1875 Reception Dress: Bodice Construction

Recently, I’ve been hinting about my new 1875 reception dress. We’ve looked at the hat that I made to accompany it as well as how the hat was made. Now, I’d like to share focused details about the construction of the bodice of the dress.

Here is the finished bodice!

I did a lot of Pinterest scanning to choose a style for the dress (as one does, of course!). There are a number of dresses from 1875/76 that appeal to me, with their swags of fabric, elaborate trimmings, and sweeping trains, but I decided on the fashion plate below partly because I had fabrics in my stash that I thought would work in terms of yardage as well as complementing each other in terms of colors.

L’Elegance Parisienne, June 1875, LAPL

If you’re looking carefully, I imagine you’ll notice pretty quickly that my finished bodice does not have the pleated sleeve trim and large cuff shown in the fashion plate. I ran out of fabric! Oops. So I decided to eliminate these details and focus on all the other trimmings on the dress. For example, if you look at the neckline and hem of the finished bodice you will notice that those two edges have similar treatments as in the fashion plate. However, not using the sleeve style in the inspiration fashion plate left me with a style decision to make. How to trim, or finish, the sleeves? Back to Pinterest!

I settled on the sleeve style of the fabulous burgundy and tan dress on the right. This would use less fabric but maintain a similar feeling as other parts of the dress.

Revue de la Mode, c. 1875

Below are my partially finished sleeves.

I started by cutting them off at a length that made sense with the addition of the pleats and hemming them. The pleats are pressed in the center so that no hemming is needed and the top edges are left raw. These raw edges are then covered by the green pleated bands. The lace is actually two rows of lace (to make the lace twice as wide) that are gathered and then sewn into sleeves. The final step that you can’t see here is a green bow to finish off the back sleeve seam area. The bow covers the raw edges of the green pleated band.

The bodice pieces of silk are flat lined with muslin. The seam allowances are whip stitched to keep them tidy. The bottom edge of the bodice is finished with self bias. The bodice is boned–at the point of this photo only the center back seam has a bone stitched in.

In addition to the center back, I added bones to the side back seams as well. I also added a waist stay. That is the grosgrain ribbon that is stitched to the boning channels. This helps to keep the bodice anchored around the waist if I raise my arms and to keep the back tight against my body. It also takes some strain off of the buttons.

At this point you can also see the green ruffle has been added to the bottom of the bodice. Like the pleats on the sleeves, the ruffle is pressed in half so that no hemming is needed. The top raw edge is hidden by the twill tape.

Here’s another view of the inside of the bodice that shows the green ruffle a little bit more. It also shows the bones on the side seams and a hint of the lace around the neck opening, the edge of which is also covered with ribbon–in this case, petersham. I found the lace too scratchy against my neck on it’s own, even though it feels relatively soft against my hand.

The photo below also shows the bust pads. These are graduated crescents of batting that are stitched together and then covered with cotton. They help to fill out the area just in front of the arm, which often has a natural dip without assistance of this sort. Filling the dip in creates a fashionable rounded shape. Adding the pads is an experiment I was trying out. (Here is an example of a c. 1885 extant dress that has bust pads.)

Here’s an up close shot of the seam allowances of the bodice, also showing the lace and petersham around the neck a little more. You can just barely see the armsceye seam allowances, which are trimmed and whip stitched to keep them tidy.

Finally, here is a view of the front of the bodice in a half finished state.

The two front darts have boning channels stitched into them. All of the ‘bones’ in this bodice are plastic zip ties. The front zip ties are split in half to make them narrower.

This photo also shows the pleats around the neck opening (finished as with the sleeves and bottom ruffle). There are facings on the front edges. This photo was taken before I stitched the buttonholes. They were eventually machine sewn.

After all the internal construction was complete, I added the buttons (they are rubbed bronze looking plastic shank buttons) and the green trim around the neck. The neck trim is a strip of silk that has the long edges pressed under and gathered. The long edges are tacked to the neckline and then black soutache is sewn on top to cover the machine stitching lines. The finishing touch is the bow at center front.

Ta da! Next time, I’ll do an in depth post about the skirt construction, including back views that show off the giant bows, which are probably my favorite part of the skirt.

1875 Hair & Finished Hat (HSM #7)

Last post, I shared details about the style I decided on for the hat to accompany my 1875 reception dress, as well as how I made the hat.

Today, we get to see the finished hat being worn and take a look at the hairstyle I created to support the it!

This hat qualifies for the Historical Sew Monthly challenge #7: No-Buy! I was pleased that I had everything I needed for this hat on hand and it was a bonus that I was even able to use scraps in a lot of places!

Make something without buying anything.  Whether it’s finishing off a UFO, using up scraps of fabric from earlier challenges in the year, sewing entirely from stash, or finding the perfect project for those small balls of yarn, this is your opportunity to get creative without acquiring more stuff.

Just the facts:

Fabric/Materials:  Scraps of buckram, scraps of cotton flannel, scraps of pink, green, and ivory silk, 2 green-ish/brown ostrich feathers, 9 vintage silk millinery flowers, and a bit of cotton velvet.

Pattern: My own.

Year: c. 1875.

Notions: Millinery wire and thread.

How historically accurate is it?: Let’s say 85%. It’s pretty good on shape, materials, and methods, I believe, and it would be recognizable in its time.

Hours to complete: 10 ¾ hours.

First worn: In May, for photos with my 1875 ensemble!

Total cost: This was a stash project, so I count it as free; however, not counting fabric scraps I think I spent about $12 on the other materials at some point in the past.

Hairstyle Possibilities

When I was deciding on the style of hat I would be making, I also had to consider what my hairstyle might be, as the two support and complement each other. The post showing how I made this hat also shows a variety of hat styles popular at this time.

Along those same lines, let’s look at possible hairstyles from the years around 1875. Hairstyles changed throughout the 1870s, sometimes in subtle ways… and sometimes in not subtle ways! Here is not subtle for you.

Guy Little Theatrical Photograph, V & A, S.145:535-2007

I love this look (though I can see why you might chose to have a differing opinion), with ginormous braids and twists that use much more hair than most people naturally have on their heads. However, this style (with all of the additional hair at the back of the head) does not coordinate with the type of hat I chose–one that would sit on the back of my head, creating a crown effect.

