Vernet Project: Silly Shoes

One of the five pieces of my Vernet Project was creating the silly up-turned-toe elf shoes in the fashion plate. Clearly, these are not shoes that could be purchased, as they are so specific in style, so I set out to make my own!

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In the beginning, I was thankful to have another Vernet project maker’s experience making her boots before mine to work from. Jenni posted a two part tutorial showing how she made her boots as well as sharing information behind-the-scenes with project participants earlier in the process (Part 1 and Part 2). She closely referenced Every Lady Her Own Shoemaker, published in 1855 (a little late relative to the date of the project, but still useful for construction advice), for construction methods and carefully documented her process. In fact, she did a much better job at documenting the actual sewing than I did… I also read Anna’s information about making mid-19th century shoes multiple times to help get my mind acquainted with the project (again, a little later than the period of the project, but still helpful). She also has lots of great construction pictures.

I started by creating a pattern for my shoe using patterns in Every Lady Her Own Shoemaker. Given that my shoe has the unusual turned-up-toe, I necessarily needed to make adjustments to the general slipper pattern. Here is my shoe at the mockup stage. The upper pieces fit pretty well! I adjusted the width of the sole as well as the shape of the turned-up section before moving on to cut out the final pieces.

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Here are all of the final pieces cut out and ready to assemble. The soles have three layers: heavier tan leather for the outer sole, cardboard for the inner sole structure, and white linen to cover the cardboard insole. The uppers have two layers: lightweight raspberry leather for the exterior and white linen for the interior. Later in the process I also added a faux fur cuff.

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To help the shoes keep their turned-up-toe shape I soaked the leather soles in water, taped them to a lysol wipe container, and let them dry. You can see the results below. Not perfectly curved up, but still helpful. I also tried boiling leather soles to thicken them before shaping, but found that the leather shrank unevenly which created soles that wouldn’t work for this project. I did save them, though, and hopefully will get to use them for a future shoe making endeavor. I repeated the soaking and shaping for the cardboard insoles before gluing the linen to them. There’s a picture of the insoles at this stage in this past post.

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After shaping the soles it was time to construct the uppers. I did the interior and exterior separately, then basted them together around the top opening and around the bottoms. Then I sewed the bottom edges of the uppers to the soles, using the slanting stitch through the side of the sole that Jenni shows in Part 2 of her tutorial. She used all sorts of nifty leather tools as well as a wooden last during construction. I purchased the nifty leather tools but found that they didn’t work for me and a simple non-leather needle worked just fine. (I think my leather was too thin and soft for these to be needed). As for the last, I looked online for a wooden one, never found one in my size foot, and eventually decided to give it a go without one, especially since I had to do the turned-up toe. In the end, I don’t think it was a problem not to have a last.

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Once the soles were attached, I bound the front slit with matching silk ribbon. Then I cut a piece of faux fur for each shoe that went around just the top of the foot opening and could double over on itself. There are non-functional silk ribbon loops that are sewn to the front of the fur that encases the top edge of the shoe. The shoes actually close with a twill tape threaded through hand sewn eyelets on each side of the opening.

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They’re actually quite comfortable for walking around in. I have very flat feet, so don’t really need arch support to be comfortable. The only thing is that my feet did get cold during our photoshoot due to the freezing ground only separated from my feet by a few thin layers of fabric. So, for the second wearing, while caroling at Christmastime, I added a faux fur insole. Problem solved! They were toasty and even more comfortable!

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Interestingly, witzchouras are mentioned as being popular in Paris during the year 1827 by La Belle Assembleé, after a mention of other popular pelisses and mantles (well worth checking out!), and are are described as being worn with boots laced in front and with fur around the leg.

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Doesn’t that description sound oddly familiar? It reminds me so very much of the Vernet fashion plate and my silly shoes!

Making Waves In 1925

On my to-do list for this summer was a 1920s bathing suit. At first I thought I might knit one, but I wanted a smaller project than that, and also, a friend who hand knit a swimsuit last year reported a fair bit of sagging happening when she wore hers in the water. So I decided to try a different approach and make my suit from wool jersey fabric, a historically accurate option in terms of weave and fiber for a 1920s suit, as far as I can tell from my research.

