1896 Bicycling Ensemble: Construction Details

As promised, I have quite a few words and photos to share with you about the construction of my 1896 Bicycling Ensemble, so prepare yourself for a long post! This post is a great reference for me to have all the details in one place, but I also hope that some of my details might be helpful for other people who want to build 1890s cycling outfits as well.

If you want to read a bit more about the social history of the bicycle ensemble, see more finished ensemble photos than the few in this post, or read more about the accessories I’m wearing with this ensemble, check out my first post about it (this is the same as the first link). I also have a post looking specifically at patents and advertisements for women’s bicycling clothing from this time. It’s a great supplement to some of the information I mention in that first post.

This post is going to focus on the main garments that make up this ensemble: the jacket and bloomers. We’ll start with the two main similarities between these garments.

#1 Both garments are mostly machine sewn, with hand sewing for the tailoring steps of the jacket as well as much of the finishing of each garment.

#2 Both jacket and bloomers are made from a drab colored wool that has been in my stash since 2012. I purchased it from the remnant table at the local discount fabric store for the amazing price of $3/yard! I bought every piece they had, so I have about 10 yards broken up in about 6 different pieces. I used less than half of what I purchased for this project, leaving me plenty to use this for an 1880s dress as well. (That one has been in progress for the last 18 months… I hope to finish it this year!)

The drab colored wool is perfect for this cycling outfit, not only because I already owned it and it has been taking up space for years, but also because drab was a popular color for cycling outfits because it successfully hid dirt and dust. Other recommended colors were brown, black, and navy.

The Bloomers

Now that we’ve looked at the similarities let’s look at the differences, starting with the bloomers.

These are entirely self drafted. While that might sound intimidating, these are actually quite simple! Each leg is the full width of the fabric, 60″ wide, and 33″ in length. On my 5’6″ frame that provides plenty of pouf in the legs when they are held in place around the tops of my calves. The only shaping is in the crotch seam, which is a curve ~5.5″ wide and ~12″ deep. The crotch curve is deep enough and the bloomers are full enough that I made the crotch curve the same for the front and back. Here’s a photo of the crotch curve drawn out before I cut it.

The fullness of the 60″ wide legs is pleated into the waistband with knife pleats folded towards center front and center back. Knife pleats are documented in sporting bloomers from the 1890s and are specially mentioned as being folded this way in order to help the bloomers maintain the full look of a skirt, in keeping with the social convention that skirts were acceptable wear for women but bifurcated bloomers were not. I experimented and decided I liked just a few deep knife pleats as they helped the bloomers fall nicely on my body.

I debated about how to gather in the fullness at the bottom of the legs, especially since I couldn’t find specific instructions on how this was accomplished or see this particular detail given the way extant bloomers are displayed. I decided on gathering each leg into a band that hooks so that it stays in place at the top of my calf. There is a 3″ slit in the leg as well. The raw edges of this are turned under ¼” and whip stitched by hand. There is also a small reinforcing bar sewn across the top of the slit to keep it from ripping. Here’s a closeup of the leg opening.

The inside of the bloomers looks like this. There are two decorative strapping details on the front of the bloomers (more on that when I get to the jacket). These conceal a placket opening on one hip (visible on the far left) and a pocket on the other! The crotch seam and inseams are left unfinished. This wool did a pretty good job of not fraying at the edges so there was no need to finish these seam allowances.

Here is a closeup of the placket opening that is hidden behind one of the strapping details. You can also see the interior of the waistband, which is whip stitched to hold it in place. To be entirely fair, I could have made bloomers on a waistband without the strapping and pocket and saved a fair bit of time. Stitching the strapping bits on and hiding the placket and pocket behind them required some extra brain somersaults and time to figure out and execute. But I really like the strapping detail on this extant bicycling ensemble from 1896 at The Met and really wanted to include that detail in my own garments, so here we are.

Here’s what the bloomers look like when the wind filled them out during our photoshoot. This gives a better idea of how much fabric is in each leg of the bloomers.

The Jacket

I wanted to have a tailor-made style with a lapel and collar that would follow the general style of men’s jackets in the 19th century. Most bicycling ensembles are of this style, due in part to the fact that this type of activity was traditionally a male pastime. The specialty clothing produced for men’s active pursuits was made by a tailor, so it follows that women’s clothing began to be tailor-made as well as they joined in these male activities in the later part of the 19th century.

I started with the pattern for my 1895 Skating Ensemble because I knew it had the general shape of the mid-1890s and that it already fit. That pattern was made by me, based on my inspiration jacket for that ensemble as well as patterns published in Authentic Victorian Fashion Patterns. I had already modified it to get the shape of the skating jacket, but I modified it even more to create this new jacket. I made these further changes:

  • Created princess seams on the front and back that run down from the shoulders instead of the armsceye
  • Joined the side back pieces to make a single wider piece instead of two narrower pieces
  • Moved the new side back seam towards the side seam
  • Added back pleats, front darts, and a lapel and collar
  • Shortened the length

At this point it’s really not close to the original pattern at all!

The sleeves are my standard 1890s gigot sleeve that originally came from Period Costumes For Stage and Screen. I wound up making a number of changes to the pattern to get a slightly different shape. Below you can see my progress.

After trying out the original sleeve I made two major changes to the shape, angling the underarm seam at the top/making the top less full and angling the underarm seam at the bottom towards the wrist/shortening the length. After pleating each side of the new sleeve towards center I ended up with the sleeve shape on the right.

