19CBRE: Prudent Dance Planning

In 2014, I started a series of posts using the acronym 19CBRE, meaning “19th Century Ball Room Etiquette”. (You can read about my reasons for starting this series of posts in the original post here.) I’ve been on-and-off-again posting in this category (the last post was in 2016…), but I’ve had some further ideas in mind despite not actually posting them.

This quote reminds me of the final ball I attended at a mid-19th century dance week in Denmark in 2017. It is sound advice if you prefer to maintain calm composure and not follow an evening’s ball with a day of recovery!

“If you are prudent you will not dance every dance, nor, in fact, much more than half the number on the list; you will then escape that hateful redness of face at the time, and that wearing fatigue the next day which are among the worst features of a ball.

The Habits of Good Society: A Handbook of Etiquette for Ladies and Gentlemen. London: Hogg and Sons, 1859. 343. (Available online here)

The reason the quote reminds me of Denmark is because I most certainly did not escape “that hateful redness of face”! That’s a tall order in a warm room. I was also exhausted the next day, but that was due in part to a wonderfully long week of dancing all day each day. As evidenced in this case, sometimes these evils are worth facing… and sometimes I find that I would rather conserve my energy for the dances I really enjoy and not dance every single dance. My choice often depends on the venue, the special qualities of the ball, and the skill level of my partners. Facing a challenging set of dances in a special ball at a special place is more likely to lead me away from the etiquette manual’s guidance. What choice would you make?

If you’d like to read more of the snippets of etiquette I’ve highlighted over the years you can do so here.

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HSM #6: Mid-19th Century Underclothes

I finally made a garment this year that qualifies for the Historical Sew Monthly! June’s Challenge is: Favourite Technique: make an item using your favourite sewing or embellishment technique. My garment for this challenge is a pair of split drawers from the mid-19th century.

My technique of choice are French seams. These are durable, tidy, and easy to sew with a sewing machine.

A quick explantation of how to sew a French seam is to sew with wrong sides together first, press the seam allowances open (they should be on the outside of the garment at this point), then sew the seam again so that the raw edges are fully encased on the inside of the garment. A French seam starts the opposite of how you would normally sew a seam (which is with right sides together). To this with your regular seam allowance the first line of stitches is narrower than your full seam allowance (for example: my seam allowance was ½”, so I first stitched with a slightly wide ⅛” seam then stitched again with a slightly wide ¼” seam). This ensures that the seam is tidy on the right side of the garment, with no loose threads showing. To keep French seams narrow on the inside of the garment it is essential that the first line of stitching is close to the edge of the fabric–sometimes that means stitching a wider seam and then trimming it to be narrow. If this is the case then it’s worth thinking ahead when cutting to decide if the seam allowances need to be wider than normal.

Below is a closeup on one of the inseams of the drawers, showing the French seam.

On to The Facts!

Fabric:  1 ¾ yards of cotton lawn from Dharma Trading.

Pattern: My own. I think these were based on a pattern in a book over ten years ago, but I can’t remember what book and I know I’ve made changes since creating the original pattern.

Year: c. 1850.

Notions: One button and thread.

How historically accurate is it?: 98%. That missing 2% is for the machine sewing of the waistband to the inside of the drawers, as I think it was more likely that this step would have been completed by hand.

Hours to complete: 2 ¼ hours.

First worn: Not yet!

Total cost: $8.75.

These drawers are entirely machine sewn, with French seams, narrow hems, and the ‘stitch in the ditch’ method of finishing the waistband. The ‘stitch in the ditch’ replaces more time consuming hand sewing of the waistband on the inside. It leaves barely visible machine stitches just under the bottom of the waistband on the outside and nicely turned under edges on the inside of the waistband, as you can see at the point on the center front in the photo above. The buttonhole is also sewn by machine. The only hand sewing is securing the button.

These drawers are part of a set that I made for a friend. In addition to the drawers, she will also be receiving two mid-19th century chemises (also sewn with French seams!).

