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.

Project Journal: 1863 Apricot Evening Gown Part VIII: ‘Of Apricot Silk With Cream Lace And Red Velvet Bows’ (HSM #10)

DONE! I am so glad to be done. I’m also excited to have a new dress (and, despite the challenges and worries along the way, one I like the look of! YAY!).

I’ve kept you waiting to see photos of the finished dress. Life got a bit busy after the ball and then I wanted to share my final sewing details with you. But now it’s time to introduce you to Genevieve, my 1863 Apricot Evening Gown, also known as the Orange Monster for the last few months. Here she is!

I’m excited that this dress qualifies for the October HSM challenge.

Details: Sometimes the little things really make something fabulous. Focus on the details of your garment, to create something that just gets better the closer you look.

This dress is definitely one of those garments! I’ll explain and show you lots of reasons why in these finished photos, but there are currently seven other posts in this series sharing tons of details about the planning, patterning, sewing, and trimming process as well.

First, the facts:

Fabric:  6 ⅔ yards of apricot silk, ½ yard of dark red silk velvet, approximately ½ yard of ivory tulle, muslin scraps for hem facing, a scrap of canvas for stiffening the waistband, and about ½ yard of drab cotton for flat lining.

Pattern: It originally came from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 2 but has been adapted over the course of a few dresses.

Year: 1864.

Notions: 25 yards of 3 ¾” lace, 2 brooches, 3 yards of ⅜” polyester ribbon, a few plastic cable ties, about 1 yard of bone casing, a variety of hooks and bars, and thread.

How historically accurate is it?: 95%. A few substitutions of modern materials exist but aside from that it’s pretty much as close as I can get.

Hours to complete: 57.

First worn: September 28, 2019.

Total cost: $112.78

The cost breakdown is as follows: $66 for the silk (local discount store in 2016), $12.50 for the velvet (WM Booth Draper in 2011), ~$2 for the tulle (local discount store in 2011),~$1 for the drab cotton (local discount store in 2018), ~$15 for the lace (Debs Lace and Trims in 2019), $6.28 for the brooches (Etsy in 2019), ~$6 for the ribbon (Farmhouse Fabrics in 2019), and we’ll say $4 for the scraps and other notions since they’re from the stash, reused from other projects/mockups, or used in very small quantities.)

Visible details, you ask? Well, in addition to sharing so many other details along the way, the finished dress has many visible layers of details. The most time consuming detail is the hand sewn 3 tiers of lace ruffle/silk scalloped & pleated trim around the skirt. This detail alone took 17.5 hours. There is a whole post dedicated to this aspect and the details that went into it.

That form of decoration is continued on the bodice sleeve caps. Here’s a closeup where you can see the pleated silk. It is meticulously hand stitched with tiny stitches everywhere it is used.

Another layer of detail is the bertha and sleeve caps. Those have tulle, gathered tulle, and lots of velvet details. My last post explains how these are made.

I found the sleeve caps to be rather unusual amongst dresses from this period, so I was pleased to find this fashion plate which has a similar look.

(This next one is a great ‘I’m plopped and tired of standing’ photo!)

And as for details, let’s not forget the velvet bows in addition the velvet trim. Especially that oversized skirt bow! I also spent quite a bit of time looking for the gold brooches to go on the velvet bows.

Aside from the photo above I don’t have many directly front facing photos of this dress–I guess I did a lot of my posing at an angle–but here is one that is slightly less angled and gives the full effect of all the trimmings.

I was super pleased to wear my American Duchess burgundy satin Amelie shoes with this dress! They matched my velvet trim quite well and were fun to have peeking out from under the giant skirt. It’s such a fun piece of history to have contrasting shoes that actually match your dress! Yay! You can see them in this next photo.

The venue we were in for the ball not only had a number of fabulous staircases leading to the ballroom but also many photos of generals and other military figures from the Civil War. It seemed fitting for this period of dress even if they do occasionally seem to be ‘photo-bombing’! Here’s an example. I love this photo! But does the painting look amused, or disapproving? Hm…


I’ve got a post coming up specifically about my grand crown hairstyle as well as a few photos of the ball in general. For now though, thanks very much for bearing with me through this project! I’ve appreciated your encouraging words and excitement about seeing the finished product!

