Category Archives: Victorian Clothing

HSM #1: Brown Silk Petticoat

While making my 1832 velvet gown at the end of last year, I decided that a generic 1830s/40s petticoat might add to the silhouette, besides being elegant and fun to own. Silk petticoats remind me of Mammy, in Gone With The Wind, who is very excited (and a bit scandalized) about a red silk petticoat gifted to her by Rhett.

I had purchased this silk taffeta a number of years ago on clearance, but it was languishing in the stash due to its unflattering shade of brown. I had 3 yards, which was just right for a petticoat. And since the garment is never seen nor worn near the face, the color was perfectly suited to the project.

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I made a tube of the yardage, then cut off the excess length and used that to make the ruffle. I had thought of making the ruffle twice as high, but realized that I needed to have more than a 1:1 ratio to gather… duh! I was sick while making this and clearly my head wasn’t working terribly well. Anyway, I cut my tall ruffle in half to make a 2:1 ratio and that was that.

The waistband is made of small bits of leftover cotton from some other project. There is evidence of quilted petticoats from the 1830s and 1840s having waistbands made of other fabrics, which was my inspiration (examples can be found here, here, and here). It was a perfect idea, as I was trying to make the best use of my fabric and I did not want to cut a waistband piece out of it.

Petticoats of this type also sometimes close with buttons (like this one), so I chose to close this petticoat in that way as well. It used up a single, random, khaki colored button from the stash and matches the fabric perfectly!

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I added tucks to the petticoat after trying it on with the 1832 dress and realizing it needed to be shorter. Those are hand sewn, but the rest of the construction was done on a machine except for the buttonhole and sewing down the inside of the waistband.

This garment fits the first HSM challenge of the year, Firsts and Lasts (create either the first item in a new ensemble, or one last piece to put the final fillip on an outfit), as it was the start of the 1830s ensemble.

Just the facts:

Fabric: 3 yards brown silk taffeta.

Pattern: None. Just rectangles and math, sort of.

Year: 1830s/40s.

Notions: Thread, a button, and a cotton scrap.

How historically accurate is it?: I’m going to go with 95% on this one. The materials are good and so is the method. The only thing off is the machine sewing and the plastic button.

Hours to complete: Not many, for me. Maybe 10? It didn’t help that I was sick  and not thinking straight.

First worn: December 10 for a ball.

Total cost: $18.

Sophie, 1861 Cotton Print (HSM #8)

Last week, I introduced Eleanor, a newly made plaid gown from 1862. Today’s introduction is to Eleanor’s friend, Sophie. Sophie actually came first, back during the summer when I was intending to participate in the same dance performance for which I’ve worn Georgina in the past (here are a selection of past posts about Georgina: the construction which is similar in some ways to Sophie, Georgina in action, and Georgina with a new collar).

This year, the performance was rescheduled due to rain and I couldn’t attend the new date, meaning that the new dress, Sophie, languished until October, when I was able to wear it during part of a recent mid-19th century dance weekend. The nice thing about the delay is that the pictures all have stunning fall leaves, which would not have been in the case in the summer.

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Also, had I worn this dress on the first intended date, it would not have been entirely completed. Having extra time allowed me to officially finish all the trim and closures which made this dress the perfect entry for the Historical Sew Monthly challenge #8 “Pattern – make something in pattern, the bolder and wilder the better.” I didn’t have any pictures of the dress on a body at that point, so I submitted a rather sad picture of the dress on a hanger at that time. It’s exciting to have real pictures now!

Just the facts:

Fabric: 7.5 yards cotton print.

Pattern: Adapted from Past Patterns #701, 1850-1867 Gathered and Fitted Bodices.

Year: 1860-1863 based on my extant inspiration, but I’m calling it 1861.

Notions: Thread, hooks and bars, muslin scraps, and narrow yarn for cording.

How historically accurate is it?: I’m going to go with 95% on this one. This is as accurate as I can be given the research I have done and the materials I used, though the use of a facing on the front edges is guesswork. Regardless, this would be entirely recognizable in its time.