Looking at the years right around 1875 (the year of my reception dress), I found hairstyles with lots of curls and twists hanging down. 1875 is the part of the decade when the fashionable silhouette of dresses changes from the very round styles of 1870-1874 (like this, for example, from 1870) to the styles from 1875-1877 that have fabric starting to slide down the backs of skirts (like this, for example, from 1875).

As if in sympathy with the dresses, I notice that hairstyles start to slide down, too. It is these years when I see curls and twists hanging down the back, while the top parts of the hair are still sculptural, decorative, and large. Here is another example showing both the cascading fabric and the sympathetic hanging curls.

La Mode Artistique, 1875, via Yesterday’s Thimble

Interestingly, there are lots of advertisements for hair pieces to help achieve these styles–for ready-made curls, twists, braids… we know that women were not achieving this with only their own hair!

Ten illustrations of different types of wigs and hair pieces, May 1875, via Hats From History

Another hairstyle option is much more subdued and most popular starting in 1878. This is the Natural Form period, when skirts are quite narrow by comparison with earlier years (like this, for example, from 1880). In keeping with the streamlined silhouette, the hair is now generally swept up, but with much less ornamentation and volume than we see in the previous years. Here is an example. No hanging curls or twists and no masses of faux hair.

1880, Le Journal des Modes, via the LAPL

Hairstyle Decision

I settled on the mid-century hairstyle of decorative bits hanging down the back with sculptural hair on the top of my head, to complement the hat. This style provided a solid base that helped visually and physically balance and anchor the hat. Indeed, without all the extra volume on top of my head the hat just looks out of place.

As you can see in the front view photo (above), I used a giant braid for the top/front of my style. There’s a whole blog post about how I created the braid here. Behind that, there is a bun form to help create volume on top of my head. This worked wonderfully for anchoring my hat pin, which you can just see poking out on the right side of the photo below–it’s tipped in a green glass leaf.

I attempted to create loops and swirls of hair around and below the bun, but I’m afraid that part of the style wasn’t as successful as I was hoping for. It’s difficult to do on the back of your own head and it’s hard to make the loops distinct, especially with my hair texture. I suspect it would be easier with smoother hair and definitely easier to do on someone else instead of yourself. I’ll have to try this style again some day. For this first attempt the back of my head was completely covered by my hat, so it doesn’t really matter what it looks like!

Below the loopy/swoopy bit I left curls hanging down at a few different lengths, as I saw in many fashion plates. This part turned out well!

That’s it, really. Massive hair, some hanging curls, plop the trimmed hat on top, secure it with a hat pin, and suddenly my head is about double the size it normally is! Here is another photo showing the hat and a sneak peak at more of the dress. Lots of details are coming up about the dress in future posts!

Style Decisions & Making A 1875 Hat

A reception ensemble would not have been complete in the late 19th century without headwear. To that end, I needed a hat to complete my 1875 reception dress. Despite having a number of hats in my historic closet, I’ve never needed one for this particular section of history, so… not finding anything suitable, I decided to make a new one!

I started by carefully observing hat styles from the 1870s to decide what would be appropriate and pleasing for my 1875 reception look.

Hat Style Possibilities

There were a variety of styles a lady could choose for her headwear in the 1870s. Here are some of the large categories I identified. All of these images are from about 1875-1877.

  • Forward perching hats: these sit upon masses of hair at the back and tilt down towards the face
via historicaltidbits.blogspot.com
  • Hats crowning the back of the head: these sit upon masses of hair, but tilt up in the front and have trim starting to drip off the back, mimicking the look of the hairstyles and dresses from the middle part of the 1870s
Journal des Demoiselles, 1875 via Guy RIVIERE
  • Bonnets: tiny little things with basically no brim, sitting upon the back of the head
MFA Boston ACCESSION NUMBER46.324

And then there are a variety of hats and bonnets that fall in between these categories. Fashion doesn’t always fit firmly within categories!

Journal des Demoiselles, 1877 via Guy RIVIERE

My Hat Choice

I decided to make the type of hat that crowns the back of the head. This seemed like an appropriate choice for an 1875 reception dress while also providing some new challenges in terms of patterning and hairstyling (and I do have a soft spot for crown-like hairstyles, be it in the 1810s, mid-19th century, or, apparently, the 1870s).

Making My Hat

I decided that this hat would have a buckram base covered in silk. It’s pretty wonderful that I had all of the materials on hand, including remnants of my fluted trim, scraps of the silks used for my dress, greenish/brown ostrich feathers that just happened to perfectly match the unusual shades of my silks, millinery flowers, buckram, millinery wire, and flannel for mulling the pieces.

I started by spending a bit of time with paper, scissors, and scotch tape, creating my pattern. Getting the brim to be the right shape and proportion took a few tries.

Once I had a pattern, I cut out my pieces from buckram and flannel (and was able to use up some scrap pieces, yay!). I used my machine to zig zag millinery wire around the inner and outer edges of the brim and the edge of the tip.

Then I used my machine (and a little bit of glue on the concave curves) to attach my flannel. Normally I would use a less brightly patterned flannel, but this is what was easily available and it doesn’t show through my silk. (I love that this fun patterned dot flannel is left over from a pair of pajama pants I made about 15 years ago! Yay for keeping things and eventually using them!)

After being sufficiently amused by my colorful dot choice, I cut out my silk pieces. I had very little pink silk left after my dress was done, so I had to piece the tip and both of the brim covering pieces. Thankfully, there is enough trim on the finished hat that the seams are not noticeable!

Here you can see the silk seam allowance clipped, curved over the edges, and tacked to the flannel with hand sewing stitches.

And here is what the brim looked like flipped over at this stage. I also hand tacked the silk around the head opening, to keep the tension even across the curves of the brim.

This is the crown of the hat, showing off my center seam and those hand sewing stitches that hold the clipped seam allowance in place.

Next, I covered the top of the brim. To do this, I clipped and turned under the outer edge seam allowance, pinning it in place. The head opening was also pinned in place. Then both edges were carefully sewn by hand.

Once that was done, I attached the brim to the crown with sturdy hand sewn stitches through all the layers. These stitches were covered with a green silk band (that really can’t be seen after all the trim was added…).

Here, I am laying out trim options. I am amused at the feathers, which at this point have zero shaping and so are standing out like propellers.

I thought it would be fun to use the remnants of my fluted trim on the hat (read all about how I made it here). I wanted it to resemble wide ribbon (and I wanted to hide the hems, partly because they are only pressed and not sewn in place).