As these are worn without other garments underneath, it was important that the fabric is opaque. Dharma Trading’s cotton lawn is tightly woven and definitely opaque enough for this use. Plus, it’s 60″ wide and a great price! I will say that due to the tight weave of the fabric I had a much easier time sewing it with a fresh sewing needle. The old, probably blunt, needle on my sewing machine was a little struggle-y at first, but I had no problems once I changed the needle.

In total, all three garments took 5 yards of fabric, 7 hours of time, and cost $25 in supplies (the button for the drawers as well as lace and ribbon for the chemises was from the stash).

Giving Old Hoops New Spots

Spots are this nifty piece of hardware that can be used to secure interlocking pieces together. They’re similar to a brad in that they have two prongs on the back of a circular top. The difference I see is that they have a domed top and the prongs come out from other side rather than the center.

Back in April, I posted about the dimensions of my large hoops and how I made my new smaller hoops and stated the goal of adding spots to my old hoops just like I had done for the new hoops. Over the last six months I’ve been slowly adding the spots to my old hoops and I’m pleased to report that the process is complete! My ten year old hoops have reinvigorated life!

For the new smaller hoops I used brass colored spots, but I decided to change it up for my older hoops and used gold colored spots instead. (Both of the spots were purchased from this seller on eBay, who I would certainly recommend.) I’d originally intended the vertical tapes on these old hoops to be able to slide around when needed so that I could force the hoops into an elliptical shape, but since I haven’t done that even once in the last ten years I figured that if/when I want elliptical hoops I’ll make a new support structure and will reinforce these hoops in their current cupcake shape instead of contingent to allow them to be adjustable.

My spots are positioned so that the prongs are at the top and bottom of each horizontal wire. I poked the prongs through the twill tape then used pliers to bend the prongs towards each other to secure them in place. The nice thing about the spots is that as they are folded back you have control over how tightly they are attached. So technically they are still loose enough that I can scoot the vertical tapes around if I really want to. But will I? Probably not.

The Simple, The Complicated, & The Continent Part II

In Part I of The Simple, The Complicated, & The Continent, I shared casual pictures from the mid-19th century dance week I attended last August. Now it’s time for the (mostly) more elegant pictures of the formal balls from the week. You’ll see why I say mostly elegant… there are some silly pictures, too!

On the Wednesday of the dance week we had an informal ball at the school. In terms of dancing, it went generally well. We’d had two days of dance classes and we weren’t completed exhausted yet. Everyone looked lovely so it was fun, as always, to admire other people’s ensembles. We were informed that the social custom of Denmark is to only post photos of other people if you have their permission, so I don’t have too many photos I can share of the informal ball, in particular. It’s a reasonable custom, I think, just quite different from what we’re used to in America. It really is the Wild West of willy-nilly picture posting here! Maybe the Wild West village on the grounds of the school made more sense than I thought…

So here I am dressed for the informal ball. My hair was frizzy and big by the evening of the day so I decided to run with it! Big round hair is perfect for the 1858 anyway. I wore Georgina, with her evening bodice. Actually, all of the Americans wore our mid-19th century cotton ballgowns (many of which you can see in this past post), which quite impressed many of the other attendees. We were told that fabrics like these are difficult to find in and around Denmark.

After another two days of classes, the week ended with a formal dinner and ball. We were bussed to the town where these events were to be held (and it was quite an adventure, getting all the large dresses onto the tour buses and into the seats!) and then did a small walking tour of the town before dinner. A new friend snapped this photo of me traipsing across the street after getting some photos taken. I chose my matching crocs to wear around the town before going into dinner and the ball, but I didn’t think anyone would see them!

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Dinner was lovely and then it was time for the ball. It was quite exciting to be attending a formal ball on ‘the continent!’ It sounds so fashionable in a 19th century way!

The ballroom contained actual candles! These are forbidden in many of the halls I normally get to dance in, so that was a nice novelty. They were especially lovely as the light faded outside.

