Monthly Archives: July 2014

Jazz Age Costuming!

For the Jazz Age Lawn Party in August! Yay!!

It’s a huge 1920s-themed lawn party on Governor’s Island, NYC! It’s going to be awesome! Before it happens, though, I have costuming to do: possibly up to five dresses and maybe some hats.

I have two 1920s dresses I’ll be drawing construction details & patterns from, and one early 1930s ensemble that I may use as well.

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My 1920s feed sack dress, with two types of lace trim – it’s made from a fairly simple pattern and has a very 1920s look.

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My early 1920s cotton dress. It’s difficult to see the form and drape without a mannequin, but it’s got some great pleating details.

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My early 1930s sailor dress set – a little more form-fitting, and so summery. Again, pretty icky without a mannequin. 

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This hat is from the 1970s and doesn’t bear much resemblance to many 1920s hats – but it does look a lot like the hats worn in the 1970s version of The Great Gatsby. 

So I have some pale green cloth I may use for either a whole dress or just some trim, and I have a handful of assorted old lace I might use too. I’m going to get some cloth for more dresses soon. There are a lot of straw hats out there right now that look very 1920s, so I think I’m covered for hats. I also have a great old paper parasol with a hand-painted, vaguely Asian pattern that may suit well. I’ll see how far I get before mid-August!


When in Rome …

I’ve seen a lot recently about Regency and Empire clothing, and so here’s my addition: this past weekend, I decided that I was going to finally finish my late 1790s-1800 outfit. Here’s what I got done in a three-day weekend:

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Shoes! A dress! And a real live corset! Yay! But no stockings yet.

Shoes:

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I came across these awesomely ridiculous pointy-toe 1980s shoes a few months ago, and have wanted to remake them into 1790s shoes since then. My inspiration were mainly the blue and black shoes second from the the top of American Duchess’s blog post, here, which suited the toe and heel shape as well as giving me a bold design to disguise all the faded marks on the toe.

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In progress. I had to move the mid-foot seam back to the heel a little, since I couldn’t get my needle through the layers at the ball of the foot.

They were so much easier to remake than other shoes because I didn’t have to cover the toe, and because of the the sling-back design. I sewed leather to the heel, then folded it up and sewed it to the slingback. Pretty simple. I painted the toe and heel with nail polish (which looks like patent leather when it’s dried) and tacked a silk ruffle and bow to the front of each, and voila!

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They’re not perfect, but I’m pretty pleased. The paint job is a bit crude. They’re certainly garish enough.

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They really need binding around the top edge and down the seam at the back of the heel, but right now my fingers hurt from trying to sew these things, so binding will come later. Another thing I’d like to do is paint the front of the heel brown, to look a little more like a sole.

Corset:

I started this corset almost two years ago! I didn’t have a pattern for it; I drafted it by wrapping the cotton around me and marking where I thought darts would be nice. Then I ran out of thread, wound up busy with work and school, lost interest and/or forgot about it.

So, this weekend, I picked it up again and finished it in a few hours. Booyah. It’s not super accurate, but it’s 100% hand sewn and gives the correct shape though it doesn’t have a busk yet. It’s corded a little, and it’s got four pieces of boning – that’s it. It’s a bit too long to sit comfortably in. I think I can take the front up a little, but I’m just so pleased that it’s finally wearable that I don’t want to sew it anymore.

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I had an awful, awful experience when I was sewing this corset. I was holding a mug of hot coffee when I sat on the couch, and accidentally sat on the corset, and accidentally sat on a HUGE steel pin I had holding the busk channel together. It was traumatizing, and I know I’ve watched that scene in an old cartoon somewhere. I wound up with coffee scalds on my legs and a welt that made sitting a little uncomfortable for a day. I will never sit on a couch without checking first again …

Dress:

My goal was to make an unlined, very light dress. I’ve seen a few Regency and Empire gowns, and am always struck at how deconstructed they are compared to 1770s and 80s clothing. So I avoided my 1812 dress pattern with puffy lined sleeves, and started from scratch: no pattern, no lining, and 100% hand sewing. I draped it on myself, which went better than I expected.