 

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!)

Project Journal: 1863 Apricot Evening Gown Part VI: Second Thoughts

As I hinted at in my last post, the Orange Monster recently reached a point where I became rather concerned that I wouldn’t like it. First, I was worried that I might not like the pleats facing the back of the skirt (as opposed to the front, as I’ve done before). But then, as a much bigger problem, I was worried about the lace trim.

Here’s the dress in a partially trimmed state… but still with two more rows of lace to add to the skirt and more planned for the bodice as well!

I was nervous the dress would be too twee and sweet for my personality. And after all the hours of work I’ve put in… I’ve enjoyed the process, but I would really like to have a dress that I like and that fits my personality in the end!

I think one of the problems was also that I didn’t like my mockup bow. The proportions were off. So I changed it a bit, shrinking the scale of the loops and also the width of the hanging bits.

And then, despite my worries, I forged ahead.

I cut out all the red velvet bow pieces from my ½ yard of fabric. Assembled them. Had a complete ‘Oh no!’ moment when I thought I was done sewing bows and realized that I’d only cut out and made two bows instead of four… and then needed to figure out how to get two more bows out of my very small scraps! Ahhh!

I just had to cross my fingers and hope that the red velvet trim would give this dress the edge to make it suit my personality. I’m not sure what that edge is in words… drama? excitement? unexpected-ness?

Here’s the state that the bertha is in now. Much better! The velvet is an elegant addition, I think!

So whatever that descriptive word is that I can’t find, I am feeling better about the dress now that I have all four red velvet bows and the other velvet trim sewn. (Taking apart the one of the bows to create the extras even made enough bits to create a hair bow!)

I can finally see the whole dress picture coming together. Four days to go until this dress gets worn!

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 I: The Plan

It’s been a few years (three, I think) since I made a new mid-19th century evening gown. I have three evening gowns from this era that currently fit and they are kept constant rotation at events each year. It’s nice to change it up and have different dresses to wear, so I’ve decided I want a new dress!

My goal is to keep the cost down on the new dress, so I went through my stash binder to look for fabrics I already own that would work for this project. I also went through my inspiration for dresses from this period, settling on a lace trimmed dress in an illustration on page 208 of Cunnington’s English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century.

It’s the dress on the right that I like, the one ‘Of white tarletan; double skirts flounced with black lace’. However, I’ve decided to make my dress in apricot colored silk. This is due in part to the fact I had yardage enough of apricot silk in my stash, but I think the idea was also influenced by the description of the dress in the center of the illustration. I think I had apricot on the brain!

The apricot silk was purchased in 2016 with no particular project in mind except the general idea of being a historical dress. It has slubs and is definitely a shantung and not a taffeta. That’s not great for historical garments for many periods, but there are a few points in its favor.
a) it was already in the stash in enough yardage for this project
b) the multiple bands of trim on the skirt and generous bertha will distract from the slubs
c) it’s a color of dress that I don’t have too much of and that I don’t have any of in this time period

That explains the color choice, but I’m not planning for my dress to have a double skirt. To me, it looks like the white tarletan dress is drawn in a way that looks like a single skirt with lace trim applied at multiple heights rather than a double skirt. This type of applied skirt trim around the entire circumference of the skirt is common in the first few years of the 1860s, so I’m going with idea. I’ll share more about my skirt trim inspiration that when I get to that point in the process.

For now, if we were to describe my dress in Cunnington’s style, it would be ‘Of apricot silk with cream lace and red silk velvet bows’. There might be some tulle mixed into the bertha as well, we’ll see when we get there. Here are my fabrics, with a stand-in lace (I estimate needing around 35 yards of lace for this dress–not a quantity that was already in my stash–so that was the one section of the project that needed to be purchased).

Plan? Check. Fabric? Check. Next step, a pattern. That’s where we’ll start in the next post in this series.

1925 Lace Cloche

I knew I wanted a cloche to go with my 1925 Blue Coral Dress from early on in the process of making it. It was going to be hot when I wore the dress, so I knew I wanted something that would both look and feel lightweight. Turns out any hat was warmer than a bare head (well, one with hair on it!), but that being said, I think this was on the right track with a lightweight hat.