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After spending lots of time looking at inspirational images on Pinterest and compiling this board of the most inspirational images, I decided on the year 1925, when suits were getting shorter and often sported built in shorts. My main inspiration was this extant suit from 1925 at Abiti Antichi. It’s where my decorative inspiration came from and also justified the visible seam where the shorts attach to the dress. I also referenced this 1920s extant suit at All The Pretty Dresses, which shows interior finishing (serging!) and has narrower straps.

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I knew there was no chance of finding wool jersey at a local fabric store, so I searched around the internet for sources. I believe I found only three–a company in New Zealand, New Zealand Merino and Fabrics, that makes gorgeous colors and sells through their own website and through Etsy; Denver Fabrics, which had wool double knit fabric; and Nature’s Fabrics, which I had never ordered from before, but which had lovely colors. I decided on bottle green from Nature’s Fabrics and vowed to get the whole project out of just one yard.

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For a pattern, I used a tank top from Old Navy as a starting point since I liked the straps, adding length (and width since my wool jersey was less stretchy than the tank). I cut the dress pieces first, then used the extra bits to cut the shorts.

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I wanted to use the pattern from my dotty tap pants for the shorts, but I didn’t have it handy, so I pulled out a finished pair of the shorts and used that instead. Unfortunately, I was a few inches shy of being able to cut all four shorts pieces out of my leftover fabric. My solution was to cut the two fronts out and then piece the back pieces with a seam about 4″ below the waist, hoping that it wouldn’t be noticeable in the finished suit. There’s a slight line, but it’s not something I’m worried about, especially since I basically used up all the fabric I had–no adding to the stash on this project!

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The white trim came from the stash. It’s a lightweight knit terrycloth I bought at JoAnn’s when I first started sewing. I made a robe, but didn’t love it. I did, however, keep it and am happy to have repurposed the fabric.

This would have been a really speedy project if it wasn’t for the trim. I used a serger with four threads to sew/finish the seams all at once, making the construction super speedy (I think I cut and assembled the whole thing in an evening). However, the white lines took a long time to carefully machine sew on and then I still had to bind the arm and neck holes, turning the project into a multi-evening size. The time spent was worth it though, because I love the finished product!

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I love the images of the bathing suit contests here from the 1920s, in particular this one from 1926. All the bathing beauties are wearing their nice pumps with their bathing suits!

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I didn’t have time to get a sash together, but the bathing beauty look is what I was aiming for in this picture, wearing my American Duchess Seaburys with my swimsuit.

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My main goal was to have the suit for an event at the end of August, but it was done in time for a vintage beach outing in July! It was an unusually cold day and therefore the beach was pretty empty, but it meant we had the beach basically to ourselves and got some great pictures!  In August, I’m planning for the whole suit to get wet, so we’ll see how that goes! In the meantime, here are a few more fun pictures from the July beach day.

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Regency Shoe Poms!

I was very excited when Gina posted a tutorial for making shoe pom poms in September 2014. I decided then and there, while reading the post, that I needed some of my own. It only took me about 18 months to get around to it… but I am happy to report that in April 2016, I finally used Gina’s tutorial to finish making my very own!

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What prompted me to really go ahead with making the poms is that I wanted to have something to spruce up an older outfit I wore to the 4th Annual CVD Regency Dance Weekend, but didn’t have the time to create a new dress, as the Versailles sacque and 1885 Fancy Dress were all consuming. I suppose what I should really say is that what prompted me to finish the poms is the opportunity to wear them. I think I actually started them in late 2015.

Let me start by saying that Gina’s tutorial is clear and easy to follow. I highly recommend it!

My issues were all self inflicted… I carefully followed Gina’s instructions, got partway through the process and realized that the scale was much bigger than I remembered and that I didn’t like it at all on top of my foot. Oh no! (But in going back to link to Gina’s tutorial for this post I have realized that of course her poms are not the scale I wanted, because her poms are bigger than I ever intended! Oops! Totally my fault!)

The only solution I could see at the time was to cut off the ends of each pieces and re-fray the silk ends! UGH! It was not a fun process to fray the ends and I could not face the idea of doing it again. So I refused to work on the poms for months because I was so frustrated. Then, in March or April, I had the brainstorm to make the pieces shorter by cutting out the middle so I wouldn’t need to re-fray the ends. Duh! From there it was smooth sailing to finish up the poms.

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Partially finished pom on top (using Gina’s original dimensions). My completed pom on the bottom (smaller in scale). The pin is for scale.