To achieve this, I carefully tacked two layers with the wrong sides together before attaching the loops of fluted trim to the hat.

The tip of the hat is mostly covered by a radiating section of fluted trim with an opening in the middle that was eventually covered with flowers. There are loops of the fluted ‘ribbon’ trailing off the back of the hat as well as standing up in the front.

Then there were the feathers that needed taming.

I started by curling the feathers, as having them stand straight out around the brim of the hat looked a little mad rather than elegant. Curling was achieved using a butter knife. It’s a motion similar to curling ribbon, and requires just the right amount of pressure and firmness not to just rip the feather to shreds. It took awhile to get the hang of the motion and find the point on my knife that worked best.

It wasn’t the most fun… it rather hurt my wrists to twist the knife each time… but over the course of a few hours (yes, this took awhile), I was able to get softly curling feathers.

Here is a half curled feather (on the left) next to an uncurled feather (on the right). In addition to curling the feather fluff I also shaped the center shaft of the feather to curl around the brim of my hat. You can see that I’ve started that process with these feathers, as well.

At this stage the hat has the hat band and fluted trim attached. The curled feathers are prepped and ready to be placed.

After adding the feathers, I added the flowers on the top of the hat and underneath the brim. Trim under the brim of hats is pretty common in this period. It adds to the floating effect of these hats on top of the grand hairstyles.

Though it seems a bit abrupt to me looking at the underside of the hat, the transition from flowers to brim is more subtle when the hat is placed on the head. The flowers here also serve the purpose of hiding the center front seam I added due to my small pieces of silk!

This photo shows the stitches holding the brim to the crown as well as all of the tacking stitches that hold the trim in place.

The final step was to add a lining to cover all of those tacking stitches!

The lining of this hat is silk shantung, leftover from my 1903 petticoat. The join between the pink silk and the lining is covered by a band of brown cotton velvet. The velvet helps grip the hair to keep the hat in place. I chose dark brown because that will camouflage against my hair. (And, both the silk lining scraps and the brown velvet are leftover from projects in 2011, so yay for using what is on hand!)

And that’s it! It takes a bit of time to hand sew all those sections of the hat (even longer if I don’t machine sew the first few steps), but it’s worth it to have a super sturdy, beautifully covered saucer of trim.

This post is getting long enough, so photos of the finished hat being worn are coming in a future post!

c. 1880 Petticoat (HSM #5)

I decided I needed a new petticoat as part of the 1875 ensemble I’ve been working on for the last few months. I have a very ruffly petticoat from 1883 (shown in this past post) that helps with the shelf backside shape that became popular in that year, but I wanted a different shape for 1875… something to produce a more rounded silhouette and support the train I was expecting to include on my new dress.

My original thought was that my balayeuse would button to this new petticoat to create the support for the train of my dress (as opposed to making a trained petticoat and then potentially needing an additional petticoat without a train in the future). The idea is that the balayeuse + new petticoat will provide lots of wearing options for the future.

Along those lines, this new petticoat is able to fit over my large bustle from 1883 as well as having the ability to contain the back fullness so that it can also be used for the Natural Form years of approximately 1877-1882 (you can see the bustle in the same past post as the super ruffle-y petticoat). I don’t have a Natural Form dress yet, but it is on the to-do-someday list and in the spirit of reusing garments and saving time, this seemed like a reasonable decision.

Here is the new petticoat over my large bustle. The drawstring partway down the back allows for the adjustment for different bustle shapes. It is anchored in the side seams.

Here is the petticoat without the large bustle. This is approximating the Natural Form look. While the hem pulls up a bit over the large bustle (above), it is pretty even for the Natural Form look (below). The great thing is that once there is a dress over the petticoat you can’t tell what the hem is doing!

The pattern for my petticoat is from Frances Grimble’s Fashions Of The Gilded Age Volume 1, page 107. It’s a pretty simple shape. Accordingly, I made mine using straightforward details and machine sewing/finishing.

The petticoat has a drawstring at the waist, for adjustability. The drawstrings run through the waistband and are anchored along the sides with a line of machine stitching.

At center back the drawstring closes the top of the placket. The placket is just a slit that is bound with a strip of cotton cut on the grain. No bias here–this saves fabric and makes things easier to sew! The waistband and placket biding are finished by stitching in the ditch.

I decided on a medium width pleated ruffle for the bottom edge of this petticoat. I used a fork to help space the pleats, eyeballing and ironing as I went along.

The ruffle is edged with a stiff lace from my stash. I’ve had this for nine years and always wondered what to do with it, because it is so stiff. Turns out it was perfect for a petticoat, when a little stiffness is helpful! The lace comes in the stack of three that I used to top the ruffle. To get the single width I simply cut apart sections of the stack.

Here’s another view of the stack of three lace, the pleated ruffle, and the drawstring. Both this drawstring and the one in the waist are cotton twill tape.

This simple garment qualifies for the Historical Sew Monthly challenge #5: Basic. I imagine it will be used for any project I make, day or evening, from about 1875 through 1882.

Make a garment that can be used for many occasions (like a shift, or the classic ‘Regency white dress’), or a simple accessory that will help you stretch the use of an already existing garment.

Just the facts:

Fabric/Materials:  3.5 yards plain cotton.

Pattern: From Frances Grimble’s Fashions Of The Gilded Age Volume 1.

Year: c. 1880.

Notions: 1 yard ⅝” cotton twill tape, 1 yard ¼” cotton twill tape, 5 yards lace, and thread.

How historically accurate is it?: I’m going to give this one 95%. It’s good on shape, materials, and methods. I believe would be recognizable and plausible for its time.

Hours to complete:  8 ¼ hours.

First worn: In May, for photos with my 1875 ensemble!

Total cost: This was a stash project, so free, but the original cost of the materials were $10.50 for the fabric, $2 for the lace, and about $2 for the twill tapes, so $14.50 total.

While not the most exciting project, this was a great start on the way to making my 1875 ensemble. I’m pleased to have made a garment that is easily adjustable, useful for multiple types of events and silhouettes, and is functional but still pretty!

The Amazing Balayeuse (HSM #8)

I am super pleased with a recently completed addition to my historical closet, my brand new balayeuse! Practical, utilitarian, and still managing to be a little frivolous looking, this thing is amazing!