Our hosts provided us with dance cards, which had a convenient hook for hanging the dance card off of a belt or waistband. In my case, the belt on my dress was perfect!

The ballroom was rather small for the number of people we squashed into it, but I suppose that is probably rather accurate for some events in the 19th century. It did mean that the room became quite hot, so I spent a fair bit of time enjoying the lovely garden outside.

As you can see, I wore Eleanor, my plaid silk ball gown. It was a good choice for traveling and it was fun to be elegantly simple in my clothing choice.

Capturing the photographer in a photo! Isn’t it lovely how well their dresses coordinate with the colors in the garden?

Why was I lifting my skirt so scandalously? I think to see how high I could easily lift my leg in my dress. Or perhaps to check my balance? Doesn’t really matter, does it? Silly photos are fun!

I did get permission to share this photo of me with two new friends. Our colors coordinated so well and that uniform was absolutely stunning! And it had fur on the cuffs. Such soft fur! I bet it was boiling hot, but it was also quite dashing!

Unfortunately, by this point in the week we were all brain-dead, so the room in general didn’t do a great job of executing all the dancing we had been working on without many mistakes. That felt like rather a let down, sadly, as it would have been nice to dance at a ball on ‘the continent’ with perfect execution. I guess this gives me another reason to go back and try again some day!

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c. 1860 Crinoline Size Comparison & Tutorial

Back in October of 2016, I made a new, smaller crinoline (also called a hoop skirt) than the one I’d had for about the last 10 years. I thought it would be great, and it was… in terms of shape. Unfortunately, the new crinoline had a fatal flaw: the channels for the hoops were too wide for the slippery-ness of the hoops and therefore all the tapes would slide to one side while being worn, causing the hoops to drop down and create a trip hazard for the wearer. I had loaned these to a friend at a ball and was horrorstruck as I realized the problem and she attempted to dance without realizing the problem. It was such an awful feeling! We solved the problem for the night, but I resolved to fix the hoops before wearing them again and I learned a good lesson about trying out new garments myself before loaning them! I’ll get to my solution for the sliding hoops in a bit, but first I’ll start at the beginning.

The new crinoline was an experiment to see if I could use the hooping from a cheap Amazon hoop skirt like this to create a cage crinoline with smaller dimensions than my usual crinoline, the super-cupcake, which has a decidedly high fashion silhouette. The answer to that question is ‘yes’ it was easy to reuse the hoop steel from the Amazon crinoline to make a cage crinoline.

You see, the super-cupcake looks great with the right circumference of skirt and the right environment (high fashion daywear or a ballroom); however, under a cotton day dress I wanted a more subtle, practical, reasonable shape. I have to admit to liking a big skirt though, so a reasonable crinoline for me still has a larger circumference than what it might be for others. Also, at 5’6″ I am taller than the average woman, which allows me to carry off a larger circumference while staying within reasonable looking proportions. (For more thoughts on practical sized crinolines, Maggie May has shared useful research and an equation to help determine crinoline circumferences.)

Here’s a comparison of my two crinolines worn with cotton dresses: the super-cupcake is on the left and the newer reasonable crinoline is on the right.

Interestingly, the dimensions of these two crinolines aren’t terribly different. The lowest hoop is only about 8″ smaller  on the new crinoline. The biggest difference (and what alters the silhouette most) is that the new crinoline has a more tapered shape in the upper hoops.

I’ve provided the following size chart in an effort to help those who might be making or adjusting their own crinolines. Even if you don’t want to deal with all the vertical tapes, you can use these dimensions to adjust the hoop sizes in a ready-made modern crinoline to achieve the same effect.

Interestingly, both of these crinolines have the same vertical tape length that is short enough to keep the bottom hoop decidedly above the floor. The lowest hoop on these is about at my mid-calf height. This keeps my feet from getting tangled–especially useful while dancing! In order to keep my dresses from folding under the bottom hoop as I move, I have a cotton petticoat with a substantial ruffle around the hem which provides stability for the dress worn on top. You can see the length of the super-cupcake on me as well as the ruffled petticoat that I wear over both crinolines in this post.