After I had a pattern I was confident with I started cutting my pieces. Each exterior piece was cut in wool and cotton in order to be flatlined. The front and collar facings are single layers of wool. There are also canvas interlining pieces for the front and collar.

The proper way to flatline is to pin your layers together and then (preferably) hand baste around each piece to hold the layers together while working with them. I opted to eliminate the basting step, using pins to hold the layers together until they were sewn. My fabrics were pretty sticky so this time-saving shortcut worked pretty well. You can see the pins holding the non-sewn edges together in this photo of the exterior after assembling the front and back pieces.

This is also one of the only steps that show the front darts, as those were hidden under the decorative strapping I added to the jacket later on. The other amusing thing here is that because I was cutting my garment pieces from multiple pieces of wool you can see a color difference here between the center back pieces and the other pieces. But it’s not noticeable in the finished jacket, so that’s good!

And here’s the jacket at the same point in the process, turned over to see the inside. Now the flat lining is clearly visible, as are the box pleats along the back seams. You can also see the canvas that runs down the fronts.

Here is just one side of the front. It gives a clearer view of the front dart and the canvas that supports the lapel and front edge.

I pad stitched the lapel and taped the roll line in men’s tailoring fashion. These stitches help to support the roll of the collar. The tape running across the roll line snugs that distance in just a bit which helps the collar roll in exactly that spot.

I decided not to try to pattern the strapping with the main body pieces. It just seemed too complicated to wrap my head around. I knew they wouldn’t be straight, as my body is curved, and I knew that making them on the bias would be a disaster to try and manage the edges of… I decided to deal with this step when I got there in the construction process.

Accordingly, when the jacket had all of the vertical seams assembled it was time to consider the strapping. I did this at this step, before sewing the shoulder seams, as I wanted the strapping front and back pieces to perfectly match along that seam. Easier to pattern flat than if I’d already sewn the shoulder seams!

I laid the jacket out on the table with a scrap piece of wool on top of it, put pins along the seam line to mark the location (so my strapping would hide the seam), and then drew a strapping shape I liked around that. As you can see, I didn’t follow the curve of the seam perfectly. That was an intentional choice, as I wanted the strapping to have a similar curve as the curve on the strapping of my inspiration jacket (here is the link to that again, in case you want to take a look and not scroll all the way up to the first link).

I repeated this process for the front (which was trickier with the shaping that dart creates!) then cut out four of each piece. I decided to finish the edges by making a tube that was topstitched by machine before being hand sewn to the jacket

I can’t imagine how horrible it would have been to try to topstitch the straps onto the jacket! Bad… very, very bad! And trying to turn the edges under and then topstitch would not have provided enough stability for crisp edges and would also have been a frustrating experience. Thank goodness I avoided those potential problems!

Here are two of the four straps, pinned and ready to be stitched together. The only edge I left open is the straight edge (at the right) that would go into the shoulder seam. After being sewn and trimmed these were turned right side out, pressed, topstitched, and carefully placed at the shoulder seam so that they would match up perfectly when the seam was stitched. The edges of the straps were then invisibly hand sewn to the jacket.

Here’s the end result. The straps look topstitched onto the jacket, but they are actually finished pieces that are fully sewn down in front but only attached above the pleats in the back, allowing the bottoms to flap amusingly! This detail is again taken from my inspiration jacket (and here is the link to that again).

As I mentioned earlier, the bloomers also have a strapping detail taken directly from my inspiration bicycle outfit at The Met. Those were carefully patterned–they look straight at first glance but are actually slightly angled and tapered. They are made in the same way as the jacket strapping pieces, though as I mentioned earlier, they were more complicated to put onto the bloomers as they conceal a placket on one side and a pocket on the other. That was a figure it out as I go experiment that required precision and quite a bit of puzzle-solving!

The collar was interlined with canvas and pad-stitched to provided stability for the shape. Then it was sewn around the edge by the machine and the seam allowances were graded before I turned it right side out.

The sleeves are pleated to take in the fullness to fit the armsceye. There are 10 pleats total, each about ½” (1″ total) in depth. Here’s a photo looking down into the sleeve with all the pleats pinned in place. The box pleat (that is slightly off center in the photo) is the top of the sleeve when it’s set into the armhole of the jacket.

In this next photo we’ve progressed quite a few steps! The sleeves are set, the collar is on, the front wool facings are on, the collar edge and facing edges are turned under and hand sewn in place. I’ve finished the bottom edge of the jacket with a bias strip of cotton that was machine sewn then pressed to the inside and hand sewn into place (this is also how I finished the sleeve cuffs). The buttons are on and the buttonholes sewn by machine. I’ve whip stitched all of the seam allowances to keep them from fraying and added some extra support for the sleeve caps. I’ve also added a waist stay. Quite a few hours of work to condense into one paragraph!

The waist stay is a grosgrain ribbon sewn to the seam allowances that hooks in the front. Its purpose is to keep the jacket tight against my lower back and to keep the jacket from riding up as I use my arms. The photo below shows a close up of this as well as a number of other details–the bias binding at the bottom, the whip stitched seam allowances, and the pleats tacked to the lining along the top edges.

The sleeve pleats wouldn’t stand up on their own which made me a bit sad. My solution was to give them a bit of support… in this case I reused stiff net sleeve headers removed from 1980s dresses that I have a whole bag of in my stash. Each jacket sleeve has two of these sewn into the armsceye such that they stand up off my shoulder and help to support the pleats. In this photo I’ve just flipped them out to make them easier to see, but normally they’re tucked up inside the sleeve.

