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!

My Interview With Maureen Taylor, The Photo Detective

As you probably know if you read my blog on a regular basis, I love making and wearing historical clothing. It’s rather common for me to pull historical clothing out of my closet and wear it to lovely places.

Below, I’m wearing my 1885 summer ensemble at the Lippitt House in Providence, RI. Look at that wallpaper! It’s fantastic! If you’re ever in Providence and the house is open I highly suggest a visit. The details are absolutely stunning and I found the guides to be engaging, knowledgeable, and truly invested in the information they were sharing.

While at the Lippitt House, I met a woman who was incredibly interested in my clothing, how it feels to wear, how I make it, and where my inspiration comes from. She eagerly asked lots of questions and shared about her own fascination with history as well.

I learned that Maureen Taylor is a genealogist and historian who now focuses on photo identification, photograph preservation, and family history through her work as the Photo Detective. In addition to being an engaging person who loves history, she has extensive experience and has had opportunities to share her knowledge in prominent publications. When she asked if I would like to be a guest on her podcast I very readily agreed.

A number of months later and here we are: my interview with Maureen is available for a listen on her podcast! We discuss the 1885 ensemble I was wearing when we met, the 1863 dress I made last fall, and other historical clothing topics as well. Check it out and enjoy!

You can find Maureen Taylor around the internet in these places:

Web Maureen Taylor
Facebook @MaureenPhotoDetective
Instagram @photodetective
Twitter @PhotoDetective

c. 1855 Wool Cape

Finally, I actually have photos of a garment I made back in 2011!

The story starts with my desire to be warm for caroling at the Christmas ball, so I went looking through my books and came across the image below in ‘Victorian Fashions: A Pictorial Archive’ by Carol Belanger Grafton. It looked warm and I liked the fringe, so off I went on my sewing adventure!

Since then, I’ve managed to wear my cape a number of times, often for Christmas caroling. Even though its date is c. 1855, I’ve found that the loose shape is perfect for wearing over the large sleeves of my 1830s dress as well. Here’s proof, from 2017:

 

That’s really the only photo I have that looks nice and shows the cape. Other photos that show the cape are washed out or blurry.

Last year I decided it was time to get pictures. I settled on a day I’d already be wearing 1850s (Annabelle is my dress and I’m also wearing a matching chenille headdress). It was important that there would be daylight (that’s the other problem with some of the photos I have, they’re taken during dark winter evenings–that’s usually when I’ve been caroling). Then I brought the cape (despite not actually needing to be outside for the event) and coerced the usual camera toting suspect into taking photos.

I made the pattern by looking at the inspiration image and drawing the shapes I thought would make it up, although I did take a bit of liberty in terms of closure and arm openings. I also referenced shapes and proportions in ‘The Cut of Women’s Clothes’ by Norah Waugh and ‘Patterns of Fashion 2’ by Janet Arnold.

I wanted simplicity for the closure, so my cape has a single heavyweight hook and loop at the neck. For the arm openings, the fronts are simply separate from the curve that wraps around to the back of the cape.

For warmth, I decided on a wool exterior (also good for shedding moisture). To add even more warmth, I also added a layer of high loft polyester batting to the entire cape. That may not be the most accurate choice (at least in terms of fiber content), but it is quite practical. I thought of quilting the lining to the batting but decided it would be too time consuming. I’m sure the batting extends to the edges and is stitched down, but honestly I don’t remember exactly how that was accomplished.

I loved the fringe in the image and wanted fringe on my cape, too. But not just any fringe. Wool fringe. That was a hunt! I eventually found it at an upholstery company called The Fringe Factory.

To keep the lining soft against my skin,  I decided to line the entire cape with natural cotton flannel  to match the fringe as well as including a stand up ruffle of the flannel at the neck.

As you can see, the cape is quite long. That’s quite a bit of wool, batting, and flannel! I achieved my goal of warmth, but this cape weighs quite a bit!

Looking back at my notes, this cape was more expensive than I remembered (though that’s not actually surprising, given the yardage I needed and my desire for 100% wool). I didn’t record the yardages, but I did record the costs. I spent $58.67 on the flannel at JoAnn, $81.00 on the wool at Dorr Mill (I love their wools! They are gorgeous!), and $96.36 on the fringe at The Fringe Factory. The total is $236.03. That’s way more than I often spend on a single historical garment! I had better keep wearing this to get the cost-per-wear down!

Despite the cost, I’ve been very pleased with my cape over the last 9 years and I’m extra pleased to finally have well lit, full length photos so this garment can make an official appearance on the blog!

