HSM #6: Mid-19th Century Underclothes

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

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

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

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

On to The Facts!

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

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

Year: c. 1850.

Notions: One button and thread.

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

Hours to complete: 2 ¼ hours.

First worn: Not yet!

Total cost: $8.75.

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

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

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

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

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Project Journal: 1864 Ball Gown Part IV: Three Series Of Photos

Remember in my last post I promised pictures of the finished ball gown now known as Evie? The time has come! I had a hard time narrowing down the options (because of course I wanted to share ALL of the good pictures), but I’ve tried to limit myself to only the best of the best. This post will focus on the completion of my dress, Evie, but there are two more posts coming soon that will share some of the other photo series as well as pictures of the ball itself!

These photos are the idea of my friend with the camera. She wanted to take series of pictures of us in our modern clothes, 1860s undies, and then dressed in our 1860s ball gowns: all in the same location and the same pose. It’s a neat idea and the results are great, not only because it provided lots of pictures (yay!) some of which are of things I don’t have pictures of (like my 1860s undies), but also because you can see the time passing through the evening by looking at the light in the photos. They start in the afternoon, proceed to early evening, then finish at night. Not all the series are a complete set, but all around, it’s pretty cool. Which series do you like best?

Series 1: To The Right

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To The Right: first layer
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To The Right, second layer
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To The Right, third layer

Series 2: What A Change

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What A Change, first layer
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What A Change, second layer
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What A Change, third layer

Series 3: On The Stairs

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On The Stairs, first layer
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On The Stairs, second layer
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On The Stairs, third layer

I’ve never been able to get pictures of my 1860s undies before, so this is exciting! I’ve got a chemise, corset, drawers, cage crinoline, and petticoat (in addition to stockings, shoes, jewelry, hair wreath, gloves, fan, and gown). The crinoline is entirely hand sewn, except for the waistband. The measurements of the hoops are taken from an extant crinoline, and I believe the circumference of the bottom hoop is about 120″. The crinoline closes with a hook on the waistband. The other pieces are machine sewn and trimmed with lace, pin tucks, and ribbon. The chemise slips over the head and the drawers close at the back with a button and loop arrangement. (And that poor petticoat does need a press… but I threw it in the washer and dryer a while ago and since it doesn’t usually get seen I haven’t taken the time to press it.) The petticoat ties around the waist. As you can see, the crinoline stops mid-calf, so the intense petticoat ruffle really helps keep the shape for the skirt below that point, in addition to keeping my hoops from showing as horizontal lines through the skirt of the gown.

Want to be further amused? Look at the apparently changeable feathers on my hair wreath. Sometimes they’re brownish/gold and sometimes vivid green! They really do seem to change color depending on the light!

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it yet, but the basic pattern for this gown is essentially taken from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 2. The trim however, is based on two things. Thing 1: the skirt trim is from the fashion plate I shared with you in the first post of this project journal. Thing 2 : the bodice trim is based on this gown, below. I went through a lot of phases trying to decide how to trim the bodice, since I didn’t really like the fashion plate bodice trim. In the end, I decided on this look: a graduated ruffle (just one, in my case, to match the one ruffle on the skirt) that gets longer toward center back, a triple pleated bertha that has a swoop towards center front rather than being straight, and a big trim thing right at the center (in my case, a rosette to match the skirt, rather than a bow). It’s pretty hard to see the front of my dress in these pictures I’ve shared so far, but there are some coming up in the next two posts which will show off the front of the gown better, so stay tuned for that!

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A costume from the movie Il Gattopardo (1962, costume design by Piero Tosi). It’s lovely, despite the fact that it is not an extant gown from the 1860s.

While getting dressed we might have been making silly faces for the camera while the owner walked away…

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Haha! Moose making companion! In case you don’t know, this is my favorite silly face to make. Don’t believe me? Look here and here!

1812 Sleeveless Undergarment Research

As I mentioned in my last post, the one where I shared pictures of my new 1812 under garments, there aren’t a whole lot of extant examples of sleeveless undergarments from the Regency period, so I had to take the research images I could find and extrapolate what was necessary for my dress from that information. Here are a few extant examples of sleeveless underdresses.

