1875 Reception Dress: Bodice Construction

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

Here is the finished bodice!

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

L’Elegance Parisienne, June 1875, LAPL

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

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

Revue de la Mode, c. 1875

Below are my partially finished sleeves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Dotty Tap Pants

I finished a simple project!

The story behind these is that back in 2015, I made cotton tap pants to wear under my dresses and skirts in the summer. Here is the link to the original post. Wow, I can’t believe it’s been five years!

The original tap pants have been great and seen tons of wear! In fact, the original pairs are pretty much threadbare on the inseams. I’m kind of surprised they’re still holding together, as there’s not much left!

I made another pair with slight pattern tweaks about two years ago, but I felt it was time to add a few more pairs into the rotation. I found great satisfaction in the theme of all three of my older pairs having dots on them (in addition to the dots on the pairs in the original blog post, the third pair was made out of scraps left over from my Bubble Dots Skirt). So when I had this idea to make more tap pants over the winter, I was on the lookout for new dotty fabrics that I could make into shorts to stay with the theme.

I would have made multiple pairs out of the green fabric if I could, but there wasn’t much left on the bolt, so I had to pick a second fabric. The white background fabric has allium flowers printed on it. I love the round shape of allium flowers in full bloom, so this fabric was what I decided on.

After being washed a few months ago, the new fabrics sat around until April, when I was inspired to tweak my pattern (again–this is the third time) and cut out the pieces. About a month after that I finally got inspired to whip these up.

As with the other tap pants I’ve made these are entirely machine sewn with the seam allowances finished with an overlock machine. The waist is zig zagged to a bit of loop edged elastic. And really, that’s all there is to them!

Sometimes a quick project is just the thing to feel successful. And it’s great to fill a wardrobe need with handmade items, especially when they bring extra joy, as these do by continuing the dotty theme.

(Modern) Wardrobe Inventory & Musings

Have you ever inventoried your closet?

I was so intrigued by Alyssa’s post about wardrobe statistics on her blog What Would Nancy Drew Wear? that I recently decided inventory my own modern closet.

I was most curious to see how my wardrobe breaks down in terms of when my garments were obtained, the specific quantities of some types of garments (cardigans, for example–I have a lot of them), how many garments are me-made, and how my shoes fit into the picture (both modern and historical!).

Aside from counting historical shoes, this is about my modern wardrobe. Historical is a completely separate beast that I have no plans to tackle in this way. Although, now that I say that… it would be interesting to graph what years were most productive and what historical eras I have the most clothes for… I can guess at some of those, at least for the last question. I’m pretty sure that 1810s, 1860s, and 1920s are the eras I have the most clothes for… but I digress!

To illustrate my findings about my modern wardrobe, I’ve made colorful charts and graphs!

Here is the breakdown of total garments in my wardrobe. Of these, 5% are ‘me-made’, 1% are thrifted, and 96% are purchased new.

Did I have any preconceived notions about what my wardrobe contained before taking this inventory?
1-Well, I was pretty sure I have a lot of dresses, cardigans, and shoes (especially crocs).
2-I know there are some shoes I’m holding on to that I really don’t have the desire to wear anymore and should gift away, but I still included those in my total. I could (and should…) move on with those items and lower my shoe count a bit.
3-I also know that most of my wardrobe is purchased new. I try to buy garments that are well made and will last for many years. I’ve been trying to make more modern garments in the last few years, but I didn’t have a clear idea about how much of my wardrobe is made up of those items.

Ready for a few more charts?

Let’s start with this graph of my dresses-by-type.

In the last few years, I’ve started wearing dresses much more often for year-round everyday wear, but I was still surprised to see my accumulation. This is one of the categories of clothing that includes ‘me-made’ at 21%. That leaves 79% of dresses that are purchased new.

Next, a graph of my tops-by-type.

There are a lot of cardigans! I do so enjoy seeing a beautiful rainbow in my closet (and the same with my dresses!). A rainbow to choose from makes getting dressed much more enjoyable and also helps me change up a dress or skirt with different color combos. And I love a comfy, long sweater for long days at work or lounging around, so there are a number of those as well.

The knit sleeveless and knit short sleeve categories contain layering tanks and unisex tee shirts that inflate the numbers but aren’t worn as a top layer on a regular basis, so there’s that to consider.

Here are my bottoms by type.

It makes sense that I have far fewer bottoms than tops, since I tend to express myself in my tops if I’m not wearing a dress and it can be hard to find bottoms that fit my backside to waist ratio (another reason for wearing lots of dresses and skirts!).

