Tag Archives: 19th Century Clothing

Finished and … not so finished

It’s done! The un-bodiced, bodiced petticoat. Could use a good ironing.

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But as I look at it, I see a mistake. I should have concentrated the gathers further to the back. Right now I think they’re going to be under my arms, which will make the dress over them wrinkle and bulge.

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Sigh. So I’ll try it on tomorrow and see if I can make it work. If not, I’ll rip the sides of the waistband out and re-sew it. Yayyy.


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 …


Excessive Fru-fru of the 1890s

In the late 19th century, women wore boas, made from lace, silk, and/or feathers. I guess it’s been obvious for others, but for me, I didn’t realize that these existed until recently – existed in reality, that is, and not as a part of polyester can-can costumes for Halloween. *gak*

This is one of my great-grandmothers, Elise. This picture was taken around 1896, in NYC. Elise is wearing a white boa, with flower-like lace ruffles at the shoulders and lengths of narrow tapes at each end. The color of her boa matches the shirt she’s wearing.

Wide shoulders were hugely fashionable during the mid-1890s, and it’s a little surprising to see that Elise is wearing a shirtwaist that doesn’t have gigot/leg-of-mutton sleeves – rather, she’s wearing the ‘bishop’ type sleeve, with fullness at the lower arm and wrist. It’s a nice visual reminder that not everybody wore massively puffed sleeves during this decade. That being said, her boa is placed around her shoulders, with the ruffle exactly where leg-of-mutton sleeves would begin. Visually, the boa is creating a similar silhouette.

Boas from the late 19th century seem to usually be the long, feathery type.

The image above is from England, and is dated 1892.

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The feather boa above is from The Metropolitan Museum of Art. So fluffy. The Met has handfuls of feather boas from this decade, in crazy colors like black, red, black, blue, black, pink, and black. I think they may have some in black, too.

Above: the Met has this boa too, which looks pretty similar to Elise’s boa, except it’s just the floofy part. This is the closest thing I’ve ever seen to Elise’s boa.

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And then there’s Mary, another of my great-grandmothers. She also lived in NYC, in Greenwich Village, in the 1890s. Her hairstyle, a bun with a curly puff of hair at the front, seem to have been most popular in the late 1880s and early 1890s. So I’m guessing that this picture was taken between 1888-1895.

In this picture she’s wearing a colored shirtwaist with little circular black appliqués on the folded collar, and what looks like either a boa (made from the same appliqués, maybe lace) or some sort of decoration on the front of her shirtwaist. Because it was the 1890s, and floofy, fluffy, fru-fru-y clothing was totally in.

I’m not entirely sure what Mary is wearing here; a boa or just a fancy shirtwaist. If she’s wearing a boa, it matches her shirt (like Elise’s) – but more than that, it is identical to the decoration on the collar. Maybe she had a boa specifically for a certain shirtwaist? I can believe that – if any decade had shirtwaists with matching boas, it would have been the 1890s, right?

 


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.

5 3) Garment Bags

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!

 


On My Bookshelf: The Mode in Costume, 1942

IMG_1462I have a difficult time appreciating older costume books. I’ve been kind of scarred by Earle and McClellan. When I got this book, a first edition of The Mode in Costume, I wasn’t expecting much, and the book really delivered for a while …

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So where do we start on this black gown … neckline, sleeves, waistline, skirt cut … The francaise next to it is pretty much okay, though. Any book that uses Earle as a source, however, is going to be kinda-sorta okay in some places, and hideously awful in others.

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Oh gawd!!! Nooo! Nooooooooo!

It’s one of those here’s-what-everybody-everywhere-wore-since-the-dawn-of-time books, and you can never expect these books to have enough detail to satisfy a moderate interest, or to have thorough enough research to build upon. I flipped from Egypt to 1800s Europe in a few minutes and didn’t see anything that really caught my attention – until I realized that the clothing in the book went right up to the date of publication. There’s no way the authors could have gotten their own clothing wrong.

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Just that line of cigarette smoke screams 1930s-1940s.

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And here we see the entire male wardrobe for the movie Casablanca …

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Huzzah, authors! I mean, these are gorgeous. For fun (because I don’t know what the rest of society deems fun) I went back and read the forward.

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Yes, it’s a statement of the state of the fashion industry at an incredibly turbulent time. I’d always heard fashion professors say that 1930s fashions ‘fossilized’ through the 1940s until Dior’s New Look came in, but I never knew that people acknowledged this during the war. The forward also notes the opportunities American designers had during France’s occupation, without naming anybody.

So do I like this book at all? Kind of. If you’re doing historical clothing research from before 1900, don’t you dare use this book. Really. If you want an overview of 1910-1940 clothing in France and the USA, it’s a start. If you want to know what people thought of fashion history in the 1940s, and what inspired costuming, go for this one. For the history of fashion history, it’s pretty awesome.


Exposed: A History of Lingerie

The Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC has a new exhibit which opened today at noon – Exposed: A History of Lingerie. I had a few hours today to go see it. I still had a bad taste in my mouth from the last time I went to see a FIT exhibit. I was really hoping for a better experience this time.

IMG_1418The exhibit begins with a few historic pieces such as 1880s corsets, and modern counterparts drawing on those designs, such as Rudi Geinrich creations. The rest of the gallery is a timeline of underwear, starting with rare 1770s sleeved stays and ending with a handful of 2014 pieces. The garments on display are all wonderful examples of their type. For the constricted gallery space, there’s a lot of stuff to see, though many facets of 18th/19th century lingerie (such as drawers or chemises) are not shown.

IMG_1419Since the exhibit was in the same gallery space used for RetroSpective, the clothing was poorly lit. The beautiful, flowing lace, silk and tulle were reduced to 2D shapes, seen from 4-6 feet away, tucked into the shadows. The curators could have achieved better visuals with large poster prints.

Through the gallery I saw some incorrect terminology, but nothing else stood out to me. I have a feeling that the labels are farmed out to undergraduates for grades.

I thought the most misleading thing about the exhibit was how some of the garments were displayed. You can’t understand a 1815 corset when it’s laced onto a modern form and has no busk: you’ll never know the real shape. There was also a 1890s princess slip with a corset over it, the garter straps hanging down to nothing. It was apparent that whoever dressed some of the mannequins really had no idea what he or she was doing, and had no desire to learn how do it it right.

I was moving through the 1960s pieces when a tiny old woman next to me tapped me on the arm and pointed to the 1962 pantygirdle. “I have that in my drawer” she said. Apparently, she was a lingerie designer from the late 1940s up through the 1960s, and had designed pieces that were in competition with pieces FIT had on display. She knew her stuff.

And man, was she pissed.

“That’s incorrect. And that, too. He never designed that. He never used that dart in the sixties. This isn’t his. He wasn’t known for these. That’s not a babydoll dress.”

Obviously insulted, she systematically took apart every label from 1950 through 1980, then she told me “I’m 97, I lived this.” and to the side, “I’m gonna call up Valerie and spank her.”

In my less-than-perfect opinion, this exhibit was more of the same let’s-put-the-Delphos-dress-on-display and let’s-shock-people-with-corsets. The gallery space is poor, and the exhibit isn’t very informative or accurate. In the opinion of the designer I met in the 1960s section, the exhibit was a completely incorrect view of her life and career – she’d both made and worn these garments. She had every right to be pissed.

And according to her, Valerie Steele has some explaining to do!


Clothing Forensics!

I love it when people dissect clothing and are able to tell a story from what they find. So this is pretty cool … The National Gallery of Victoria is kinda sorta doing that with some of their collection. Check it out!