I’ll tell you all about it, but first… what is a balayeuse? Our go-to source for etymology, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), has the following information.

balayeuse, n.
Pronunciation:  /balɛˈjəːz/
Frequency (in current use)
Etymology: French, feminine of balayeur sweeper.
Dressmaking.
1882   S. F. A. Caulfeild & B. C. Saward Dict. Needlework 18/2   Balayèuse, or Sweeper.—A French term to signify the frilling of material or lace which lines the extreme edge of a dress skirt to keep the train clean as it sweeps along the floor. The balayèuse is allowed to project beyond the edge of the dress, so as to form a decorative as well as a useful trimming.
1894   Daily News 20 Jan. 5/7   Three flounces of..silk forming a richly-rustling balayeuse beneath the hem.

Please note: The Oxford English Dictionary is only available by subscription, therefore I have not included links to this definition as you will not be able to access it simply by clicking a link. Many libraries have subscriptions to the OED, so I suggest you start there for access.

Are you curious how to pronounce balayeuse? The OED provides us with the correct pronunciation, but the official pronunciation notes don’t mean too much to me. I think of the word as bal-ay-yuhz.

Ok, so now we know what this thing is and how to pronounce it. We even have an idea of the purpose, from the OED definition.

As you saw in the first photo, my balayeuse is it’s own garment. But there is another type of balayeuse mentioned in the first OED quote, from 1882. Also called a ‘dust ruffle’, this type of balayeuse is directly attached to the skirt. I’ve had great luck with this in the past and I really like the look of lace peeking out from under a late 19th century skirt, so I included that type of balayeuse on the pink skirt as well, but that alone was not enough to keep its shape.

I decided to make a second type of balayeuse–one that, in addition to the wonderful job of keeping the underside of the skirt’s train from becoming soiled, also helps the train to keep its shape and not collapse on itself. Caroline (of the blog Dressed In Time) mentions this function in a blog post showing her own balayeuse. Here is the train of my skirt laid out (sneak peak!).

I felt I had to make my skirt before the balayeuse, in order to make the balayeuse the right shape to hide under the skirt when it was finished, and so I’ve tried it on a few times without the balayeuse. The train is great looking when I twist and turn in my corset to get the skirt to lay just right, but it doesn’t stay that way when I move around.

But with the balayeuse it was so different! The skirt just magically lays exactly how it should as soon as I put it on and it stays that way no matter how I move–backing up, turning, it is amazing!

So how does this balayeuse really help keep the shape? Well, the main thing is that the base is a double layer of stiff cotton poplin (from Dharma Trading–I love them for my natural fiber, white, black, and unbleached fabric needs). This photo of the balayeuse with the ruffle side face down (as it would be worn) shows the poplin off nicely.

The poplin base is basically a big rectangle with the bottom edge curved up at the sides. I used the full width of the poplin, which was a little less than 60″ wide. The center is 17″ tall and the sides taper to about 9″. The base is gathered to a band that is 28″ wide and 2″ tall. I didn’t add extra stiffening to the band, as the poplin is pretty hardy all by itself. This blog post at Atelier Nostalgia has an image that was great inspiration for my shape (though my balayeuse is wider than this) and the button attachment method I’ll show you below.

The poplin base has three rows of ruffles attached to it. I decided to use unbleached muslin for the ruffles for a few reasons: #1 gathering three rows of stiff poplin didn’t sound like fun (and the base is plenty stiff enough as it is), #2 I figured that the muslin would be less obviously dirty looking, already being unbleached as opposed to very white, and #3 the muslin will be easy and cheap to replace someday, if needed.

As you can see in the photo above, the band of the balayeuse has buttonholes in it. This allows the balayeuse to be easily removed for cleaning and storage, or use with a different dress (thinking ahead, here!). To accommodate the buttonholes, there are buttons sewn to the lining of the skirt.

The buttons are reinforced with extra squares of muslin whipped to the lining, as you can see in the photo below.

It seemed too much to ask the buttons to hang on to a single layer of muslin while dragging the balayeuse around. Here’s what those whipped on squares look like on the other side.

The end result is this. As you can see, the non-ruffled top of the balayeuse overlaps with the skirt lining and would not be dragging on the ground. The muslin ruffles actually continue the muslin underskirt nicely, I think, though no one is likely to ever see that!

It might not seem super stiff, but this ruffle-y contraption spreads out beautifully when it hits the floor. For comparison, here is a photo of my mockup balayeuse, made from an old sheet (and without ruffles). It’s spread out for the photo, but you can imagine how an old sheet would collapse on itself when picked up.

One last thought… the ruffles! I decided to try out a new tool for these ruffles: a narrow hem foot. This is one of those things I should have tried before but haven’t ever used for a project, but miles of ruffle edges seemed like the perfect opportunity to practice!

I can report that practice definitely helped! For example, I had some trouble going over my french seamed joins in the ruffles. In the photo below, my first try is on the left, my fifth try is in the middle, and my last try is just coming up on the right. The french seam was just too bulky to fit through the hook on the presser foot that turns under the hemmed edge. I discovered that if I eliminated some bulk with a diagonal cut of the seam allowance it worked so much better!

I didn’t bother to go back and fix my first few sad-looking french seam crossings. I figured this was going to drag around on the ground, and who would be looking? Also, it’s more fun to make beautifully colored dresses than muslin ruffles… There was a bit of ‘done is good’ on that front for this project.

Yay for learning things! I also found I needed to move my needle just a tad bit to the right of center to easily (and speedily) stitch the narrow hems.

The mention of the narrow hem foot reminds me that this project qualifies for the HSM challenge #8: Celebration.

Make something for a specific historical celebration, make something generally celebration worthy, make something that celebrates a historical hero, or just make something that celebrates some new skills you’ve learned.

Just the facts:

Fabric/Materials:  1 yard cotton poplin and 1 yard cotton muslin.

Pattern: My own.

Year: c. 1875.

Notions: 5 light yellow plastic buttons and thread.

How historically accurate is it?: I haven’t seen an extant stand-alone balayeuse before, so I can’t be sure, but I would say 90%. Materials and style completely recognizable and plausible for their time.

Hours to complete:  5 ¼ hours.

First worn: In May, for fittings. I need to complete my ensemble (only the hat is left!) so I can wear it with the dress it was made for to get photos.

Total cost: $6.25 for the poplin and $4 for the muslin. The buttons were gifted to me. And the thread was negligible. There was a bit of shipping to get the poplin, so let’s say $15 total.