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The air conditioning dial and me.

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It needs a little more Grecian Bend for the late 1790s. I’m getting there.

My design inspiration was mainly this dress, with the sleeves de-poofed a little because I wanted to go for a slightly earlier look. I’ve seen a lot of neoclassical gowns that close with two tiny ties or drawstrings in the back, but that doesn’t work well if you line the bodice and have bulky machine seams. I had to line the back of my bodice to help hold the weight of the skirt. Then the back didn’t quite close. Nothing uglier than corset laces sticking out of the bodice.

I came up with a kind-of solution that I’ve seen on one original: an inner flap to cover the crack where the bodice sides didn’t meet. Since this new solution doesn’t completely work (every time I move my arms it pops open again) I’ll add a third tie in the center and that should fix things. I hope.

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Ew! Still ugly!

Reticule:

Still in progress, but so far I’m super happy with the effect of the hand-sewn linen embroidery on linen. I’m going to make it a flat-bottomed bag shape, gathered with a drawstring at the top, and lined in cream silk.

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Beginnings.

And now, since I can’t seem to find a living history group in the NYC metro area, the first time I may get to wear these will be in January or February. Boo.

But, on a better note, I have two awesome costumey events coming up in the summer & fall, so I’ll be sewing for those soon. Yay!

 


An Edwardian bib-front … skirt?

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I got this piece over the past weekend, and I’m not 100% sure about it.

I’m 80% sure it’s from between 1900-1910. There are no tags or marks of a tag, which would be helpful in dating it. I can tell it was sewn with a treadle sewing machine. It’s made with the correct techniques and materials, but it’s sooooo new-looking. Like, made-yesterday new. Was it?

I’m most puzzled about the bib front. It’s made without hooks or any remnants of straps or suspenders for the bib, and though there are no pin-strain marks I’m guessing it was pinned (I looped a piece of black thread over the shoulders of my dress form so I wouldn’t have to pin into my 1890s silk shirtwaist). The bib is cut as one with the front of the skirt and the lace insets, so it’s not added on in any way.

Has anybody ever seen a petticoat/skirt like this before?

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Packing the Collection

One of the things that kept me from collecting antique clothing early on was that I didn’t know how to store it. I remember passing up an 1870s bustle dress for $25 because of this reason.

Yes. I am kicking myself for that one.

I’ve been doing some research since then. It’s still daunting to store old clothing, but there are ways to do it. Here’s my basic battle plan.

1) Plastic Boxes

Check out any museum storage company like Talas or Gaylords, and you’ll see corrugated plastic storage boxes. They fold together, have loose-fitting lids, and seem very simple for the high price tag – especially since you can use ordinary plastic tubs. It’s not as simple as going to WalMart and buying any tub, however.

If a plastic is marked #2, #4, or #5, it’s “safe” meaning it doesn’t degrade under UV rays or leech too much icky stuff. Museum storage boxes are usually made from either #5 (which is polypropylene) or a mixture of polypropylene and polyethylene.

Clear (not tinted) Sterilite tubs are made from polypropylene (#5) and are acid-free, which makes them a good choice. The Container Store carries a line of clear polypropylene tubs as well, which are just as good. Rubbermaid tubs are a different story. The Rubbermaid website doesn’t quite say what theirs are made of.

Avoid Dresser Drawer Syndrome; use shallow tubs for storing flat clothing. It’s easier to find things, keeps less weight on the pieces on the bottom and creates fewer creases.

Clothing needs some air circulation. I have no real solution for this, but I sometimes leave tub lids slightly off. I put small desiccant packs directly in the tub, in case any excess moisture is sealed in when I close the lid. It helps to pack clothing in paper; crumpled, it keeps the layers of cloth separated and allows a little air to move. I also try to check the clothing regularly.

