Summary Of 2016: Looking Forward To 2017

Happy new year! The beginning of a new year is traditionally started here with a reflection on the past year and its accomplishments. I am surprised every year by the sheer number of sewing projects I complete. This year, I was more surprised by forgetting that some of these projects happened in the last year. They seem so far away already! So, without further introduction…

Projects I completed in 2016:

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January: Elusive Blue 1899 (HSF #1)

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February: 1880s Steam Molded Corset

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March: Mr. Panniers

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March: 1890s Skating Ensemble

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March: re-trimmed 1924 Robe de Style

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April: Silly Aprons

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April: 1895 Herringbone Skirt

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April: Regency Shoe Bows

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May: Kensingtons!

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May: 1885 Night Sky Fancy Dress

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May: 1770s Robe a la Francaise, worn at Versailles!

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July: 1919 Ivory Eyelet (HSF #7)

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July: 1925 Swimsuit

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August: c. 1920 Bathing Boots

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September: Bubble Dot Skirt

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September: Henrietta Maria

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October: 1899 Trained Skirt

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October: Sophie, from 1861 (HSF #8)

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October: Eleanor, from 1862 (HSF #10)

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November: Winter Wool Skirt

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December: 1832 Burgundy Velvet (HSF #12)

Other things of note from 2016 include my amazing trip to an 18th century evening at the palace of Versailles in May, a conclusion to all of my Vernet Project posts in December, and followers of the blog hitting 200 people. (I’m pretty sure that happened in 2016, though since I didn’t mark it with a post it’s hard to tell exactly.)

I participated in my fourth year of the Historical Sew Fortnightly/Monthly, completing 6 out of 12 challenges. As is usual, my sewing output did not always correspond to challenges and with so many projects already I find it nearly impossible to add projects just to complete a challenge and for no other reason.

I attended 10 balls, 15 other events (teas, picnics, outings etc.), and 3 vintage dance performances, for a total of 28 events. A busy year, but in keeping with the last few years of activities.

Looking at last year’s ‘definitely do’ list, I’m pleased to report that I met all of my goals! I made that list much shorter than in the past in order to accomplish it. Of the 8 things on the ‘maybe’ list, I completed 3 of them. Not bad.

And looking forward… Things on the ‘definitely do’ list:

  • A super sparkly 1920s evening dress
  • A new Regency evening dress
  • Resizing at least one older Regency evening dress
  • Restyling a 1930s evening gown made a few years ago

Things on the ‘maybe’ list:

  • Finishing an 1814 pelisse and matching hat
  • A 1900s blouse
  • A restyled 1980s does 1950s evening dress
  • Updating a pair of Edwardian bloomers
  • A modern hardcover book print dress
  • A modern autumn plaid dress
  • A modern black watch dress
  • Finishing a purple/orange/red floral modern dress started last year

I’m not sure what else will strike my fancy! There are no giant projects planned right now, leaving me open to whims of fancy. Uh oh! That could be bad… You’ll have to keep reading in 2017 to find out!

Here’s to some past and future memories of beautiful places and warm sun, even though it’s winter. I hope my 2017 is full of blessings and happiness, as is yours.

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A Winter Wool Skirt

Over a year ago, I was reading this post on Miss Victory Violet’s blog and fell in love with her skirt. I decided then and there that I wanted one for myself a similar style, except in wool. So I went on the hunt and found a fabric I thought would do the job back in October. I was determined not to let is languish in the stash as many of my fabric purchases do and so over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend I made a skirt! I’m very pleased that I made something so shortly after the buying the fabric, especially a modern garment.

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The fabric is brown and grey herringbone with a light windowpane in red, pink, and blue. As you can see, the colors blend into more of a subtle texture than you might think when viewed from a normal distance. It’s perhaps more grey than I was envisioning, but that just means a more true brown skirt needs to be in my future, right?

The skirt closes with an invisible zipper and a button tab on the waistband. I did a rather good job matching the pattern while cutting and sewing, I think!

