It is evening. The rain is pouring down outside. Hurry up the front steps, push open the heavy front door, and join the gathering of late Victorians interested in archeology and ancient Egypt that are inside. The guests have been brought together for opportunity to see artifacts, listen to a lecture on Egyptology, and finally to witness the unwrapping of a mummy.*
The location is the Tudor style Bosworth Castle.** Dark wood, intricate detailing, and interesting artifacts abound. The rooms are filled with the light chatter of guests greeting friends and curiously examining artifacts. A pianist provides background music in the main hall. There are tables and mantels filled with artifacts and interesting objects to explore.
In one room, the mummy rests on a table with its canopic jars. Tools are laid out, ready for the unwrapping which will occur later in the evening.
Following the lecture and mummy unwrapping, guests are invited to ask questions and look more closely at the mummy and his amulets. It is concluded during the unwrapping that the mummy is indeed a prince, as suspected.***
Guests are given souvenirs from the evening as they depart, including a note regarding the identity of the mummy and a scrap of his wrappings.
*No mummies or artifacts were harmed in the course of this event. The evening included a discussion of Victorian archeology compared to modern methods and used a recreation of a mummy as well as reproduction tools.
**This event was created and hosted by the Archeology Department of Boston University. It was hosted in a building a BU actually called the Castle, though the Bosworth part was added for fun.
***Actually, the character of the mummy was decided specifically because the mummy of the prince does not actually exist, allowing for some creative liberties. In fact, the amulets were all placed just so within the wrappings to allow for their context to be explained during the unwrapping. The mummy was carefully crafted to look, and even smell, authentic while of course sticking to modern materials. It was quite impressive!
Twice recently I’ve wound up at the local low-priced fabric store not needing fabric, but finding fabric that I knew wouldn’t be there if I went looking for it again in the future. Those trips resulted in three new dress lengths of fabrics for the stash.
The first two were from the first trip, when a friend and I stopped by the fabric store so she could get some supplies… I didn’t need anything…
But I bought the gorgeous burgundy rayon velvet specifically to make an 1830s evening gown I’ve been thinking of for the last year or so. It’s nice and lightweight and won’t weigh down the silhouette!
And the icy pink shot imitation silk I also purchased. I’ve used this fabric in other colors in the past multiple times, in my 1813 Regency dress and my 1811 Regency dress. It’s a little poofy, but looks like silk. I also have it in gold, which has been sitting in my stash for a few years. I have no current plans for this fabric, but I finished off the bolt so I have enough to make a dress from just about any decade in the 19th century I eventually decide on.
The lovely pumpkin silk is a color I’ve been dreaming of having a dress made out of, but it’s one of those colors you don’t often find. I carried it around the store for probably an hour before purchasing it. I’ve thought specifically of an 1820s dress, but really this color could be used for many decades in the 19th century. I also finished off the bolt on this one with hopefully enough yardage for any project I eventually decide on.
In addition, I found a lovely figured silk online at Blackbird Fabrics that I also knew was a fabric I wouldn’t find if I went looking for something similar in the future. That’s how fabric shopping often is, at least near me. You have to buy great things when you see them because if you go looking for specific and similar things you’ll likely not find them. Is it like that near where you live?
The purple color is so very 2nd-half-of-the-19th-century-chemically-dyed and it’s figured. It’s hard to find good silks these days for a reasonable price that aren’t just solid. I’m eventually planning a new 1890s gown, though who knows when. Maybe when another 1890s ball pops up on my calendar?
For now I need to get back to using up stash fabrics for my summer projects instead of adding to the stash!
“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?”
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.
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.
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?
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…)
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.
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.
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.
When I first wore my 1895 skating ensemble last January, I ran out of time and braid after trimming the back and sleeves. Sometime last year I ordered more of the braid from Debs Lace and Trims* and in November or December I ordered black wood toggles from eBay (super cheap, 50 for $2–I’ll have toggles for life!).
I’ve only found this one picture of the front of the inspiration skating jacket. It’s not as close-up as I would like, but it was enough to base a plan on for my own jacket. Using that and other images on my sewing project Pinterest board, I planned out the yardage for each new row of trim. After lots of pinning, stringing toggles, and careful sewing I had used up every single inch of the new batch of braid for a total of 10 yards of braid trim on the jacket. But the result is excellent! I’m just as chuffed with the additional trim as I was with the ensemble when I first made it.
It didn’t snow much here this year (such a change from last year!), but we did have a day of sticky snow right after I finished the trim that was lovely to look at. I convinced Mr. Q to take pictures of me around our neighborhood the next morning while the temperature warmed up and everything began to melt. Luckily we made it out early enough in the day that there was still snow!
