Project Journal: Victorian Women’s Tailoring Part VII: Fitting 1913 Garments

Finally, here are some pictures of my fitting for my 1913 tailored look!

We’ll start here, where you can see the mostly dressed view. This look is a tailored suit from 1913. In the picture you can see the pleated skirt. I actually wound up making the finished length longer than I originally thought I would.

The skirt is worn with an Edwardian blouse featuring cluny lace, pin tucks, pleats, and pleated cuffs.

To the right you can see the look with the unfinished jacket and hat. The jacket still has a mock-up collar and at this point there is no facing, so the interior canvas is visible on the lapels of the jacket.

This period is a strange mix of Victorian holdover clothing (like the blouse) and 20th century clothing (the tailored suit).

Under the skirt are undergarments that have slimmed down since 1883 and 1903 while still remaining numerous and Victorian in principle. On the left you can see the full length chemise which still features lace, pin tucks, and silk ribbon. The silhouette has narrowed considerably from the Victorian shapes of the 19th century, but the whole look is Victorian, not modern. The corset is much longer at this time, but the bones stop about four inches above the bottom edge so that movement is not impaired. This corset is constructed of a silk/linen blend that is flat lined with coutil. The seams are flat felled on the inside. It is edged in the same fabric cut on the bias. The top edge is also edged with lace and silk ribbon. To the right you can see the corset cover for this look: simple and straight forward, with just a small edge of lace. There is also a matching fabric petticoat for this look. The petticoat (or underskirt) is edged with a pin tucked ruffle and finished at the bottom with matching embroidery. It closes at the waist with a hook and eye. The chemise, petticoat, and corset cover are all constructed of the same ivory cotton.

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Project Journal: Victorian Women’s Tailoring Part VI: Fitting 1903 Garments

Well, if you remember from a few posts ago, I completed my mockup undergarments and exterior garments for this 1903 look in muslin (the same fabric I used for the 1883 and 1913 mockups). But now I’ve completed first fittings for my garments in their actual fabrics!

Let’s start at the outside and work our way in. The exterior “suit” is two pieces: a jacket and walking skirt. Both layers are constructed of fairly heavy wool, so tightly woven it is almost like melton. Melton is a felted wool frequently used for outerwear and constantly used historically for it’s water resistance and ability not to fray–thus allowing tailors to leave their cut edges raw and not finish them with time intensive seam finishes. The walking skirt is intended for use out of doors: specifically for talking walks (hence the name) and promenading about in the public eye.

Under the jacket is a silk crepe blouse with a lace yoke, collar, and cuffs. If you look closely you can see the three points of the lace yoke on the blouse. The blouse is pulled off-center in this picture because of the alterations I needed to make-only one side has the alterations pinned.

Under the skirt there is a cream colored lace edged silk shantung petticoat. The petticoat has two circular, gathered ruffles at the bottom. The top ruffle has a wavy hem edged in lace and the bottom ruffle is edged in matching lace. There are also arches of lace above the ruffles.

There is also a cream colored corset cover that is not pictured in these photos. This s-shape corset is made of green silk shantung flat lined with coutil. The seams are flat felled on the inside. The edges are bound in bias cut shantung and the top is also edged with white lace threaded with pink silk ribbon. Under the corset is a cotton combination that buttons up the front. A combination is an undergarment that is functions as a chemise but has bifurcated leg openings, like drawers. This pair is edged in white lace at the leg openings and neck edge. The neck opening is threaded with a green silk ribbon to coordinate with the corset.

Project Journal: Victorian Women’s Tailoring Part V: Fitting 1883 Tailor Made Suit

As you saw in my last post, the undergarments for my 1883 look are complete. The understructure, especially the corset and bustle, is essential to the creation of the silhouette in 1883: without these pieces the exterior garments would crumple and sag. The thing is, the exterior garment is tailored to fit this exact shape: if that silhouette is not created by the undergarments then the exterior garments just don’t fit!

Let’s take a look at the exterior garments. First, the skirt. This skirt is many layers: the one you can see now I call the “foundation skirt.” It is the part of the skirt that hangs from waist to floor without any draping on it. In reality, the foundation skirt is actually made of two layers. The first layer is the one you can see with the velvet knife pleats along the hem–the knife pleats are 10″ high (ending just above the tabs in the wool)–but don’t be fooled, the knife pleats are attached to a cotton underskirt that extends up to the waist. Why? Multiple reasons: 1-this skirt is already super heavy with just one layer of wool and the velvet trim, and I haven’t even added the drapery yet; 2-the skirt is already super warm as well, it would be too warm with velvet all the way to the waist; 3-the Victorian mindset was to not waste precious money on beautiful fabrics that weren’t seen, so this technique of using cotton underskirts edged with fancy trim is very common; 4-velvet rather than cotton would add more bulk  to the circumference of the waist, and the goal is to make the waist as small as possible. You can’t see the pins, but I did have to make alterations at the waist, since the bottom edge was already finished. There are more skirt layers coming: a gathered and draped “back drape,” and an asymmetrically pleated “front drape.”

The jacket is the other exterior garment. This garment is actually a really good example of the alterations I almost always have to make before I am able to finish a garment. The left side is how the garment fit when I put it on my model. On the right side you can see all my safety pins moving and adding darts to make the jacket fit better. Although it looks wrinkly, once I stitch all those alterations it will actually allow the jacket to fit smoothly over the torso. You can also see my mockup collar on this jacket.