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The skirt is a full 3/4 circle, divided into six gores in order to keep the windowpane under control. I took the time to bind each edge with taupe hug snug, as well as the hem and around the pocket bags. It certainly added time, but makes for such a tidy interior!

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Pockets! The skirt has lovely in seam pockets. I had to get a picture showing them off in use.

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In order to help it keep the skirt keep an A-line shape, I’m wearing a recently acquired petticoat with it. I was inspired to get the petticoat after wearing my Bubble Dots skirt for modern life and feeling that the skirt was too limp. I had saved Lily’s petticoat comparison and went back to it to see what new inspiration I might have. I was re-inspired by her vintage petticoat and set off on a search to find my own for a reasonable price. There are actually sooooo many pretty vintage petticoats out there, but I stayed on track and only purchased the one, which is a slightly stiff netting. The elastic at the top was totally dead, but it was too small for me and too long anyway, so I cut off a few inches at the top, made a new casing, and inserted new elastic. Voila!

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I’m very pleased with the subtle shape this petticoat provides. It’s enough to make my fuller skirts look A-line and more flattering, but not enough that a modern person would think that I’m wearing a petticoat!

And the skirt? It’s great fun to wear. Such a nice, swishy shape. And it’s warm! Perfect for cold winter weather. Especially when worn with my somewhat new Victoria carriage boots! (They’re subtly making an appearance in the first picture and will be making more appearances. I’m wearing them pretty often!)

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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Vernet Project: Witzchoura Construction

This is the last post about the construction of my amazing 1814 Vernet Project. I really enjoyed doing the research and making the parts of this project. It was great fun and such a lovely learning experience to be part of the group of people making Vernet ensembles. And I was able to wear most of the ensemble for more than just pictures! I hope to find future reasons to wear these again!

I’ve been saving the best for last–the construction of the main piece, the witzchoura itself. As with all the other pieces in this ensemble, the witzchoura is entirely hand sewn. It is made up of a faux fur lining and an exterior of silk taffeta flat lined with cotton flannel and trimmed with more faux fur. Here are some in progress photos.

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Faux fur lining made up but not set in.

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A seam and bust darts in the faux fur lining. The edges were cut without seam allowance, butted together, and whip stitched.

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An interior view of the in progress witzchoura, showing the back pleats and cotton flannel interlining. I believe at this point I had attached the hood/collar as well as the faux fur lining at the neck but had not yet sewn the center front edges together.

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The exterior silk/flannel layer was pleated, but the fur was gathered (it wound up resembling cartridge pleats) to the bodice.

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After attaching the front edges of the exterior and lining I put the witzchoura on squishy to look at the hem lengths. In doing so, I found a few places where the exterior needed to be invisibly tacked to the lining, which is why I’ve got my head between the layers!

Ta da! The finished witzchoura with all of the lovely accessories. It certainly is a luxurious looking and feeling ensemble!

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I thought I would address a few other points as well. Some people have been waiting for answers to these questions for a long time! Thank you for your patience as I waited to answer your questions until now in order to keep everything together in terms of information.

Is it heavy to wear?

No, once dressed, the ensemble does not feel heavy. But, when holding it, or hanging it, or putting it on, YES, it feels quite heavy! It’s a fair bit of fabric, with three layers, and the faux fur gets heavy quickly with such yardage.

What is the weight? How does it compare to a heavy wool winter coat, for example?

Oh dear. I’m very bad at estimating this. I like the comparison question better! If you’ve ever held a very heavy, thick, full length winter coat, I think this is probably similar in weight. But compared to anything less, it would feel heavier.

Is it easy to walk and move with such an enveloping set of objects?