Further information I found helpful as I made my balayeuse included this blog post at Yesterday’s Thimble. It’s also worth mentioning that if this idea sounds great, but patterning your own balayeuse is too much, Truly Victorian has a pattern for a petticoat with detachable train that you can check out.

Fezziwig’s Ball 2019

I’m a bit slow to post about it, but last December I again attended The Commonwealth Vintage Dancers’ annual holiday event: Fezziwig’s Ball. (You can check out posts about past years here.)

This year, I decided to wear my 1832 Burgundy Velvet Gown again, but I changed up my hairstyle slightly by adding a new element, since I was wearing a dress I’ve worn before. In addition to some new decorations, I also added a faux hair braid to make a giant swirly bun on the back part of my head. I wrote a blog post in January focusing on the hairstyle and my new faux hair braid that you can read here.

1830s hair is absurd and very fun. I enjoy the challenge of trying to style my own hair into these crazy styles. This year I had the faux braid and a few mesh supports under the front curls, but all the rest of the hair is my own. Those front curls are different each year… this year they have a sort of marching-in-a-line look that is interesting and different than in the past, but still documentable. Check out these curls from 1826 and these from 1829.

It’s fun to wear 1830s, as it’s a decade I don’t get to wear the clothes for as often as some others. The giant sleeves take a bit of getting used to but are entertaining in the end.

Looking festive with the addition of my Refreshing Apron, cranberry punch, hot apple cider, some real and faux fruit lurking near the punch bowls, and another 1830s-clad friend wearing a Refreshing-Apron-sibling.

1830s is more in fun (and maybe less ridiculous looking?) in groups. Here is a contingent of even more 1830s ladies from this holiday ball! It’s as though we sprouted from the column!

 

Regency Shoe Revive (HSM #2)

Back in 2012, I happened upon an unusual pair of shoes in a small clothing store. They were quite flat, with little support or durable sole and a slightly square but still rounded toe. The price was great–$10 per pair. I thought the shoes would make excellent Regency dancing shoes, so I bought two pairs, an 8.5 and a 9. The 8.5 were a little tight on my feet which was perfect for dancing as they stayed on my heels even when I rose onto my toes, but the 9 also fit and was great for walking around.

I’ve kept the size 9 nice looking over the last eight years. They have a surprising mid-20th century vintage look in addition to the Regency look, so they are most often worn with 1950s inspired dresses (you’ll spot them with my vintage inspired Happy Clover Dress and 1953 Dot Dress, both pictured below).

But while the size 9 pair hasn’t been worn all that often, the size 8.5 pair have been worn almost anytime I’ve been dancing in Regency clothes for the last eight years. You’ll spot them in all of the posts below (with a few of those highlighted with photos, as well), but of course this is only a small portion of the times these shoes have been worn.

1817 Duchess Gown In Three Stylings
Regency Intensive Dance Weekend 2019
1817 Gold Stripes And Face Framing Curls
Regency Dance Weekend 2017
A Gown Worthy Of A Duchess
Regency Dance Weekend 2016
Regency Shoe Poms!
A Turban Fillet, 1811
Regency Dancing At The Salem Maritime Festival
Refreshing Proof (Chelmsford Regency Ball 2013)
Regency Dance Weekend Part IV: Reception
Lovely Clothes, Lovely Ball: Part I (Pride And Prejudice Ball 2013)
Regency Christmas Party At The Commandant’s House
1812 Guerriere Weekend Part IV: A New 1812 Gown

All that wear has caused the shoes to show their age. While still functional, the exteriors were cracking and peeling around the top and the toes/sides/back were worn and scratched.

But I’m not ready to let these shoes go! So I decided to revive them with a few touch up treatments.

The first touch up step was to glue petersham ribbon around the top edge to bind it off, as well as down the center back seam, for an additional historical touch. I wanted to be done quickly, so I used hot glue, but this really wasn’t the best choice of glue, as it is a bit lumpy under the ribbon in some places.

I purchased the grosgrain from The Sewing Place. They have a beautiful selection of colors, reasonable prices, and low shipping charges.

The second touch up was a bit of white Angelus leather paint to cover the scuffs. (Thinking back, I should have cleaned my shoes before painting them… But I didn’t. So, there’s that.) Again, I was just trying to be quick. I figure these shoes are going to get banged up again as soon as I wear them, so I didn’t need to be too fussy. The white paint didn’t perfectly match my shoes, so I did thin coats and buffed the edges with scraps of cotton to get them to blend. It’s not perfect, but it looks reasonable from standing height.

This was a simple project, but it qualifies for this year’s HSM challenge #2: Re-Use.

Use thrifted materials or old garments or bedlinen to make a new garment.  Mend, re-shape or re-trim an existing garment to prolong its life.

Just the facts:

Fabric/Materials:  1 pair of soft soled flats and white Angelus leather paint.

Pattern: None.

Year: c. 1810.

Notions: Approximately 1 yd of petersham ribbon.

How historically accurate is it?: 50%. In general, the silhouette and style works, but of course these shoes are not perfectly historical in style and the materials are modern.

Hours to complete:  1 hour.

First worn: November 23, 2019.

Total cost: If we’re only counting the revive and not the original cost of the shoes, then approximately $5 for the ribbon. (The glue and paint were in the stash.)

Here’s another view of the completed shoes.

It was my goal to revive these before this year’s Regency Dance Weekend (an annual event each April). I achieved that goal in terms of the date, though sadly the weekend was cancelled this year. But even though I didn’t get to use these for that event, at least now they’re ready for more years of adventure (and I can return them to the closet–they’ve been sitting out since last year to remind me to deal with them!). I’m quite pleased with the end result and the small amount of effort required to update these shoes.

Check out the following links if you’d like to see tutorial-like photos and descriptions of the painting and ribbon-ing process:

Lauren, of American Duchess, wrote a very helpful blog post tutorial back in 2012 showing how to paint shoes as well as the petersham ribbon edging.

Chelsea, of A Sartorial Statement, wrote a blog post about her freshly painted and ribbon-trimmed flats in 2019.

Sad & Box Iron Etymology

I shared a new adventure with you in my last post as I learned how to make use of my late 19th century fluting iron.

