We performed on George’s Island again this year and were quite thankful that the weather was slightly cloudy and at least 15 degrees cooler than last year! It was a great opportunity for all of us to wear our cotton print day dresses again and it was neat to see the entire dance troupe all wearing cotton dresses with a pattern (no solids to be seen!).
I wore Georgina just as I did last year, the only difference being that I took a little bit of time to make a collar for this year. I had wanted to last year but ran out of time. It seemed more important to have the dress than to have a collar without the dress… But it was entirely feasible this year to add just the small item of the collar and I do think it really completes my outfit quite nicely.
This year, our friend with the camera had purchased a new, special, Petzval lens (you can learn more about it and 19th century photography here at her blog). It’s a modern digital version of a historic lens. I love the pictures it produces! I’ve been told that the background is sort of swirled when the picture is captured, but to me it just looks nicely diffused and out of focus. It’s a lovely contrast to the foreground, which stays nicely in focus. All of these pictures were taken in color, but some of them are much more stunning in black and white.
This last one made use of a special part of the new lens. There is a piece which can be changed out and which creates the interesting background variations. All of the previous pictures were taken using the piece which blurs the background, but this last one was taken using the piece which causes the light in the background to be star shaped. Isn’t that neat?
The collar is constructed from 2 layers of ivory cotton from my small bits stash (at least, it’s likely cotton… I don’t remember where it came from and there was the perfect amount, so I just went with it without knowing the details). It is edged with ivory lace. I made the pattern directly on Georgina’s day bodice so that it would fit the neck perfectly. It’s mostly machine sewn with hand finishing. It is lightly basted on to the piping at the neck edge of the bodice so that I can easily remove it if I want to in the future. I’m quite satisfied. I like the scale, the lace, and I think it adds a nice 1850s touch, completing the ensemble.
Here are a few group pictures from the recent ball at which Georgina’s new evening bodice made her first appearance. As I mentioned before, it was a lovely ball with enthusiastic and elegant dancers. I had a fantastic time.
And remember this picture, from Newport Vintage Dance Week back in 2012? Different time period, obviously, but The Next Generation of vintage dancers is still going strong, so we thought we’d take a TNG picture at this ball, too!
It’s very rewarding to be continuing the legacy of historic dancing in beautiful clothes with lovely companions and in stunning places. Next weekend, Georgina’s day bodice will be making another appearance on George’s Island for another vintage dance performance. I’m sure we’ll have pictures!
A few months ago, I had a master plan to use the leftover yardage from Georgina, my 1858 cotton print day dress, to make an evening bodice in addition to her current day bodice for versatility and washability. Luckily, I was able to complete the bodice and a new hair crescent before my life exploded in June and I was smothered under an immense amount of work. I am pleased to have work, don’t get me wrong, but I was so exhausted by the end of the month all I could do was sleep and be disoriented! I’ve just come back from a vacation and feel like I can peer out from under my rock and join the world again! So, to celebrate constructing historic clothing for myself rather than other people, here is a post about a really neat addition to my historic wardrobe! And it fits into the current HSF challenge #13: Under $10, a bonus since the HSF challenges haven’t lined up very well with a lot of my projects this year.
Pattern: I began with Past Patterns #701 but altered it extensively to fit me, to have pleats and gathers on the exterior, and to have an evening neckline. The sleeve pattern was drafted by me.
Year: c. 1855
Notions: Thread, plastic wire ties for boning, hooks and eyes, and cotton cording.
How historically accurate?: Based off of historic examples, constructed with accurate details… I think the only compromise is the plastic boning, which I used because I didn’t have the right length in metal, and because plastic is easily washable (and I want this to be a garment that can be washed easily–that’s part of the goal in having a cotton evening bodice!).
Hours to complete: I have no idea… 32 hours maybe? I really didn’t keep track at all on this project.
First worn: To a mid-19th century ball in June (one of the few moments of respite in my crazy month).
Total cost: About $3 for approximately 1 yard of historic cotton print and a lot of stash materials, which count as free, since I have no idea what I paid for them at this point! Let’s call the total about $8.
