Category Archives: 1780s

1780-1800 Letter Case Project

My “Brown” challenge for HSM 2015 isn’t really a wearable item, and that makes me feel a little weird. It’s an accessory for an accessory, to be precise.

It started when I found a silk dress at Goodwill for $3.00. It wasn’t old or anything, just super ugly and 100% silk. So I got it. I have a hard time finding nice silk yardage around here (it’s usually raw, slubby, dupioni stuff = eww). There wasn’t a whole lot of silk there for any sort of real project, so I had to think of a small thing to make.

I have a little collection of silk floss, so I decided a little embroidery, silk on silk, would be fun to try. I designed a small letter case because I didn’t have an embroidery frame big enough for a larger one, and I wanted to be able to see the whole design at once … I kind of designed it as I went. Planning is overrated.

I used designs from a red silk letter case embroidered with gold from the Kyoto Costume Institute. I had to adapt the design for a smaller size (and less competent embroidery ability), so some elements got cut or changed. The blue flowers (which look like pinks, but “blue pinks” sounds weird) were taken from dress suit buttons, also from a KCI item. Both items are late 18th century, I think the date ranges are both 1790-1810.

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The interior is lined with the same silk (I wanted white silk, but again, I have a hard time finding silk here) and thin card stock for shape. I used cotton canvas for a backing, too.

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With my 1790s reticule.

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It’s been a long, long time …

“Haven’t blogged on here, my dear, since can’t remember when …”

Well, I can remember. April something. Pretty long ago. I could say I’ve been busy but that’s only part of the problem – I’ve been absent and distracted – not all a bad thing! – but it leads to a lack of blog posts.

I have, however, still been sewing. On the list of more awesome things I’ve sewn is my late 18th century waistcoat. It’s made of cotton (cheap thin muslin for the lining and back, and slubby thicker stuff for the front), too-heavy pewter buttons which will be replaced by nice light brass ones eventually, and a bit of cotton cording for the back.

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Since I made this waistcoat for my upcoming sailor/Royal Navy look, I had to make concessions in the original fit. That’s why I added the lacing up the back. I didn’t want to add darts … those would have been too blatantly obvious. It’s 100% hand sewn with linen thread – and I drafted the pattern myself after looking at some originals.

I HATE buttonholes – but I wanted a double-breasted front so badly. I started this waistcoat with a lot of apprehension, because I was procrastinating the buttonholes until the last minute and that means if they turned out badly, I’d be messing up a pretty much finished waistcoat. Then a coworker asked me if I’d be using a buttonhole stitch. “What’s that?” I asked.

Um, yeah. The reason I’d never been able to make a nice buttonhole is because I never knew how. Don’t know how that happened, with all the research I’ve done. So I used a buttonhole stitch for the first time and they came out nice!

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The second project I’m taking on right now is a workman’s cap. Well, that’s what it began life as, about 15 years ago. Dad wore it, it was forgotten, and I cut the seams apart a few weeks ago in order to take a pattern from it and remake it.

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Its former glory.

Then I thought, I have the time. I have a brand-new pack of Sharpies and a spool of linen thread. Why not go crazy on it? So it’s becoming this: The banyan cap of epic awesomeness.

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Bam! And I haven’t finished adding to it.

Honestly …. it’s not super accurate. The linen thread is, yes, colored by Sharpies (my fingers are a nice shade of neon yellow). Just the fact that it’s embroidered with colored linen is a little off too – it’d be way more accurate with wool embroidery. The pattern is probably a little off too, even though I’m basing it on mid-18th century embroidery and block print motifs.

But hey, it’s garish!! It’s letting me practice my satin stitch, and I even taught myself a chain stitch on it. It’s like a sampler. And it’s building my confidence in embroidery, so much that I’m considering an entire garment sometime.

But that will have to wait. Next on the list is the quintessential sailor’s jacket of the late 18th century – the mariner’s cuff, brass buttons, double-breasted, navy blue woolen goodness that I can’t wait to begin.


Super Productivity! Kinda.