I’ve received lots of interest in this experiment from family, friends, blog readers, and Instagram followers. Yay! Thanks! It’s been great fun to connect with you. I’ve heard about people’s memories as well as stories of lurking, unused, antique irons that people are feeling motivated to try out. I’ve also received enthusiastic feedback about the etymology of various antique iron terms.

On that note, a friend-who-shall-not-be-named who was most intrigued about iron etymology shared a variety of sources with me with clear images and descriptions of different types of irons as well as pointing me towards the Oxford English Dictionary for the meaning of the term ‘sad iron’ (the OED is source which I greatly enjoy but hadn’t thought to make use of during my experiment as I was more focused on how to use a fluting iron in that moment). I thought that some of the information contained in the OED might interest some of you, as well, so here is a rather long, word-heavy post looking at the meaning and history of words… I hope you enjoy!

To start, let’s look at the word ‘sad’ followed by the term ‘sad iron’.

‘Sad’

‘Sad’ in the OED has an extensive list of definitions, many of which are noted as being obsolete and no longer in use.

sadadj.n., and adv.
Excerpt from the Oxford English Dictionary, with quotations, phrases, and compounds omitted

A. adj.
I. Of persons and immaterial things: satisfied, full; steady, serious.
1. Having had one’s fill; satisfied, sated; weary or tired (of something). Chiefly with of or infinitive. Obsolete.
†2. 
a. Settled, firmly established in purpose or condition; steadfast, firm, constant. Obsolete.
b. Strong, firm, standing fast, esp. in battle; capable of resisting; valiant. Obsolete.
3.
a. Of looks, appearance: dignified, grave, serious. Obsolete.
b. Of a person: orderly and regular in life; of trustworthy character and judgement; grave, serious. Also, in extended use, of a person’s behaviour or age, of a period of time, etc. Often coupled with wise or discreet. In later use archaic or regional (chiefly Scottish and Caribbean).
c. Of thought, consideration, etc.: mature, serious, grave, considered. Obsolete.
d. Profoundly or solidly learned (in something). Obsolete.
4. Unmistakable, certain; true, genuine. Obsolete.

II.Feeling sorrow or regret, and related uses. (Now the principal use.)
5.
a. Of a person, or his or her feelings, disposition, etc.: feeling sorrow; sorrowful, mournful, heavy-hearted.
b. Expressing or showing sorrow; (esp. of a look, tone, gesture, or feature) mournful.
c. Causing or evoking sorrow; calamitous, distressing.
d. Of a period, place, action, etc.: characterized by sorrow, full of sorrow; (in early use esp.) hard, sore, bitter.
6. Used as a general expression of censure, depreciation, or regret. Originally: exceptionally bad, deplorable, shameful. Later (also): unfortunate, regrettable, sorry, miserable.
7. slang (depreciative). Esp. of a person: pathetically inadequate or unfashionable; socially undesirable or inept.

III. In various physical senses, principally developed from branch A. I.
8. Of material objects.
a. Firmly fixed or established, stable. Obsolete.
b. Solid; dense, compact; massive, heavy. Also figurative. Now rare (regional in later use).
c. Solid as opposed to liquid. Also figurativeObsolete.
d. Of soil: stiff, heavy; difficult to work.
e. Of a number of persons or things: forming a compact body. Obsolete.
f. Of pastry, dough, etc.: that has failed to rise, heavy. Now chiefly regional.
9.
a. Of a blow: heavy, delivered with vigour. Obsolete.
b. Of a fire: violent. Obsolete.
c. Of rain: heavy. Obsolete.
10.
a. Of colour: dark, deep. In later use esp.: not cheerful-looking; neutral, dull, sombre.
b. Esp. of clothing or fabric: of such a shade; dark-coloured; sombre. Now rare (archaic and poetic in later use).
11. Of sleep: sound, deep. Obsolete.

B. n.
1. Satiety, weariness. Obsolete.
2. Now chiefly with the. Sad or sorrowful people as a class. Also: something sad or suggesting sadness (rare).

C. adv. In a sad manner (in various senses of the adjective). Chiefly recorded in poetical and literary contexts.
1.
a. Firmly, strongly, fixedly; soundly. Obsolete.
b. Heavily, with force. Obsolete.
c. Steadfastly. Obsolete.
2. Seriously, solemnly; soberly, discreetly, wisely. Obsolete.
3. Thoroughly, truly, certainly. Obsolete.
4. Sadly, sorrowfully, mournfully. Now rare (poetic in later use).

That’s a lot of meanings for the word ‘sad’! Even a quick scroll and skim makes it clear how many of these definitions are obsolete. Fascinating!

‘Sad Iron’

To think about how the definition of ‘sad’ influences the definition of ‘sad iron’, I would like to draw your attention back to III. 8. b. from the OED definition of ‘sad’. (Here it is again so you don’t have to scroll back up.)

sadadj.n.
Excerpt from the Oxford English Dictionary

III. In various physical senses, principally developed from branch A. I.
8. Of material objects.
b. Solid; dense, compact; massive, heavy. Also figurative. Now rare (regional in later use).
[In the OED, this definition is followed by this note:]
In early use frequently ‘solid, as opposed to hollow’; cf. sad iron n.sadware n. at Compounds 2.

Ah ha! This is the most relevant part of the definition of ‘sad’ for this discussion. While III. 8. b. does list heavy as one of the meanings of the word ‘sad’, the following note clarifies that in terms of ‘sad iron’ the meaning is focused on the way the object is made: ‘solid, as opposed to hollow’. What does that mean? Let’s allow the OED explain it to us.

sad ironn.
Excerpt from the Oxford English Dictionary

Now historical.
A solid flat iron for smoothing clothes, in contradistinction to a hollow box iron.

As with every definition, the OED has provided a list of relevant quotes using the word over hundreds of years. I omitted those for the word ‘sad’ as there were just too many and it was less directly relevant, but for ‘sad iron’ I’ve included the quotations provided by the OED below. Again, I find it fascinating to see where the quotes were published, what years they are from, and how the term is used.