As you know, I like things to be tidy. All of the seam allowances are either hidden between the layers of fabric or nicely finished. There are plastic bones in the darts and the side seams. The bodice is machine sewn and hand finished. (One amusing mistake is that I cut the lining with a center front opening for fitting purposes (and left lots of seam allowance, as you can see) but then forgot to leave seam allowance in the back… So the lining doesn’t extend all the way to the folded edge of the print, but it’s all covered up so no one will ever know and it fits just fine… it’s just one of those amusing things!)
The bodice closes with hooks and bars. I wanted to use metal bars but make sure they wouldn’t been seen, so I let about ¼” of the print extend past the points of the hooks to create an overlap. I also left extra print extended past the bars, in addition to all the seam allowance, in case I want or need to adjust the size of the bodice in the future. The bars are especially hard to spot on the print, but if you look carefully on the left you can see them. The neck and armsceyes both have very narrow cording.
The defining design details were obviously the low neck and short sleeves, but there were other common details as well, such as double puffs or pleats to trim the sleeves, tubular sleeves without very much fullness at the top or bottom, 1.5″-2″ waistbands sitting on the outside of the skirt waistband, and gathered or pleated fullness on the fronts and backs (no darts on any of these cotton bodices). Some of the bodices have a yoke around the top so that only the bottom portion of the bodice is gathered, but this look says “young girl” not “grown woman” to me, so I opted for a bodice without a yoke.
In terms of construction, to have enough fabric in the print for the pleats and gathers on the print fabric, I first constructed and fit the lining. Then I separated one side of the lining to use as a pattern and added width to have space for the pleats I had planned. Once I had cut the print, I reassembled the lining and mounted the pleated print on top. From there on I treated the two layers as one.
As I’ve looked at 1850s images and fashion plates in comparison to early 1860s, especially, what I’ve noticed is that the 1850s really attempted to make a woman’s head look round or wide, whereas by the early 1860s the styles begin to grown upward and become vertically elongated. Here are some great examples of the round 1850s hair look: from 1851-53, c. 1855, from 1857, another 1857, yet another 1857, one more from 1857, and one from 1859. Here’s a super wide 1850s style and here is an example of the different shape of the early 1860s. The very round shape is what I was attempting to complement my 1850s bodice.
How? Well, I put gel right at the roots of my hair while it was still wet and then encouraged it to stand up from my head rather than being pulled back. I let it dry like that and it stayed all day. Later in the day, I styled it for my 1940s Anne Adams dress photos by brushing it out (and brushing my hair when it’s dry makes it big!!!). There was lots of added hair spray for that style, so when I went to restyle it there was plenty of fullness and air in my hair. I puffed the fronts and pinned them up and behind my ears then did a big roll with the rest.
The finishing touch was a new hair crescent that I made specifically to complement the colors in the cotton print. The crescent is made up of fully wired millinery flowers in ivory, some of which I dyed to be pinkish. Each extension is a singular stem and I just twisted them together until I liked the result. Lastly, I sewed a hair comb in the center to help attach it to my head and stabilize the wires. Each side also has a bobby pin to secure it to my head so the extended bits don’t flap around while I’m dancing.
I’m super pleased with the end result: the bodice, the hair style, and the hair crescent! Oh, and the pictures (thanks!). And I had a marvelous time at the ball–it was one of the class of events which makes me feel radiant and at which I really enjoy myself (compared to those when I’m grumpy and grouchy at the world). And all the smiling and dancing gave me a lovely natural rosy glow in the pictures. The aloof face is my attempt at a 19th century portrait face (it took a long time to capture a picture then, which is my rationale for why everyone has a generally serious face!). You had to pick something you could keep still for a long time, and a big smile is hard to maintain without movement or looking staged.
This is a follow-up post to my last post: ca. 1860 Corset For Me! (HSF #4). That post has a short background on my reasons for building the corset, but it doesn’t mention other details, so that’s what this post is for!
So let’s start with more background, since this post is all about intense amounts of details! We’ll start with the pattern I made for this corset: you’ll notice it has bust and hip gores as well as that curved piece on each side of the front. The bust gores aren’t so unusual for a modern 1860s corset recreation, but I don’t see too many corsets made (and certainly not many corset patterns) with hip gores and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone reproduce an 1860s corset with that curved piece in front. I found these details intriguing and wanted to make this style for two reasons: 1, because it’s a style I haven’t seen recreated, but which I have multiple examples of in my research, and 2, because it seemed like it would fit into a new thought I absorbed a few months ago.