So first off, an apology. I’ve been searching WordPress and my own brain for ways to do this, but I can’t figure out how to put a .pdf on a blog post. You know, for patterns. I’m stuck. So for now, I must apologize. I want to share some of the patterns I’ve taken but until I can figure out a way to get them here, un-warped and un-wonky, I can’t. 😦

Other than that disappointment, I’ve been sewing like mad. Mad, I tell you! I just haven’t had the time to blog about it. Or take any nice photos.

Since early January, I’ve made:

1 1910s-1920s velvet hat (HSF Challenge #2: Blue)

1 1918 wool skirt

1 1900s cotton & lace corset cover (HSF Challenge #1: Foundations)

1 1910s linen blouse

1 1910s cotton & lace slip

1 1915-1918 wool jacket

1 silk and (oops) polyester “Votes for Women” yellow rose brooch

1 early/mid 1920s velvet evening gown (HSF Challenge #3: Stashbusting)

1 pair 1930s wool & leather spats

1 late 1920s tennis (style) dress

… and I’ve begun an 1880s-ish corset.

And as always:

1 huge mess

3 small trash bags of scraps

1 medium sized dent in my vintage button & cloth hoard

1 $15 dent in my wallet (you read that right, BOOYAH)

All the 1917-1920 clothes I meant to make for the April HSF challenge, War & Peace, but I was so excited about them I started and finished them way too early. That worked out all right in the end, though, because I wore them for a women’s suffrage play I was in, with the last-minute addition of the Votes for Women brooch.

I made all these with my 1902 Singer, which felt nice, because I was using antique/accurate tools. Yep, I know, nerdy.

And because I’ve been awful at taking photos of my work, here are just the ones I’ve photographed. I’ll get pictures of everything later.

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I am in LOVE with this hat. I usually can’t find something big enough to fit my hair under, so I made it extra big. It’s got that big/loose hat thing that was going on in the teens and twenties, and I can actually put my hair up under it! Yay!

I made the blouse in the photo above from one of my dad’s worn-out 18th century shirts. It was old and threadbare, so I don’t expect the blouse to hold up well. I’ve already popped a few seams – the fibers just fell apart. That being said, I’m surprised at how nicely the shape came out – the pattern was roughly based on one of my modern Gap button shirts. I’m excited to make another, hopefully in a nice batiste, or something that holds up better to drawn-thread work.

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The corset cover (left) was taken right from my original (right), which is just a tad too small for me – not that I’d wear it. I made it from a thrifted tablecloth, mimicking the design of triangular lace appliqués at the neckline. I love it – it’s comfy and even though the materials and my workmanship are awfully crude compared to the original, it’s the best I’ve ever done with a sewing machine, and I’m happy.

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This is my ’20s evening gown. I wanted it to be kind of generic so I could wear it to events. The idea was to make a semi-fitted slip and to drape the velvet on that, but halfway through planning I realized I didn’t have any cloth for the slip. Being on a frenetic sewing high I made it anyway, substituting ribbon for lining. Now it looks like the dress has interior suspenders. It works nicely considering the velvet’s heavy and hot (it was a curtain! Thanks, Laura Ashley), and a lining would just make it more uncomfortable to wear. It drapes fairly well, too, so I don’t consider it a failure. And it’s super comfy!

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The beading came out okay; it looks better hanging than flat, as above. I made the mistake of putting the beads on too tightly, which messed with the straight Deco lines of the pattern I chose. Live and learn.

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This is my late twenties tennis dress. I made it, again, from a thrifted curtain and a few pieces of red bias tape. I like it; it’s very comfy. When I wore it to work with my re-worked cloche and a blazer it became very early-1930s-sportswear-ish. The dress itself is very basic; sleeveless with a V-neck and the skirt has two huge box pleats at the sides.

Now I’m working on a new era: the mid-late Victorian. I’m starting with a basic corset based on an 1880s example, and I’m hoping that, for now, I can get away with the 1860s with it, too. After that comes all the rest of the underpinnings and gowns and hats and shoes and stuff, which will be … challenging. I have one long-term project, a 1900-1920s beaded purse which will take me a year, conservatively, to bead fully. It’s about 40% done right now, and I’m slowly working away at it. Good stuff!