2) Padded Hangers

There are a billion tutorials on building your own padded hangers out on the internets, so I’m just here to say “do it”. Padded hangers are incredible for supporting clothing, they keep the insides of the garment apart for better air circulation, and they reduce creasing and wrinkling. So just do it, unless the garment isn’t stable enough for hanging. That’s an educated decision that will have to be made multiple times for each garment. Because the passage of time. And because gravity.

I use unbleached cotton muslin, thick plastic hangers (WalMart), and fiberfill. I get fiberfill at WalMart by buying cheap pillows for a few dollars apiece. It’s cheaper than the craft isle and it’s the same stuff(ing). Also comes in a handy storage bag. And another life hack: throw the pillow in the washing machine before you use it. Voila, clean fiberfill.

Another great thing to do is to add supports to the garment itself to keep stress off the shoulders. Carefully sew white (or unbleached) cotton loops to the bottom curve of an arms eye seam or at a waistline seam; sewing through all the layers of fabric. Make the loops short enough to just support the weight of the garment when they are placed over a hanger.

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Garment bags are so easy! Buy unbleached cotton muslin, and cut a width that’s five or so inches wider than a hanger’s width. Fold it in half and sew up the tube, then just sew the top together, leaving a small hole in the center. I like to use the woven edges for the lower hemline and the upper seam, and for the vertical seam I use the cut edges. It saves time sewing them up.

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Homemade custom garment bags: a large one for a 1930s sailor dress, and a small one for a 1920s swimsuit. I try to save muslin this way.

Some clothing can’t handle the friction and pulling that putting a garment bag on creates, so these can also be made to button up the front. Instead of the vertical seam, hem each cut edge. Add loops or buttonholes to one side and buttons to the other. Just make sure there’s an overlap so you can’t see much of the garment inside. It all needs to be covered.

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If I’m keeping one piece in the same bag for a while, I tack tags on the bag so I don’t have to open it to see what’s inside.

4) Humidity Control

I went on Amamzon.com and bought a gallon of orange-indicating desiccant beads. They’re much safer than the blue-indicating variety, and on Amazon, they’re many times cheaper than museum storage companies.

Talas offers a great system of desiccant beads in little tins that look like Altoids containers with holes in the lids – I didn’t want to use actual Altoids containers for fear that they would rust, so I bought some food-storage plastic containers. Being meant for food storage means they are (or should) be made from a stable plastic like polypropylene. I dumped a handful of beads into those, punched some holes in the lids, and snapped the lids on. They work great, and don’t rust.

5)  Support (Hose)

Use cheap stockings (tights, hose, whatever you call them; the thin nylon things), stuffed with fiberfill, for temporary support. Like, if you’re trying to bulk out a little dress form, or if you’re working on a more permanent storage support but need a temporary one immediately. I went to WalMart recently and picked up a bunch of short knee-high type stockings for $.33 each. Stuffed and wadded into balls, they’re been great for keeping the toes of shoes supported. They also make good shoulder supports for those tops with puffed sleeves – pin them onto your dress form. Just remember, the fibers in the stockings will break down after a while. Try not to use them for long.

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1972 Converse which have been pretty much destroyed. Stockings stuffed with fiberfill have helped get them back into a normal shape after having been flattened. It would be silly to use a good support in these before they’re cleaned, so I’m using the disposable stockings and fiberfill for now.

6) A Note of Importance

One note about cotton muslin: WASH IT FIRST. Also AIR DRY it. Fabric comes coated in a sizing, like starch, for a better hand. I’ve gotten chemical burns from washing cheap cotton and getting the sizing on my hands. Not all sizing is this bad, but this is not stuff you want touching your antique clothing.

So wash your cotton, and if it smells like anything other than fresh water or your detergent when it comes out, wash it again. The best bet is to wash the cotton with soap meant for washing antique clothing, but if you’re on a budget like I am, just make sure to get all the sizing out of the cotton with your own detergent. Air drying means you won’t be putting additional softeners and perfumes in it, which can transfer to the clothing.