First, a discussion about the style. It seems like a lot of modern ca. 1860s corsets are cut with vertical seams that run from top to bottom of the corset to create shaping, sometimes with the addition of bust gores. (The corset on the right is an example of one from the 1860s that uses this style of seaming to create shape.) These corsets are cut with shaping in the seams to create space for the bust and hips, but an alternative to this is to use bust and hip gores to achieve shape for the body. The interesting thing is that hip gores do not seem to be very commonly used in historic corsets made by modern people, despite their use in historic clothing. I attribute this to the fact that shaped seams are easier to execute than inserting gores of any type, but especially gores that are not in a seam (like the gores in my corset). Also, I would think that pattern companies have an easier time grading patterns using the shaped seams, because the gores (particularly hip gores) really need a lot more individual adjustment and fiddling on a body than shaped seams do.
Second, about this new thought that I absorbed. While reading Merja’s most recent blog posts about corset construction, I was rather surprised by a simple statement that makes so much sense but which I haven’t necessarily followed in corset making in the past (here are Merja’s gusseted 1870s corset, which has the sentence which mentions this magical new thought, as well as her 1880s purple corset and 1860s white corset with seaming like the Met corset, above, which exhibit the thought without it being explicitly stated). Essentially, she says that she always makes adequate space in the corset for bust and hips, so that the corset is only constraining her waist. Duh! A related thought is that when you tighten your corset you displace some bits to your bust and hips, so your corset really does need adequate room there to accommodate the normal and the extra. That makes so much sense and sounds so much more comfortable than having a corset that digs into your hips or pushes your bust around uncomfortably. I made the goal to take this approach for the new corset and all future corsets! and this new corset was my first attempt at really following this sound piece of information.
So given that the style I set out to make is one that I haven’t ever seen a pattern for, where did I get mine? Well, it’s loosely based off of one in Corsets and Crinolines by Norah Waugh (the pattern is ca. 1873, pg. 80). I say loosely, because I started there, but then began combining pieces and changing the shape of them to suit my measurements and the seam placement that I wanted (most importantly the hip gore and that curved front piece). Interestingly, Waugh notes on a different corset pattern (ca. 1860, pg. 78) that the 1860s style of corset without bust or hip gores (more like what I seem to see in modern made ca. 1860 corsets like the one from the Met at the top of this post) was a style preferred in France. The English preferred the style of corset I am making with gores. (Merja’s white 1860s corset I mentioned in the pervious paragraph uses this French corset pattern in Waugh, if you’d like to see what it looks like made up.)
I wound up making two mockups to get the pattern the way I wanted it even after adjusting the pattern from the beginning (and still made a few alterations before cutting out my real fabric). The original pattern in the book had a waist that was much too small and a bust that was a little large relative to my measurements. Despite my changes, the first mockup was too short waisted, needed bigger and longer bust gores, smaller hip gores (I had overestimated how much ease I needed there), and a little bigger waist. The second mockup was still a little short (I added another ½” to the top), the hip gores were still just slightly too big, and the lacing gap between the back pieces was wider than I wanted it to be by about 3″. Ugh! I actually determined that last fact after cutting out and sewing up my actual fabric. Turns out my shoulder blade area is bigger than I thought. I had an inner struggle about if I wanted to take out the small stitch size flat felled seam to insert a piece or if I wanted to just let it go. Adding a piece won in the end, because I figured that I was spending so much time on the corset that I really wanted to be pleased with it and not have nagging doubts for the next number of years until making a replacement. (The piece I added is between the front and back pieces. You can see it easily in the first picture in this post. It’s a v shaped piece that extends from top to bottom.) Adding the piece actually wasn’t so bad, despite all my inner complaining and I’m very pleased I did it, because I am happy with the result.