Springy Underthingies

I have been sewing a lot, which means I have other things that I’m procrastinating on.

Like midterms. The surprise one that’s due in four days. And the two papers due five days after that. And registering for Spring classes in five days.

Aaaanyway.

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From my limited research, it appears that steel springs were used in clothing beginning sometime around 1760-1780. They don’t seem to have caught on for much other than garters, which they were used for through the 19th century. The Kyoto Costume Institute has a pair of 1790s transitional stays with springs in them, but they’re the only pair I’ve ever seen.

So late 18th century springy garters are cool. I’ve wanted to make a pair for a long time, and just last weekend was given two lengths of spring suitable for them. Of course they had to happen.

IMG_2136With wire cutters, I cut 6 pieces of 3″ long springs, and made little loops on the ends with pliers.

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I sewed two pieces of cream silk taffeta in little channels, leaving about 1/4″ edges for ruffles.

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I sewed the springs to pieces of cotton tape.

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Put the silk over them,

IMG_2144and sewed smaller pieces of tape to the other ends of the springs.

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Then I cut larger pieces of the same silk and pinned them to the tape at one end, sewing the other end together.

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I flipped these over and embroidered the silk in place on the tape. I used my extensive embroidery repertoire of a backstitch and a satin stitch.

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And here’s where I left them last night: Mostly embroidered up, except for whatever I want to put in the cartouches. Maybe my initials, I don’t know. I’m pretty proud of how the embroidery came out. It’s the best I’ve ever been able to do! I’m excited to get these finished, but midterms are calling.

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An 18th Century Workman’s Apron

Last night my order from Burnley & Trowbridge came in (yayyy!!) so I was able to finish my dad’s new work apron.

My dad and I often wear aprons when we do shows. We sell metalware, which is oiled before it’s packed for a show – and then needs to be wiped down when we set up. So we don’t need heavy work aprons, really, just something to protect our clothes as we’re setting up the table.

Dad had an apron made from heavy canvas in an eye-poppingly wide navy and white stripe. It didn’t fit very well and was so heavy it pulled his waistcoat down. It was also old and pretty dirty – oil doesn’t wash off so well.

His new apron is made from a lighter cotton-linen blend in a white and coffee-brown woven stripe, with thin cotton ties. I hand sewed it with linen thread. It’s a simple design; the top is a triangle and the bottom just extends into a square (but it’s cut in one piece). I hemmed the edges, added a buttonhole and a loop at the top corner, and two ties at the hips.

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There’s no way to make this thing look decent if it’s not on a person.

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A buttonhole that behaved and went together well! I’m always thankful for that. I added a waxed linen loop at the top, for hanging and just in case the buttonhole didn’t let the apron fall correctly. It’s probably superfluous but whatever. 


Jumps 2.0

I had nothing going on this past weekend, so I cranked out my new jumps.

I machine-sewed them, which went against my new habit of hand sewing everything … but I wanted to spend more time fitting and experimenting with a new pattern then putzing with hand sewing. I’m reacting against my last stays experience: I spent a looong time hand sewing those and they came out very well made, but don’t fit so well.

I saved the pattern for these, so I’ll make a second, hand-sewn pair later. I want to make the second pair in white cotton and embroider them, like the original. Mine are made from about 1.5 yards of bulky cotton/linen canvas in a drab tan/olive color. I used steel boning and some nice waxed cotton cord for the stay lace.

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The plan, based on a pair of 1780s-90s jumps at Colonial Williamsburg, probably worn by Ann Van Rensselaer in New York. These jumps aren’t on the CW website anymore (!?!?!) but they’re in What Clothes Reveal, by Linda Baumgarten, page 211. 

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“cut here”

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The front part boned, and the back part chalked out.

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Ironing the ends over to sew the back pieces in.

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Handmade eyelets in between ugly machine-sewn channels. 

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On my desk, almost finished!

So right now they’re pretty much finished. They went together very quickly, and the design is flattering and doesn’t use up a huge amount of materials. I’ll see if I can get some nicer pictures of them soon.