c. 1855 Wool Cape

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Project Journal: 1863 Apricot Evening Gown Part V: Starting Skirt Trim

I have more details to share with you about the Orange Monster, as I’ve recently named this dress. More on the tongue-in-cheek name later… Right now it’s time to talk in detail about the skirt for my new 1863 gown. (Check out Part I for the plan, Part II for patterning, Part III for starting bodice construction, and Part IV for very detailed further bodice construction.)

The trim on this skirt is… immense. Not so much in terms of scale (I think I’d call the scale just large, rather than immense), but in terms of quantity required to circle the 154″ hem 3 times each for both the lace and pleated silk. (For a reminder of what I’m trying to achieve, check out my inspiration image in the first post in this series.)

Not too long ago, the skirt was in this state of trimming. Started, but by no means finished.

But let’s back up. To get to this point, I had to decide what my trims would be. The inspiration clearly has lace, but there is trim above that as well. It sort of looks like a tall beading lace, but I couldn’t find anything of that sort that would work. Other trim types also turned up nothing. Plus, I wanted to keep the cost down.

So I looked at originals and decided on pinked, pleated, self-fabric trim to top the gathered lace. Single layer pleats (knife, box, etc.), without spaces between them and without overlap, take 3x fabric, so I used that as my starting point. I did the math and realized I didn’t have enough silk to make enough strips to get 3x fullness, so I opted for 2x instead. I also rationalized that decision with the knowledge that my pleats would be spaced apart, thereby taking less than 3x fabric.

I did a sample of my silk with pinking shears on the grain, cross grain, and bias. I wanted to see how my silk would behave so I could pick the direction of cutting that would fray the least. I found it fascinating that cutting with the grain (the top edge in the photo) was the best option.

My spaced box pleating plan was most directly inspired by these two dresses at the Met: the first is the one that inspired the double piped trim on my bodice and the second is another great example of large scale trim encircling a skirt. When you zoom in on these two dresses you can see that the trim is pinked in little scallops. I only have zigzag pinking shears, but a friend has scalloped ones from our Versailles adventure a few years ago and she was kind enough to let me borrow them. (Also, it turns out that the pinked method was a great idea because it didn’t require using fabric for hems and it didn’t require hemming!)

But… Oh. My. Goodness. I pinked. And pinked. And pinked. I wore one of my knuckles raw and had to wait for my skin to heal before I could keep going… Not to mention the fact that pinking shears seem to always be harder to open than regular scissors (is that related to the not straight blades and more resistance?) and my wrist muscles can’t deal with that for long (spring loaded scissors are my lifesavers!). I wound up with a system where I would open the pinking shears with two hands, then close them like normal, then use both hands to open… Tedious and slow, but hopefully worth it! It was a serious labor of love. And I wound up with a pretty pile of confetti-like strips that amused me.

Eventually, I had about 30 yards of strips scalloped on both sides. I seamed these together and divided them into three pieces–2 of them slightly longer than the others in order to account for the swoop up to the big bow. I was ready to sew!

To sew the trim on (in the sort-of-most-efficient way–if you count circling the skirt 3 times instead of 6), I started by trimming off the very top edge of the lace (and saving the narrow bit for later–it might be good for edging undergarments someday!). This reduces bulk, because the top edge is left with only a bit of net rather than a finished lace edge. Then I ran a gathering stitch by hand along the lace and gathered and pinned that in place. I left that thread hanging and put my needle on another piece of thread, then used running stitches to secure the gathers to the silk. Next, I pinned the pleats in place above the section of lace that I’d just stitched, then used a second needle to stitch the pleats down. I worked in approximately 10″ sections. And went on, and on, and on… yikes that skirt is big!

