Monthly Archives: September 2013

An 18th Century Outfit on a Budget, part one

or, How to be Broke in 2013 and Look Broke c. 1760

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Note my awesome 18th century Howard Johnson accommodations.

About a year ago, after reading about the secondhand clothing trade in the 18th century, I decided to make an outfit from recycled clothes.

That, and I’m a broke ex-college student, and it was easier to do this than buy yard goods.

I decided on portraying the 1760s-70s, but I dated my clothing between 1730-50, with remakes around 1760-70. I did this because I have read about so many clothes being remade and reworked decades after their original creation, and I extrapolated that secondhand clothing may have had a high percentage of older stuff that was then reworked. I mean, look at thrift shops – it’s all 1980s-1990s stuff, here in 2013. That’s already 2-3 decades, and we don’t usually rework the stuff like people did in the 18th century!

I’m still not sure how prevalent the secondhand clothing trade was in America. Apparently it was huge in England, but I haven’t found much information about it on my side of the puddle. At the least, I can assume that clothes were handed down through families.

I also decided that, just as thrift shop or hand-me-down clothing often doesn’t match or coordinate, that my outfit would not coordinate at all. So I have linen, silk, cotton and wool; floral, cross-barred and striped clothes, and over 11 different colors. Yay. The pieces are also tailored a little ‘off’, so they don’t fit me perfectly – as if they were originally designed for somebody else.

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The 1760 cell-phone selfie.


It’s made out of light brown wool that I salvaged from a moth-eaten wool skirt I found in a thrift shop. The lining is  three different types of linen – all different weights and colors (all natural or white, though). It’s all hand sewn with linen thread. The whole thing is pieced and tight in the shoulders because I had to really ration the fabric. The green robing and cuffs cover where I ran out of brown wool.

For the most part, I took the color scheme from early English gowns, and the front design from some later English clothes. My story is that the front was updated. It also explains the short skirts, which are actually short because I didn’t have that much wool.

I did have to stick with England on the jacket, and not America, simply because I found more information from England.

The front is made of three strips of wool, sewn on one end and closing with hooks and eyes on the other. I don’t know how accurate this is, but the end result looks like the caraco I based it on. I went with three straps because it distributed the strain a little more evenly. In the above pictures, the top strap needs to be angled a little more.

I copied the rust-and-green color scheme from a handful of 1720s-40s jackets and gowns.


One of my color scheme inspiration pieces.
William Hogarth, The Fountaine Family, detail. 1730. Image courtesy of

A later example of the same color scheme, this time from America. Anne Catherine Green, 1769, by Charles Wilson Peale. The National portrait Gallery.

A later example of the same color scheme, this time from America. Anne Catherine Green, 1769, by Charles Wilson Peale. The National Portrait Gallery.

petticoat and jacket VA

The outfit I based my jacket front construction on.
Petticoat and caraco in cotton chintz, England 1770-80. The Victoria & Albert Museum.

1760s ensemble, England. The Kyoto Costume Intstitute

A stomacher similar to the caraco above.
1760s ensemble, England. The Kyoto Costume Institute


This is an apron my mom made probably 20 years ago. It’s been remade once, darned & patched. As a sutler I dust & polish our products at events with this apron, so it gets pretty dirty.


I go back and forth on how accurate this cross-barred skirt is. It’s a very thick cotton. It’s old, probably 20+ years. I remade the waist and I re-hemmed it,  but I’m thinking of replacing it with a wool skirt.


You can’t see them in the above pictures, but I’m wearing corded jumps. I made them based on Beth Gilgun’s pattern in Tidings from the 18th Century. She dated it to c. 1740-ish, as I recall. They’re made from two layers of canvas with jute cording in the channels instead of boning.

The inspiration for these came from a newspaper advertisement from mid-century America. The owner of a shop was selling corded stays for women. Almost ten years ago, when I made these, I hadn’t learned about good research practices yet, and I forgot to note where I had found this pertinent bit of information. I don’t know where it came from anymore.

They were very supportive when new, but that was almost ten years ago now. Now they bulge and fold in awkward places and make weird horizontal creases. I’d love to replace them with leather jumps someday (there’s a pair in Colonial Williamsburg‘s DeWitt Wallace Collection).


I made these mules from a few layers of leather, a block of wood, and a little wool and linen. They don’t exist anymore because they didn’t come out so great – I decided I could make them better by taking them apart, but never got around to putting them back together.

For the one event I wore them at, however, they worked fine because they were better than nothing: my old shoes had betrayed me and fallen apart after 13 years of wear (how dare they), and my new shoes had not arrived yet.

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If I am ever able to make a better pair, I’ll blog about it. Until then, RIP Ugly Mules.


I wear an old pair of striped stockings with patched heels with this outfit.

My cap is based on a few paintings from mid-18th century America, and the patterns in Fitting and Proper by Sharon Ann Burnston. It came out pretty well – starching and ironing makes a world of difference. I decorated it with a little silk ribbon from Burnley & Trowbridge.

The kerchief was bought from Burnley & Trowbridge. Can’t say much about it other than I really like it.