Let’s look a little closer at the skirts, since that is the highest quantity in the bottoms category.

In addition to skirting (haha, bad pun!) the issue of bottoms fitting my backside to waist ratio, having a high number of skirts as opposed to other bottoms makes sense, as my skirts are often suited to particular seasons (unlike jeans, for example, as I wear those most of the year except when it’s very hot in the summer). So that means I need winter skirts, summer skirts, and fall/spring skirts. This is the category with the most ‘me-made’ garments, at 31%. Of the remainder, 13% are thrifted and 56% are purchased new.

Now let’s look at my shoe collection.

This includes my modern shoes divided by category and my historical/vintage shoes as one lump. Of these, 3% are ‘me-made’ (my 1914 Vernet shoes and 1920s bathing boots, if you’re curious!), 4% are thrifted, and 93% are purchased new.

Here is another way to look at my shoe types.

I’m amused that my modern and historical/vintage shoe counts are so similar! And, I have more shoes that aren’t worn regularly than I probably should have. That includes really worn out old crocs that just about have holes worn through under the ball of the foot (still useful as painting shoes, but not much else…) and shoes I’ve had for over 10 years that are styles I’m just not inclined to wear anymore but that are quality brands and in good shape, so I feel like I should want to wear them again someday…

This last graph shows how many garments were obtained in each year.

Anything I have from 2003 and earlier is lumped together. I’m pleased to see how many garments I still have in this category. For the most part, these are pretty sad in terms of wear-and-tear as well as fit, but they are still useful for around-the-house and yard work clothes and I appreciate that I am wearing them for as long as I can.

I have one final question to consider.

Was I surprised by any of my findings?
1-I was surprised by how many tops I have, but that’s partly because that includes everything from knit tank tops to layer under other tops to all lengths of sleeves for different seasons, including sweaters and coats. It’s a big category of items, so the large quantity makes sense.
2-I was amused by how evenly my types of shoes split up into the categories of modern, historical, and not-worn-often (there are more of these than I thought!).
3-There is a pretty big spike in clothes obtained since 2015. When I stop to think about this, it makes sense as my size changed around that time and many of the garments I had from the ten years prior no longer fit, so I had to update my wardrobe pretty substantially, for bottoms, dresses, and tops, especially.

Final thoughts

Thanks for sticking through my musings about my wardrobe!

Being thoughtful about my wardrobe brings joy when I can choose from a well organized rainbow for my outfit each day and contentment when I know I’m able to wear garments for a good long time.

While you may not take the time to fully inventory your wardrobe and make charts with the data (a completely reasonable decision!), I wonder if you ever consider these types of ideas?

Do you focus on thrifting, as opposed to buying new garments? Do you have a sense of what types of garments you own the most of or how long you’ve had those garments? Do you keep items that you no longer wear, or are you good about passing them on?

c. 1880 Petticoat (HSM #5)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just the facts:

Fabric/Materials:  3.5 yards plain cotton.

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

Year: c. 1880.

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

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

Hours to complete:  8 ¼ hours.

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

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

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

Dreaming of Summer Adventures (Gatsby On The Isles 2019)

I don’t know about you, but I have most certainly been dreaming of historical and vintage summer adventures lately.

For this post, I don’t even need to dream! Instead, I can review my memories from the fun of Gatsby On The Isles last year. This is a lovely 1920s getaway on Star Island, off the coast of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

The weekend’s events include the boat trips to and from the island, exploring, picnic-ing, games, an evening dance party, fabulous live music for the dance party and picnic, and more. If this post’s photos aren’t enough fun, check out these past posts about this event: 2018 and 2016.

Back to last year, here I am heading to the island in my 1925 Blue Coral Day Dress, 1917 Knitted Sweater of Angorina, and blue Ginger shoes from Royal Vintage (now American Duchess).

Normally, being August, it’s super hot and rather sweaty. Last year, though, we had unusual weather. It was very windy and rather chilly. It wasn’t necessarily cold, it was just slightly warm and windy, which felt chilly when I was prepared (and dressed) for quite hot temperatures.

The wind made rather large swells and rolling rides both to and from the island. Thankfully I didn’t feel motion sick, just in awe of the waves around us, but unfortunately others didn’t fare as well. For me, the wind made it harder than usual to get good photos, both on the boat and on the island. And it made me feel much less interested in lounging about outside–I generally stayed indoors so I didn’t feel cold.

Look at my skirt blowing around in the wind… This was Saturday after our arrival. I think I was headed to the hotel to get my sweater because I was cold standing up on the rocks without it!