Hours to complete: Unknown. A fair bit.

First worn: October 23 for an afternoon tea and dance games.

Total cost: $23.

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Sophie was directly inspired by this extant dress at the Kent State University Museum. I was considering what to wear for the performance, thinking that I’d worn Georgina enough to want something new, that I’d had an 1860s cotton print fabric in my stash for a few years, and then I remembered this dress. I decided to leave off the ruffle on the skirt (and also didn’t have enough fabric), but was so pleased that my cotton print is so perfectly suited for playing with the pattern in the same way as the extant dress!

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Dresses from this period with v necks are not common, but they do exist. This Pinterest board has lots of examples. My Pinterest board has a few other dresses that helped move me along as well.

As I mentioned in my post about Eleanor, finding and making use of subtle differences between dresses from similar years brings me joy. For example, Sophie has a v neck, no boning, cartridge pleated sleeves, gathered trim, and is actually sewn together as a dress, rather than hooking together at the waistband as with all my other dresses from this period.

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In other ways, Sophie is similar to Georgina, being partially machine and partially hand sewn, having a cartridge pleated skirt, cuffs with little ruffles at the ends, and pockets.

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Personally, I love having pockets in day dresses. It brings me peace of mind to know that modern things like my keys are close by and not sitting around somewhere. Plus, chapstick, fan, gloves, etc. are also excellent choices for stashing in pockets. These pockets, which you can see the top of in the picture below, are sewn in the same way as Georgina’s pockets, shown here. I love this collection of references to pockets from the 1840s, 50s, and 60s that Anna Worden Bauersmith put together. I’ve been waiting for just the right moment to share it for what seems like ages.

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Here are two more interior shots of the dress. The first shows the muslin facings. I don’t have documentation for this method being used to finish a lightweight summer cotton dress, but it makes sense that this method might have been used to finish the edges nicely while keeping the main body of the dress breathable and light. The second picture shows in the inside of the top of the sleeve, particularly to show the cartridge pleats.

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In addition to the dress, I also made a new cage crinoline. I’ve been wanting a slightly smaller, less bell shaped one, particularly to wear with cotton dresses. I love my old cage crinoline (seen here) for evening dresses, but it is just a bit too much for a more practical daytime look. The new crinoline shape just looks ‘right’ with the cotton dress. The difference is subtle, but pleasing. Unfortunately, it did not perform well in its first wearing. The vertical tapes were sliding all over the place and causing the hoops to drop and be tripped on. Not good! It needs revision before being finished and shared, so for now you’ll just have to believe that I’m wearing it with this dress.

Now that you’ve heard all about the dress itself, here are some pretty pictures of it in action. These first ones are in the spirit of the development of rural cemeteries in the mid-19th century, which you can read more about in this blog post at Plaid Petticoats.

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The next few are a celebration of the autumn season. The gorgeous leaves were beckoning us to have some laughs. Incidentally, I tend to jump in the air with my arms up whenever I’m having an amazing time in this period. Take this memory, for example. I’m doing pretty much the exact same thing!

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We have so many things to be grateful for. I am always thankful for the many blessings in my life, particularly at this time of year. I hope that your life is also overflowing with blessings and reasons to give thanks, in autumn and always.

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An Introduction To Eleanor (HSM #10)

The Historical Sew Monthly challenge for October is Heroes – Make a garment inspired by your historical hero, or your historical costuming hero.

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You may or may not know that one of my favorite movies is Gone With The Wind. (I posted about this topic years ago when the blog was in its infancy–most of what I claimed then is still true and the 1860s will always have a special place in my heart, but I can now say that other periods give me excited wiggles too!) You can read the old blog post to get more specifics, but the essential point is that despite her personal shortcomings and the turbulent and controversial history of the period, Scarlett reminds me of the clothing that I love and therefore is an historical costuming hero to me.