I used a purple silk shantung from my stash for this project so it would match my other purple accessories. The back of the poms have American Duchess shoe clips attached so that I can easily clip the poms to any shoes.

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I was inspired by extant shoes with poms on the toes, such as these. You can also take a look through my Pinterest board to spot more pom-like shoe decorations.

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Poms in action! I really like the look of the neutral dress with the purple accessories.

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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Project Journal: Versailles Sacque: Finished Shoes!

After the many coats of paint I shared about already, there was one final coat that I convinced myself had to be the last because I needed to move on and finish decorating my Kensingtons. After that I went ahead and put on a matte acrylic finisher as suggested by Lauren at American Duchess. I then made the holes for my buckles using this tutorial also from American Duchess. The shoe buckle tutorial was invaluable and made the process incredibly easy!

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Finished?

I told myself the shoes were done, but I still wasn’t entirely happy with them. I think perhaps I was not satisfied because I had painted my shoes a color I’ve only really seen in cloth shoes rather than leather. But I moved on… and then this shoe-remake popped up on Pinterest and I was captured by the idea of adding metallic lace trim to my shoes to finish them off.

And so I went on the hunt on eBay, settling on this. It was a reasonable price and arrived quite speedily. As in the inspiration re-make, I used hot glue to attach the lace to the shoes. It was easy to work with and is generally reversible if I decide to change the shoes sometime in the future (though that’s pretty unlikely…) I think the trim suits my dress fabric nicely and it was narrow enough to follow the curves of the shoe without too much hassle, even on the latchets (which were the trickiest parts).

I also considered creating a design for the toe box area of the shoe, but decided against the idea once I realized how tricky it would be to get something I like. The lace doesn’t do tight curves easily and all the ends would need to be finished if I used non continuous pieces of trim, so all the ideas I came up with were going to be time intensive or poorly executed. I decided on simplicity.

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Ta da!

Now when I look at my shoes I have a smile on my face. They finally feel done and like they make sense! Yay–cross that off the list!

  • Panniers
  • Petticoat
  • Robe a la francaise (with a subset of trimming)
  • Hair
  • Shoes
Product links in this post contain an affiliate code, which provides a small benefit to my shoe fund. This does not affect my impressions and reviews of this product.

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Wicked, Monstrous, Silly, And A Good Time

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Some friends and I, taken by the official photographer of the night.

In the words of journalist Heywood Broun, “The Jazz Age was wicked and monstrous and silly. Unfortunately, I had a good time.” I don’t know about wicked or monstrous, but I certainly had a silly and good time recently at the Greater Boston Vintage Society’s White Lightning Ball.

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Silly faces!

I wore my 1924 robe de style from last summer, updated with new dramatic trimmings that suit the dress much better than the last iteration. It’s such a fun, unusual, and distinctive style to wear. I fielded quite a few questions about the style and happily encouraged people who knew things about it such as that it looked like Lanvin. For my hair, I didn’t have time to attempt waves, so I aimed for a romantic style that was less time consuming, inspired by these: no waves worn with a robe de style, a romantic bun (on the right), and long hair pinned up. Also, this set of drawings shows a large hair comb worn with a robe de style which reminded me that I haven’t worn mine in a long time.

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My accessories include: my vintage celluloid hair comb; silver drop earrings with peachy faux stones, which don’t often match things, so it was nice to wear them since they don’t get worn often; and a recent purchase from American Duchess, black Seaburys! (Never fear, there’s a whole post coming about the Seaburys, but for now we’re focusing on the event and the clothes.)

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This event is held at the Larz Anderson Auto Museum in what was the Anderson family’s carriage house in the early 20th century. It is a large building with multiple levels used for stabling horses as well as storing carriages and cars. The upper floor of the carriage house housed an exhibit of motorcycles during the event, if you’re wondering about the background. Downstairs was the collection of Anderson family cars from the 1900s and 1910s. They were very fun to look at and so tempting to sit in… I know it wouldn’t be good for the cars… And there were security cameras… so I had to content myself with looking at them and dreaming of reproductions that we could ride in.

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My other silly accessory was a candy cigarette. It does rather add to the 20s look, but of course I don’t smoke, so there was rather a lot of me flipping it around in my hand trying to figure out how to hold it and not look ridiculous. I didn’t ever try eating it, so I can’t report how it tasted, but I was pleased that it lasted almost until the end of the night when I dropped it for the second time and it broke in half. Until then it was going strong and gave me something to do with my hands in pictures, which is always a good thing.