For the bottom row of trim, I very carefully matched half points, quarter points, eighth points, and probably 16ths and 32nds, too. I wanted to make sure my trim was equally distributed. By the time I started the second row, though, I just eyeballed it. In both cases, the pleats themselves are entirely free form: no measuring. I’m sure there is variation in there, but honestly with so much skirt no one is ever going to know! The pleats are caught in the middle with very small running stitches with the occasional back stitch thrown in to keep the thread from pulling too taut. The pleated trim just overlaps my stitches on the lace. Up close, it looks like this.

Just sewing on the three rows of skirt trim was approximately 14 hours. Whew!

While we’re on the subject of the skirt, let’s just also quickly talk about the waist and hem. Before I got anywhere near sewing the trim on, I’d sewn a muslin hem facing about 5″ high onto the bottom of the skirt, pressed it up, and then slip stitched it in place. I made sure that the stitches would be hidden behind the trim, even though they’re tiny… details, details! The muslin will protect the silk as it brushes along the floor while I’m walking up and down stairs or dancing. It also provides a bit of stability and weight to the hem.

At the top, I added the waistband after putting on the bottom row of trim. I wanted to have the pleats in place in order to determine where the swoop up of the next two rows of trim should be placed. The waistband is silk, faced with muslin on the inside (because I was trying to save silk in any way possible to make my oodles of trim). I added a strip of canvas in there as well to provide stiffness as the silk and muslin on their own were not sturdy enough for my liking.

Here’s the assembled waistband, ready to have the skirt pleated to it. The waistband has the quarter points and my 3″ overlap for center back marked with pins.

 The next step was pleating the skirt. I decided for this skirt to have knife pleats facing the back of the skirt. This is seen on extant dresses and is a style I haven’t tried before. It seemed like it would work for my trim plan.

Pleating is always more time consuming than I expect. It’s hard to get the pleat depths just right and the exterior spaces just right and also fit the correct amount into each quarter of the waistband. One could do lots of math to potentially make it less trial-and-error, but I would rather pin and re-pin than do pleat math. Just saying. To each their own! I’m an eyeball pleater! I made it extra challenging by having that 3″ overlap at the back. That will allow for future variation in size (a goal of mine), but also made the pleating a little extra confusing to figure out, since one quarter of the back was 3″ larger than the other but I wanted the pleats to be the same…

The jury is still out on if I like this pleat style. I might prefer the pleats facing forward, as I did on Eleanor... We’ll see once the dress is done and I look at photos. It’s staying for now!

After the three rows of lace and pleats, there are still more trim bits to think about. There’s a bertha, and that big bow on the skirt, and smaller bows on the bodice as well… so we’re not done yet! Stay tuned!

Project Journal: 1863 Apricot Evening Gown Part III: Starting On The Silk

The previous post in this series stopped at the point of my successful pattern changes for this new dress. Now we’re on to the more fun part of getting to work on the visible parts of the dress!

The first step after ensuring that my ‘mockup’ flat lining fit was to take the seams apart and press the pieces flat. Rather underwhelming as sewing steps go, but it meant that I didn’t have to cut out a separate mockup of my bodice. Yay!

After that I was ready to cut out the silk bodice pieces!

Before cutting out my bodice, I had to very carefully calculate the yardage I needed for my skirt, the self fabric trim I have planned, the bodice, and the sleeves. It turns out that what seemed like plenty of fabric turned into not as much as I thought once I calculated how much fabric I needed to make pleated trim bands that would circle my skirt three times! 160ish” hem + 3 rows of trim + x2-3 fullness for the pleated bands + maybe seam allowance to do hems on the trim… yikes! I think I’ll be doing a whole post dedicated to my trim plans sometime soon, but back to the bodice for now.

When I checked the fit I didn’t worry about sleeves. I knew that if the armhole fit I could decide on a sleeve option after seeing how much silk I really had to work with.

After measuring all the skirt pieces out and laying out the bodice pieces, I decided to use the sleeve pattern I made for Eleanor with a few changes to save fabric. First, I put the grain on the straight instead of the bias. Second, I made the sleeves a little less poofy than the version on Eleanor.