I also tacked the pleats together by hand about 1.5″ away from the seam. This helps keep the pleats nicely arranged and pointing up, which helps keep the fullness of the sleeves in check. In the end, this sleeve isn’t quite the same shape as my Met inspiration (here’s the link one more time), but that’s because it would have taken a lot more patterning time to determine exactly how the Met sleeve is shaped. I wanted to use my existing sleeve pattern and so I’ve decided to be happy with the sleeves I have.

To recap, all these details and construction steps produce this! Slightly subdued 1890s puff sleeves, tailored jacket details, interesting strapping patterns, and bloomers!

People sometimes ask me how long it takes to make my garments and often I don’t have a good answer as I don’t actually pay attention. I’m in it for the enjoyment of sewing and unless something is going wrong and I’m frustrated I generally enjoy the process. For this ensemble I kept track, though, and I can report that it took me 22 hours to pattern, fit, cut, tailor, sew, and finish this jacket and bloomer ensemble.

I’ve collected some (but by no means all!) images of bicycling ensembles on my 1890s Sportswear Pinterest board if you want to see more of my visual research and inspiration. Thanks for sticking with me for a lengthy post!

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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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Project Journal: Versailles Sacque: Construction Details

It’s time for some in depth detail about the construction of the robe a la francaise I wore to Versailles in May. My original plan was to use pink silk in my fabric stash to create a robe de cour inspired by Maria Federovna, but I realized when I went to cut out the pieces that I did not have enough fabric.

The change in plan resulted in new fabric and a new plan. I stuck with the decade of the 1770s, but decided to make a robe a la francaise, or sacque, instead of a robe de cour as it seemed like a garment I might be more likely to wear again in the future. Accordingly, I found and ordered new fabric: 11 yards of a very lightweight changeable silk ‘lutestring’ from Burnley and Trowbridge. Luckily, the new fabric still worked with the metallic silver net I’d purchased for trim. It’s the same metallic silver net that is on my 1885 Night Sky Fancy Dress, just cut into strips.

The pattern is from JP Ryan: it’s the Pet en Lair pattern, lengthened to create a gown as they suggest. Underneath I’m wearing a shift, stays, pocketsMr. Panniers, a generic 18th century petticoat, and the petticoat that matches the gown. I also have American Duchess clocked stockings and embellished American Duchess Kensingtons. All my jewelry is from eBay. You can read more about how I created my hairstyle and the hair ornament in this past post.

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Regarding the pattern, I found some of the directions to be confusing. For example, making the petticoat seemed way overcomplicated.   You can read more details about how I made my petticoat here. Also, I found the directions for pleating the front robings/facing and the back pleats quite confusing. There, I was saved by this post written by AJ who also used the JP Ryan pattern, got confused, and posted about the confusing bits. Very helpful! Aside from the confusing directions, the gown pieces went together perfectly with no trouble. I did have to alter the front strap area to make the front sit flat against my body. Two friends who used this same pattern did not have to make that adjustment, so I chalk it up to differing body shapes but do not think it negatively affects the pattern.

IMG_0687 (1)The lining of the gown is made from a one yard piece of cotton/linen blend from my stash. Also from my stash and used inside the gown were a scrap of medium blue linen and a scrap of medium blue cotton twill used to interface the stomacher. These were all the bits left of those three stash fabrics–yay! I was also amused that all of the random non-silk fabrics in this gown and petticoat wound up being blue. I used my lining as my mockup, meaning that I had to take a dart in the front strap area, but was able to adjust the pattern to eliminate the dart before cutting out the silk.

The back of the lining is adjustable using a tie threaded through eyelets. The edges are boned with reed. The pattern suggests ties, but you also see lacing in extant garments and this seemed easier to adjust and that it would use less length for the tie(s). There are examples of both ties and lacing on my Pinterest board for this project. The tie is a 1/4″ cotton twill tape. It’s not accurate, but did the job.

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Underneath the decorative stomacher, the gown closes with lacing panels attached to the lining. Again, mine laces closed using twill tape.

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This is the inside of the front lacing panels. You can see the medium blue linen backing. I think I had run out of the cotton/linen blend at that point. As is usual with 18th century garments, the armhole is left unfinished.

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Here’s a close up of the back pleats. These are stitched all the way through to the lining. The directions for the pleats were slightly confusing, but made sense once I started fiddling with my fabric. It was important that I had transferred all the markings from the pattern to make the pleating easier to understand. The pattern uses another four pleats pleats, underneath these, that you can’t see to add volume to the back.

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Due to the unexpected nature of the purchase of the silk fabric for this gown, I decided to do that fabric justice by hand sewing the entire garment. So in addition to the exterior stitching like that anchoring the pleats on the back, all of the interior seams are also hand sewn. I rather enjoy hand sewing and it makes a lot more sense given the way 18th century garments were constructed.

Here is the gown mostly sewn in its essential elements, but lacking trim. The sleeve flounces were individually gathered and sewn to the arm openings. They are pinked with scalloped shears on the top and bottom edges.

The following image is the gown that I followed in terms of trim placement. It took many more hours than I thought it would to pin the trim on. Those big waves are more complicated than they look, plus I had the challenge of creating the smaller scallops as I went along as well. All of the trim had to be sewn along both sides and tacked at each scrunch after it had been pinned.

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Robe a la Francaise. 1765. LACMA.

You can see that I pressed my robings down all the way to the hem, though once the trim was applied on top it was really not very noticeable. I like the finished result, but I think it’s worth pointing out that this pattern is designed to have a wide stomacher. I was envisioning it coming out a little narrower at the waist. But I think adjusting the back opening enough to make a noticeable difference would only create awkward wrinkles under the arms.