Passersby were staring, a lady on a balcony started a conversation with me about my outfit, and Mr. Q was, well, out of his comfort zone. I guess I’m just used to the situation. He was not–and I was amused.
However, despite my penchant for making really odd faces and talking when someone is trying to get a good shot of me, Mr. Q did manage to get a number of very nice pictures of the totally finished ensemble.
As you can see, I’ve edited out the odd faces and so far only included some of the more elegant and put together ones I managed to pull off.
Here are some silly ones. I’m not sure what’s happening this one–it looks like I’m blowing a kiss or making a wish. I might have been talking. It’s cute though!
This was a successful pose! Sometimes I just look totally silly when I pose, but I guess curious-what’s-around-this-tree face is not so bad.
And finally, one in which I wonder again what I’m doing… I think I was going to reach up for the tree branch, but then Mr. Q pointed out that it looked weird… It’s a fun silhouette shot, anyway.
*If you haven’t been before, check out Debs Lace and Trims. You can’t beat her prices and most laces and trims I’ve ordered from her have been excellent, with the exception of a few stiff laces when I was hoping for soft lace. But even then, the prices are so low that I put the lace in my stash and use it for other projects without being worried I wasted my money on a product I wasn’t happy with.
I’m excited that the 1880s corset I made last summer is finally, actually, finished! I got around to adding the finishing touches, lace and ribbon around the top, over the fall. Now there is nothing left to sew, and, after two wearings I can say with confidence that there are no little alterations I want to do! Yay!
The first wearing was in August last year, with my 1885 frills and furbelows dress. The second wearing was in January this year, under my new 1899 evening gown. Both times I found the corset to be extremely comfortable to wear. And in January, I was able to get pictures of the completely finished corset! So, without further explanation, here is the corset in its finished form. (If you didn’t get to read all the intricate details of the patterning, construction, and steaming process, you can see all past posts here, in the project journal.)
The super frilly petticoat was a great prop for these photos! (I’m much better at looking natural rather than awkward when I have props!). It’s from 1903 and was finished in 2011. I’ve worn it many times but have never taken photos of it on me. It’s entirely silk, with two layers of flounces, both made of multiple gathered circles and edged with wide lace in a scallop pattern. It closes with a silk ribbon that threads through the waistband in manner described in Authentic Victorian Dressmaking Techniques. It’s decadent to wear–it makes rustling sounds, has great body, and when you take it off it stands up on it’s own! I can’t remember how many yards of fabric went into this petticoat, but I know it was a lot, with all the circles in the flounces!
Awesome petticoat aside, this corset is pretty decadent to wear, also. Silk, tons of curvy seams and bones, perfectly fitted, lovingly, painstakingly, and beautifully sewn… what’s not to like!
Thanks to the usual camera toting culprit for doing a corset photo shoot with me in the midst of getting dressed for a ball! You know who you are.
(As a side note, it’s a challenge to take historical clothing underwear pictures that look reasonably like historical photos and images but don’t go into the modern lingerie photo direction. See the inspiration here and here? I tried this as well as the standing pose in the second link, but awkward really describes the outcome. But I think we did pretty well in the end. It’s amusing to feel these photos are revealing when I’m quite dressed by modern standards… Do you feel the same way about taking pictures in your historical underwear?)
I was very pleased with my hair for the 1890s ball! One of the reasons I liked the idea of an 1899 dress is because it is close enough to the turn of the century that a Gibson Girl hair style made sense. My hair loves cooperating in poofy styles, so this was perfect!
I created the super poof using a pad made from one leg of a pair of tights. It’s stuffed with cheap “wizard beard” hair that would otherwise have gone in the trash. Being stuffed with synthetic hair, the pad is pretty warm. And I did struggle a bit to get bobby pins through the tights–I need to add loops to the ends for next time I think. Aside from those things, though, the pad was perfect!
I also created a new hair ornament to finish off the coiffure. I had originally thought of bleaching the ostrich feathers to create an aigrette*, like this, but decided that I liked the ostrich feathers as is and didn’t feel like dealing with bleach. There are two feathers: a grey and a white. I found that the white helped create definition for the grey on my dark hair. The sparkly bit is a cheap eBay brooch. I sewed the feathers to it and then used the pin part to bobby pin it in place on my head.
Success! Look at that haughty Gibson girl look (like this)!
*An aigrette is a spray of feathers from an egret. Confusing!