Early 19th century. Petticoat. The Met.
Petticoat. 1800. Cotton. National Trust.
Early 19th century cotton petticoat/underdress. MFA Boston.

It is fitting that this last one was worn by someone who lived in Boston, MA (that’s where I live). Neat! And isn’t the whitework at the hem lovely? Fashion plates and extant underdresses and petticoats from the early 19th century not uncommonly have hems that had white work and lace decorations. I didn’t incorporate that into my underdress… but maybe in the future I can make another such garment and include that detail!

Natalie Garbett also wrote a blog post about a sleeveless underdress that she made, which you can read by clicking this link. It’s super cute (and has hem trim)!

I actually didn’t find any sleeveless chemises, though I did come across mentions of them. I suppose a lady could have tucked up the sleeves of a normal chemise, or worn a sheer dress with the sleeves of the chemise showing through. Here’s an example of an early 19th century chemise with sleeves. This one is pretty ruffly, but the basic shape is the same, as is the gathering tie at the neck.

1810s linen chemise from the Met.

1812 Short Stays, Sleeveless Chemise, and Under Dress

Remember I recently shared with you the square necked 1812 Ikea curtain gown? And I promised pictures of the accompanying undergarments? Now is the time! Please forgive the silly black and white checked walls in these photos… I took the opportunity of having people around to take photos of me in the garments, despite the lack of a fitting setting.

Chemise and short stays.

The chemise is constructed of linen, and despite its rather cute a line shape, it is actually just a tube with shoulder straps. The front has a draw string across it to help it shape over the bust, which I think is part of the reason the front looks so evenly distributed and full. As you can see, I chose to make a sleeveless chemise, specifically for the square necked gown.

Back view.

The back of the chemise is cut low and square to fit within the shape of the square necked gown. Next is a closeup of the stays so you can see more detail.

Short stays.

In this photo you can see the drawstring on the chemise. You can also see the front lacing stays better. They are essentially the same basic shape as my longer pink stays, with a few differences. The pink stays have a simple front, back, hip gusset, bust gusset construction, whereas these new stays have a back piece, side piece, and then front piece with the bust gussets. For this pair, I think I actually could do without one of the bust gussets, since it looks a little big. But it’s WAY too late now to change that! I had to cut the area under the arm pretty low to be comfortable, and I also had to move the straps a few times, especially in front. If they are too far out they cut into your arm joint when you try to move–not comfortable, let me tell you–but they needed to be pretty wide in order to accommodate the wide neckline of the square necked gown.

The stays are white cotton twill layered with two layers of cotton canvas, except the gussets and straps, which are just one layer of the canvas and one layer of the twill. The stays are bound with white cotton bias. They are boned (only at center front to stabilize the eyelets) with plastic wire ties. Despite the light boning they are quite stable when laced up. And let me just say how much easier it is to get dressed when your stays lace in front! So easy! Love it!

These stays were stitched by machine. I needed them done quickly and I wanted to be able to dance and sweat in them without having spent lots of hours hand sewing them. Also… at some point when I washed them (after the 1812 Guerriere weekend, when they were wet through from sweat) they got streaky. Now they are mostly off white, but still have bright white streaks. So I didn’t feel the need to make them super pretty and spend the time hand sewing them. I did hand sew the eyelets for the lacing. I thought about doing spiral lacing, but then when I made the eyelets I forgot to space them that way… so they don’t spiral lace.

Under dress.

The other new undergarment is this under dress–needed because of the sheerness of the dress fabric. So here it is. The skirt is the same dimensions as the square neck dress, and mounted to the bodice in the same way. The bodice also uses the same pattern, except that the front is not gathered. There is a small tuck on each side of the bust, but that’s it. The straps on the under dress are similar to the straps on the chemise and stays, so that they don’t interfere with the sheer sleeves of the gown. The under dress ties in back at the top and where the waist is. The day of these pictures one of the lower ties came off, so you can see the gap where a tie would normally be. Below the ties are an opening of about 8″ that allows me to get in and out of the garment. It all looks quite a-line in these photos, but with the dress on top the whole thing looks much more columnar.

Back of the underdress with the missing tie.

I think I’ll do another separate post with some of my research images for the sleeveless under garments. So for now, this is it!