Here are my two crinolines next to each other while the new one was still in progress. They have an overall similar construction (although I did simplify the new ones, using fewer hoops and fewer vertical tapes).

My old crinoline used ivory twill tape for the vertical supports. There are actually two layers of it that are hand sewn together to make channels for the hoops, creating channels along the lines of those seen in this 1859 hoop skirt patent filed by James Draper of New York (while the hoop circumferences are not provided in the patent, the silhouette of Draper’s hoop skirt is similar to that of my super-cupcake). This method used a ridiculous amount of twill tape, so I came up with a way to make the new channels that would use only one layer of twill tape for each vertical support. More on that in a moment.

The old crinoline’s hoops are made from cotton covered steel that was in a ribbon form originally. I had cut each ribbon in half (and over time, the fabric covering started to fall off, which caused me to painstakingly wrap each hoop all the way around with thread to make it more durable–a caution to anyone else using this to make a crinoline, although I’m not sure where you’d source this type of material these days as I believe this type of ribbon wire is no longer being produced). The fabric covering combined with the narrow channels in the twill tape means that the vertical ribbons only slide when I want them to, but that they otherwise stay in place nicely.

For the new crinoline, I machine sewed tucks into a single layer of twill tape to create channels for the hoops. You can see those tucks in the photo below.

I also machine sewed the vertical tapes to the twill tape waistband, because why not–I was machine sewing anyway. The waistband is two layers of twill tape sandwiched together.

That’s basically it for the construction before the awful incident of loaning them out. I cut the hoops to be the dimensions I wanted, slid them through the channels, and used the plastic joiners that had come with crinoline to secure the ends. Done! Or so I thought…

After realizing that these hoops were going to slide horribly, I went back to research to figure out how this problem was solved in the past. What I noticed are little metal dots on each join of hoop to vertical support. That makes so much sense! I wanted to add these to my hoops but I didn’t know what to call them while searching for materials.

It took me a little research to figure it out, but I did and now I’ll share that with you. They are called spots! Once you realize that then a whole world of spots becomes available to you. Decorative ones, bronze, copper, nickel, black… so many options! I got plain domed copper from this seller on eBay and am very happy with them. They’re easy to apply with a pair of pliers and seem quite durable. Now my hoops and tapes stay in place–no more sliding around!

And here is the finished result of the spots on the reasonable crinoline. I like the look as well as the practicality. I’m planning to add gold ones to the super-cupcake as well, for looks more than anything else.

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When The Dress No Longer Fits (Mid-19th Century Edition)

A few months ago, I had a post with the same name that focused on two Regency dresses that had experienced closet shrinkage. The post was centered around what I did to make them wearable again. Around the same time I was battling the Regency closet shrinkage, I encountered the same problem with two of my older mid-19th century dresses as well. Boo!

It took me awhile to do anything about the problem and even longer to post about it, but here we are.

There was a time when the back edges of Evie’s bodice met from top to bottom. In fact, if you look at the pictures in this post from 2013 you’ll see that there was even excess fabric around the waist (yikes, but that does mean my waist has expanded a fair bit!); however, by February 2016, the bodice looked like this:

Uh oh! That wasn’t going to do for wearing at a ball! So I brought my corset and bodice (plus the other bodice I’ll mention shortly), got all laced up, and had a friend measure the gap between the back bodice edges and take pictures for documentation (so I wouldn’t forget the measurement, because let’s face it, my memory is pretty terrible sometimes).

Then I pondered my options. There was no way to let out the seams on this bodice, as the fabric has scarred at every point the needle and thread passed through. Plus, I didn’t leave much seam allowance anyway. Given my limited options, I decided that a placket was the best way to go. Many extant dresses using lacing as the method of closure on bodices and I’m sure that ladies in the 19th century changed sizes, too. I went on a hunt and couldn’t find an example of a bodice with a placket showing between the lacing, but museums have the benefit of being able to put their collections on forms rather than real people, which allows for easier adjustability to have the lacing edges touching. (If you know of any examples of a bodice laced with a placket under the gap, please let me know!) Anyway, I don’t think it’s unrealistic to assume that some ladies in the 19th century used the same method I did to allow adjustability in their bodices.