I did go out on the porch to document my Sunday afternoon outfit: my 1930s beach pajamas with my Gingers! The windy weather meant that I spent the entire day in my sweater, again (and that it was hard to get a photo of my pants that wasn’t absurd looking!).

We also went out for a walk on Saturday evening before dinner. It’s fun to explore all of the different paths around the island (as long as I put on LOTS of bug spray–the mosquitos LOVE to bite me… ugh!).

The views are lovely as well! No matter which direction you look there is a gorgeous view!

Sunday morning is traditionally pajama croquet. I didn’t participate this year, but that didn’t stop me wearing my 1935 dressing gown to lounge about in!
The usual camera-toting-suspect had fun playing with her Petzval lens for the robe photo, as well as some others. They do a great job capturing the ambiance of the weekend. (Check out this post for a little bit of information about the Petzval lens and a link to a blog post with lots more information.)

I particularly enjoy the live and recorded music that our host provides for the weekend. Having a ‘soundtrack’ for an adventure only makes it that much more magical.

I also enjoyed these potted arrangements outside the hotel. The mixture of textures, colors, and shapes appeals to me, and I love how there are unusual colors mixed in, like the deep purple and very bright green.

What wonderful memories! Of sunshine, warmth, and fun with friends. It was very rainy and unseasonably cold in April, so these warm memories are especially appreciated!

The Amazing Balayeuse (HSM #8)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just the facts:

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

Pattern: My own.

Year: c. 1875.

Notions: 5 light yellow plastic buttons and thread.

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

Hours to complete:  5 ¼ hours.

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

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

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

Fezziwig’s Ball 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A 1925 Oldie But Goodie

Do you ever have an older, well-liked garment that you’ve stopped wearing for some reason or other, but then decided to wear again and were very pleased that: 1) it still fit (though perhaps differently) and 2) brought you more joy to wear than you remembered? It’s a great feeling for both self-made and store bought items!

I had that experience back in January with my 1925 beaded evening gown. With a ‘made’ date in 2013, it’s one of the older 1920s dresses in my closet. It’s not that I didn’t continue to like the dress, it’s just that I’ve been choosing to wear newer dresses to 1920s evening events for the last few years.

My decision to wear it this year was encouraged by the fact that I wanted new photos. My current photos are mostly from this wearing in 2013 and while they’ve done the job for the last 7 years I feel that I’ve upped my photo game in that time.

To start, it was fun to style the dress with different accessories than in the past. The new photos have my silver American Duchess Seaburies (a better match for the colors and evening style of my dress than my American Duchess Astorias in 2013), a thrifted, jeweled bracelet, and sparkly, dramatic clip earrings gifted to me by a friend.

In addition to updated accessories and more confidence with my photo poses (that’s just from practice!), it was wonderful to have the fabulous lobby of the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel as my background for these new photos.

The holiday decorations were still up and they are lovely, but even without them I think we can all agree this is a pretty snazzy lobby. I believe it is still true to its original design from the opening of the hotel in 1912, with 21′ high gilded coffered ceilings, Empire style crystal chandeliers, and Italian marble columns (according to Wikipedia).

In addition to the traditional tree decorations, the lobby also had this unusual and gorgeous flower display with a nod towards traditional holiday colors in a more contemporary way.

Look at the green lilies!

It was a pretty fabulous background for updated photos of this dress. I’m so glad it still fits and continues to bring joy!

 

How I Stay Warm In Winter (Burgundy Wool ½ Circle Skirt)

It can be cold in New England during the winter and over the years I’ve lived here I’ve realized that I prefer bundling up for the cold more in skirts than pants. Wool skirts, in particular, are great for staying warm, looking put together, and warding off snow all at the same time (I even clear my driveway of snow before work wearing wool skirts and have no problem with wet clothes). However, it can be difficult to find 100% wool skirts in stores. And even if I do find them, new or thrifted, they’re not always styles I want to wear every day. So to solve that problem I’ve made a few wool skirts over the last few years to fix that hole in my wardrobe.

I have 3 wool circle skirts. The first is a brown ¾ circle skirt that I posted about in 2017. A second is a ¾ circle skirt in solid black that has yet to be photographed or blogged about despite having been completed in February 2019. The third is the burgundy ½ circle skirt this post is about!

All of these skirts are variations on circle skirts because I like that they are easy to pattern, simple to sew, flattering to wear, and have a subtle vintage look. (I greatly admire people who dress in obvious vintage every day, but I generally think I’m more of a nod-at-vintage-style person.)