The finished stomacher was covered in scalloped trim and finished off with a sparkly brooch. I went to France with an untrimmed stomacher and no clear idea about how I wanted to trim it except that I wanted it to be an all over metallic feast for the eyes. Luckily, early in the trip I was able to go see the 300 Centuries of Fashion exhibit at Les Arts Decoratifs. In addition to being amazing (I got to stand within 6 feet of Dior’s Bar Suit and see many garments I’ve only ever seen on Pinterest!), I also took a picture of a stomacher that was inspirational in terms of the overall wavy patterns and filler shapes. That picture is below.

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Trimming the stomacher took place in the evenings in the few days before the special event. Here is the stomacher in progress. I took it specifically to show the amazing green color that the fabric can appear from some angles. I was hoping to get a picture of the finished gown looking this color, but had to be content with seeing shades of green in some of the pictures as we didn’t capture any where the whole gown was this color.

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Another part of the dress that was finished in France were my engageants. The pattern includes flounces of two lengths to be made of silk and then one longer flounce for an under flounce or engageant. I sacrificed some lace I’ve been intending for another project, threw some darts in at the longest section to get the scalloped edge to be the right shape, and filled in the length with a bit of mystery ivory sheer. The resulting flounce was gathered and sewn to a cotton tape that was basted into the arm opening.

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It sure sounds like a lot of work, recounting these bits of the process. It was! And it paid off. I’m very pleased with the gown. And very pleased that this picture captures some of the stunning green in the fabric!

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How I Organize My Patterns And Sewing Books

I showed you how I organized my fabric stash and now I thought I’d show you how I organize my patterns and sewing books.

Most of the patterns I make and choose to keep are for historic clothing. I choose to keep them so that I can use them as a reference for future garments or so I can reuse them as is. A lot of these are garments that I’ve made for myself, but some are also patterns I’ve made for work. Probably 85% of the patterns I keep are historic or vintage. And probably 90% of my patterns are self-made. (I really like having self-made patterns–I find it easier to see what’s going on when there is only one size on the pattern, no seam allowance included.) Some of the envelopes contain vintage and modern commercial patterns for which I’ve traced off my size for the given garment pieces, sometimes making changes to them as well. At that point, I choose to keep those pattern pieces separate from an original purchased pattern.

Given these factors, I choose to organize my patterns by historic period. I use the post-it notes so I can easily change which folder the label is on. Purchased patterns (of which I only own very few) are stored separately, because there are so few of them.

Each self-made pattern is folded and put into a manilla or recycled envelope. I label the front of each envelope with:

  • the month and year I made the pattern
  • the name of the garment
  • other pertinent information: such as the measurements the garment is made for, whether a mockup of the garment is also in the envelope, and an image or drawing of the garment if possible, etc.
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Each section is also organized chronologically.

At this point, I’ve maxed out the number of patterns I can fit in this one basket, so I’m trying to decide what categories of patterns can be stored somewhere else, and where that somewhere else is… Someday when I have a sewing room I hope to change these over to a filing cabinet.

As for my books, I keep all of my personal books at home and bring them into work only on an as-needed basis. I do this for two reasons: first, that I’m very protective of all books that I own and want them to stay in the best condition possible; and second, that I enjoy seeing these books regularly.

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The books are organized by the type of information they contain, then chronologically, if possible. The binders peeking up from the bottom shelf on the left are all full of notes and samples and other construction-related information. The books on the bottom right are other things including a binder of cooking recipes, wedding research, knitting books, and my Janet Arnold books.

How do you organize your sewing related patterns and books?

Ca. 1860 Corset Intense Details

This is a follow-up post to my last post: ca. 1860 Corset For Me! (HSF #4)That post has a short background on my reasons for building the corset, but it doesn’t mention other details, so that’s what this post is for!

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My new ca. 1860 corset.

So let’s start with more background, since this post is all about intense amounts of details! We’ll start with the pattern I made for this corset: you’ll notice it has bust and hip gores as well as that curved piece on each side of the front. The bust gores aren’t so unusual for a modern 1860s corset recreation, but I don’t see too many corsets made (and certainly not many corset patterns) with hip gores and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone reproduce an 1860s corset with that curved piece in front. I found these details intriguing and wanted to make this style for two reasons: 1, because it’s a style I haven’t seen recreated, but which I have multiple examples of in my research, and 2, because it seemed like it would fit into a new thought I absorbed a few months ago.

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1865-1867 corset, The Met

First, a discussion about the style. It seems like a lot of modern ca. 1860s corsets are cut with vertical seams that run from top to bottom of the corset to create shaping, sometimes with the addition of bust gores. (The corset on the right is an example of one from the 1860s that uses this style of seaming to create shape.) These corsets are cut with shaping in the seams to create space for the bust and hips, but an alternative to this is to use bust and hip gores to achieve shape for the body. The interesting thing is that hip gores do not seem to be very commonly used in historic corsets made by modern people, despite their use in historic clothing. I attribute this to the fact that shaped seams are easier to execute than inserting gores of any type, but especially gores that are not in a seam (like the gores in my corset). Also, I would think that pattern companies have an easier time grading patterns using the shaped seams, because the gores (particularly hip gores) really need a lot more individual adjustment and fiddling on a body than shaped seams do.