In addition to the placket, I also had to extend the bertha to bridge the gap. For that I was able to unfold my seam allowance, respace my gold ruffle, and cover the remaining gap with a rosette of gold like the one on the front of the bodice (another instance of the benefit of saving all the scraps from a project–this finished off the gold bits I had leftover from the original construction). Thankfully, these changes worked. I wore Evie to a ball in March 2016 and was happy as a clam. The placket was hardly noticeable and now the dress is much more adjustable!

The second bodice was for the dress named Annabelle, which was made in 2011 (and worn again later in 2011). This bodice also closed all the way down the back when it was made. Well, that’s not the case any more. Actually, a few years ago I’d already converted the closure from being hooks and eyes with folded over seam allowance to lacing with less seam allowance folded over in order to eek out a little more space, but that just wasn’t enough. By 2016, here’s how we were looking. It was time for a more drastic update.

I did the same thing I did for Evie, adding a placket and regathering the bertha to make it span the lacing gap. It took me about two years to get to it, but the result is that I was able to wear Annabelle to a recent ball in October, with a back that looked like this.

Not bad! The only thing I want to change is making that top edge actually stay matched rather than the one side riding up. But that’s a minor change. Overall, I’m pleased to be able to continue to wear this dress!

There we are–two more examples of how to fix the-dress-no-longer-fits problem! It was incredibly lovely to receive comments on the Regency post that other people also experience closet shrinkage and have already adapted their clothing to deal with it or are now inspired to do so. It is my hope that continuing to post about this topic will encourage others come to terms with their own changing size as well as ideas for how we can all deal and move forward while still being able to wear our finery.

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1850s Chenille Headdress At The Victoria & Albert Ball

It’s been almost exactly a year since the inspiration for a new mid-19th century headdress stuck in my mind. I was attending a workshop at the Civil War Weekend last October and watching others make lovely floral headdresses with low hanging flowers, like this. Another inspiration headdress was similar in having two sections of decoration on each side of a headband, but made of loops of silk chenille rather than flowers. I decided then and there that I wanted to try out this more unusual style. The image below was my main inspiration, followed by a similar style made of silk ribbon.

MFA. Hair Ornament. Mid 19-th Century. Accession number 53.2245.

MFA. Headdress. Mid 19-th Century. Accession number 51.376.

It’s charming, right? I thought it would be silly, fun, and different, so I went on a hunt for chenille yarn to complement one of my mid-19th century dresses, Annabelle. It was rather harder than I thought it would be to find just the shade of purple that I was looking for as well as an off white, but I persevered and found them on Esty.

The base of my headdress is millinery wire. I formed loops at the ends in order to have a section to easily bobby pin to my hair. The over-the-head millinery wire is covered in black acrylic yarn from the stash to blend in with my hair, while the ends are black because I colored them with a sharpie–easy and quick. No yarn to get stuck in the bobby pins on the ends.

The loops of chenille vary in length. Each piece was folded in half, twisted, and then tied to the base. The chenille I found is not as plush as my inspiration, but with overlapping twists I was able to achieve a similar overall shape.

Here are two pictures of the headdress, one from the back, which better shows off the chenille headdress, and one from the front, which also shows one of our lovely bouquets from the ball.

As the title mentions, I was able to wear this ensemble to a mid-19th century Victoria and Albert themed ball. In addition to the usual loveliness of balls (live music, refreshments, etc.), we had added decorations, special fan shaped dance cards, a quadrille performance, and sashes. Here are the dance cards laid out on a silver tray in the entryway.

And here’s the whole ensemble worn with my sash. The chenille frames the sides of my face and puffs out a bit farther than my hair. Fun and different! I really like this somewhat quirky and unusual headdress!