Then I took the plunge and cut off each skirt panel, the bodice pieces, and the sleeves. That left a few pieces still to be cut–the waistband, bias piping for the bodice, and the skirt trim being the main pieces– but most of the silk cutting was done!

I layered each piece of cotton with the corresponding piece of silk and hand basted each piece around the edges. This flat-lining provides extra support for the silk exterior and allows for finishing that can be sewn to the cotton without showing on the exterior. I reassembled the bodice, pressed my seams open, and then whip stitched each seam allowance over the edge to control the fraying silk.

The next step is to add boning to the bodice to keep it nicely smooth while it is being worn. After that I’m not sure exactly what steps I’ll be inclined to work on. Options include initial work on the skirt and more bodice finishing. Then there’s the trim to think about and execute, too! We’ll just have to see what task appeals most.

Project Journal: 1863 Apricot Evening Gown Part II: The Pattern

Fabric and design decided on, the next step in the process of creating my new 1863 evening gown was to decide on a pattern.

I decided to start with the pattern I used for the bodice of Evie, my 1864 evening gown (this originally came from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 2). You might remember that I needed to adjust Evie to fit me two years ago, so I knew that the pattern would not work as is. For the new pattern, I added some space to the waist circumference, bust area, and across the shoulder blades in back.

To test out my pattern changes before cutting into the silk, I cut my flat lining and basted it together to check the fit. Looks good in the front!

And also looks good in the back! Success! No further alterations needed! 

The zipper in the back is my fitting zipper–a long separating zipper I can baste into mockups to check the fit without having to pin anything. This is great for fitting on myself! The zipper ensures the my center back edges will meet nicely so I can move on knowing that the bodice will fit.

As a side note, I have to mention how silly bodices from this period look without skirts! The bodice stops at the natural waist on the sides, which makes my legs look super long and my torso super short! This bodice actually stops even a little higher than my natural waist. The layers of hoop, petticoat, and skirt waistbands all add bulk that needs to be accommodated for smooth lines on the finished bodice.

The next step will be to work with the lovely apricot silk that will be exterior of the dress.

Autumn Plaid Dress

I’d like to introduce you to my Autumn Plaid Dress! This is one of the dresses that I mentioned in my end of 2018 post as something that was made but never posted about. The goal was to post about it early this year. I would say it’s now mid-year, but better late than never, right?

I made this dress at the very end of last summer. I even made sure to find time to take photos of it while the trees were still in full autumn glory! The colors in the fabric reminded me so much of autumn that I felt that photos with lovely changing leaves were essential!

This dress came about due to the intersection of inspiration and fabric. I think the inspiration came first, when I found this dress (with no further information other than the single image). I loved the irregular large scale plaid, hidden placket, shirt collar, and long sleeves. It’s just a very different plaid dress than the often some-amount-of-circle skirt and smaller scale plaid dresses I am often drawn to.

In November of 2016, I saw the perfect fabric at Blackbird Fabrics. Of course it’s long gone now, but I snapped up 1.5 meters at the time. I loved the rich autumnal colors and large scale plaid! That pop of orange is unusual and great!

After that, the fabric sat in my stash… Until last year, when I actually make time for the dress. In August, I decided that now was the time!

The first step was to figure out a pattern. The bodice started life as McCalls 7351 because I didn’t want to deal with drafting a collar or front button placket. I also thought it might be a good starting place for sleeves.

I made multiple mockups of this pattern, fiddling with the fit especially in terms of the sleeves. I wanted to have a dress I could work in, with full range of motion for my arms without feeling constricted or lifting the dress at the side seams. This is not what I got with the sleeve straight out of the envelope. It looked nice with my arms down, flat and smooth, but I had very restricted arm movement. (So I guess this pattern wasn’t the easiet starting place for sleeves… oh well!)

After finally sorting out the fit of the sleeves and body pieces, I moved on to changing the front button placket to be invisible as I really liked that feature of the inspiration dress. This tutorial from Threads Magazine was great for this pattern change. Once I understood the different parts and how the folds interacted it was easy to alter the width of each fold to make a narrower placket than the tutorial.