1759   Newport (Rhode Island) Mercury 9 Oct. 4/3   Imported from London & Bristol, And to be sold by Samuel Goldthwait..Sad Irons, Box Ditto, Brass and Iron Candlesticks.
1787   Maryland Gaz. 1 June 1/2   Hardware of all kinds… Sad-Irons in casks of 2 cwt.
1833   J. Holland Treat. Manuf. Metal II. 253   Dealers commonly distinguish these useful implements by the terms ‘sad-iron’, ‘box-iron’ and ‘Italian-iron’.
1899   Daily News 30 Oct. 2/7   Sadirons 10s. per ton [dearer].
1936   M. Mitchell Gone with the Wind i. v. 84   Hands like sadirons when it comes to reins.
1964   F. O’Rourke Mule for Marquesa 99   Washday smell,..don’t forget to damp and starch, spit on the sadiron.
1995   Mother Earth News Feb. 75/3 (advt.   Hundreds of old time general store items you thought they’d quit making years ago, including wooden kegs, pickle crocks,..sad irons, [etc.].

 

8.III.b. also mentioned ‘sadware’. Now that we know so many meanings for the word ‘sad’ we could take a guess at the meaning, but I thought I would include the OED definition to clarify.

sadware n.
Excerpt from the Oxford English Dictionary

Now historical.
(Heavy) pewter flatware

‘Box Iron’

So what does the OED have to say about box, or hollow, irons? The OED has ‘box iron’ contained within the definition for ‘box’. (The OED does not have a separate entry for ‘hollow iron’.) Here is the relevant bit.

boxn.2
Excerpt from the Oxford English Dictionary

I. A container or receptacle, and related uses.

C1. General attributive.
c. With the sense ‘of the nature of, or resembling a box’.

box-iron  n. a smoothing iron with a cavity to contain a heater; also attributive.

1723   London Gaz. No. 6195/6   John Brown..Box-Iron-maker.
1746   H. Miles in Philos. Trans. (Royal Soc.) 44 56   Box-Irons for smoothing Linen-Clothes.

Images of Irons

Here are some images of the types of irons mentioned above as well as some other interesting iron variations as well.

This site has a photo and information about an extant sad iron.

This site (also linked in my last post) has a helpful description of box irons and how they were heated in the past as well as how they are used today. There are also a few helpful images, including box irons and sad irons.

This site has drawings of all kinds of irons, including a box iron (and variations such as charcoal and gas), a polishing iron, a millinery iron, an egg iron, an Italian iron (and the bolt used to heat it), and two different types of specialty tongs used for pressing trims.

This site has a photo and information about an extant charcoal (box) iron.

The Italian iron, also called a goffering iron, is mentioned in the OED quote from 1833 in the entry for ‘sad iron’. One of these was featured in the video from the Oshawa Community Museum that I included in my last post, and here is another extant one, with a photo and information.

Other specialty irons existed, too. Check out this billiard table iron.

Please note: The Oxford English Dictionary is only available by subscription, therefore I have not included links to the definitions in this post, as you will not be able to access them simply by clicking a link. Many libraries have subscriptions to the OED, so if you would like to conduct your own adventures in etymology I suggest you start there for access.

A Practical Experiment: How To Use A Fluting Iron

Way back in 2012, I posted with great excitement about a new to me sewing tool that Mr. Q called the Cast Iron Crinkle Cutter. These antique specialty irons are actually called fluting irons.

Here is mine, in action!

 

Despite my best intentions of actually creating trim with my fluting iron, instead it has been used as a door stop and decorative item (near my modern iron in my sewing room!) since I’ve owned it. I’m currently working on a project from 1875 that has pleated trim around the skirt and I thought that perhaps instead of knife pleating I would try a sample with my fluting iron! I figured that if I liked it (and I could get it to work) I’d use it for the trim on the dress.

Brief History

Specialty irons have been used for hundreds of years to create different types of ruffles and trims. I came across two sites that had really interesting information about the fluting iron I have as well as many other types of irons from around the world and for the last few thousand years. This one is summary of ironing throughout history. This one is more about types of historical irons. Also, this video from the Oshawa Community Museum looks specifically at some ironing tools that were used to create late Victorian ruffles, including various types of fluting irons.

Along the way to learning more about fluting irons, I also learned that flat cast iron irons are called sad irons. (I might have read that before but didn’t remember the term, so it feels like new information!) They’re called that not because they’re melancholy, but because in the past ‘sad iron’ meant the iron was solid as opposed to hollow (to be filled with heating devices, such as charcoal). The word ‘sad’ also meant heavy and a sad iron could weigh up to 15 pounds. That only further reinforces the fact that laundering in the 19th century was strenuous work (hand scrubbing, hauling buckets of water to heat, maintaining the stove or fire, harsh soaps, refreshing the rinsing water… hard work!). *This is edited from my original description of sad iron. To read all about the etymology of the terms ‘sad’, ‘sad iron’, and ‘box iron’ (the term for a hollow iron), check out this post, published after the one you are currently reading.

Practical thoughts about getting started

In terms of my fabric, I had the strips I wanted to flute prepared and ready to go before ironing them. I had hemmed one long side and just pressed the other edge under (that would become the top edge). With the crisp silk I’m using I probably could have gotten away with just pressing under both the hem and the top edge, but oh well. I prepared and hemmed these long before I officially decided to flute them.

In terms of the fluting iron, I followed these steps (or considered them, anyway):

Cleaning: I used dish soap and a toothbrush, to really get into all the grooves on both pieces of my fluting iron and remove the accumulated dust and grime (I don’t want those on my silk fabric!).

Drying: To prevent rust from forming, I carefully dried the iron and then also let it air dry overnight (though I realized that if I were to immediately use it the heat would cause all of the water to evaporate anyway…).

Seasoning: This is done on non-coated cast iron pans to keep them from rusting. I chose not do this with my iron at this time. I might do it later (I read that well-seasoned cast iron will not release oil onto your fabrics), but right now I just wanted to get started on my experiment.

Supplies

It’s worth noting that the cast iron gets much too hot to hold with bare hands or put directly on the counter to use, so in addition to the two parts of the iron, I also used a variety of other kitchen tools in this experiment.

I used the baking sheet, cookie drying rack, and cast iron frying pan you’ll see in photos at various points, as well as the silicone baking supplies pictured below: a hefty mitt, a small trivet, and a large trivet.

I also used a spatula to help get a grip on the base of the iron while lifting it out the frying pan, a small spray bottle, white vinegar from my pantry, and tap water.

Method #1 (the slow and steady way to heat the fluting iron)

Heating/Using: I used my conventional oven to heat both parts of my fluting iron on a baking sheet. I could not find specific directions for temperature or length of time, so I started conservatively with 175 F for 15 minutes. (Partly due to the basic information on Wikipedia about specific temperatures for different types of fabrics, but also check out the image of the tailor’s stove on the right side of the page: a multi-sided stove to heat sad irons simultaneously makes so much sense if you’re ironing a lot, as tailors would be!).