It’s probably 20+ years old, cotton, full of holes, worn to tissue, and has been remade about twice. I like it because it’s thin and comfy, but the cut and construction are not accurate. I had to retire it recently when a day at the Maryland Renaissance Fair caused it to turn blue (I wore it underneath a freshly dyed gown, and got caught in a monsoon).

So … it’s now New Chemise Time. I began with Sharon Ann Burnston’s online shift how-to (check it out!).

I’m still in the process of finishing the chemise, hence the ‘part one’ of the title of this post.


The total price of this whole thing is less than $50.00, but that’s because I had a lot of the materials already, and I own a lot of hand-me-down costume pieces.

Small bits of wool and linen can be bought for cheap at thrift shops, but linen thread is more difficult to come by and usually costs $7.00 a spool. Hypothetically you could sew interior seams with any type of thread, and just do the topstitching with linen – the point is to hand sew; it makes a huge difference.

Cotton is easier to come by; it’s often cheap enough as yard goods. I’ve even used sheets as long as they’re 100% cotton. Often the weave is not perfect, and very few prints work.

Dyeing fabric can freshen it up, and will give you some more color options. Block printing, if you can get it to work, is an awesome way to make your outfit stand out – I’ve tried this before, to some degree of success.

There have been some great blogs on remaking modern shoes by covering them with 18th-century type cloth (link below brings you to Wear When Why’s post about this process). I’ve got a pair of heels that I’ll be trying this with soon.

A 1790s Redingote for Fall

So pretty!

I’ve always been in love with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art‘s Woman’s Redingote, attributed to Europe, 1790s. It’s just superb. The tailoring is impeccable – I love the high collar and the button tails down the back. The textile is, let’s face it, pretty ugly on it’s own – but made into the redingote, it’s awesome.

Yeah, the link for it is right below. I’m still learning this WordPress stuff; I can’t make it look pretty yet.

redingote LACMA2

About a year and a half ago I bought some lightweight brown wool. It drapes beautifully, and I originally wanted to make a nice, practical 1740s work dress from it. Something with pleated cuffs and a shorter skirt.

But to hell with practicality. I wanted a redingote more.

I didn’t have a pattern; I draped the back and loosely based the front on a caraco in Patterns of Fashion. Years ago, I adapted this pattern to fit me, and since then I’ve been using pretty much the same one, tweaked a little, for every gown and jacket I make. Not the best way to do things, but until I get a dress form and can drape, it’s the status quo.

Looking back, I made some mistakes. I was ‘guesstimating’ most of the construction without ever seeing the original. I cut my collar in one straight piece, which makes it wrinkle awkwardly. If I was going to do it again (which I would love to do) I’d copy a collar from a man’s suit of the time – one with a seam down the back, and the pieces angled.

Also, I only learned after I had finished mine that the original was made with a separate bodice front inside, which laces or buttons (I know this by hearsay, never saw it … 😦 ) which keeps the strain off of the buttons in front. I didn’t make mine with that, but I think I can adapt what I’ve got to accommodate it. I think the under-bodice system would also keep the redingote in place; it tends to pull up in front because of the weight of the skirt at the back. I am also thinking of putting a piece of boning or two down the center back to get that smooth curve.

My redingote

My redingote – please excuse the non-1790s hair.

I copied some details from the original redingote. Others I took from prints of the time: a trained skirt, long sleeves, the straight edge at the bottom front, and the double-breasted front. Because it’s double-breasted, I had some fitting issues around the lapels – they aren’t as wide as the original’s are, and they don’t fold as nicely.

I made the entire redingote from 100% brown wool, and it’s lined with white linen and faced with glazed peach chintz. The buttons are brass. The whole thing is hand sewn with linen thread.

My redingote, back

My redingote, back

It’s been 90% finished for a year or so. The trained skirt is unlined at the moment, so the wool picks up EVERYTHING I walk over … leaves, sticks, you name it … it’s annoying. I think if I line it it will keep it from picking things up, but I’m not sure exactly how to do it. If I line it halfway up, I’ll get an awkward seam line across the width of the skirt. If I decide to line it all the way up, I have to figure out how to attach the lining at the top. I may just cut the trained part off and level it like the original. That being said, the train is so much fun to wear!

Hat, 1790s

An original hat, 1790s – the sort of thing I wanted to wear with my redingote.

Hat Reproduction

Hat repro, half-made … and a poor attempt at frizzing my hair. I later added white and peach ribbons to the front of the hat.

Though it’s not completed, I wore it last year to the Market Fair in Dover, DE. I wore it with my horrible reproduction hat I made from wool and a few quarts of wood glue (I don’t recommend that). Even though the hat sucked, I got something awesome out of it – I had my portrait done with a camera obscura.


Well, as I say in my title, it’s for fall and fall is certainly here. I’m thinking of wearing it again for an upcoming Market Fair. The theme is more colonial at this event, but I don’t have anything warm to wear for a date before 1790. Maybe I will make something – or at least have a nicer hat for the redingote made by then … stay tuned.