I considered making the cloche from fabric, but couldn’t decide on a style with seams that I liked. However, as I was browsing my Pinterest board, my eyes kept settling on straw, horsehair, and lace hats. It seemed like that was the way to go.

I didn’t have any particular materials on hand or in mind for that type of hat but I had come across a modern cotton lace cloche on Amazon for $14 that seemed like a good starting point. It’s no longer available, but I’m sure a careful search could find something similar. To the right is what it looked like before I started changing it up.

Generally, modern cloches have such a deep crown that they don’t leave any space for hair arranged on the back of the head. I have long hair, so that just doesn’t work for me. Cloches from the 1920s frequently have a cutout in the back to allow for your neck… or hair! They also have more interesting brims than modern cloches often do. Perfect. That’s what I wanted. An interesting brim and a cutout for my hair.

With my design plan in place, I started disassembling the modern cloche. First, I removed the braided band and flower. Then, I started unwrapping the lace on the brim, taking out the stitching that held one circumference to the next. I stopped at the bottom of the crown. I removed the inner hat band for most of the way around the hat, so I could stitch the new brim shape and the back cutout without stitching through the hat band.

Next, I played with the lace I had unwrapped for the brim to decide on a new shape. Once I made some decisions I had to make a few shorter pieces out of the lace, but most of it I tried to keep intact. In the back, I decided where I wanted my cut out to be… and cut it! Then I bound the edge using the lace and topstitched it down to encase the edges.

It was a bit tricky to find an acceptable shape for the new brim. The first few tries were so similar in shape to the crown of the hat that they hardly showed when I put it on my head. I ended up with a brim that flares out a bit so it stands away from the crown of the hat, especially in the front. I had to be careful to cover the ends of the plastic horsehair braid that backs the cotton lace, as it is very poky when cut. I covered the ends either by turning them under or having the inner hat band cover them.

After sorting out the brim and back cutout it was time to reattach the inner hat band. Then I sewed on my trim. Here’s what the hat looked like on the inside after all that.

I’ve loved Leimomi’s cloche decoration in this post since she posted about it in 2014. Having that in mind, I thought of what bits of trim I already had in my stash and what might work for this hat. I decided on a random yard of navy grosgrain ribbon, which I cut into thirds, pleated, and attached in imitation of this hat.

When I styled my hair, I tried to have hair come down to my jawline more than I usually do. I think cloches look less silly if there is some hair showing around them. My hair didn’t really look like a bob, but at least there was some hair showing in the front. In the back, it was pinned into a low twist-y mass of curls.

The great thing about the materials of this hat is that they are intended to be flexible for packing and traveling. Not only is it easy to store this hat but it’s also easy to remove it at a picnic and leave it on the blanket or put it in a bag without worrying that it will be damaged. It can get crushed and bounce back into shape!

In the end, I continue to think my head looks like an egg when I wear a cloche. I like styles that don’t hug my head better! That’s my own feeling–other people don’t think it’s nearly as egg-like as I do! But as egg-heads go, this was better than some attempts, so I think we’ll call it a success! It certainly looks cute on the fence!

A Gown Worthy Of A Duchess

On the same January shopping trip that I unexpectedly found the blush sparkle fabric I made a 1920s dress out of I also unexpectedly found an excellent fabric for a new Regency evening dress. I hadn’t made one in awhile, but I had a Regency weekend coming up and I was wanting something new for the fancier ball (and of course nothing in my stash was inspiring me). In my wanderings around the store, I discovered an organza curtain sheer that brought to mind this particular fashion plate that has been on my ‘to-sew’ list for years.

1819 – Ackermann’s Repository Series 2 Vol 7 – March Issue

I’d been on the look-out for a sheer with black stripes but hadn’t found anything suitable. Once I found the curtain fabric, I debated whether to use it for a dress in this style or to hold out for the black stripe. As you’ll see, I decided to call this inspiration fulfilled by the gold striped fabric that I found. It’s polyester, but that means it was a good price. Occasionally, a polyester can be just the thing.