Project Journal: 1815-1820 Regency Ensemble Part I: Corset Research and Patterning

First of all, Happy Thanksgiving!

I have a whole list of projects to work on during this Thanksgiving period: I need to reinforce some trim and closures on various gowns that will be worn during the next few months, I need to build a flowered hair accessory (I hesitate to say wreath) to match my blue 1860s ball gown, Belle, and I need to construct a Regency corset! I’ll pass over the stitching of the trim and closures (because, really, I don’t think that would be an exciting post) and save the hair ornamentation post for later. That leaves us with one more topic… The Regency corset.

I don't have very many good pictures of this gown (I'll have to get some!) but I'm on the far right. Click on the link to the left to read more about this ball!

Here’s the background on this plan: I have a Regency dress that I built last February. At the time, I could not build the undergarments that would accompany this gown at that time. (You can read the story of the dress here.) Now I have time and so I plan to backtrack to this project and make the right undergarments! I have a chemise which will work (you can see it under my 1780s corset in the photos in this post) because chemise styles were unvaried from the late 18th century through the first quarter of the 19th century; however, I do not currently own a Regency period corset!

First of all, what is the Regency period? The term brings to mind Jane Austen books and films and general ideas of the early 19th century, but upon closer inspection Regency is actually more specific than I was thinking. I’ve got two relevant definitions for you from the Oxford English Dictionary.

  1. Noun: Senses relating to government or rule by a regent. Usu. with capital initial. The period during which a regent governs; spec. the period in France from 1715 to 1723 when Philip, Duke of Orleans, was regent, or in Britain from 1811 to 1820 when George, Prince of Wales, was regent.
  2. Designating a style of architecture, clothing, furniture, etc., characteristic of the British Regency of 1811–20 or, more widely, of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, featuring neoclassical elements often with Greek and Egyptian motifs.

Regency is a more specific period of time than that of the overarching Georgian period, which includes the reins of George I, George II, George III, and George IV of Great Britain. The Georgian period is from 1714-1830 and sometimes includes the years 1830-1837 as well. 1837 marks the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign, which is where the term Victorian comes from.

Upon reflection I realized that I had forgotten the year my dress is from! Certainly it is Georgian, but is it really Regency? I had made the gown in a rush and so I had to retrace my steps and really think about what specific span of years the gown fits into to answer that question. It turns out that the gown is, in fact, from the Regency period: it is from 1816-1819! Whew!

Once that information was determined, I could move forward and research the corset shapes and patterns of that specific period (that is, 1816-1819). It turns out that patterns in Norah Waugh’s Corsets and Crinolines jump from the late 18th century to the 1820s; however, I did find images of extant corsets from the first part of the 19th century. “Oh well,” I thought, and used the images and the 1820s pattern in Corsets and Crinolines to drape a pattern.

Here are some of the research images from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I’ve included a wide span of years so you can see the development of the corset shape over time. Note the bust and hip darts as well as the beautiful quilting that begins to define the waist by the 1840s.

c. 1811 Cotton Corset
c. 1811 Cotton Corset Back
1815-1825 Corset (I really like the simple lines and straight forward color combination in this garment: this is my most inspiring image. It is interesting that the lines of this corset are so simple, relative to these other examples. This corset seems to be lacking hip darts or an inward angled front panel plus side panel.)
1820-1839 Cotton and SIlk Corset (the embroidery on this corset is great)
1820-1839 Cotton and Silk Corset Back (I especially like the back)
1830-1835 Cotton Corset
1830s-1840s Corset

I am including these last ones because I think they are lovely, even thought they are not from the period I need to build. I’ll have to keep them in mind for future!

1820 Corset (this is in the Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute)
1830-1839 Cotton Corset

Project Journal: 1780s Ensemble Part V: Completed Stays

Wohoo! My 1780s stays are complete! I think they turned out quite well. They certainly resembles my inspiration image. You can see that image and read more about the construction of these stays by reading this previous post.

Finished front
I used 1/4" linen tape for the lacing
The lacing holes are hand sewn eyelets
Side view
Side front view

I made the chemise as well. It is just a simple linen tee shape without set in sleeves. It is mid calf length and has a low neckline in front and back.

Soon I’ll post pictures of the finished 1780s exterior garments as well!