Freezing a Hat


I can’t put it more bluntly than that!

I mentioned in a previous post that I had a velour hat from the 1970s that had become a snack for bugs. I’d heard that freezing garments will kill bugs in them, so I figured that this hat was a good candidate – better to practice on less expensive items before I try it on more collectible or older things.

And better to practice in any case, because freezing things just sounds weird.

Step One: Put the garment in two VERY tightly closed bags – they should be airtight. Squeeze out all the air you can before sealing. Label so family members know they can’t eat it for dinner.

Bagged and ready to go

Bagged and ready to go

Step Two: Wait two weeks. (cue Jeopardy music)

Step Three: Take the thing out of the freezer. Allow to return to ambient temperatures by letting it sit a day before opening.

Step Four: Panic because you see water droplets inside the bag, and get worried that it will become moldy in a 24 hour period. Open before it’s warmed up.

Ermigersh wherder ...

So the bags weren’t as airtight as I thought … or, more likely, the air was humid when I bagged the hat.

Step Five: Realize it got crushed and attempt to get the thing back into it’s original shape.

The white specks are dust and dead bugs.

The white specks are dust and dead bugs. Huzzah, it worked.

Step Six: Enjoy the freshly bug-free thing!


Yay! Also note the beautiful and professional hat stand … LOL.

Freezing this hat worked perfectly: I found dead bugs on it after I took it out of the bags. Now that I know this method works, I have more things to freeze, starting with some wool sweaters.

Fashion & Sheet Music, 1910s

I have access to a hoard of old sheet music, and since I don’t play anything anymore, I’m using it for other purposes. I’m finding the covers a nice resource for looking at women’s hair, hats, makeup and clothes. They’re great examples of designs of the times – some of these are so evocative of the year(s) they were printed.

So I’ve listed a bunch of the oldest ones below. I don’t know all their dates. The earliest dated one is 1908, and they go up to about 1920. If I knew the date I added it below – I’ll add the rest at a later point. I’ll also add all the ones from about 1920-1930 in a new post. Those are pretty neat, too.

Okay, I’m not going to write a lot about them, here they are!




Now that’s a HAT.
















I love her dress.








1918 (?)






Two purses from the 1930s and 1940s

Well, I’ve been busy – I’ve recently relocated to New York City. Unfortunately, my clothing collection can’t come with me; it’s still in storage at my previous home. I’ve been bringing individual pieces up to NYC with me every week or so to work on, and this week I took a little blue clutch that needed some TLC. I picked it up recently at an antiques store. I got upset when I saw that the seller had taped two stickers onto it, and all the adhesive had come off onto the silk. Grr!

navy silk clutch

The silk clutch, probably from the late 1930s to 1940s.

It’s pretty faded; originally it was a very dark blue. The design on the front is made with blue cording and four whimsical little flowers with rhinestone centers. With those meandering lines, it kind of reminds me of something by Schiaparelli.

Or maybe it’s James Thurber that I’m thinking of.

Today I cleaned it a little. It was pretty dusty and will need a better cleaning than what I’ve just given it, but it’s a start. I was worried that the interior was full of mold, but it turns out it’s makeup powder, maybe blush.


The clutch was made by Maben Bags, with a little stork logo.

The clutch was made by Maben Bags, which had a little stork logo. I haven’t been able to find much information about this brand, expect that they seem to have begun business around 1935.

I can’t get the adhesive off. The fabric is so faded that I’m worried it’s been structurally compromised (yay big words) and since it’s silk I don’t want to wash or rub it. I’m not sure how to go about removing it.

Because my clothing collection is based on a very limited budget, I don’t have acid-free paper to wrap these pieces in. I came to something of a solution today: I took out the sewing machine and whipped up a few basic cotton bags. While they can’t protect the pieces from abrasion, they’ll be better than nothing. So the clutch got its own bag today, and it’ll be returned to my collection soon.

A tiny cotton sleeping bag.

Yes, I know it might be considered overkill to take so much care of a purse that’s so badly worn. But I like to.

I have one other purse in my collection from this general time frame. It’s a black silk clutch with a tiny version of itself inside as a coin purse.


My other 1940s purse, by M Faille.

Anybody else reminded of Alien? Or is it just me?

Anybody else reminded of Alien? Or is it just me?

Yeah, it’s just me.

Meanwhile, I’ve been working on an item from the 1970s: a beautiful red velour hat. I don’t have a ‘before’ picture, partially because I’m ashamed of the state it’s in. I was given this hat years ago, and it had been in perfect condition at the time. I didn’t recognize it as ‘old’, however, and since it didn’t fit me, I packed it away nicely and put it in storage – worst move ever. Bugs got to it, and by the time I found it, it had a few bug holes. I’m pretty upset at myself for that.

The silver lining is that now I have a perfect opportunity to try freezing an item to kill the bugs in it. The hat’s been in the freezer for a week now, double-wrapped in plastic and taped up so it won’t get wet. I’m going to take it out on Saturday or Sunday … we’ll see if freezing has helped!