This is the sort of question I would want to know the answer to! Yes, it’s easy to walk. The ensemble does not restrict leg movement. I can also move my head with ease, because the hat sits low enough that it is well anchored and not going anywhere. However, the witzchoura does restrict arm movement some. For example, putting it on without just the right movement (which is lifting it up and behind and then sliding both arms in at the same time) doesn’t really work. And once it’s on, there’s only so much forward and backward arm movements that are possible. Lifting arms is better, but still not full range of movement. Each layer by itself has more possibilities, but the faux fur fills a lot of space inside the silk exterior. This makes it quite warm, but feels a little bit like wearing a marshmallow.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my Vernet journey! If you have any other questions about the ensemble please let me know. I would be happy to answer them!

Vernet Project: A Witzchoura Tangent

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

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

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

Examples of garments similar to witzchouras

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

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Fashion plate showing a Pardessus from 1811.

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

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Descriptions of garments similar to witzchouras

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

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

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Example of a Pelisse from 1815, showing the armholes that would allow movement.

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A slightly later example of a Pelisse in a similar style. This is from 1821.

Examples of out of the ordinary witzchouras

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

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

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

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

La Belle Assembleé  in January 1818

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

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

Vernet Project: Petticoat and Muff Details

As the end of this year draws nearer, I feel the urge to complete my plan to share all the details of my 1814 Vernet Ensemble before the end of 2016. In order to do that, I have the smaller garments to discuss (petticoat and muff) and the witzchoura itself, which I know some people have had questions about for probably about a year. Sorry to keep you waiting!

As I’m saving the witzchoura to be the grand finale, today I want to share some details about the petticoat and muff. First, here are some repeat pictures of the full ensemble in case you’ve started reading since this project was unveiled. Both of these pictures are from my Vernet Project photo shoot in 2015. They give you a good glimpse at the petticoat and the muff.

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The muff exterior is the same faux fur as the trim on the witzchoura. The lining is an ivory cotton flannel, which feels warmer on the hands than a silk lining and which I don’t think is out of the realm of possibility in terms of historical reasonability (a theory I have tested out with multiple muffs over the last few years).

In order to get the distinctly Regency style of a beehive style muff, the inner flannel lining is substantially smaller in dimension than the exterior fur. Layers of high loft polyester batting fill in the shape and the fur actually wraps to the inside of the lining for a few inches on each side and is gathered to fit the smaller circumference of the lining. The result is a very large and very cozy muff. (This method is different than making the interior and exterior the same or similar in dimensions, resulting a muff that looks like my 1822 one. The blog post sharing details about that muff has lots of great images of both types of muffs from this period, if you want to see more. Also, it’s worth noting that polyester batting would not have been used to keep one’s hands warm in the early 19th century, but that I chose that materials because I had it on hand and it is not visible.)

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The petticoat is the only piece of my Vernet project that existed before I agreed to participate. It started life as part of a dress, but was removed and languished for years. Turns out I had made it too narrow to dance in, which isn’t very useful in my life. On the bright side, I had just enough of the cotton fabric left to add another panel, thus making the hem circumference much more wearable.

The petticoat had an attached sleeveless bodice before the addition of extra fabric in the skirt, so after adding fullness I was able to simply reattach the bodice. The edges of the bodice are narrow hemmed and it closes at center front with a tie at the waist and a button and loop at the bust. This past blog post discusses extant sleeveless underdresses or petticoats such as this. As with everything else in this project, both this petticoat and the muff are entirely hand sewn.

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The only other changes I needed to make to the petticoat to use it for the Vernet Project were at the hem. I started by adding lace that mimicked the shape of the embroidery seen in my Vernet fashion plate. I whip stitched the lace on with small stitches and then cut away the fabric behind the lace, creating a lovely scalloped hem.

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After trying on the petticoat with the finished hem, I decided it was too long and took a tuck above the hem to shorten it. You can see the tuck in one of the photo shoot pictures early in this post.

This final picture is from when I was hemming the witzchoura. While I had that garment on the dress form I also put the petticoat on to determine the placement  of the lace on the previously hemmed petticoat.

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And that’s it! Those two garments were minor in scale compared to the toque de velours, silly shoes, and the witzchoura itself, both in terms of materials and sheer volume of work involved.

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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