I drafted the skirt pattern on a dress form. I wanted to get the deep pleats and rounded silhouette of the inspiration. It was a bit tricky and required lots of fiddling, playing with pleat depths, and also playing with the angle of the pleats at the waist seam.

Armed with my pattern pieces, I sat about cutting my fabric… and realized that 1.5 meters was not enough fabric to make the dress I had patterned! Oh no! What to do?

The first thing I did was eliminated some of the fullness I put in the skirt. I was able to keep the pleats, but the hem is narrower than I’d originally patterned. (But that’s fine in the end, because I think it’s a nice shape without being too full.) Then I started very, very carefully planning where to put each of the other pieces I needed. I realized that I could use less fabric if I changed the back from the original pattern (with a yoke and bottom section with a box pleat as on a man’s dress shirt) to a simple darted one-piece back. I did some pattern piece mashing, tested the new pattern out, and was able to move forward again.

My detail-oriented brain clearly decided on symmetry of the plaid (even though the inspiration didn’t worry about that at all and that’s something I liked… I find it’s hard to break the desire for symmetry!). That meant the cutting layout needed to be very specific in order to accommodate both that and the quantity of fabric I had to work with.

I fit the skirt pieces on the yardage (with a tiny hem). Then found places for the fronts (without the placket extensions) and back. The sleeves barely fit. I could have shortened them and had plenty of fabric but I really wanted the wrist length. The collar and placket pieces were next. They got squished in between the larger pieces. Of those, only the upper collar is one piece. As you can see in the next photo, the under collar and both layers of collar stand have seams at center back (though I did manage to make them all symmetrical!). The button placket had to be seamed on and pieced horizontally and the buttonhole placket also had to be pieced on. There’s a narrow orange line near the buttonholes just across from the horizontal piecing seam where the placket extension was stitched on to the front piece.

This was absolutely a case of laying out every single piece before cutting anything! After all that, this is what I was left with for fabric scraps. I’d say that’s a pretty good use of all my fabric, wouldn’t you?

I was very amused by the fringe-y selvedge edge and wanted to incorporate it into the dress. I used those selvedges for the inner edge of my plackets. The already finished edge was stitched down but not turned under, so a little bit of the fringe pokes out when the dress is worn. I did debate if it was making the dress too home-made looking, but I think it’s subtle enough that it doesn’t have that effect.

At some point I also made space on the fabric for a belt. There was no way to make this symmetrical without a lot of piecing, given the spacing of the plaid and the placement of the plaid on the dress, so this is my nod to asymmetry. I can line up one of the orange lines somewhere, but somewhere else around my waist they don’t line up.

I finished this dress right around the time that the pre-orders from Royal Vintage Shoes were delivered last fall. I had great fun wearing this dress with my new burgundy Aspen Boots. I couldn’t resist having red winter shoes!

I love these boots! I added an insole under my heel to help cushion my feet and they are so comfortable! I can wear them standing and walking all day and not have aching feet. The low heel is flattering and snazzy without feeling like a heel. The rubber soles are great for wearing in rain and snow. They are great with pants and skirts/dresses. And they’re a fun color! I feel very confident when I wear them and get lots of compliments. Can I say anything else positive? I love these!

What else have I not mentioned about the dress?

The buttons are from my stash and are plain and dark. I was one short, so there’s a slightly different dark button at the bottom. It’s fun to have details like that on clothes you make yourself.

My fabric is a nice medium-weight twill, which makes the dress well suited to fall and winter wearing. The dark colors didn’t really speak to me to wear this spring and it’s not a summer dress, so it’s waiting for autumn to roll around again to be worn. In the meantime, I’m happy to have captured the lovely colors of the leaves with the wonderfully autumnal colors of the dress. Maybe this year I’ll take photos of it with pumpkins…!

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!