In addition to the Ackerman’s fashion plate, I also borrowed design ideas from two other striped evening gowns: this earlier Costume Parisien fashion plate from 1809 and this image of the Duchess d’Angoulême c. 1815. My dress is a conglomeration of these and the 1819 fashion plate. I borrowed the sheer overdress idea from 1819, the single row of scalloped trim from 1809, and the bias cut sleeves from 1815. I date my dress to 1817, as the fluffy nature of the organza pushes the silhouette towards 1820, but the single row of trim pulls it back from 1819 just a bit.

I have a full compliment of nicely finished underthings that are perfect for making the sheer dress opaque. It was never my intention to be a scandalous Regency lady with minimal underthings! In fact, to make the ensemble sufficiently opaque, I wore my chemise plus two petticoats under the sheer dress. Without the second petticoat it was clear where my chemise ended (at my knees, in case you’re curious), but I didn’t want to have the illusion of scandal with this, I really wanted opacity all the way down.

Like the new pelisse, the sheer dress provided another perfect opportunity to make further use of my Vernet petticoat, which has a lovely eyelet border at the hem. Here’s another view that shows off the lace on the petticoat.

It’s usual for me to meticulously finish the insides of my garments, but in the case of a sheer dress, that desire became a necessity. Accordingly, all of the inside seams are nicely finished with a mix of French, flat felled, and folding seam allowances to hide raw edges and whipping them together. I kept the finished seam allowances small, so that they wouldn’t detract from the stripes.

The bottoms of the sleeves and the front and back necklines are all adjustable with tiny drawstrings made from champagne colored embroidery floss. The goal was to have ties that would blend and not be noticeable through the sheer fabric.

The pattern for this dress was adapted from other Regency dresses I have made. I think I most closely referenced the patterns for my tree gown and square neck gown, but adjusted the fullness to give this dress a little more oomph.

This dress is machine sewn and hand finished. All of the French seaming was done on machine, as was the assembly of the bodice, waistband, and skirt to make a dress, but all of the other stitching (casings, hems, trim, finishing seam allowances in non-French ways, etc.) was done by hand.

The dress has a scalloped trim band around the bottom, set up high enough to show off the lace on the Vernet petticoat. It’s hand hemmed and it seems like miles… though I think it was only about 9 yards. Hemming, gathering, and attaching this was one of the last tasks and it was going right up until about 2am on the morning of the ball. By the time it was being sewn on there was no measuring or sectioning, just eyeballing, so it’s a little wavier than I would normally allow, but one has to make accommodations (sometimes). I was envisioning the scallops would be spaced out more and therefore be more defined, but as I was furiously sewing the trim on I was not about to cut it up and resew it, so all 9 yards made it onto the dress. It’s fine. I’m happy. I do not plan to re-do the fullness of the trim or the placement!

I decided that such a dress needed grand hair and hair ornamentation, and so I justified my desire to wear a tiara by scouring my Pinterest boards for documentation. The Duchess d’Angouleme sports a pretty grand tiara in 1818. And here she is in 1817 wearing what I think is the same tiara.This is Victoria, Duchess of Kent, sporting a fabulous tiara and giant hair poof/bun. Empress Josephine and Caroline Murat (Queen of Naples) have some pretty fabulous tiaras, too. To match the tiara, I accessorized with a pearl necklace and pearl earrings. Worthy of a duchess? I think so!

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1814 Orange Boven Pelisse

At least three years ago I was inspired by a fashion plate, as one often is, and started working on a Regency pelisse following the design in the image. I got really far along, finishing the construction and even part of the trimming, but then stalled and let the ensemble languish for years before determining to pick it up and finish it off this year or else! I’m excited to have finally reached a ‘done’ point in this project so I can remove it from the UFO list!

The pelisse (and hat) are directly inspired by the following fashion plate, which can be seen here with slightly different coloring and here in black and white. In the first of those two links, the garment is labeled as a dinner dress, but I thought the design would make excellent pelisse trimming and so I adapted it.

You’ll notice, perhaps, that the finished pelisse does not have as much trim on it as the inspiration image. Early in this project, before it languished, I cut out all of the appliqués for the neck, sleeves, and hem as well as the front edges. I pressed under a 1/4″ on each side of each piece, too. And then, as I was finishing all that triangle trim on the front earlier this year, two things happened:

#1- I lost steam and really just needed to be done with this project.

