Giving Old Hoops New Spots

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

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

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

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

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Eleanor ‘On The Continent’

When I was in Denmark last year, we got some lovely show-off-the-dress shots of Eleanor (my 1862 plaid ballgown) that I haven’t shared yet. This is the gown that I wore to the grand ball at the end of the week. I decided on it because I appreciate its simplicity and understated elegance: the only real decorations, aside from the interest provided by the large scale plaid, are the coordinating brooches on the neckline and belt.

I absolutely love how this gown looks wonderfully historical without being flashy. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for flash in some instances, but for traveling on a plane and being squashed into a suitcase, this seemed like an option that would travel well and still look elegant, especially when paired with my coordinating necklace and earrings.

Before the ball we took a short walking tour during which were able to capture these cooler-toned photos in addition to the warmer first photo (that first one was taken in the ballroom).

Looking at these photos reminds of the trip, which brings smiles. It was fun to attend a ball ‘on the continent!’

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The Simple, The Complicated, & The Continent Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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c. 1860 Crinoline Size Comparison & Tutorial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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1864 Evie Hair (Returning Heroes Ball 2018)

In March, I again had the pleasure of attending The Commonwealth Vintage Dancers‘ annual Returning Heroes Ball (you can read about other years I’ve attended here). I decided to wear Evie, my 1864 ballgown, simply because it had been a year or so since the last time I wore that particular gown.

In order to change things up I did two things differently with this wearing: I wore different earrings and did my hair differently. Small changes, but it makes wearing an old dress feel new and exciting!

I don’t think I’ve ever worn these earrings for mid-19th century events before (only for things later and earlier than this period), though now that I’ve tried it I think they work quite well. I made them from triple drop earrings that I bought from a modern store (I forget now, but I think it was New York and Company). I just took off the bottom drop and attached them to clip hardware. They catch the light and sparkle nicely.

1860s and earrings together reminds me of the scene in Gone With The Wind in which a straggling soldier try to steal ‘ear bobs’ from the house. Not that these look at all similar (and luckily my story ends on a happier note than that scene), but a GWTW reference generally makes me smile.

I was going to do a simple hairstyle (my usual go-to c.1860 style with a center part and the hair in a low mass at the back of my head), but as I was getting ready I chanced a look at Pinterest and got excited about trying a more complicated style than I usually do. In particular, I liked the puffed fronts on some of these styles from 1864 and the curls on the sides like some of these from 1861.

I sort of mashed these two looks together, using small rats to puff the front sections of hair and a curling iron to get smooth curls for the sides. My hair is getting to be so long that I had to pin the hanging curls up to shorten them! The rest of my hair was just twisted and pinned on my neck without too much attention paid to it. I was running out of time and knew I’d be adding my hair piece on top, which would cover most of the back of my hair anyway.

I really like the end result for this particular dress of mine. I feel it compliments the hair piece and the silk dress nicely. Isn’t it lovely when all these little details come together to create one cohesive end result? Yay!

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An Introduction To Eleanor (HSM #10)

The Historical Sew Monthly challenge for October is Heroes – Make a garment inspired by your historical hero, or your historical costuming hero.

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You may or may not know that one of my favorite movies is Gone With The Wind. (I posted about this topic years ago when the blog was in its infancy–most of what I claimed then is still true and the 1860s will always have a special place in my heart, but I can now say that other periods give me excited wiggles too!) You can read the old blog post to get more specifics, but the essential point is that despite her personal shortcomings and the turbulent and controversial history of the period, Scarlett reminds me of the clothing that I love and therefore is an historical costuming hero to me.

And this gown has an added historical hero, Eleanor ‘Felcie’ Bull, who came to my rescue when I was contemplating what sleeve style to give my dress.

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Eleanor “Felicie” Bull. 1863.

Prior to finding her image, I had been planning to name this dress Johanna, in honor of the friend who convinced me that I needed the fabric a few years ago. But I had sort of decided this was weird, since all my other dresses from this period have names that I like, but that are not from a specific living person. Once I found this image I was completely overtaken with excitement–I love the name Eleanor and there she was, helping me out! The choice was obvious.

