of outerwear.

(If you’ve missed out, this post explores the origins and qualities of a witzchoura, while this past post explores witzchouras in even more depth, with multiple excepts from the first part of the 19th century mentioning them.)

Examples of garments similar to witzchouras

Common garments in this category are labeled using words such as pelisse and pardessus. Then there are also carriage dresses (example), promenade dresses (example), and redingotes (example) trimmed in fur, but it seems clear in the fashion plate descriptions that these garments were not considered witzchouras.

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Fashion plate showing a Pardessus from 1811.

Here is another similar garment, a Russian mantle, described in The Ladies Pocket Magazine in 1838 under the chapter English Fashions and Novelties: Remarks On The Prevailing London Fashions.

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Descriptions of garments similar to witzchouras

In 1849, La Belle Assembleé addresses this for us (while also mentioning yet another type of outer wear, a burnous. The Dreamstress defines and explores this garment specifically as it relates to historical fashion, which is excellent and full of images!). The author of this reflection of fashion specifically mentions the weight of a witzchoura and how that compares to the weight of a pardessus, as well as the types of outings that these garments would have been worn for. Interesting that they would be worn for carriage dress, when, alternatively, one could also wear a ‘carriage dress’.

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This next excerpt, from La Belle Assembleé in 1825, tells us one distinctive quality of a pelisse which is that the arms were not encased in the garment and could be freely moved about.

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Example of a Pelisse from 1815, showing the armholes that would allow movement.
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A slightly later example of a Pelisse in a similar style. This is from 1821.

Examples of out of the ordinary witzchouras

Then there are garments labeled as witzchouras, but which are odd in a variety of ways. For example, take a look at the interesting witzchoura mentioned in The Lady’s Monthly Museum in 1817, seen below.

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I’m not really sure what qualities allow a witzchorua to keep one’s dress from being rumpled, but what strikes me as odd is that the witzchoura mention is lined with silk and that is has a chapeau bras attached! Also in 1817, La Belle Assembleé mentions this exact garment twice! The first is a description of the garment. The second is about the inventor, Mrs. Bell, who, if you care to read more, has a long list of other interesting things that she supplies.

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In this next case, the witzchoura is described as being lined with sarsnet (a fine plain or sometimes twill weave usually silk fabric) and only trimmed with fur rather than being lined entirely with fur. Haven’t we seen conclusively that a witzchoura should be lined and trimmed in fur? This witzchoura is also interesting because of its colors. It is quite likely a garment made for the general mourning of the death of Queen Charlotte, who passed away in November 1818.

“For out-door costume nothing can be reckoned more completely elegant than the Witchoura pelisse of black velvet lined with white sarsnet, and trimmed with real ermine.”

La Belle Assembleé  in January 1818

Finally, there is this fashion plate at the LACMA which is labeled as being a witzchoura but with nothing witzchoura-like about it! A mistake perhaps? This looks like a summer garment, not a heavy winter garment.

What a rabbit hole of obscure information the witzchoura is. I’m rather glad to say that I’ve now exhausted my currnet list of historical references to the witzchoura!

Project Journal: Versailles Sacque: Hair Decided

I’m quite busy sewing up a storm to get my sacque finished in the last few days I have before heading out on my trip. Therefore this is just a quick post to document my progress.

In the last few weeks I had two hair trial days. The first was a bit frustrating, because I did my hair twice and wasn’t satisfied either time. I was experimenting: figuring out what worked and what didn’t, what was becoming and what wasn’t, fashioning and refashioning the support for the style, and making permanent and detachable buckles (see below for a description of a buckle, from Cunnington’s The Dictionary of Fashion History).

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The second day was much more successful. The buckles were already made, I knew what shape I wanted to achieve, and I had a clearer idea of how to get there. Eventually I plan to share more details about creating the style, but for now, here are pictures of the style on trial day #2 with another sneak peak at my sacque in the process of having its trim added.

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I also played with powdering my hair on day #2. I was unsure about it before I tried it, but the powder helps the real greys (ahem) blend in and helps the false hair of the buckles with their sheen blend better, too. For the actual event I’ll have to do a better job making it even so I don’t look like I have a streak!

The sacque is so close to done that I’m crossing it off, too. It needs one more sleeve flounce layer and an under sleeve flounce layer added, but that’s it! And trim. Pinning the trim is taking a lot longer than I imagined it would because I am a perfectionist about the placement. I don’t expect that sewing it will be as slow, but I’m not there yet. Ahh! Off to sew!

  • Panniers
  • Petticoat
  • Robe a la francaise (with a subset of trimming)
  • Hair
  • Shoes

1899 Gibson Girl Coiffure

I was very pleased with my hair for the 1890s ball! One of the reasons I liked the idea of an 1899 dress is because it is close enough to the turn of the century that a Gibson Girl hair style made sense. My hair loves cooperating in poofy styles, so this was perfect!

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I created the super poof using a pad made from one leg of a pair of tights. It’s stuffed with cheap “wizard beard” hair that would otherwise have gone in the trash. Being stuffed with synthetic hair, the pad is pretty warm. And I did struggle a bit to get bobby pins through the tights–I need to add loops to the ends for next time I think. Aside from those things, though, the pad was perfect!

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I also created a new hair ornament to finish off the coiffure. I had originally thought of bleaching the ostrich feathers to create an aigrette*, like this, but decided that I liked the ostrich feathers as is and didn’t feel like dealing with bleach. There are two feathers: a grey and a white. I found that the white helped create definition for the grey on my dark hair. The sparkly bit is a cheap eBay brooch. I sewed the feathers to it and then used the pin part to bobby pin it in place on my head.

