Tag Archives: 18th century fashion

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.


On My Bookshelf: The Dresses of the First Ladies of the White House

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Or, the Fancy Dresses of Somebody …

Not really sure who wore these clothes, but they’re pretty, right?

This small book was written by Margaret W. Brown, associate curator of the Department of History at the Smithsonian Institute, and published in 1952. Portraits of many first ladies, some first daughters, and some assorted female hangers-on are expanded with a mannequin dressed in something owned/worn by them/another woman from the same century they lived in.

See where I’m going with this?

Let’s take a look.

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A dress purportedly worn by Abigail Adams, who died in 1818. I’m assuming she wore this dress on All Hallows Eve at least two decades later. Whoooooo spooky.

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This “saque period” dress shows the worst of this poor outdated book. The book claims the dress was worn by Elizabeth Kortright Monroe, who died in 1830. What we’re looking at here is an interesting example of a re-made gown. I think the original gown dates to the 1760s, but look at the added gathered bit at the front chest. That’s probably a late Victorian addition for Centennial wear – along with the contrasting robings and whatever’s going on with the petticoat. Anyway, since Mrs. Monroe was born in 1768 she probably never wore this gown in either incarnation.

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This gown is said to be Maria Gouverneur’s, who is said have worn it before 1850 … unless she too wore it for her yearly haunting … yeah, more likely. It’s got a “Watteau” back, and a narrow skirt. It’s probably a fancy dress/costume piece for the Centennial in 1876. In addition to the “Watteau”-ness, note the long V-style front – a take-off from 18th century stomachers. Many 18th century aesthetics (and gowns, as above!) were repurposed for the Centennial, and I’m assuming this dress is a result.

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This is said to be the wedding dress of Sarah Yorke Jackson, who married in 1831. I’m not too sold on the 1831 date … I’d feel more comfortable with 1841 … but wow, what a pretty dress. Put a real corded petticoat underneath, and it’ll be all fluffy and frothy and gorgeous … I want one …

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Now here’s where the book really shines. This gorgeous dress, worn by Mary Harrison McKee, was worn for a photograph and her presidential father’s inaugural ball in 1889. It’s olive, ivory, orange and silver … the last four colors I’d think go well together, perhaps. And it’s so beautiful! I want this one too.

So … yeah, lots of cons to this book. It’s of its time, I suppose, and seems to rely only on family/owner say-so for dress provenance, instead of research. Some of the pieces in this book don’t seem to be anywhere online, so it’s interesting for that. That being said, none of the gowns are displayed particularly well, and many are really, reeeaaalllyyy off.

Buy it? Yeah, if you find it for a few dollars. It’s an interesting if kind of cringe-worthy read. It’s got a few gems in it, though, so for that, it’s worth it.

Happy reading!


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!


So I said I wasn’t going to be writing until after Christmas –

but I’ve got something to say, five minutes and two images – and one of the images even moves slightly.

I’ve been seeing posters and ads for the new Into The Woods movie that’s coming out in two days. It looks like many of the costumes are classic fairytale Middle-Ages or Disney-style prince and princess stuff – but I have to say I’m super impressed with one item.

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Apologies for the poor .gif quality. I couldn’t find a better picture on the Internets. The one below looks a little Photoshoppy, too. But whatever.

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These look soooo close to a pair of original 18th century stays that I’ve seen – can’t remember which particular pair, if I do I’ll post it with a comment here. But really. The color’s nice, the shape is great, the seams and boning all appear accurate … even that decorative half-lacing down the front is correct. Of course we could debate about how they’re being worn … another issue entirely … but right now I’m impressed. I want to watch the movie just to see the rest of the costuming!


My Late Reticule

I’ve recently joined The Historic Sew Fortnightly, which means I not only have deadlines for school and work, but also my hobby.

And I missed one!

I meant to submit this piece for the challenge that ended last night, but I missed it by half an hour. I would have been really lucky to get it done by then, considering that I hadn’t been a member of the group for long. Like, five days or something.

This project began when I decided to remake my little white reticule because it was a little too little. So I tried the big, pocket-shaped embroidered style popular in the late 1790s and early 1800s.

So here’s my adaptation; 100% hand sewn with linen thread and made with linen and cotton fabric, and a cotton cord for the drawstring. And probably about 2 cups of starch. Again, I used my huge embroidery vocabulary of two different stitches here. Completed, it’s about 14″ deep by 10″ wide, certainly big enough to hide an iProduct in.

For reference, here are some originals from Two Nerdy History Girls here. And some variations on the theme, from the Met, here and here.

I rushed through mine and finished it to the point of being juuust useable … but now, hey, since I missed the deadline, why not keep working on it? I’m thinking I’ll embroider the front pieces more. It could use more fancy.

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I cut two U-shaped pieces of linen, and two of cotton for the lining, and starched the bejeezus out of them because I didn’t have an embroidery hoop. I also tacked the edges together. The embroidery designs are adapted from the originals linked to above.

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I gathered a strip of linen to the edges to make the sides, and used a scrap of cotton for the drawstring casing and ruffle at the top.

 

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Close-up of the embroidery, which I like, but is super basic. And that weird circle thing in the middle of the design could have been executed wayyy better. And what the heck am I going to put inside the circle? A peacock? Maybe a basket of flowers or a cornucopia? Phhh. 

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All gathered up.

 

 


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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