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I made a new hair decoration to go with Eleanor. I had the perfect stem of purple velvet leaves, but no flowers to match the dress. So I dyed some white millinery flowers to a golden yellow. They have a fluffier texture than before being dyed, but the color is perfect. Using millinery flowers brings me so much joy, because it’s easy to shape any section since each stem is fully wired. And I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to wear my Dames a la Mode purple earrings and necklace.

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Regarding dress construction, we must start with a bit of a personal habit, or perhaps a theory, though I’m not sure it’s as thought out as that. When the opportunities arise for me to make multiple garments from the same period that could be carbon copies of each other in different fabrics (so much speedier on the patterning and planning front!), I hardly ever take that easy road. I am drawn to exploring the small variations.

So it is with Eleanor. I decided to: knife pleat her skirt instead of box pleating, cartridge pleating, or gathering; to make a plain darted bodice instead of using seams or gathers; to make the bodice straight across all around, which is more unusual for evening gowns made of silk than having points in front and back; to overlap and topstitch her side back seams; to omit the oft-seen bertha around the neckline; and to have single puff bias cut sleeves. These things all make this dress just slightly different than my others from this period, adding a bit of thought and time to the process. And if we’re talking about time, let’s just mention how mind-boggling cutting plaid pieces with curved seams and darts is when the pattern matching is important to you!

I collected images of plaid gowns with a focus on evening bodices and noticed these features, which is why I decided on them. The most useful images are in one place here, on my Pinterest board for the project. I was contemplating the sleeve type when I came across Eleanor ‘Felcie’ Bull. Interestingly, she shows all of those traits I’d decided on. I loved her simple sleeves and restrained bodice trimming, which then set me on an extensive Ebay and Etsy hunt to find just the right brooches to replicate her style. Yes, I did look through about 150 pages of bow brooches to find just the right one for less than $15. Plus many pages of gold oval brooches. I couldn’t have wished for better results! Remember the look I gave you a look a few posts ago? The only thing I did was to brush the oval brooch (which is new, not vintage) with a bit of brown acrylic paint to bring it down to the old gold color of the bow brooch.

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Other construction details include flatlining the bodice and facing the skirt in a remnant of dusty mauve cotton from my stash (used it up, yay!), creating boning channels in the darts to keep the front nicely shaped, and finishing the neck and bottom edge of the bodice as well as the armholes with very narrow cording.

Just the facts:

Fabric: About 6 yards of silk taffeta and 1 yard of cotton.

Pattern: Adapted from Past Patterns #702, 1850s-1863 Dart Fitted Bodices and Period Costumes for Stage and Screen as a reference for the sleeves.

Year: 1862, given the details that I decided on.

Notions: Thread, hooks and bars, canvas to interline the belt, narrow yarn for cording, and plastic wire ties for boning the bodice.

How historically accurate is it?: I’m going to go with 99% on this one. Materials and methods are well researched and executed. This would be entirely recognizable in its time.

Hours to complete: I really didn’t keep track. But I can safely say many!

First worn: October 22 for a ball.

Total cost: $98 total: $68 for the silk, $10 for bow brooch, and $18 for the oval brooch.

I’ll end this with my photographic homage to Eleanor ‘Felcie’ Bull.

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Returning Heroes 2015

Back in March, I was again able to attend The Commonwealth Vintage Dancers‘ annual strictly-Civil-War ball (this is the 5th year I’ve been there, wow!). It’s been a joy every year I’ve attended and this year was no exception. Unfortunately, I only had my phone to document the evening, which means my pictures came out rather blurry. Here’s just a few.

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Obviously, the most important thing to document was that I was able to wear my Refreshing Apron for the first time with a mid-century dress.
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Also, I danced. In this case, a schottische. (Other people danced, too, and looked quite elegant and lovely.)

Evie is always special to wear and was accompanied by the usual accessories and undergarments. The only thing I did when I came home was to mark front on the skirt, because every time I wear this gown I struggle to remember where front is! (It makes a difference when your skirt hooks to your bodice–without everything lined up properly it just doesn’t work!)