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Mostly I stood around and talked to friends, hatched dreamy plans for how to sit in the cars, and took pictures, but we did go out on the dance floor a few times for some Charleston. Too bad nobody got pictures of that!

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This was the third year of the event, I believe, but only the first year I had been free to attend. It was fun, and nice to attend an event that I wasn’t helping to run.

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1890s Skating Ensemble Photo Shoot

When I first wore my 1895 skating ensemble last January, I ran out of time and braid after trimming the back and sleeves. Sometime last year I ordered more of the braid from Debs Lace and Trims* and in November or December I ordered black wood toggles from eBay (super cheap, 50 for $2–I’ll have toggles for life!).

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Showing off the finished trim on the back and sleeves from the first wearing.

I’ve only found this one picture of the front of the inspiration skating jacket. It’s not as close-up as I would like, but it was enough to base a plan on for my own jacket. Using that and other images on my sewing project Pinterest board, I planned out the yardage for each new row of trim. After lots of pinning, stringing toggles, and careful sewing I had used up every single inch of the new batch of braid for a total of 10 yards of braid trim on the jacket. But the result is excellent! I’m just as chuffed with the additional trim as I was with the ensemble when I first made it.

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It didn’t snow much here this year (such a change from last year!), but we did have a day of sticky snow right after I finished the trim that was lovely to look at. I convinced Mr. Q to take pictures of me around our neighborhood the next morning while the temperature warmed up and everything began to melt. Luckily we made it out early enough in the day that there was still snow!

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Passersby were staring, a lady on a balcony started a conversation with me about my outfit, and Mr. Q was, well, out of his comfort zone. I guess I’m just used to the situation. He was not–and I was amused.

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However, despite my penchant for making really odd faces and talking when someone is trying to get a good shot of me, Mr. Q did manage to get a number of very nice pictures of the totally finished ensemble.

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As you can see, I’ve edited out the odd faces and so far only included some of the more elegant and put together ones I managed to pull off.

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Here are some silly ones. I’m not sure what’s happening this one–it looks like I’m blowing a kiss or making a wish. I might have been talking. It’s cute though!

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This was a successful pose! Sometimes I just look totally silly when I pose, but I guess curious-what’s-around-this-tree face is not so bad.

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And finally, one in which I wonder again what I’m doing… I think I was going to reach up for the tree branch, but then Mr. Q pointed out that it looked weird… It’s a fun silhouette shot, anyway.

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*If you haven’t been before, check out Debs Lace and Trims. You can’t beat her prices and most laces and trims I’ve ordered from her have been excellent, with the exception of a few stiff laces when I was hoping for soft lace. But even then, the prices are so low that I put the lace in my stash and use it for other projects without being worried I wasted my money on a product I wasn’t happy with.

Project Journal: 1880s Steam Molded Corset: Finished Corset Photo Shoot

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I’m excited that the 1880s corset I made last summer is finally, actually, finished! I got around to adding the finishing touches, lace and ribbon around the top, over the fall. Now there is nothing left to sew, and, after two wearings I can say with confidence that there are no little alterations I want to do! Yay!

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The first wearing was in August last year, with my 1885 frills and furbelows dress. The second wearing was in January this year, under my new 1899 evening gown. Both times I found the corset to be extremely comfortable to wear. And in January, I was able to get pictures of the completely finished corset! So, without further explanation, here is the corset in its finished form. (If you didn’t get to read all the intricate details of the patterning, construction, and steaming process, you can see all past posts here, in the project journal.)

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The super frilly petticoat was a great prop for these photos! (I’m much better at looking natural rather than awkward when I have props!). It’s from 1903 and was finished in 2011. I’ve worn it many times but have never taken photos of it on me. It’s entirely silk, with two layers of flounces, both made of multiple gathered circles and edged with wide lace in a scallop pattern. It closes with a silk ribbon that threads through the waistband in manner described in Authentic Victorian Dressmaking Techniques. It’s decadent to wear–it makes rustling sounds, has great body, and when you take it off it stands up on it’s own! I can’t remember how many yards of fabric went into this petticoat, but I know it was a lot, with all the circles in the flounces!