And this gown has an added historical hero, Eleanor ‘Felcie’ Bull, who came to my rescue when I was contemplating what sleeve style to give my dress.

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Eleanor “Felicie” Bull. 1863.

Prior to finding her image, I had been planning to name this dress Johanna, in honor of the friend who convinced me that I needed the fabric a few years ago. But I had sort of decided this was weird, since all my other dresses from this period have names that I like, but that are not from a specific living person. Once I found this image I was completely overtaken with excitement–I love the name Eleanor and there she was, helping me out! The choice was obvious.

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I made a new hair decoration to go with Eleanor. I had the perfect stem of purple velvet leaves, but no flowers to match the dress. So I dyed some white millinery flowers to a golden yellow. They have a fluffier texture than before being dyed, but the color is perfect. Using millinery flowers brings me so much joy, because it’s easy to shape any section since each stem is fully wired. And I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to wear my Dames a la Mode purple earrings and necklace.

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Regarding dress construction, we must start with a bit of a personal habit, or perhaps a theory, though I’m not sure it’s as thought out as that. When the opportunities arise for me to make multiple garments from the same period that could be carbon copies of each other in different fabrics (so much speedier on the patterning and planning front!), I hardly ever take that easy road. I am drawn to exploring the small variations.

So it is with Eleanor. I decided to: knife pleat her skirt instead of box pleating, cartridge pleating, or gathering; to make a plain darted bodice instead of using seams or gathers; to make the bodice straight across all around, which is more unusual for evening gowns made of silk than having points in front and back; to overlap and topstitch her side back seams; to omit the oft-seen bertha around the neckline; and to have single puff bias cut sleeves. These things all make this dress just slightly different than my others from this period, adding a bit of thought and time to the process. And if we’re talking about time, let’s just mention how mind-boggling cutting plaid pieces with curved seams and darts is when the pattern matching is important to you!

I collected images of plaid gowns with a focus on evening bodices and noticed these features, which is why I decided on them. The most useful images are in one place here, on my Pinterest board for the project. I was contemplating the sleeve type when I came across Eleanor ‘Felcie’ Bull. Interestingly, she shows all of those traits I’d decided on. I loved her simple sleeves and restrained bodice trimming, which then set me on an extensive Ebay and Etsy hunt to find just the right brooches to replicate her style. Yes, I did look through about 150 pages of bow brooches to find just the right one for less than $15. Plus many pages of gold oval brooches. I couldn’t have wished for better results! Remember the look I gave you a look a few posts ago? The only thing I did was to brush the oval brooch (which is new, not vintage) with a bit of brown acrylic paint to bring it down to the old gold color of the bow brooch.

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Other construction details include flatlining the bodice and facing the skirt in a remnant of dusty mauve cotton from my stash (used it up, yay!), creating boning channels in the darts to keep the front nicely shaped, and finishing the neck and bottom edge of the bodice as well as the armholes with very narrow cording.

Just the facts:

Fabric: About 6 yards of silk taffeta and 1 yard of cotton.

Pattern: Adapted from Past Patterns #702, 1850s-1863 Dart Fitted Bodices and Period Costumes for Stage and Screen as a reference for the sleeves.

Year: 1862, given the details that I decided on.

Notions: Thread, hooks and bars, canvas to interline the belt, narrow yarn for cording, and plastic wire ties for boning the bodice.

How historically accurate is it?: I’m going to go with 99% on this one. Materials and methods are well researched and executed. This would be entirely recognizable in its time.

Hours to complete: I really didn’t keep track. But I can safely say many!

First worn: October 22 for a ball.

Total cost: $98 total: $68 for the silk, $10 for bow brooch, and $18 for the oval brooch.

I’ll end this with my photographic homage to Eleanor ‘Felcie’ Bull.

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1899 Elusive Blue With Train

My last post recounted a fun event that I recently attended which explored the Victorian fascination with ancient Egypt. The event was unusual in topic, quite well done, and interesting, especially as I rather like ancient Egyptian history myself. I felt that I knew a good portion of the information in the lecture, but I also learned some new things.