What comes next? Well, because I needed to basically take out all my front darts and seams and move them, I had another fitting with my model before starting to finish the garment. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera! I’ll try to finagle pictures, but they’ll be coming later. After the second fabric fitting I move on to finishing my garments completely!

Project Journal: Victorian Women’s Tailoring Part III: Mockups

I reached a point where all my patterns were complete! The next step was to make a mock-up, or toile, of each garment. My mock-ups are made out of muslin: their goal is to determine what changes I need to make to my patterns so that the garments will fit well before I cut and sew the garments out of my fashion fabrics.

By eliminating major fit issues in my mock-ups I am able to achieve a better fit in my final garments with fewer alterations. In these photos you can see the pins that mark the areas of the garments that I need to go back and change on my patterns so that the fashion fabric garments will fit better.

Look 1: 1883. In my brain this is the “bustle dress.”

1883 mockups--including the bustle!
1883 mockups.
My inspiration "cheat sheet" for this look.

Look 2: 1903. This is the pigeon breast dress.

1903 mockups.
1903 mockups.
1903 garment inspiration "cheat sheet."

Look 3: 1913. This is the tubular suit look.

1913 mockups.
1913 mockups.
1913 "cheat sheet" for garments.

Yay! My project is on its way to becoming actual garments. There’s still more work to do, but it’s inspiring to see it beginning to take shape!

Project Journal: Victorian Women’s Tailoring Part II: Patterns

The first step of this women’s tailoring project was to research what exactly I wanted to recreate. That being finished, I embarked on the next task: to create patterns for each of the garments I would be building. Each look is made up of about 8 separate garments: a chemise/combination, corset, corset cover, petticoat, blouse, skirt, jacket, and hat (the 1883 look also includes a bustle). To create the patterns for these garments I used a combination of the methods mentioned below.

Basic Sloper: a starting point for patterning

The simple undergarment patterns such as the chemises and corset covers were drafted using my models’ measurements. Pattern Drafting for Fashion Design, by Helen Joseph Armstrong, was a great starting point for creating these shapes.

The corset patterns were adapted to fit my models from the book Corsets and Crinolines by Norah Waugh.

The petticoat patterns were created using a combination of methods. For all of them I found an image I wanted to recreate, then I either used the drafting method I used for chemises and corset covers, or I used a historic pattern that was lifted from a historic garment like the patterns for the skirts and jackets (mentioned below). The images came from a wide variety of books, including The History of Underclothes by C. Willett Cunnington, Everyday Fashions, 1909-1920, as Pictured in Sears Catalogs edited by JoAnne Olian, and Victorian Fashions and Costumes from Harper’s Bazaar, 1867-1898 edited by Stella Blum.

For the outer garments (skirts and jackets), I used patterns from historic garments that were resized to fit the models who will be wearing the garments. The patterns are lifted from historic garments and printed in books such as Patterns of Fashion 2: Englishwomen’s Dresses and Their Construction C. 1860-1940 by Janet Arnold, Turn of the Century Fashion Patterns and Tailoring Techniques by S. S. Gordon, and The Cut of Women’s Clothes: 1600-1930 by Norah Waugh.

In addition, I also consulted a variety of books to get more background information about the fabrics and colors, method of construction, and look, name and use of each garment. Other helpful reference books include, but are certainly not limited to, English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century: A Comprehensive Guide with 1,117 Illustrations by C. Willett Cunnington, Underwear: Fashion in Detail by Eleri Lynn, and Authentic Victorian Dressmaking Techniques edited by Kristina Harris.

For the hats, I found an image I liked and then used millinery reference books to get more information. Millinery books included From the Neck Up: An Illustrated Guide to Hatmaking by Denise Dreher and Edwardian Hats: The Art of Millinery by Anna Ben-Yusef, edited by R. L. Shep.

More coming soon! Next, a look at my mockups of these garments!

Project Journal: Victorian Women’s Tailoring Part I: Overview

My current historic sewing project is reproducing three tailor-made garments and their undergarments from the end of the 19th century. The project aims to show the development of women’s tailoring from the 1880s to the 1910s–essentially the turning point between a tailored dress and a suit.

Look 1: 1883.

This garment is characterized by its bustle. The bustle goes in and out of use, changing shape and size, throughout the 1870s and 1880s. In 1883 the bustle is at a point where I call it the “shelf bustle,” extending from the back at an almost ninety degree angle once being covered by the voluminous skirt layers. During the 1880s, in particular, “tailor-made” garments were fashionable, but these were essentially dresses, not suits.

Look 2: 1903.

This garment is characterized by its romantic figure, featuring “pigeon breast” blousing and gracefully flaring skirts. The foundation of this shape is the new corset design introduced at the turn of the century, augmented by extra padding at the bust and rear. Tailored looks of this period separated jackets from skirts, but still these do not qualify as suits.

Look 3: 1913.

This garment stands between the corseted Victorian woman of the 19th century and the independent, working woman of the 20th century. Just a few years after this the rigid corset disappears in favor of new, lighter undergarments such as brassieres, knickers, camisoles, and girdles. Clearly, this garment is a suit, not a dress, but its undergarments remain in the past where dresses, not suits, were what women wore.

More journal entries will be coming with more information about each look as well as updates on the actual construction of these garments. Stay tuned!

Sources of Images:

1883. http://www.digitalchangeling.com/sewing/periodResources/Delineator-July1883/

1903. http://people.virginia.edu/~sfr/enam312/fashindx.html

1913. http://www2.uvm.edu/landscape/dating/clothing_and_hair/1910s_clothing_women.php