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In these examples, you can see the petticoat being worn with clothes on top: I’m wearing it to wade at the beach in 2012 and to give volume to a summer ensemble in 2012, but I’m also wearing it under probably every outfit you can find on the blog from the 1890s or 1900s, even if you can’t see it. (If you’re curious, here’s what it looked like in a half finished state.)

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Awesome petticoat aside, this corset is pretty decadent to wear, also. Silk, tons of curvy seams and bones, perfectly fitted, lovingly, painstakingly, and beautifully sewn… what’s not to like!

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Thanks to the usual camera toting culprit for doing a corset photo shoot with me in the midst of getting dressed for a ball! You know who you are.

(As a side note, it’s a challenge to take historical clothing underwear pictures that look reasonably like historical photos and images but don’t go into the modern lingerie photo direction. See the inspiration here and here? I tried this as well as the standing pose in the second link, but awkward really describes the outcome. But I think we did pretty well in the end. It’s amusing to feel these photos are revealing when I’m quite dressed by modern standards… Do you feel the same way about taking pictures in your historical underwear?)

HSF #1: Elusive Blue In 1899

I made my (first) and last 1890s ball gown in 2012. It is from 1893, with super poof sleeves, and is lovely, but after wearing it to more events than I’ve kept track of without serious thought (which means somewhere over 5 and probably under 10), I was growing tired of it and wanted something new. (Of course, now I’m curious when I wore it. Let’s see: last January’s 1890s ball in 2015, the Nahant Vintage Dance Weekend Grand Ball in 2014, a December Victorian ball in 2013 where I solved the problem of it sliding off my shoulders when I wore it for the first time during Newport Vintage Dance Week in 2012, plus various performances.)

I already had inspiration pinned to a board, I had fabric in the stash (the fabric is more of the same elusive blue I used to make my 1811 evening gown in 2014–it time travels!), and I had an opportunity to wear an 1890s gown this past month! With a vague plan in mind, I started the skirts* sometime in the fall with the sincere hope of getting a fair bit done on them, but only got as far as cutting them out, after which they languished in the closet while I worked on other projects. Languishing is a variation on procrastination, which is the HSF challenge for this January. And so, with the languishing having finished its course, here is the finished new gown.

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Just the facts:

Fabric: 5 yards or so of (likely polyester) elusive blue chiffon, 3 yards or so of elusive blue polyester for skirt lining, 3/4 yard or so robin’s egg blue cotton, 1 yard or so of pink glazed cotton, 1/8 yard or so of taupe silk shantung, some small bits of ivory polyester tulle and ivory silk gauze.

Pattern: Created by me, with reference to Janet Arnold dresses from the 1890s.

Year: 1899.

Notions: Wide grosgrain ribbon, bone casing, 1/4″ plastic wire tires, narrow grosgrain ribbon, black velvet and organza millinery flowers, hooks and eyes, and thread.

How historically accurate is it?: Definitely recognizable in its own time. The silhouette is spot on. The colors are inspired by extant clothing. The construction is mostly accurate. The materials are a mix of accurate and inaccurate. I’ll give it 80%.

Hours to complete:  Many. I worked on this over a few months.

First worn: January 9, 2016.

Total cost: About $15-$20.

(The low cost is due to the fact that the chiffon and lining fabrics were purchased for the amazing price of $1/yard and that many of the notions and small bits were in my fabric stash.)

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For the bodice, I started with the pattern for my 1893 gown (which was adapted from Janet Arnold originally). The back needed very slight alteration, but the front had quite a few changes, due to being worn over my new 1880s corset  and because I wanted different dart placements, neckline, a front/side hidden closure, etc. I did multiple mock-up fittings (no pictures, sorry) before feeling ready to cut real fabric.

Here is the bodice in the middle stages on construction. You’d never guess from the exterior, but the bodice is flat lined with pink! This is not a standard lining color, but I had it on hand, it is the right weight (with a glazed finish, which is standard), and it amused me. By this point, I’d finished my edges, adding boning, nicely finished my interior seam allowances, and covered the back with elusive blue lining and chiffon cut on the bias.

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Next was creating the front bodice main piece, which is also on the bias. I draped it and then bagged the lining/chiffon with the robin’s egg cotton to create nice finished edges. The flapping bit on the left of the picture was turned under and hand sewn later in the process.

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Draping the silk was next. There are actually a number of small pieces carefully pleated before being hand sewn in place.