I decided to leave my outfit for the event for this separate post so I could go into detail without getting too long winded. As sometimes happens, I committed just about two weeks before the event to having a new garment. A trained skirt! This event seemed very suitable–dramatic surroundings and no dancing being the biggest factors.

I had started a second, trained, skirt to go with my 1899 dress back in January, but it had languished at the point of needing hemming. Despite all the other projects also needing to be completed around this time, I decided to furiously work to hem the trained skirt so I could wear it to this event.

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Success! The construction of the trained skirt is based on this gorgeous green gown at The Met. There is a side view of the skirt which shows just a bit of the under layers that support the hem. With that in mind, I scrounged for other extant examples of trained hem finishes and included them on my inspiration Pinterest board. This example, also from the Met, shows a clear view of the hem finishing on the inside of the skirt.

To replicate the wide and stiffened hem of the exterior I purchased polyester organza in a closely matching color and used it cut on the bias. The width of organza was folded in half to add an extra bit of support before being hand hemmed. The lining is hemmed with a bias band of an ivory cotton/poly blend that has a gathered section of lace machine sewn to the top edge prior to the hand hemming so the machine stitching doesn’t show. (Given that the whole dress is mystery fabric, I had no qualms about continuing to use polyester to keep the cost down on this project.) After hemming, I put the skirt on a dress form and pinned the lining and exterior together at five strategic points, then swing tacked the layers together. These tacks keep the exterior perfectly positioned over the lining.

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All of the extra work to support the hem layers was worth it. Along with my super silk petticoat to support the skirt, they nicely support the train, allowing it to elegantly float behind or swirl around me with just a small movement. It was quite fun to swish through the lovely rooms at the Castle with a dramatic train without it being so long that it becomes a nuisance. I’ll have to find more opportunities to wear this fabulous ensemble!

Suggestions For Dressmakers, 1896

“When it comes to making, the actual sewing and finishing, the American dressmaker has nothing to learn from anyone. First class American dressmakers turn out the best work, so far as the mechanics of dressmaking go, of any dressmakers in the world. In point of fact, they make dresses too well. They might with advantage to themselves, and with no disadvantage to their patrons, unlearn something about sewing, and let some of the fussy details, over which they now bother their heads to very little purpose, go by default.

But the A-1 American dressmaker puts too much fine sewing into her dresses. They look well; they look about as well on the wrong side as upon the right side; perhaps if they were not such marvels of patience in the inside finishing, they might be more artistic to look like on the outside. Look at even the highest priced foreign made dresses; by comparison, they seem almost slovenly in workmanship, compared with American dress, but after all to what end put such an infinite amount of pains into finishing off a dress that, nowadays, is worn but a few times…house dresses and evening dresses might be slighted in finishing just as the Parisian dressmakers slight them without suffering an iota in looks or wearing possibilities, and with a notable saving in time and trouble.

The Parisian dressmaker is clever. She knows every trick in putting her work where it will make the most show. So long as she gets the effect she wants, and it stays as long…as it is required, which is not long, for instance, in a tulle party frock, she doesn’t try to make the sewing in every part of the sort that would win a prize at a school exhibition. The Parisian Milliner long, long ago, found that she could get effects by pinning on her hat and bonnet trimmings that absolutely defied sewing, and the Parisian dressmaker will catch a flounce of lace here and a ribbon there with fascinating grace, and never bother her head about what it looks like on the wrong side. Why should she?”

7138bd5bed5bd5a8921d1fd61bbdfd27I came across this passage in Suggestions For Dressmakers (1896) a number of months ago around the time I was completing my 1899 elusive blue evening gown. It is from the chapter called “Making” on pages 27-28.

The passage immediately brought to mind my process for making historical garments, which is usually along the lines of the “American dressmaker” in that I put many hours of fine sewing into my dresses to make the insides just as much as work of art as the exterior.