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Success! Look at that haughty Gibson girl look (like this)!

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*An aigrette is a spray of feathers from an egret. Confusing!

Vernet Project: Toque de Velours

Today, I’m going to share more information about the unusual hat in my Vernet fashion plate.

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The caption reads “Toque de Velours.” I already had a rough translation in my head, basically “Hat of Velvet,” but thought I should double check the definitions before deciding on materials.

Toque:

1:  a woman’s small hat without a brim made in any of various soft close-fitting shapes

2:  tuque (a warm knitted usually pointed stocking cap)

3: a tall brimless hat worn by a chef —called also toque blanche

Velours:

1:  any of various fabrics with a pile or napped surface resembling velvet used in heavy weights for upholstery and curtains and in lighter weights for clothing; also  :  the article of clothing itself

2:  a fur felt (as of rabbit or nutria) finished with a long velvety nap and used especially for hats

Well, the hat does rather resemble a chef hat, doesn’t it? My rough translation was confirmed! Luckily, I had black silk velvet in my stash, which perfectly suited the project.

The hat base is buckram in the simple shape of an oval to fit my head with a flat tip on top. I don’t have pictures, but imagine the shape of a straight sided Lincoln-like top hat without the brim and you’ll have the right idea. The buckram is mulled with cotton flannel and wired around the head opening, tip, and partway up the side. The buckram support is about 8″ tall.

In addition, there is padding to support the poof on top. I chose to use polyester batting–it’s not at all accurate, but I had it on hand and it isn’t seen. There are concentric ovals on top that diminish in size with each layer as well as a few layers around the top of the buckram on the side to provide support for the tucks/pleats.

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The “stacked” pleat is on the right.

The poof is a large circle that is flat lined with a piece of muslin to help provide the support for the pleats. The pleats are about 1″ wide knife pleats that are then folded back on themselves to create a double pleat (this website calls this type of pleat a stacked pleat and is the source for the image). To determine the type of pleat, I played around with my fabric until I found a method that created an effect like the fashion plate, which is like fans or slices (you can see it in this post). Then I eyeballed how many to do, pinning and re-pinning until the pleats were evenly spaced and the poof fit into the side of my hat (no math here, I avoid it as much as possible most of the time).

The definition on the sides (at the head opening and about 1.5″ up from the head opening) was created by inserting “cording” under the velvet. My “cording” is actually modern acrylic yarn in sunshine yellow (like the batting, I made this choice because I had the materials on hand, it worked, and it will not be seen–but it is not accurate). I believe there are two or three lengths of yarn in each single section of “cording” to get the right thickness to show under the velvet.

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We took this photo specifically to capture the detail of the hat construction (usually the black all washes together, eliminating evidence of all the detail).

The rest is just sewing! The hat is entirely hand sewn, with the layers of velvet either tacked to the mulling or stitched through to the interior of the buckram base. Once I had finished the exterior sewing, I whipped up a lining of black silk  to tidy up the inside.

The last step was to trim the hat with the immense ostrich feathers depicted in the fashion plate. I ordered my feathers from Lamplight Feather, which I highly recommend (quick shipping, good quality, and great selection). The hat has 6 total feathers, each 17″-21″in length. Each plume is two feathers sewn together along the central stem before being shaped and sewn to the hat. The trickiest part was shaping the feathers to achieve the shape in the plate. Each plume is shaped so that it does an 180 degree turn (the plumes are attached to the hat standing up, but then are turned downward) in addition to the side sweep shape. As you can see, the wind occasionally blew lots of feather fluff into my face during the photo shoot, but it was totally worth it, to wear such lovely feathers.

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Feathers!

I constructed the hat such that it would sit almost horizontal across my head. It’s pretty light in terms of weight and is not uncomfortable to wear, being sized perfectly to fit my head. It also comes down far enough to be quite stable: even with the breeze and moving my head around there was no fear of it falling off.

As fun and silly as it is, I don’t really see a use for it in regular Regency wear. I will likely remove the feathers to use for another project someday (also partly because it would be hard to store the hat nicely with the feathers still attached). I’ve toyed with the idea of removing the poof (and maybe making a tam or turban or something out of it, or just sticking it back in my stash with the rest of the velvet) and using the buckram base with the velvet sides to make a shako style Regency hat. I have no immediate plans to put these ideas into action, except for removing the feathers, which I really should do soon, so I can put the hat away!

Vernet Project: Witzchoura Images

As a quick recap, I started my witzchoura research journey here, being confused about how the word was spelled. After sharing that with you, I moved on to look at basic witzchoura definitions and then further witzchoura references, but I haven’t really shared images of witzchouras with you yet, so that’s what this post is going to focus on.

Out of the thousands of pins on my historic clothing Pinterest boards, the images below are the only ones I could find that specifically mention that they show a witzchoura. (Never fear, I’ll be looking at not-quite-witzchouras in a future post.)  If you know of any other images that specifically name the garment shown as being a witzchoura please let me know!

I find it interesting that two are yellow and two are blue. Also interesting that all the furs that are depicted are textured or downright weird (like the first one with the flower-fur… what is that?). However, in terms of materials there is variation: one of merino (wool), one of reps (could be wool, silk, or cotton, according to the OED), and two of velvet (fabric content unknown, though wool, silk, or cotton would seem to be likely).

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Costume Parisien, 1812
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Costume Parisien, 1813
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Costume Parisien, 1818
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Costume Parisien, 1820