Second, about this new thought that I absorbed. While reading Merja’s most recent blog posts about corset construction, I was rather surprised by a simple statement that makes so much sense but which I haven’t necessarily followed in corset making  in the past (here are Merja’s gusseted 1870s corset, which has the sentence which mentions this magical new thought, as well as her 1880s purple corset and 1860s white corset with seaming like the Met corset, above, which exhibit the thought without it being explicitly stated). Essentially, she says that she always makes adequate space in the corset for bust and hips, so that the corset is only constraining her waist. Duh! A related thought is that when you tighten your corset you displace some bits to your bust and hips, so your corset really does need adequate room there to accommodate the normal and the extra. That makes so much sense and sounds so much more comfortable than having a corset that digs into your hips or pushes your bust around uncomfortably. I made the goal to take this approach for the new corset and all future corsets! and this new corset was my first attempt at really following this sound piece of information.

So given that the style I set out to make is one that I haven’t ever seen a pattern for, where did I get mine? Well, it’s loosely based off of one in Corsets and Crinolines by Norah Waugh (the pattern is ca. 1873, pg. 80). I say loosely, because I started there, but then began combining pieces and changing the shape of them to suit my measurements and the seam placement that I wanted (most importantly the hip gore and that curved front piece). Interestingly, Waugh notes on a different corset pattern (ca. 1860, pg. 78) that the 1860s style of corset without bust or hip gores (more like what I seem to see in modern made ca. 1860 corsets like the one from the Met at the top of this post) was a style preferred in France. The English preferred the style of corset I am making with gores. (Merja’s white 1860s corset I mentioned in the pervious paragraph uses this French corset pattern in Waugh, if you’d like to see what it looks like made up.)

I wound up making two mockups to get the pattern the way I wanted it even after adjusting the pattern from the beginning (and still made a few alterations before cutting out my real fabric). The original pattern in the book had a waist that was much too small and a bust that was a little large relative to my measurements. Despite my changes, the first mockup was too short waisted, needed bigger and longer bust gores, smaller hip gores (I had overestimated how much ease I needed there), and a little bigger waist. The second mockup was still a little short (I added another ½” to the top), the hip gores were still just slightly too big, and the lacing gap between the back pieces was wider than I wanted it to be by about 3″. Ugh! I actually determined that last fact after cutting out and sewing up my actual fabric. Turns out my shoulder blade area is bigger than I thought. I had an inner struggle about if I wanted to take out the small stitch size flat felled seam to insert a piece or if I wanted to just let it go. Adding a piece won in the end, because I figured that I was spending so much time on the corset that I really wanted to be pleased with it and not have nagging doubts for the next number of years until making a replacement. (The piece I added is between the front and back pieces. You can see it easily in the first picture in this post. It’s a v shaped piece that extends from top to bottom.) Adding the piece actually wasn’t so bad, despite all my inner complaining and I’m very pleased I did it, because I am happy with the result.

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1864 corset, The Victoria and Albert Museum.

That’s all the aspects of choosing the pattern and executing it. Now I can move on to my inspiration for creating it. This blue corset at the V and A is the most thoroughly photographed piece of inspiration (click through, there are lots of different angles of the corset, and close up pictures!). As you can see, the blue corset has bust gores, that curved front piece, (and if you look at the pictures of the back…) hip gores, as well as useful close up construction photos showing the flossing, how the busk is sewn in, how the binding is sewn on, etc. You can also see great detail for things like how to sew the points of the bust darts and the tops of the hip gores: they are overcast near the tips of the bust gores and tops of the hip gores before being machine sewn with topstitching to the binding. I used this method in my corset, sewing the overcasting by hand. I found that it was very useful on the bust gores (since mine are set into a slit in the fabric, not a seam) because the amount of seam allowance near the points is negligible (like, less than ⅛”) and that would have been extremely frustrating to try and machine sew! Also, the overcasting kept the edges from fraying as I was working with them. It also adds an extra measure of stability and sturdiness to those areas.

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1839-1841 corset, The Met.

Other very useful images to me were this orange 1860s corset front and side views (with generally similar lines as the blue V and A one) and this 1862 Godey’s image of a corset (with very similar lines as the blue V and A one). (As a side note: Does anyone know what collection houses the orange corset? I’ve only been able to find images, but no real source.) These corsets provide a nice end date range for my corset pattern, because in the 1870s the corset begins to change shape. But to determine a good start date for my corset I had to look elsewhere. The Met has a corset dated 1839-1841 with similar hip gores and the front curved piece (great zoomable pictures including an interior view, click through the image!), but it does not have separate bust gores (they are cut in one with the front pieces as is usual for 1840s corsets) and it does not have a front opening busk (those weren’t in general use until 1849). The 1839-41 corset is more curvy than the 1860s ones, as you would expect from an 1840s corset, but it still looks like a forerunner to me! Waugh has an 1844 corset pattern (pg. 77) that has similar lines to the 1839-41 Met one, with bust gores but without hip gores or the curved front piece. These 1840s corsets are useful for determining the start point of my date range, which seems to safely be the 1850s. Thus, my corset is dated ca. 1860, which is just a shorter way of saying 1850-1870. That makes sense looking at the silhouette of the dresses from these decades, as well, since neither the 1850s or 1860s require the curvy shape of 1840s or 1870s corsets.

EDIT: The orange corset mentioned above is in the collection of the Manchester Art Gallery via this link.

