Tag Archives: 18th century fashion research

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.

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Patterns, anybody?

I have handfuls of patterns that I’ve taken from originals, or adapted from originals. I’m thinking of posting a handful of them.
Very soonish, I’m posting an adapted mid-18th century small cap pattern, a ca. 1900 corset cover pattern (about a dress size 4), and 1930/40s high or low spats pattern.
Here’s why I’m writing this particular post. I also have a ca. 19-teens silk jacket in a loose-fitting dress size 0-2, and my own 1920s feed sack dress pattern from this original dress, which is about a dress size 6-8. I also have a size 2-4 way-too-many-gores skirt pattern from the 1900s. These patterns will take a little more work to get online, especially the skirt. Would anybody like to try them? They’ll be formatted as images to download – measured drawings on graph paper, with instructions and a link to a page of detailed images of the originals (except for the cap) Let me know as a comment!


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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Sewing, sewing, sewy sewing

My hands hurt.

In the past few days, I’ve hand-sewn half a silk regency gown, half a bodiced regency petticoat, finished repairing a quilt for a friend (by hand), begun a c. 1760-70 linen and figured wool waistcoat for my dad, and made a hand-embroidered reticule.

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It’s kind of saggy-looking without anything in it. Linen with linen embroidery, cardboard base, and a silk bow. Eventually I’ll add some nice silk handles/drawstrings.

I’ve shelved the cote idea until next year’s Renn Faires. I don’t have the time to sew a new cote this year. Meh.

I’ve been putting more time into is my 1790-1810s clothing. I’m realizing that I’m really lumping a lot of variances into one outfit. I’d love to specify the outfit to a smaller, earlier year span, but that’s going to have to wait, too.

So today I’m (writing my paper for school) assembling a bodiced petticoat, which is  confusing me. Not over the construction, that’s fairly straightforward, but over its actual existence. The bodiced petticoats I see seem to actually be bodiced skirts, meant to be seen, and worn with a short jacket over them.

I’m having trouble finding attributed 1790s-1810s petticoats. Usually I would interpret that as meaning this garment wasn’t so popular.

But women had to wear petticoats, right? From what I can tell from prints and paintings, women’s skirts are too full in general to be just a dress skirt worn over a chemise. Maybe the petticoats of that era were often remade into other garments, and just didn’t survive very well. Or maybe I’m missing something!

I found one from The Met: linen, from America, and dating from the early 19th century – and the only photo of it is super cropped.

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Bodiced petticoat, from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

You can still tell that it’s got little straps over the shoulders, a surprisingly low waist, and a drawstring neckline that ties near the left armpit. It’s almost a modern slip, rather than a petticoat.

I’ve also seen a few unattributed photos of empire/regency bodiced petticoats floating around the interwebs – some have bodices, and some just have little suspenders. I think I’ll go with the suspender model; while I can’t find much to back up this style, it makes sense to me, and will eliminate some bulk, since I’ll be probably wearing it in warm weather and inside heated buildings.

So my petticoat is made of a nice, fine 100% linen, and all hand sewn with linen thread.

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I left the selvage at the hemline and added a pleat. I’m hoping this adds a little more body to the skirt, especially at the back.

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The waistband, halfway pinned on.

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… and now halfway sewn on …

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… and finished, with the gathers concentrated at the back. I was lazy and didn’t want to go buy tape for the ties, so I just cut the selvage off some linen. It’ll work for a few wearings. The ties are sewn into the waistband a few inches in, so they serve as a partial drawstring.

So now all that’s left is to add the suspender-things and try it on …


18th c. American Clothing Resources

Sometimes it’s difficult to find books that focus on American clothing from the 18th century, instead of France and England.  Here’s a list of my go-to research books that take a look at American clothing. It’s certainly not complete, but it’s the basis of most of my research.

The Mirror of Antiquity

The Mirror of Antiquity: American Women and the Classical Tradition

Caroline Winterer

Cornell University Press 2007

ISBN 978-0-8014-4163-9

An utterly fascinating in-depth look at how classical ideas and ideals shaped American dress and culture. Recommended for those looking for a deeper understanding of 18th century women’s clothing & early American culture. A detailed, well-researched book. It covers the 18th century and much of the 19th. Illustrated, B&W.

Fitting and Proper

Fitting & Proper: 18th Century Clothing from the Collection of the Chester County Historical Society

Sharon Ann Burnston

Scurlock Publishing Co., Texarkana TX1998

ISBN 1-880655-08-X

A basic book looking at a few great pieces of clothing from the Chester County Historical Society. Mainly Quaker pieces, these are well-documented and the author shows how they were created. Men’s and women’s clothing is included – the book covers basic pieces of clothing worn during the 18th century. Graphed patterns included, illustrated, B&W.

What Clothes Reveal

What Clothes Reveal: The Language of Clothing in Colonial and Federal America

Linda Baumgarten

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Yale University Press, New Haven CT, 2002

ISBN 0-300-09580-5

An in-depth look at clothing and culture in America during the 18th century – this book looks into the answer to “why did they do/wear that?” Highly recommended as a place to start a deeper knowledge of American life in the 18th century. Detailed research, fun read – an enlightening book covering all aspects of clothing. Well illustrated in full color – you’ve got to get excited about that.

Costume Close-Up

Costume Close-Up: Clothing Construction and Pattern 1750-1790

Linda Baumgarten, John Watson, Florine Carr

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Quite Specific Media Group LTD NY 1999

ISBN 0-89676-226-2

In essence, this book is a more detailed version of Fitting & Proper. A fascinating look at a handful of American clothes, showing how they were cut, put together, and how they aged over time. It’s great because it focuses on both men’s and women’s clothing. A good place to start costuming – this and Fitting & Proper are my go-to books for when I begin a piece of clothing, because they show the construction very well. Not a heavy read; many illustrations. Graphed patterns and color/B&W illustrations.

Tidings from the 18th Century

Tidings From the 18th Century

Beth Gilgun

Rebel Publishing Co., Texarkana, TX 1993

ISBN 1-880655-04-7

The most down-to-earth and practical costuming book that exists, to my knowledge. A fabulous book to begin re-enacting with. It covers more than clothing, too – the biggest themes of living history and re-enacting are included. An easy, fun read – many of the chapters are in letter format, like an 18th century novel. Some patterns, well illustrated, B&W.

Cloth and Costume

Cloth and Costume 1750 to 1800, Cumberland County, PA

Tandy and Charles Hersh

The Cumberland County Historical Society 1995

ISBN 0-9638923-2-0

I haven’t finished reading this book, but it looks pretty good so far. The biggest drawback are the pictures – the printing and photography are very poor in some instances. The book covers both clothing and its production in Cumberland County PA. Illustrated, B&W.

Have I missed any great reads you know of? Comment below and I’ll add them to my list!