That’s all the aspects of choosing the pattern and executing it. Now I can move on to my inspiration for creating it. This blue corset at the V and A is the most thoroughly photographed piece of inspiration (click through, there are lots of different angles of the corset, and close up pictures!). As you can see, the blue corset has bust gores, that curved front piece, (and if you look at the pictures of the back…) hip gores, as well as useful close up construction photos showing the flossing, how the busk is sewn in, how the binding is sewn on, etc. You can also see great detail for things like how to sew the points of the bust darts and the tops of the hip gores: they are overcast near the tips of the bust gores and tops of the hip gores before being machine sewn with topstitching to the binding. I used this method in my corset, sewing the overcasting by hand. I found that it was very useful on the bust gores (since mine are set into a slit in the fabric, not a seam) because the amount of seam allowance near the points is negligible (like, less than ⅛”) and that would have been extremely frustrating to try and machine sew! Also, the overcasting kept the edges from fraying as I was working with them. It also adds an extra measure of stability and sturdiness to those areas.
Other very useful images to me were this orange 1860s corset front and side views (with generally similar lines as the blue V and A one) and this 1862 Godey’s image of a corset (with very similar lines as the blue V and A one). (As a side note: Does anyone know what collection houses the orange corset? I’ve only been able to find images, but no real source.) These corsets provide a nice end date range for my corset pattern, because in the 1870s the corset begins to change shape. But to determine a good start date for my corset I had to look elsewhere. The Met has a corset dated 1839-1841 with similar hip gores and the front curved piece (great zoomable pictures including an interior view, click through the image!), but it does not have separate bust gores (they are cut in one with the front pieces as is usual for 1840s corsets) and it does not have a front opening busk (those weren’t in general use until 1849). The 1839-41 corset is more curvy than the 1860s ones, as you would expect from an 1840s corset, but it still looks like a forerunner to me! Waugh has an 1844 corset pattern (pg. 77) that has similar lines to the 1839-41 Met one, with bust gores but without hip gores or the curved front piece. These 1840s corsets are useful for determining the start point of my date range, which seems to safely be the 1850s. Thus, my corset is dated ca. 1860, which is just a shorter way of saying 1850-1870. That makes sense looking at the silhouette of the dresses from these decades, as well, since neither the 1850s or 1860s require the curvy shape of 1840s or 1870s corsets.
EDIT: The orange corset mentioned above is in the collection of the Manchester Art Gallery via this link.
I used all of these different images to look for construction details to use in my corset. Specific things I was looking for include: stitch size, width of the binding, method of sewing the binding, placement of bones, design of flossing, seam placement, method of setting bust and hip gores, location of topstitching, placement of eyelets down the back, finishing of the interior of the corset, and length of the busk. Some of these things can be determined by looking at the extant corsets I’ve shared in this post, but others required other helpful research. Specifically, the gusset construction method I used came from this image that Merja shared in her 1870s corset post. It’s from 1872, but is still relevant for my corset, because if you look at the blue and orange corset pictures you will see it used on the overcasting at the bust and hip gores. This image, from 1868, shows similar methods as well (and has a selection of mostly French and a few English style corsets if you’d like to see more examples of those).
And now, here are the close up construction details of my corset that I promised.
I’m hoping to get pictures of the corset on me this weekend at its first ever wearing. Hopefully I’ll be able to share those in the near future!
Unfortunately, I’m a few days late completing my project for the HSF Challenge #4: Under It All. I tried really hard on this one and was definitely motivated to keep working consistently by the fact that I wanted to get it done for the HSF challenge. I was held up by a severe cold that took me out for about a week and other dealing with life things. So while I’m late, I’m super glad and excited to be done with this project (especially because the last two days have included a lot of flossing, and my fingers/hand muscles are so done with that for awhile)!
The last ca. 1860 corset I built for myself was made in 2006 or 2007 (you can see it in this post). It’s been worn more times than I can count and has stood up to the test of time and tension well, especially considering it was the first corset I ever made! But the time has come for a new corset for this period–one that is made to fit me using all the skills in pattern making and construction that I’ve gained over the last 7 or 8 years.
I realized while working on this corset that aside from building my first corset to fit me in 2006 or 2007, the only other stays or corsets I wear with my historic clothes that were made to fit me are my 18th century stays, my short Regency stays, and my c. 1825 long stays. I wear other corsets from 1895 (hm, I don’t think there are pictures of this on the blog), 1903, and 1913 but none of them were constructed to fit me (though I did construct them beautifully!). I’ve made them work and they sort of fit me, but all of them have problems because they were made to fit other people: a busk that’s too long, being a little small, especially in the hips, or being too big and needing a tuck. So it occurred to me that I should probably invest in making a few more corsets made to my measurements for the Victorian and Edwardian periods. Sounds obvious, but it was a revelation to me when I sat down and thought about it!