I used all of these different images to look for construction details to use in my corset. Specific things I was looking for include: stitch size, width of the binding, method of sewing the binding, placement of bones, design of flossing, seam placement, method of setting bust and hip gores, location of topstitching, placement of eyelets down the back, finishing of the interior of the corset, and length of the busk. Some of these things can be determined by looking at the extant corsets I’ve shared in this post, but others required other helpful research. Specifically, the gusset construction method I used came from this image that Merja shared in her 1870s corset post. It’s from 1872, but is still relevant for my corset, because if you look at the blue and orange corset pictures you will see it used on the overcasting at the bust and hip gores. This image, from 1868, shows similar methods as well (and has a selection of mostly French and a few English style corsets if you’d like to see more examples of those).

And now, here are the close up construction details of my corset that I promised.

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An interior view of my corset. It’s important to me that the inside of garments is as nicely finished as the outside, as you can see. It’s a little hard to see, but the grommets near the waist are set closer together than the ones a the top and bottom.
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Details: Hand sewn overcast stitches at the bast of the bust gore and machine top stitching above that. Machine sewn button holes for the busk hooks (I’ve found this method to be much sturdier than leaving a gap in a seam on the edge).
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Details: The busk is top stitched around the top curve to keep it from moving. There is flossing at the top of the boning channels (every boning channel is flossed at the top and bottom). Machine sewn top stitched binding.
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Details: The top hook of my busk is a few inches below the top of the corset, so I added a hook and thread loop at the top to keep it closed. I used coutil cut on the straight of grain for my boning channels: the edges are pressed under and then they are topstitched into place and into the proper number of channels (keeps the inside tidy and doesn’t require extra notions!). The seam allowance of my bust gores is turned under and flat felled by hand with a whip stitch that only catches the coutil. The curved front piece is flat felled by machine.
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Years of use have caused my busk to have a bend in it at my waist line. See how it curves up from the table in the middle? Impressive, really, that my body can permanently change the shape of metal.

I’m hoping to get pictures of the corset on me this weekend at its first ever wearing. Hopefully I’ll be able to share those in the near future!

1917 Knitted Sweater Of Angorina Annotated Pattern

In the spirit of the HSF #23: Generosity and Gratitude, I thought I’d share an annotated version of my altered 1917 Knitted Sweater Of Angorina pattern. Who knows, maybe you’re thinking of knitting this sweater or something similar right now, and this version of the pattern and these notes will come in super handy as you knit your own sweater?

The original:

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“Knitted Sweater of Angorina” from the Star Needlework Journal 1917.

My version:

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“Knitted Sweater of Angorina”

Here’s the pattern. I’ve put original directions in [brackets] if I’ve changed them, and included my version before the original version, so you can compare. My version of the pattern and any notes that I have added are in italics.

One of the major reasons I adjusted the pattern in places was in attempt to make it to my measurements (40″ hips, 30″ waist, and 36″ bust). On size 5 needles I was knitting 10 stitches in 2.5″, which was 2 squares of the pattern, and knitting 1″ vertically every 6 rows, which was 1 square of the pattern. If I had knit the sweater with this gauge and the original directions I would have had a sweater body that would be too big: about 12″ too big around and 3″-5″ too long in length.

ABBREVIATIONS: K – knit, P – purl.

MATERIALS: 6 skeins of probably acrylic yarn (of medium weight and unknown length, though on the smallish side, as modern skeins go (and I could have used 7!)); 5mm and 3mm knitting needles; 6 plastic buttons.

[17 balls of THE AMERICAN THREAD COMPANY’S Article 200 “Angorina” Fluffed Cotton, size 4; two long celluloid knitting needles No. 5 and two shorter celluloid knitting needles No. 3; 6 buttons.]

DIRECTIONS:

For the Basket Stitch pattern: Cast on a number of stitches divisible by 10 and 2 over for the edge stitches. (So the 10 is the repeat of two squares of the pattern, and the 2 extra are for the edges.)

lst Row: Slip the first stitch (this is the edge stitch) , * then knit 5, and purl 5, repeat from * to the end of row ending with P 6, turn (the last stitch is the edge stitch).

2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th rows: Same as first Row.

7th Row: Slip the first stitch, * then P 5, and knit 5, repeat from * to the end of Row, ending with K 6, turn.

8th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th Rows: Same as 7th Row.

These twelve rows form the pattern, which is knit throughout the sweater.

Sweater

Cast on 82 [112] stitches on the long celluloid needles No. 5 and begin to K at the bottom of the sweater,

FOR THE BORDER: K plain back and forth for 14 rows or 7 ridges (2 rows of plain knitting back and forth form a ridge).

Now begin to knit the pattern as directed above.

K 12 [14] rows, then begin to decrease 1 St at the beginning and end of every third row until 10 stitches have been decreased at each end.

There are now 62 [92] stitches left in the row and 42 rows of pattern K.

Continue knitting the pattern for 120 [138] more rows or until 15 patterns or 180 patterns are K in all. (That last section of directions about 15 patters and 180 patterns confused me, so I just sort of ignored it…)

This completes the length of the back.

Next Row: Slip the first stitch, then knit 5, and P5 for 21 [31] stitches (this is for the right shoulder), bind off 20 [28] stitches for the back of the neck, the next 21 [32] stitches left on the needle are for the left shoulder.

Now put the first 21 [32] stitches on to a spare needle or thread (and I added one stitch to make it 22, so I would have a 20 stitches for the repeat of the pattern and one for each end), and continue knitting the left front as follows: K the pattern for 8 rows pattern (this is for the shoulder), then begin to increase 1 stitch at the beginning of every second row, this is at the neck – until 20 stitches have been increased.

There are now 42 [52] stitches in the row.