The obvious and most current example that came to mind was the dress I was completing at the time, but there are many others as well. Here are a few made during the last few years and spanning the 19th century in terms of their origins.

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In the style of the “American Dressmaker”, the beautifully finished interior of my 1899 elusive blue bodice made in 2016.

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Another beautifully finished bodice in the “American Dressmaker” style from 2014. This is Georgina’s 1858 evening bodice.

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Tidy insides in my 1813 evening gown made in 2013, also in the “American Dressmaker” style.

I also had this passage in mind while working over the first part of this year on my recent 1885 Night Sky fancy dress. I decided with that ensemble to follow the suggestion to adapt to the “Parisian Dressmaker” style and not worry about the insides as I usually do. While still quite tidy, I did not spend time finishing unseen seams inside the skirt or finishing the edges of the vertical seams on the bodice, as you can see below. It was a bit of a struggle with my natural instincts, but worked out very well in terms of the working on this right up until the deadline and not having time for all the pretty finishing anyway.

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I couldn’t entirely shake the urge to be tidy and nicely finish things, but I did leave some edges raw and basted on the trim in case I want to easily remove it in the future.

There’s also the mention of pinning trim on hats. That is a suggestion that I often make use of! I can think of multiple examples of hats that have had trim pinned on for years even while the hats are in storage. For example, remember the hat that I wear with my 1895 Skating Ensemble? That’s the same hat from my 1883 Tailored Ensemble with fur trim and extra feathers that have been pinned on since early 2015. I’ve felt no need to sew those on!

Do you sew like American dressmaker or a Parisian dressmaker? Is it a conscious choice for you to pick one style or the other, or is it just your natural sewing method? What about hats? Do you ever pin your trimmings on?

1885 Night Sky Fancy Dress

It has been a goal to make a specifically fancy dress outfit for years, but particularly since I made a makeshift 1860s flower basket fancy dress outfit in 2015. This May I had the perfect opportunity in the form of a fancy dress ball!

I decided to make an 1880s bustle dress because I already had all the undergarments, including my still-new-feeling 1880s steam molded corset, and because it’s a period of dress that I rarely wear, especially for dancing. I wanted to experiment with dancing in a bustle to see how it worked and what it felt like.

Design-wise, I was inspired by Mrs. Alice Gwynn Vanderbilt’s Electric Light fancy dress outfit made by Worth in 1883, but wanted to adapt the idea to fabrics I already had on hand. Since the fabric I came up with was navy blue, I decided on Night Sky as my inspiration.

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Mrs. Alice Gwynn Vanderbilt’s Electric Light fancy dress outfit, 1883

I started my outfit in January and worked on it over the next four months or so, but despite all that preparation time I was still working on it right up until the day before the event. Luckily, I did the vast majority of the work of cutting, sewing, and fitting before March and April when I became super busy. Tasks left at that point included finishing the bodice edges, trimming, and closures.

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In addition to the Mrs. Vanderbilt’s inspiration I also looked at other 1880s skirts for draping ideas and other 1880s fancy dress outfits for trimming ideas. You can see the most inspiring images and extant garments on my Pinterest board for this project here.

For ease of documentation, I’ll do the facts as with the HSF:

Fabric: 2-3 yards of navy blue cotton twill for underskirt, 6ish yards of navy blue polyester charmeuse, 1ish yard of pink cotton twill for flat lining, and 1-2yds of silver net.

Pattern: My 1885 Frills and Furbelows Bustle Dress pattern, adapted for evening and for the style of skirt desired.

Year: 1885.

Notions: A 3yd tinsel garland, 6 star brooches, 3yds of navy polyester ribbon for lacing, hook and bar closures for the skirt, and thread.

How historically accurate is it?: 90%. Recognizable in it’s own time, certainly. Reasonable construction, certainly. Materials, not so much. It was much more important to use what was on hand than to purchase new fabrics, especially since this is an outfit that I don’t see getting a lot of use.