#2- I decided I liked the simplicity of the pelisse without the extra trim. It’s so easy to draw lots of details, but then in a real garment the details don’t always translate. For example, the triangles around the neck just looked bad and awkward (plus, I wonder if that is a chemisette collar and not trim on the dress itself?) and the sleeves just looked too crowded. I was also afraid that putting all that work into triangles around the hem would just get dirty and not be a good use of many more yards of the vintage lace I used to edge the triangles.

In fact, despite the somewhat-simplified trim, there are actually a lot of details in the construction of the pelisse. Each back seam is piped and the belt has double piping above and below it. The neck is bound with piping, which is sewn with small, invisible stitches around the neck to hold the seam allowance to the inside. Also, the skirt is knife pleated into the back, allowing for a nice silhouette from all sides.

The pelisse is made entirely from peach colored cotton. It is unlined, except on the belt, where it is lined in order to hide the raw edges. The other seam allowances are whip stitched to keep them tidy. Here is an inside view of the bodice section. I do like my insides to be tidy!

The trim fabric is a cream colored poly/cotton blend. Each triangle is edged in very light tan vintage lace. Then, to top it all off, there are peach tassels on each triangle down the front as well. The peach tassels were removed from a length of upholstery trim that happened to be a perfect color match!

The pelisse is machine sewn on the interior seams and hand finished, including the hem, neckline, seam allowances, and all that trim. The darts are also sewn by hand with a small running stitch, a detail I picked up from looking at extant pelisses, though of course it’s been so many years now that I can’t find a specific example. I like how the top stitched darts at a little extra interest.

The pattern for this pelisse is of my own design. I’m pretty sure it was based on my 1819 spencer, but adapted slightly for a different fit. It’s hard to remember since it’s been so many years since I made the pattern! The skirt is a large rectangle–two panels of fabric seamed at center back.

I’m wearing the pelisse with the following garments: a chemise and my short stays, my Vernet petticoat , my recently finished chemisette, and the hat that matches the whole ensemble. I’m excited to have found a use for the Vernet petticoat that shows off the trim at the hem! I did take out the tucks that made it the right length for my Witzchoura so that it would be the right length for the pelisse, but that’s what tucks are for, right? On picture day there was a nice breeze blowing everything around and showing off all the layers nicely.

I was lucky to take these photos in and around some of the Regency period buildings in Salem, MA. You can’t beat buildings from the right period for a suitable backdrop for a garment like this!

Now I have my first pelisse. More outings will hopefully arise in the future so I can wear it again. I’m so glad I’ve decided it’s finished and that it was a comfortable garment to wear, though I maintain that the hat is a bit silly.

 

12 Bells Ringing! (1832 Velvet Gown & Hair, HSM #12)

I’ve had my eye on this fashion plate for years. Then earlier this year, I came across a reasonably priced, lightweight polyester velvet and thought it would be just the thing to recreate this gown. I don’t get too many opportunities to wear clothing from this period, but the annual CVD Fezziwig’s Ball, with a general ‘life of Charles Dickens’ timeframe, was the perfect opportunity to try it out. Plus, I’ve worn my green appliqué 1823 ball gown for the last few years, which has been lovely, but I was ready for a change. And, this fashion plate is from the month of December, which makes it even more perfect for wearing to a December event!

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Royal Ladies’ Magazine, December 1832

Also, this dress fits the last HSM challenge of 2016 (Special Occasion: make something for a special event or a specific occasion, or that would have been worn to special event or specific occasion historically)! A ball gown is certainly a garment that would have been worn to a special event in the 19th century.

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Just the facts:

Fabric: About 5 yards polyester velvet.

Pattern: Adapted from Past Patterns #702, 1850s-1863 Dart Fitted Bodices (this is the same pattern I recently used to create Eleanor). The sleeve is a beret sleeve from Janet Arnold and the skirt size is based on information from Janet Arnold as well.

Year: 1832.

Notions: Thread, hooks and bars, two tier lace, pleated ribbon, muslin, narrow yarn for cording, and a brooch.

How historically accurate is it?: I’m going to go with 80% on this one. The materials leave something to be desired, though they have the right look.

Hours to complete: Too many, this dress was finicky!

First worn: December 10 for a ball.

Total cost: About $50.