Summary of 2019: Looking Forward To 2020

2020 seemed unattainably far away for a long time, but here we are. As with many others in blog-land, I’m ready to look back on 2019’s achievements and set some goals for the coming year. So, without further ado…

Projects I completed in 2019

January: Sunshine Yellow 1933
&
February: 1930s Hat

February: 1890s Shortcut Dickie

February: 1896 Cycling Ensemble

April: Ikat Print Henrietta Maria

May: Autumn Plaid Dress

June: HSM #6, Mid-19th Century Underclothes

October: HSM #10, 1863 Ball Gown ‘Genevieve’

November: HSM #11, 1920 Deauville Sweater (The Sweater Of Determination)

December: HSM #12, Faux Hair Braid

General Blog News

I updated the blog design pretty substantially in June. And the blog passed 300 followers in 2019! Thank you all for sharing my adventures!

I participated in the Historical Sew Monthly for the seventh year, completing 4 out of 12 challenges. (That’s the same as last year.) I love to participate, but often my sewing doesn’t fit into the challenges which is why I only completed ⅓ of the challenges this year and last.

Additional Opportunities 

I was invited to give 3 historical dressing lectures during the course of 2019.  Each one was an excellent occasion to share my passion for bringing history to life with others! Two of the lectures were about women’s sportswear around the turn of the 20th century (one of these was filmed, and can be seen here, on YouTube) and the third was about African American middle and upper class clothing in Providence, RI around the turn of the 20th century (you can see photos of and information about this event here). The sportswear lectures led to interviews on NPR’s WBUR in Boston (you can listen to it here) as well as Providence’s NBC channel (you can view it here, my segment runs from :55-6:54).

Event Recap

In 2019, I attended 8 balls, 5 other events (teas, picnics, outings etc.), 1 vintage dance performance, and delivered 3 lectures (and 2 interviews). That’s fewer events than last year, but an increase in ‘work’ engagements, so the total stayed consistent. This year was full of many other life adventures as well, which kept me quite busy!

To Do Lists

I intentionally kept last year’s to do list short. And I’m pleased to say that I was done with most of it by May! The only outstanding thing is the 1925 coat… that’s been sitting in my sewing room since last January…

On the ‘maybe’ list from last year, I completed the new 1860s dress (boy did I–it took a long time! 57 hours, if you’re counting…) and made serious progress on the 1884 plaid wool day dress. I’ve also made steady progress on the 1790s stays. I didn’t actually make many modern garments… though I acquired more fabric for them. I guess that should stay on the to-do list!

Next year’s ‘definitely’ to do list:

  • That 1925 coat that has been half finished for over a year
  • Finishing the 1884 plaid wool day dress I started in November 2017
  • 1875 petticoat, balyeuse, bodice, and skirt

Next year’s ‘maybe’ to do list:

  • 1875 hat to go with new ensemble
  • 1880s wool mantle
  • 1880s hat to go with plaid wool day dress
  • 1830s cotton day dress
  • The 1790s stays I started in the winter of 2018
  • 1790s petticoat
  • 1790s dress
  • Modern dresses, pants, and skirts (I really should stop acquiring fabric for more until I start actually making these!)

Wishing wonderful adventures to all of us in 2020!

 

(Very Belated) Fezziwig’s Ball 2018

So, um, I’m about to attend this year’s Christmas ball… but I didn’t ever get around to posting about last year’s ball! So very belated-y, but in the spirit of getting ready for the holidays, here is a quick look at last year’s Fezziwig’s Ball, hosted by The Commonwealth Vintage Dancers.

Bedecked with garlands, the hall was ready for guests…

…while jingle bells waited for the arrival of eager carolers.

During this quiet lull, I was getting ready with other hosts.

Fully dressed, I was ready to show off my hair. Braids, curls, puffs… it wasn’t huge in terms of size but it had a lot of parts despite that.

I counted the number of bobby pins it took to create this style at the end of the night when I took my hair down (and even kept the information in an easy to find spot for the last 12 months…).

The final count: 63 bobby pins.

The usual crew, fully outfitted for the early 19th century.

For the last few years I’ve worn my 1832 red velvet dress, so last year I changed it up and wore my 1824 green dress. I added a bit of holiday spirit with my red and gold tiara and other red and gold accessories.

This last one isn’t the best photo in some ways, but it captures the movement of my dress and the overall silhouette quite well!

This year it’s back to the 1830s with my red velvet dress. I’m looking forward to it after two years away! Maybe I’ll even post about before next December…!