Hours to complete: Tons. I didn’t keep track. Bustles are fussy and require lots of time with a dress form to achieve an elegant drape.

First worn: May 21.

Total cost: Most of the fabrics were in the stash with the exception of the silver net and most of the notions were purchased cheaply on eBay. Let’s say $20.

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For the photos I wore the dress with my black Seaburys and the new rhinestone shoe clips that I purchased in March. It was quite sparkly and elegant, but for dancing I changed into navy blue velvet flats. They were just as cute but did not get the special treatment of being shown off in photos.

I had the grand idea to use my curly hair ends flipped up on top of my head like the curled fringe popular in the 1880s. It’s also long enough that I was able to make the bun shape on the back also using only my natural hair. I pinned in star brooches to match those on my dress as decoration.

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All in all I’m quite happy with the final result! Dancing in the bustle was just as easy as any other Victorian style. The differences were that all the extra fabric was behind me making some movements more challenging due to space such as during a quadrille, and that the bustle and layers of fabric on the back gathered a fair bit of momentum when turning, creating quite a swish!

Construction wise the only change I would like to make after one wearing is to bone the center back edges so that the back lies flat when laced onto my body and to sew in a matching fabric piece behind the lacing holes to hide any white from undergarments that wants to peak out. I’ll also need to wear a different chemise or tuck the top down so there’s not white cotton poking out at the armholes. However, these are minor changes and I’m not sure when I’ll have the opportunity to wear this again so it might be awhile before they happen.

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For this ball we set up a double sided picture backdrop, one side of which you’ve already seen. The other side included a large stuffed jaguar/panther I dubbed Jaggy for the night. You often see backdrops in regular Victorian photos as well as fancy dress photos. Unfortunately, with my heels on I was too tall for them! Oops! Being too tall inspired me to take some fun sitting photos.

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Hanging out with Jaggy.

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Tired after a night of dancing.

For decoration out of the ordinary, we had the lucky and unexpected use of the fabulous blue and turquoise lanterns in many of the pictures as well as multicolored paper lanterns with lights inside. We put the lanterns around the room in glass vases as bouquets. First, a picture from the set up part of the evening. Second, a picture with some lanterns creeping into the photo.

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Fancy dress outfit, check!

Springtime In 1895

Part of my super busy April included a few historical adventures and for one of them I made a new skirt! I was lucky to be able to squeeze it in between working on things for Versailles and for my other event in May–a fancy dress ball!

The morning was rainy and cold and so I threw on a sweater to keep warm. I rather fancied that I looked like an 1890s adventurer, sort of 1890s-lady-does-Indiana-Jones-in-the-rain-without-the-hat. (I really want to make an adventuring/archeologist outfit and find a great place for pictures…! Someday…)

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By the afternoon the rain and ceased and the sun came out, which was a perfect opportunity to take some pictures of my ensemble without the sweater. I find I don’t have many outfit pictures taken in the springtime and this seemed like a perfect opportunity to counteract that problem.

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The new 1895 skirt is being worn with an 1895 blouse I made in 2012 as well as a silk taffeta belt and my super silk petticoat for volume. The last few times I wore this blouse I was wearing a skirt from about five years later. Not out of the question in terms of plausibility, but not as perfect in silhouette as I was hoping for. This time though, I was excited to have springtime pictures with an outfit in which all the clothing was from the right period!

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The skirt is an umbrella shape, meaning that it is all one piece with only a center back seam, just like my 1895 skating skirt. It is hand sewn simply because it was easier to sew it by hand than get out the machine to do it. It’s made from a rayon blend herringbone weave fabric which has a lovely drape, but wrinkles very easily. I like that it is neutral without being white and that it has a subtle pattern.

There was also a covered well that seemed cute for taking pictures until I stopped to think about how to pose. Most of my pictures are extra silly looking, but these two are reasonable and my favorite.

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Thank goodness spring is finally here! The flowers and green on the trees is lovely and such a change from the dull brown and grey of winter.