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My original main inspiration was this gown at the Met (and the alternate skirt follows this idea quite closely), but when I looked at my material options, I really loved this variation, also from the Met. Other dresses with a similar cut were also influential, including this, this, and this. Here’s a similar example that clearly shows the shadow of a side closure.

In the next picture, both the left and right sides have been covered in silk. Each side of the bust layers and attaches separately. I also started playing with flower placement at this point. I was inspired to add black accents to the otherwise subdued colors by this dress. I really like how the black pops!

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Here’s the back around the same stage.

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At this stage, I’ve added gauze and tulle to the front and am playing with the chiffon edging. The flowers are tucked into place to see the effect. I’ve also sewn down the proper right (left in the picture) side. The proper left (right in the picture) side is pinned and tucked, waiting for a final fitting before finishing and adding closures.

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The back also received a treatment of gauze and tulle in addition to a chiffon edging. You can see that the flowers came in stems of three (these are another part of one of two huge hauls of millinery flowers for super cheap that I’ve had in the last few years, yay!).

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Sewing down all the pleats just so, in order to look natural and not constrained, took rather a long time, as did nicely tucking all the silk around the armhole. But it was worth it!

Here is the inside of the bodice, finished. I decided to bind the seam allowances in the same robin’s egg blue cotton that I used for bias binding for the edges and armholes. A hong kong finish is not accurate, but I didn’t feel like hand whip stitching all the seam allowances (although, in the end, it probably would have taken just as much time, or less), plus, I enjoy the effect. There are also closures (yay!) and a waist tape.

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And here’s what the bodice looks like with center fronts together. The bit with the tulle actually hooks over the other side (but pictured this way, you can see the closures). After that, the front panel hooks across the front and is securely hooked at the side seam, effectively covering my pink lining.

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The untrained skirt is flat in front and gathered at the back. It is cut in an umbrella shape (like my 1895 skating ensemble skirt), so that the only seams needed are center back, and a diagonal seam across the back to add width to the panel. The waistband and placket are standard 19th century style, with the exception of the fact that the ribbon I used to stabilize the thin fabrics is leftover gift wrapping ribbon from wedding gifts we received from Crate and Barrel. Yay! It’s hidden on the inside and folded in half, but it amuses me, because recycling is great and it’s nice to have a bit of Mr. Q-related-something in a dress.

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A nice package of placket and waistband pieces. I made one for each skirt.

The most annoying thing about fitting this gown was marking the hem on the skirt. (Fitting the bodice on myself with all the layered closures was also a feat, but more uncomfortable twisting than annoying.) Chiffon is annoying to hem most of the time and it only gets more complicated when you’re marking the hem on yourself. It meant looking in the mirror, bending over to place a marking pin while everything shifted, standing up to check things, and then repeating that over and over again to shift pins by tiny amounts until they all looked good (while wearing a corset and fluffy petticoat of course, so the whole thing would hang properly on my body). Once that was all over, I hemmed each layer with self fabric bias that is turned to the inside and invisibly hand stitched in place.

I was quite successful, but it took a whole afternoon to mark and cut and sew the hem of the chiffon and of the lining (because of course the lining couldn’t stick out or be too short!). The whole thing would have been much speedier if I’d had someone else to mark the hem for me. (I thought of using my hem puffer, but the floor is too close for the puffer to reach and I didn’t have anything to stand on.)

Anyway, the end effect was fabulous. The chiffon and lining swooshed so beautifully that it was necessary to get “swooshy skirt” pictures at the ball just to highlight their movement.

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The ball also gave me an opportunity to have fabulous hair and a new hair ornament instead of a tiara as well as an opportunity to photograph my new 1880s corset completely finished and the fabulous petticoat I have for 1890s/1900s styles. It gets worn often, but hardly ever seen (which I suppose is rather the point of a petticoat, but when you have one as lovely as this, it really should be seen!). There will be future posts for the hair and undergarments, as this post is getting pretty long.

Overall, 1890s ball was lovely, with beautiful dresses and beautiful dancers. There were fun new people as well as quiet moments to sit and have engaging exchanges with friends.

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And the new gown was very comfortable and fun to wear. I’m looking forward to completing the trained skirt (hopefully without too much procrastination) and wearing it this summer!

*My plan is to have two skirts for this gown, one without a train, for dancing, and one with a train, because trains are fun! I only finished the non-trained skirt for the ball, though the trained skirt is assembled and mostly finished with the exception of a closure and hems.