I put a fair bit of work into this dress, but I don’t feel in love with it, as I often do with my creations. It’s finished (thankfully!) and it was fun to wear, but it was annoying and finicky to sew which made for a not fun process. Actually, the velvet fabric itself wasn’t the problem, even though I started out thinking it might be. I was able to do most of the seams on the machine without an issue despite having a fine layer of burgundy fuzz on everything. So the construction went together pretty quickly. I flat lined the bodice with muslin, sewed up the seams, and made cording on the machine. I did have to sew the piping on by hand at the neck, back, sleeves, and on the belt to get it to behave, as well as setting the sleeves by hand.

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Then I knife pleated the skirt, which was more annoying than that process generally is, and hand sewed it to the bottom of the bodice. I also whip stitched the bottom edge and the bodice seam allowance edges to keep them contained.

Next came the fiddly trim bits, which I usually enjoy. But… the belt wound up being too short, the placement of the fabric scrunched bit on the front was absolutely one of the most annoying dress construction processes I’ve had in years, and I couldn’t put the ribbon around the neck until the bust fabric bit was done. I wrangled the bust fabric into submission eventually, but with a lot of frustration. I solved the belt problem (because I was NOT going to be making another one) by adding a butt bow to fill in the gap, after looking at other 1830s dresses and their trims and being inspired. Actually, I really like the bow as I think it makes the plain back of the dress rather more interesting!

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I was so grateful to be done sewing the thing that I didn’t bother doing anything to keep the sleeves poofed. Looking at pictures, I think some sleeve poofing would help for a next wearing. I’m also a bit disappointed by the skirt silhouette. I made a new silk petticoat to help fill out the skirt (more on that later), and a super quick stiff net ruffle for my waist, but I don’t think they did the job well enough. This picture, with the skirt in motion, is a better than when I’m standing still. Also, I had high hopes to make handmade slippers to wear with this dress, but abandoned that idea after making one, realizing that they were not looking the way I wanted, and that I really didn’t have time.

However, I really wanted the laces across my feet, so I tried used masking tape to attach black ribbons to my modern flats that tied around my ankles. It would have worked for pictures, but I danced before pictures and they fell off mid-dance… That was exciting. I was peering through all the dancers to keep an eye on the ribbons on the floor so I could recover them while hoping that no one would trip… Luckily, no one did! And I recovered the ribbons. I’ll have to try again next time.

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Then there was my hair. 1830s hair is ridiculous, but I was inspired and had a plan. I wanted those silly smooth loops of hair that are often seen in fashion plates. I tried them in fake hair and achieved something–but not what I wanted. And then I ordered false hair bangs to make the side curls, but in a comedy of errors they didn’t arrive until the day of the ball and I didn’t have time to curl and arrange them. All in all, I have concluded that these hair styles are harder than they look and frustrating to achieve! In the end, I resorted to using my own hair, with only a rat on each side to plump up the curls.

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Once I decided to go with the looser floppy loops of hair on my head, as in my fashion plate inspiration, I knew my own hair would do the trick. I wish I’d been able to get them to stand up just a bit more, but overall I like how the hair turned out. I certainly have enough hair to achieve all the different parts of this style. I think my favorite part is the unusual backwards V part in the front, which I saw on multiple images from the 1830s. It’s so unusual, but makes so much sense given the sections of hair needed for this style.

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My hair decoration is wired springs of berries bearing tiny jingle bells! I decided on this because of a mention of putting something from the 12 Days of Christmas in 1830s hair. There are no berries or bells in the modern version of the song, but Wikipedia suggests that in the 1840s the lyrics were ‘twelve bells ringing.’ I was intrigued and decided it would be a fun, silly thing to do. I was also worried that the bells were going to be very noisy! They provided a lovely tinkling sound when I moved, but couldn’t be heard from more than a few feet away and so therefore were not a distraction as I feared they might be.

I wore the gown with my 1860s chemise and corset, as well as the other skirt supports previously mentioned. I added white gloves for dancing and wore red and crystal earrings. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a necklace that I liked, so I decided to go without instead.

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Moose hands! It was fun to be part of a rather large clump of women wearing 1830s to the ball this year. It’s such an odd period and one looks less out of place if others are wearing equally as ridiculous garments and hair as well!

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