When tested on my silk this hardly made an impact. So I put the iron pieces back in the 175 F oven for another 10 minutes. This was better, but not as effective at getting tight flutes as I wanted. On the left are the barely visible results from the first 10 minutes of heating and on the right after the second 10 minutes of heating.

I increased the temperature to 225 F and put the iron pieces back in the oven for 10 more minutes. This time I also decided to use vinegar to help set the flutes. I mixed ½ white vinegar and ½ water in a spray bottle and then sprayed the section of silk I intended to iron. Here you can see the sprayed silk ready to feed into the iron on the left and the results coming out on the right.

This worked much better, but still feeling like I needed more heat to get a good sizzle and press, I increased the oven to 275 F and put the pieces in for another 10 minutes. This seemed like the right temperature! A bit of sizzle from the evaporating liquid on the silk and tight flutes as a final result.

Here is a comparison of two silk samples. The one on the bottom used vinegar and lower heat: 175 F and 225F. The one on the top is the sample that used vinegar and 275 F for heating.

Reheating: I found that the iron lost heat pretty quickly. I reheated it for 10 minutes after every 5 minutes of use. It wasn’t the most efficient process (I can really understand why you would have a set with multiple irons to keep them heating while not in use), but it got the job done on a Saturday afternoon. Experimenting with temperature and fluting 106″ of fabric took about 4 hours.

Setting: In addition to using vinegar (which made huge difference in terms of getting crisp flutes!), I also found it quite important to move the iron very slowly over the base to create the flutes. A quick pass did not do the job and getting each and every flute to line up perfectly to go over it multiple times is much easier to say than to do! I rocked the iron from one side to the other, trying to hold each little section in place for at least a few seconds before moving to the next. I got through about two full rocks with the iron before needing to reheat it.

Method #2 (the much more efficient way)

Heating: After I completed the first of three 106″ sections of trim, a science-minded friend suggested that I would have much more efficient transfer of heat to the iron pieces if I were to heat them directly on my stove in a cast iron pan. This was genius!

I started with my pan on pretty low, as it’s much easier to heat cast iron up than cool it down. This particular burner on my stove gets super hot, so I kept the pan around 2 out of 10 in terms of heat. Harder to translate for other people, but I let the iron heat up for about 10 minutes, until I could feel radiant heat coming from the base when it was out of the pan and I held my hand 1″-2″ away. Another way I tested the head was with a drop of water. At this temperature it quickly evaporated when dripped onto the cast iron.

Reheating: Using the cast iron pan was much more efficient than the oven! I still reheated the iron after about 5 minutes of use, but now I only had to let it reheat for 5 minutes. And because I wasn’t lifting a pan in and out of the oven it was much easier to let the top part of the iron sit on the pan while I moved the fabric along the base piece of the iron. Because the iron was warmer than with the oven, and I’d had more practice at using it, I was able to do three or four full rocks of the iron before needing to reheat it. That meant that my second and third 106″ lengths of fabric only took about 1 hour each. So much faster than with the oven!

You can see the crisp flutes that this method acheieved.

Setting: I used the vinegar/water spray to help set all of these flutes. It should help the fabric to keep this shape permanently (short of me completely soaking the fabric). I experimented with a light spritzing, but the heat quickly evaporated the liquid so I started just making it pretty soaked. Sometimes I even sprayed a bit on the fabric right under the iron if it evaporated before I reached that section of the rocking motion.

Here’s another view of the half finished strip of fabric.

Post Experiment Thoughts

This was fun! I would definitely like to use my fluting iron for more projects–and it should be easier now that I’ve figured out how.

I will say that practice makes a huge difference in terms of being able to flute quickly, so that the iron doesn’t cool down. You don’t have too long to think once you take the iron off the heat source!

A finished pile of about 318″ of fluted trim! I’m curious about how I will sew this on. I think that a sewing machine would crush the flutes (and I don’t think I want a line of machine stitches anyway), so I will likely sew it on by hand, catching only the valleys and not the hills in the fabric. Good thing I like hand sewing!

 

I came across few people trying out antique fluting irons while looking for information to get started on this experiment. For the sake of anyone else who might be looking, here are a few other practical experiments to check out:

Katherine of The Fashionable Past tried out a fluting iron in 2011 and posted about it on her blog here, including a video.

@isabel.northwode tried out a fluting iron in 2018 and posted about it on Instagram here.

1817 Duchess Gown In Three Stylings

A few years ago, I made my 1817 Duchess Gown. I started out wearing it rather plainly (if wearing a tiara count as a plain ensemble…), but since then I’ve worn it multiple times and accessorized it different ways. I thought it would be fun to pull some of these wearings together in one place, to look at how accessories can change the look and feel of a dress.

First, a side by side comparison. Do you have a favorite amongst these?

The first year I made the dress I was furiously sewing the hem trim on the night before the ball, so I didn’t have too much time to think about accessories. I wanted the dress to be regal looking and so I decided on the tiara to wear with it, as well as a pearl necklace and earrings.

 

Fast forward to February 2019, when I’d worn the dress a few times and wanted to change it up with more color than just white and gold. For this wearing, I added a green sash as well as new sparkly jewelry from In The Long Run Designs.

I loved the green sash look, but wearing the dress just a few months later in April 2019 I wanted something different. I decided to pull out some older accessories, purple shoe clips and purple hair flowers, and pair them with a white sash.

You really can’t see the white sash much, but the purple accessories give the dress a different feel than the previous wearings, I think. (This might be a stronger statement with a purple sash. Hm… But I don’t have wide purple organza ribbon, as I did with the green and white. Maybe that’s something to keep my eyes open for!)

The neat thing is that this dress is also captured on video! At the Regency ball last February, The Commonwealth Vintage Dancers (CVD) did a performance of the type of advanced dancing taught at CVD’s Regency Weekend every April. Check out this blog post by another CVD member showing the Duchess Gown in action as well as great information about the dance we are performing, Paine’s First Set.

Are you ever able to wear the same outfit (modern, vintage, or historical) styled in different ways and with different accessories? I choose to do this with some of my modern clothes in addition to my historical ones and I can think of a few of you who are definitely subscribers to this idea, too!