Vernet Project: Toque de Velours

Today, I’m going to share more information about the unusual hat in my Vernet fashion plate.

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The caption reads “Toque de Velours.” I already had a rough translation in my head, basically “Hat of Velvet,” but thought I should double check the definitions before deciding on materials.

Toque:

1:  a woman’s small hat without a brim made in any of various soft close-fitting shapes

2:  tuque (a warm knitted usually pointed stocking cap)

3: a tall brimless hat worn by a chef —called also toque blanche

Velours:

1:  any of various fabrics with a pile or napped surface resembling velvet used in heavy weights for upholstery and curtains and in lighter weights for clothing; also  :  the article of clothing itself

2:  a fur felt (as of rabbit or nutria) finished with a long velvety nap and used especially for hats

Well, the hat does rather resemble a chef hat, doesn’t it? My rough translation was confirmed! Luckily, I had black silk velvet in my stash, which perfectly suited the project.

The hat base is buckram in the simple shape of an oval to fit my head with a flat tip on top. I don’t have pictures, but imagine the shape of a straight sided Lincoln-like top hat without the brim and you’ll have the right idea. The buckram is mulled with cotton flannel and wired around the head opening, tip, and partway up the side. The buckram support is about 8″ tall.

In addition, there is padding to support the poof on top. I chose to use polyester batting–it’s not at all accurate, but I had it on hand and it isn’t seen. There are concentric ovals on top that diminish in size with each layer as well as a few layers around the top of the buckram on the side to provide support for the tucks/pleats.

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The “stacked” pleat is on the right.

The poof is a large circle that is flat lined with a piece of muslin to help provide the support for the pleats. The pleats are about 1″ wide knife pleats that are then folded back on themselves to create a double pleat (this website calls this type of pleat a stacked pleat and is the source for the image). To determine the type of pleat, I played around with my fabric until I found a method that created an effect like the fashion plate, which is like fans or slices (you can see it in this post). Then I eyeballed how many to do, pinning and re-pinning until the pleats were evenly spaced and the poof fit into the side of my hat (no math here, I avoid it as much as possible most of the time).

The definition on the sides (at the head opening and about 1.5″ up from the head opening) was created by inserting “cording” under the velvet. My “cording” is actually modern acrylic yarn in sunshine yellow (like the batting, I made this choice because I had the materials on hand, it worked, and it will not be seen–but it is not accurate). I believe there are two or three lengths of yarn in each single section of “cording” to get the right thickness to show under the velvet.

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We took this photo specifically to capture the detail of the hat construction (usually the black all washes together, eliminating evidence of all the detail).

The rest is just sewing! The hat is entirely hand sewn, with the layers of velvet either tacked to the mulling or stitched through to the interior of the buckram base. Once I had finished the exterior sewing, I whipped up a lining of black silk  to tidy up the inside.

The last step was to trim the hat with the immense ostrich feathers depicted in the fashion plate. I ordered my feathers from Lamplight Feather, which I highly recommend (quick shipping, good quality, and great selection). The hat has 6 total feathers, each 17″-21″in length. Each plume is two feathers sewn together along the central stem before being shaped and sewn to the hat. The trickiest part was shaping the feathers to achieve the shape in the plate. Each plume is shaped so that it does an 180 degree turn (the plumes are attached to the hat standing up, but then are turned downward) in addition to the side sweep shape. As you can see, the wind occasionally blew lots of feather fluff into my face during the photo shoot, but it was totally worth it, to wear such lovely feathers.

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Feathers!

I constructed the hat such that it would sit almost horizontal across my head. It’s pretty light in terms of weight and is not uncomfortable to wear, being sized perfectly to fit my head. It also comes down far enough to be quite stable: even with the breeze and moving my head around there was no fear of it falling off.

As fun and silly as it is, I don’t really see a use for it in regular Regency wear. I will likely remove the feathers to use for another project someday (also partly because it would be hard to store the hat nicely with the feathers still attached). I’ve toyed with the idea of removing the poof (and maybe making a tam or turban or something out of it, or just sticking it back in my stash with the rest of the velvet) and using the buckram base with the velvet sides to make a shako style Regency hat. I have no immediate plans to put these ideas into action, except for removing the feathers, which I really should do soon, so I can put the hat away!