K the pattern without increasing for 84 [104] rows, then begin to increase 1 stitch every 3rd [7th] row at the outer edge (the outer edge was the end of each 2nd row for me) (the front edge must be straight) for 10 [5] times (that means I knitted in this fashion until I had increased 20 stitches), then K 12 more rows without increasing. (I chose not to knit the final 12 rows: I just ignored that direction.)

16 patterns of 192 pattern rows are now K for the length of, the front. (Again, I was confused by this direction and just ignored it.)

K 7 ridges plain back and forth for the border. (7 ridges equals 14 rows.)

Bind off loosely, break the thread. Now K the right front to correspond with the left front, then sew up the underarm seams (this is the length of 10 ½ patterns or 126 pattern rows from the bottom of the sweater up). (I waited to sew up my seams until I was entirely finished knitting the sweater. As before, I ignored the confusing direction about the number of patterns and pattern rows.)

Repeat the directions from right after “This completes the length of the back…” for the right front of the sweater. I’ve repeated them here, with the changes I made for knitting the right side instead of the left. 

Next Row: Slip the first stitch, then knit 5, and P5 for 21 [31] stitches (this is for the right shoulder), bind off 20 [28] stitches for the back of the neck, the next 21 [32] stitches left on the needle are for the left shoulder.

Now put the first 21 [32] stitches on to a spare needle or thread (and I added one stitch to make it 22, so I would have a 20 stitches for the repeat of the pattern and one for each end), and continue knitting the left front as follows: K the pattern for 8 rows pattern (this is for the shoulder), then begin to increase 1 stitch at the beginning of every second row, this is at the neck – until 20 stitches have been increased.

There are now 42 [52] stitches in the row.

K the pattern without increasing for 84 [104] rows, then begin to increase 1 stitch every 3rd [7th] row at the outer edge (the outer edge was the beginning of each 2nd row for me) (the front edge must be straight) for 10 [5] times (that means I knitted in this fashion until I had increased 20 stitches), then K 12 more rows without increasing. (I chose not to knit the final 12 rows: I just ignored that direction.)

16 patterns of 192 pattern rows are now K for the length of, the front. (Again, I was confused by this direction and just ignored it.)

K 7 ridges plain back and forth for the border. (7 ridges equals 14 rows.)

Bind off loosely, break the thread.

FOR THE SLEEVES (The following directions are what I used for my first attempt at a sleeve for this sweater… I didn’t like the resulting sleeve and chose to take it apart and try again. I’ll include my revised sleeve pattern following these directions for the sleeve I didn’t like. You can read more about why I changed my sleeve pattern and see pictures of the before and after, in this previous post.):

Cast on 72 stitches, and K the pattern for 3 rows, then begin to decrease 1 stitch at the beginning and end of every second row until 5 stitches have been decreased at each end.

There are now 62 stitches left in the Row.

Knit 120 rows of pattern. [K 9½ patterns or 114 rows without decreasing.]

Now slip the stitches on to the No. 3 needles, and K plain back and forth for 18 ridges for the cuff, bind off, and sew up the seam.

Place the sleeve in the armhole, so that the sleeve seam and underarm seam meet. (I waited until all of my pieces were knit before sewing any seams.)

(So now, here is my revised sleeve pattern):

Cast on 72 stitches (I added a single plain knit row, as a transition), and K the pattern for 3 rows, then begin to decrease 1 stitch at the beginning and end of every second row until 5 stitches have been decreased at each end.

There are now 62 stitches left in the Row.

Knit 60 rows of pattern without decreasing. Knit 60 rows, decreasing 1 stitch at the beginning and end of every 4th row. [K 9½ patterns or 114 rows without decreasing.] (Again, I ignored the first part because it is confusing.)

Now slip the stitches on to the No. 3 needles, and K plain back and forth for 10 [18] ridges for the cuff, bind off, and sew up the seam.

Place the sleeve in the armhole, so that the sleeve seam and underarm seam meet. (I waited until all of my pieces were knit before sewing any seams.)

This second sleeve pattern worked much better for me, so I repeated it for my second sleeve.

FOR THE BANDS: Cast on 12 [16] stitches on the No. 3 needles. K plain back and forth for 2 1/2 [4] inches (25 rows), then make a buttonhole as follows: K 4 [7] stitches. bind off 4 [6] stitches, K 4 stitches (this leaves 4 [5] stitches at each side of the 4 [6] stitches bound off).

In the next Row cast on the 4 [6] stitches bound off, thus forming a buttonhole.

K back and forth for 3 1/2 [3] inches (35 rows), then make the next buttonhole.

Continue knitting plain back and forth making 4 more buttonholes so that there are 6 in all, always leaving an interval of 3 1/2 [3] inches (35 rows) between each buttonhole.

(I calculated these measurements and row lengths between buttonholes to fit into the length of the front of the sweater before the V neck starts… in my case, that length was 21″. If your gauge is different you might want to consider changing these directions to suit you.)

(At this point I became very worried about running out of yarn. I wish I would have had enough to make the bands as wide as the original pattern called for… but I had to make them narrower, so my revised pattern will reflect that. If you have enough yarn you should keep the band wide and only adjust for length.)

K 1/2 [1] inch (5 rows) after the sixth buttonhole then begin to decrease 1 stitch at the beginning of every second row until 8 stitches have been decreased.

There are now 8 stitches in the row. Knit for awhile… turns out I knit plain for 45 rows. Begin to increase 1 stitch at the end of every 2nd row until 8 stitches have been increased… in theory that was my plan, but since I was running out of yarn, I just slowly decreased until I ran out of yarn. [K plain for 18 inches or long enough to go around the neck, then increase 1 stitch at the beginning of every second Row until 16 stitches are on the needle again.]