So that’s what this project is: a ca. 1860 corset made to fit me!
I have lots of other thoughts and inspiration to share with regard to this project, but I expect it to be lengthy, so I’ll be writing it up in a separate post. Plus, I want to post about my completion of the challenge as soon as possible. So for now, the very much condensed details.
Fabric: 1/2 yd ish of white herringbone cotton coutil and ½ yds ish of slightly slubby pale pink silk satin.
Notions: Metal boning, metal grommets, a recycled metal busk from my old ca. 1860 corset, regular weight ivory thread, and heavy weight ivory thread for flossing.
How historically accurate?: Pretty darn accurate, I’d say. I wanted to create a corset using the seam lines found in extant garments, but which don’t seem to be much recreated. I used construction methods that are accurate as far as I know. Let’s say 90% because you can’t ever quite make it to 100% if it’s modern, can you?
Hours to complete: A lot. I didn’t keep track, but I’ve been working on this for at least 2 or 3 weeks, and some of those days have been a full day’s work on the corset, not just evenings.
First worn: Has not been worn yet, but will be worn to a ball in March.
You’ll remember that I introduced you to Georgina in my last post? Georgina’s first outing was for at a mid-19th century vintage dancer performance on George’s Island in the Boston Harbor. It was a super toasty day and we were dancing mostly on asphalt or an uneven wood dock, but we all survived and looked lovely and dashing.
After the performance we had some time to explore the island, most of which is occupied by Fort Warren. We had lots of fun and took lots of pictures. So next post, look forward to Georgina’s Island Explorations!
“Georgina” is the name I’ve chosen for my new 1858 cotton print day dress. Being a day dress from a new decade (the 1850s), makes her a fabulous new expansion in my wardrobe of historic clothes!
The dress is constructed from about 5yds of a Marcus Brothers reproduction historic cotton print I purchased earlier this summer. I used Past Patterns #701 and #702 bodice patterns as a starting point, though I had to make significant alterations to achieve a comfortable and pleasing fit, especially in the shoulder/armsceye area. I used the darted pattern for the fitted lining and the gathered pattern for the gathered exterior. The sleeves are the bishop sleeves from one of the patterns, though I totally changed the cuff design.
The cuff design and a lot of other fiddly details were taken from this c. 1852 dress at the Met (pictured below). If you zoom in on the cuffs on the Met website you can see that they look just like mine (pictured later in this post)! I also used the following design elements from the Met dress: piping at the neck and waist, gathers that are tacked down beyond the seam line, button closure on the cuffs, and cartridge pleating all around the skirt. I have a whole pinterest board of inspiring images for this dress and hat ensemble, but this dress is the one from which I took the most information and detail.
Here are a few pictures of the fiddly details I integrated from the Met dress:
Georgina’s bodice is lined with white cotton. There are hand sewn boning channels sewn into the bodice in the front darts on each side and on the sides. The bones are then slipped in between the layers of fabric. I didn’t have the right length metal bones, so I used heavy duty plastic wire ties–but–I cut them in half the long way so they are much skinnier than normal (they just don’t look at all historically plausible in their normal width, in my opinion). Once they’re in the bodice, you’d never know they are plastic instead of metal.
The bodice is finished at the neck and bottom edge with piping that is nicely whip stitched to the inside. There is also piping in the armsceye seam. The sleeve seams are french seamed by machine with the opening seam allowance at the cuff turned twice and stitched by hand. The other bodice seams are all machine sewn and the bodice is hand finished. The bodice closes at center front with hidden hooks and bars. It also hooks to the waistband of the skirt to keep the two pieces from gaping while worn.
The skirt has a wide hem that is hand stitched. The long skirt seams are machine sewn. The waistband is the same cotton print with an interfacing layer of canvas to create stability. The skirt is cartridge pleated and hand sewn to the waistband. There is a single layer of lightweight flannel folded into the cartridge pleats to give them a little more bulk than the thin cotton had on its own.