I decided to make this skirt a ½ circle mostly to vary up the silhouette from my other skirts. I love the silhouette of ¾ circles (I wear a lightweight vintage petticoat with them to help maintain the silhouette and swish–I talk about that in the brown ¾ circle skirt post), but it’s nice to have something different and this skirt doesn’t need the petticoat, so that’s nice, too!

I have a vintage pattern making textbook that I use to make my circle skirt patterns: Pattern-making For Fashion Design by Helen Joseph Armstrong.  This book has updated editions and is still available, but I have the edition copyrighted in 1987. The instructions create ¼, ½, ¾ and full circle skirts for any waist measurement and are easy to adjust to any length. I also reference a yardage calculator like this to figure out how much fabric I need when making these skirts.

This burgundy skirt is made from a lovely, soft, light-to-mid-weight plain weave wool. The seams are bound with hug snug, there is a pocket on the right side, and an invisible zipper on the left side.

I thought it would be fun to use the contrasting grey hug snug color for both the binding and the hem finishing, but I found that the hem looked like a mistake when it flipped around while walking. So I covered the grey hug snug with burgundy hug snug. Now it matches and looks more intentional (as in, you just don’t notice the hem when the skirt is worn).

I really wanted to be ice skating for photos of this skirt last winter. As you’ve seen, this was successful… but it was also hysterical.

I removed my coat, was posing for photos, and it was all going fine… until I lost my balance and fell right down on my backside! I actually have a hilarious photo with my legs in the air over my head as I hit the ice (because my photographer understands that capturing these things is better than rushing to help, usually!). With all my layers to stay warm all modesty was preserved, but you’ll just have to imagine the ridiculousness because I’m not convinced that photo needs to be officially preserved for all to see on the internet. I wound up with a bruised backside, but an amusing story and photos I’m happy with!

On the staying warm front, I would like to take a moment to praise some of the other garments I’m wearing, solely because they are awesome and not because I get anything for saying nice things. The cream wool sweater is from Emmy Designs. These sweaters are a bit expensive, but amazing and completely worth the price–I consider them to be investment pieces. They’re durable, warm, wonderfully cute and vintage styled, and the waist length is perfect for wearing with skirts and dresses. I cannot recommend them enough! Plus, Emmy Designs is a small, woman-owned business! From a second small, woman-owned business, the boots I’m wearing in the one photo without ice skates are made by the Royal Vintage Shoes–soon to be rolled into American Duchess, their sister company. The boots are wonderful! Made of real leather, durable, comfortable, and so, so cute… it is impossible not to walk with confidence in these boots. Also, I find the burgundy is a neutral (who knew?) and matches most things in my closet! I added shock absorbing insoles to these boots and that makes a huge difference in the comfort for all day wear.

Those special pieces aside, I thought I would also share the layers I wear to stay warm in a skirt in the cold, just in case I can inspire you to try it, too! It might seem intimidating, but it’s really not.

My layers include: fleece lined tights (I like the Berkshire brand, because the length is nice and long so they don’t sag between the legs), another layer of old fleece lined tights that I’ve cut the tops and bottoms off of so they’re full leg length leg warmers OR polar fleece base layer ski pants, a wool skirt, a long sleeve tee shirt, a wool OR acrylic sweater (wool is ideal but sometimes those non-breathing acrylics are great for staying warm, too!), tall wool socks, and boots of some type (ankle boots, knee high boots, snow boots… I love flats but I’ve realized they really don’t keep my feet warm. Accordingly, I’ve slowly built up my boot collection so I have boots for all occasions and weather types!). Accessories include a down coat, acrylic OR cashmere scarf, cashmere lined leather gloves (or if it’s really cold and I care less about looking put-together, ski gloves), earmuffs, and an acrylic OR wool hat (I like round, beret shapes, like the burgundy wool one in this post or the grey acrylic one in this post).

This would likely be expensive if I went out and bought all of these things at once, but I have a few strategies to save money while still buying high quality items that last for years. First, I buy items such as tights when they are on sale and items such as cashmere at discount stores rather than from full price retailers. Second, I keep these garments until they are full of holes… and then I try to fix or re-use them (for example, I repaired holes in my cashmere scarf and turned old hole-y tights into leg warmers). Some things, like the fleece ski pants, I’ve had for about twenty years. (Thankfully, they still fit!) The point is that you can slowly accumulate warm items, and look for them at discounts, so that building this type of wardrobe can be economical and long-lasting.

And sure, I could wear all the same layers of tights and socks under pants, but it gets a bit tight and uncomfortable. I’d rather wear a skirt and have a great vintage shape while staying warm!

1817 Duchess Gown In Three Stylings

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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