7,854.413 1/3) Random Linky Links

Museum Textiles Services: a company that does archival storage consulting. They have some tips for storing textiles on this page and this page.

Talas: while they’re still kinda expensive, they’re a little cheaper than some other companies.

Gaylord: they carry everything you never thought you needed. I love to browse this site and drool over shelving and tissue paper. Please tell me I’m not the only person who does this.

 

 

 


I’m baaack!

I finally got WordPress working again, after it was glitchy for over a week. This past week, my 4-year old MacBook decided it was time to start acting geriatric and have a little meltdown, but it looks like it’s gotten over itself for the time being. Yay, I now have computing abilities again!!

So, STUFF has been happening. My awesome mom picked up a few things for my collection: a 1890s shirtwaist, a turn-of-the-century baby dress, a 1950s purse, a 1890s girl’s dress, and three 1960s dresses. How cool is that? I’m working on the first two items, which I’ve been able to look at. I’m getting around to writing detailed blog post on those, but until then here’s the shirtwaist, paired with my 1850s-1870s Quaker bonnet.

10455822_10203984176273056_703664233068884189_nThe kitchen turned out to be the best-lit room in the house … yeah whatever. And yeah, the two pieces are decades apart; I’m just so excited to have vaguely similar pieces to almost make into kind-of outfits that they’re close enough for my brain right now!

 


The Baby Coat

When I bought a lot of vintage/’Victorian’ clothing on eBay a few months ago, I wound up with this little guy.

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Adorable! but …

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eww.

A very close to threadbare, looks/smells like it was stored in a mildewy garage for the last half century, baby coat. A great project to practice my conservation skilz, all of which I’ve gleaned off the internets. I decided that if I failed horribly, I wouldn’t be ruining somebody’s heirloom (I’d still feel bad though).

I decided to wash the coat because it smelled less than fresh. It’s knitted wool and cotton, but I couldn’t think of a better way to clean it. I didn’t have any good soap that I trusted on old textiles, so I just used cool water. I figured that as long as I didn’t shrink it, I wouldn’t be doing damage, and removing some of the dirt would be beneficial.

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Lovely …

After a ten minute soak I got what looked like weak tea out of the coat. Three rinses later, I was still getting brown water, but a slightly different shade. When I looked closer, I realized that some of the pile was coming off the coat, so I stopped.

To dry the coat, I made this cool setup out of a clean window screen and the flat tub. The coat lay on the screen which sat on top of the tub. I filled the tub with a thin layer of orange indicating desiccant beads, and set a fan to blow over the coat. I propped the coat open so air could circulate. It took over two days to dry the little guy, but it worked great. An you know what? It actually smells much better now. I didn’t think plain water would be so effective.

To get the lint and bits of junk out of the pile, I used a new soft-bristle toothbrush. I didn’t want to pull any more pile out, so I used the toothbrush sparingly.

DSCN9334So here’s the little kid, cleaned up! If the buttons look off-center to you, that’s because they are and your brain/eyes are not broken, congrats. After I cleaned the coat I found three cut button threads an inch to the left of the buttonholes, where a second row of false buttons once was. The coat would have appeared double-breasted originally.

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There’s also this, a cut tag near the left front corner. I’m figuring it’s a tag from a garment union, but there’s no way to tell since it was cut off.

So what’s next for the little guy? I’m going to repair the place at the right cuff where the lining is falling out, and I’m going to freeze it for a month or so, to hopefully discourage anything living in it from living any longer. I’d love to add three buttons to the front, to kinda restore the original look, but I’m not sure if I have any similar buttons in my vintage button hoard. I’ll keep my eyes open.

DSCN9320So what do you think? Personally, I really like the coat. Somebody (I’m guessing a generation of somebodies, actually) wore this coat almost to death, then saved it for another 60-80 years because they liked it too.

Or maybe because it was so grimy that they didn’t want to get close enough to it to throw it out.