I also took the time to add pockets to this skirt! This turned out to be really useful for storing gloves, sunglasses, chapstick, a fan… with two pockets a lady can store so many things! Here’s how I made them and sewed them into the skirt:
Georgina cost about $18: $15 for the fabric and about $3 for hooks and eyes. The various other fabrics (cotton lining, canvas interlining, etc.) were all in my stash from previous projects (yay!). I first wore Georgina last weekend to a vintage dance performance on George’s Island in the Boston Harbor. I’ve got pictures of the performance and pictures of island exploration coming up soon!
I recently participated in an outdoor mid-century dance performance for which the weather was an un-obliging 90-something degrees + humidity. Yup, not kidding. It was HOT! And we were dancing on asphalt. Luckily, we were out on an island in the Boston harbor and had a breeze. But it was HOT!
Anyway, more on that performance soon, because it involved a new cotton print day dress made from one of my recently acquired historic cotton prints! In addition to the dress, I also restyled a straw hat to go with the outfit and keep some of the sun off of my head. The hat has been used with various other clothes (1780s and Regency come to mind), but I had only ever added a simple ribbon to it rather than really styling it. This was the perfect opportunity to really make something of the hat!
I wanted to keep it simple and in the 1850s/60s, so I started by adding inspirational images to my pinterest board for this project. I visited the board many times before making a decision that I loved the shape of Eugenie’s straw hat in this painting. The hat has that nice downward curve in the front that sort of frames the face and accentuates the fashionable heart shape. The gauzy/tulle trim was a little whimsical for my purposes, so I opted for a more subdued and practical trim style on my hat.
I started by wetting my hat in the bathtub then tying it with string so it would dry with the curve that I wanted to achieve in the brim. I also wanted the back to curve under a bit, so I let the hat curve on both sides.
Once the hat had dried all that was left was to trim it! I chose to use green silk left over from Evie, my 1864 ball gown, and some silk millinery flowers. The silk is narrow hemmed on both sides and the ends are fringed, showing gold threads (the fabric is green/gold shot taffeta). The long ends hang down the back while the hat is worn, a style like the one below which you can see in the images on my pinterest board. I also added a bow on the front like you see in the images. Turns out that the bow is not quite centered… whoops!
And here is the result of my labors, and my fulfillment of the HSF Challenge #16: Separates. “Make a non-matching garment which can be paired with other items in your historical wardrobe to extend your outfit choices.”
Just the facts:
Fabric: A 4″ width of green silk 60″ wide plus a few scraps.
Year: 1850s generally, 1857 specifically.
Notions: Straw hat, silk flowers, thread.
How historically accurate?: I give it 98% (and that’s pretty high for me!). Straw, silk, more silk… The sewing machine was even invented by 1858, so the machine sewn hat isn’t totally out of the realm of possibility. The -2% is for the polyester thread.
Hours to complete: 2, not including time for the straw to dry.
First worn: July 20 for a vintage dance performance on George’s Island in the Boston harbor.
Total cost: I bought the hat a few years ago for probably about $25, the silk was leftover from another project, and the flowers cost some small number of cents since I got them as part of a large box for only $5! Let’s just say $26 total.
At first I thought I had made the curve too pronounced, but when I look at the pictures again, I think I was pretty darn spot on! Woo! Completed new separates accessory for my historic wardrobe: check. Oh, and did I mention I’m in early on this project? The deadline is August 12!
I was recently able to visit a wholesale quilt fabric company to purchase historic dress fabrics for an upcoming mid-19th century performance on behalf of me and other members in my vintage dance troupe. It was such a treat! The majority of the fabrics we found were Marcus Brothers fabrics, but RJR also had a smaller number of really lovely fabrics.
There were so many lovely things, but the best part was the prices! All of the fabrics were between $2.50-$3.75 a yard! You had to buy a bolt, which varied between 7 1/2 and 15 yds, but at those prices it’s still outstanding! We came away with fabric for the 1850s/60s dresses and bit more besides… There were some things that were just so fantastic they couldn’t be left behind!
Don’t worry, there will be upcoming posts with more on the 1850s day dress I’ll be making as well as the other much farther in the future projects. And I’m sure I’ll also have great pictures from the mid-19th century performance as well.