K plain for 21 inches or as long as the wider part of the band with the buttonholes, bind off loosely.

Sew the buttonhole part of the band on to the right front, the narrow part around the neck and the plain wider part to the left front, this should be done very carefully, then sew on the buttons.

Whew! At this point I just need to sew up my seams and sew on the buttons. Yay!

HSF #23: 1917 “Knitted Sweater Of Angorina”

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My “knitted sweater of Angorina.” (Thanks to Mr. Q, who consented to take pictures of me with no hassle on my first ask!)

And here’s the image from the pattern, for comparison.

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“Knitted sweater of Angorina” from the Star Needlework Journal 1917.

This is my entry for the HSF Challenge #23: Generosity and Gratitude. This challenge “is not about a particular item or aesthetic, it’s about celebrating the generosity of spirit and willingness to help others that makes the historical sewing community great, and giving credit and thanks to those who have contributed to our collective knowledge without expecting payment in return.”

My special thanks goes out to the person, or people, who took the time to put this knitting pattern out there on the internet, for free! I wouldn’t have been able to complete this project with the pattern, obviously. Thanks!

As it is, I’m really pleased to be done knitting and putting together this sweater. I’ve been using my sew time to knit, which has been a nice change and fun, but I do miss sewing! So now it will be back to sewing, which is good, because I have a lot of projects I’m working on!

Also, this sweater was a bit stressful… It started out on a relaxing note, but after completing the front, back, and one sleeve, I realized that it was taking way more yarn than I expected and I started to get worried I might run out before finishing the sweater! So as I was knitting my brain kept trying to think of ways to conserve yarn and wondering if there would be enough. I actually wound up completing unraveling one sleeve in order to knit it with less yarn… and thank goodness I did, because I barely had enough yarn to get as far as I did, and that was still with alterations to the original pattern to accommodate my dwindling yarn pile. You see, after knitting the front, back, and the two sleeves, there’s still the buttonhole/neck/button band to be knit, and you need enough yarn to stitch the seams! The sweater is quite long, so these things take more yarn than you might think. I used up literally almost all of the yarn I had…

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The first sleeve before it was unraveled and re-knit.
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The new sleeve shape with alterations to the pattern.
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Sewing up a side seam. The front, back, sleeves, and band are all knit separately, and flat, and then seamed together, creating side seams, armsceye seams, underarm seams, and a seam to join the band to the front/neck opening.
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These are literally the only pieces of yarn I have left… The longest is about 6″!

Here are the facts:

Fabric: 6 skeins, of unknown length, of probably acrylic yarn.

Pattern: 1917 Knitted Sweater of Angorina.

Year: January-March 1917. Here’s a blog post about the history of knitting in WWI that explains why the months are so specific.

Notions: Heavy thread to sew on the buttons, and 6 plastic buttons.

How historically accurate?: Acrylic wasn’t invented until 1941 and as fas as I know plastic buttons of the sort I used weren’t in use in 1917, but as a historic costume I’d give myself 95% on looking right, even if the materials aren’t 100% historically accurate.

Hours to complete: Oh goodness… mounds. It took me the entire month of October, and that was working on the sweater for 2-4 hours almost every day.

First worn: For pictures! Hopefully I’ll get to wear it later this month for an event.

Total cost: $2.50 for the knitting needles, $3 for the yarn, $1.50 for the buttons… total = $7! Now that is a project total I’d love to have more often!

Things I’m proud of in this sweater? #1: It’s the first sweater I’ve ever knit! #2: I was really careful to keep the pattern perfectly knit, sometimes taking out 5-10 rows after noticing I had made a mistake, so I could go back and fix it (let me just say that un-knitting, like seam ripping, is not nearly as exciting as knitting or sewing!). The end result is that the pattern is perfect everywhere… yes, I’m a perfectionist. #3: I did a really good job sewing up the seams, especially on the front band. #4: I learned out to knit a button hole! It’s not that hard, really, just casting off one row and on the next, but it does take your brain a little bit to figure it out. As I went along my button holes became neater and neater, as you would expect. #5: The band fits nicely around the neck opening and is a lovely way to finish off the sweater edge.

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Where front meets front band. See that seam? Nope, you don’t, because it looks like I knit it all at once! (ooo, and see my button holes?)

Things that make me call this sweater “wonky” or “original” or perhaps just simply “hand knit”? #1: That I had to cut corners because I was running out of yarn. The part of the band that goes around the neck is not as wide as the pattern calls for. And the part of the band that should have the buttons sewn to it is, well, non-existent. I literally ran out of yarn. #2: Because the button part of the band is non-existent, the neckline isn’t actually symmetrical… the side with the buttons doesn’t widen to be the same width at the button hole side. So the neck V doesn’t quite want to center, and the buttons/button holes wind up being slightly off center, too. (Honestly, though, I don’t think other people would notice those things if I didn’t point them out…) #3: Even with my sleeve alts, the sleeve is still rather large around (can you imagine if I hadn’t re-knitted them?!?) and they are a little long, even with a cuff. #4: Now that it’s finished, the sweater is rather heavy and prone to sagging some in places like the sleeves. Oh well!

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See the side with the buttons? Yup, no band there!
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Looking at my slightly loose, and rather long, sleeve.

For a first try at knitting a sweater, and using a historic pattern, I’m calling this one a  success!