Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Regency Reticule

As I continue to build my Regency wardrobe, I have found myself in need of a reticule. Since those flimsy, figure-hugging Regency gowns leave no room for pockets, a girl needs a place to put her fan and handkerchief, to say nothing of the anachronistic necessities of cell phone, car keys, and such.

Small decorative bags were all the rage during this period. They tended to be rather fanciful in shape, their pointed, geometric outlines highlighted by embroidery, tassels, and other embellishment.

Early 19th century, MFA Boston
This particularly fabulous example is actually four-sided; each side has a different central motif. Click the link above to see pictures of the other sides. 

As I hunted for inspiration in online museum collections, I noticed a common theme in the reticules that I was drawn to: most of them were white/off-white and decorated with colorful embroidery. Certainly there are many examples of brightly colored reticules, but the white ones seem a bit more common and were the ones that caught my eye.

1800-1824, V&A 
This is one of my favorites. So many tassels!!

1790-1800, V&A
A slightly earlier example with very ornate embroidery. You can see how these little bags would have easily developed from 18th century pockets. 

1820-1830, V&A
Yes, this is a bit later, but I love the embroidery. 

After ogling all these pretties, I just knew my bag would be white. The current Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge happens to be a white theme — what a convenient coincidence!

I was lucky to pick up a half-yard remnant of creamy off-white silk taffeta for about $3 at Discount Fabrics a few weeks ago (there were tape marks along part of it, so they gave me a steep discount off the remnant pricing). Perfect for this project, since I can easily cut around them!

I chose a simple shape, typical of the period: basically a rectangle with a triangle at the bottom, like the one shown here:

The shape narrows at the top because of the drawstring. 

For the embroidery pattern, I poked around online to find a motif that evoked the style of embroidery seen on originals — something delicate, scrolling, and floral — and found one I quite like. I would share it here, but I can't seem to find either the image itself or the website I got it from. Sorry!

I chose embroidery floss colors that seemed period appropriate, then started stitching. I am a very inexperienced embroiderer, so I just made stuff up as I went along. The stems were done in split stitch, the flowers drawn with outline stitch, and most of the rest is some kind of satin stitch. I realized after the fact that chain stitch might have been more appropriate, but I'm still fairly pleased with the result:

The bag is lined in lightweight white cotton. The tassels are handmade from sz. 30 silk thread, and the drawstrings are 5/8" silk satin ribbon.

All in all, a very simple and satisfying project! 

The details:

The Challenge: #15 — Colour Challenge White

Fabric: Off-white silk taffeta, white cotton for lining

Pattern: improvised

Year: 1790s-1820s 

Notions: DMC cotton floss, sz. 30 silk thread, 1-1/2 yd 5/8" silk ribbon

How historically accurate is it? Fairly accurate, to the best of my knowledge. I know next to nothing about period embroidery, so the stitches or floss may be wrong. The farbics are good, the construction is plausible, and it is entirely hand-sewn. I would say at least 7 out of 10 for accuracy. 

Hours to complete: 4-5 hours for the embroidery, plus about 2 for construction. 

First worn: will be used at Costume College 2013

Total cost: around $12 (about $3 for the silk remnant of which I used only a tiny portion, $4.25 for the silk thread, and about $4 for the silk ribbon — cotton lining and embroidery floss were from my stash)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Early 1870s Day Dress

Here's another post to catch you up on the things I've been sewing lately! Last month I made an early 1870s day dress to attend an event put on by the Greater Bay Area Costumers Guild: a Tissot Bustle Picnic. Inspired by the paintings of James Tissot, the picnic was held at the lovely Ardenwood Farm in Fremont, CA. There were chickens and peacocks and doves and a blacksmith shop and a beautiful late-19th century farmhouse — in other words, a perfect backdrop for frolicking about in fluffy dresses.

My dress:
This is the best shot that I managed to get on my phone camera. Please disregard the errant ostrich feather — it was blown askew by the day's lovely breeze. I fixed it later!

The picnicking in progress

Outside Patterson House

My Dress Inspiration:

The time frame for the event was based on Tissot's career and was therefore quite broad: 1868-1888. I have been itching to make an early 1870s dress for some time, so I decided that this would be the occasion. As I started to plan my dress, I hunted for inspiration in Tissot's paintings. The dress that caught my eye is a eye-popping striped frock that appears in several of his paintings:

The Return from the Boating Trip, 1873

Boarding the Yacht, 1873

Still on Top, 1874

As I continued looking for inspiration, I came across a photograph from the period that gave me a new brilliant idea: 

Dagmar, Alexandra, and Thyra, daughters of Christian IX of Denmark

Here were three Danish princesses, all wearing frilly, ruffly dresses in exactly the style of early-1870s dress I wanted to make. My Tissot bustle dress could also be my entry for HSF Challenge #12 — Pretty, Pretty, Princesses!

Here's a brief explanation of who these lovely young girls were and why they were important:

These princesses were the daughters of Louise of Hesse-Kassel, a minor German princess, and Christian of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, a minor Danish prince. Christian unexpectedly succeeded to the Danish throne in 1863 after the previous king died without an heir. 

As a result of their father's good fortune, these girls rather abruptly became some of Europe's most eligible bachelorettes. Princess Alexandra married Queen Victoria's eldest son and heir and eventually became the Queen Consort of the United Kingdom and British Dominions and Empress Consort of India. Princess Dagmar married the heir to the Russian Empire and became Empress of Russia under the name Maria Feodorovna. Princess Thyra married the exiled heir to the Kingdom of Hanover, technically becoming the Queen of Hanover (she and her husband lived in exile in Austria, but he never renounced his claim to the throne). In addition, one of their brothers succeeded their father as King of Denmark, and another brother became George I of Greece. 

What a family! For those of you who are keeping track, Princess Alexandra is Queen Elizabeth II's great-grandmother, and Princess Dagmar was the mother of Nicholas II, the last tsar of Russia.

Here are some more pictures of the princesses, all of which capture perfectly the feeling I was aiming for with my dress:

Check out all those ruffles! And those giant braided hairdos!

Here are the princesses with their mother and father. I just love the tiny hats!

My dress: 

I knew I wanted my dress to have stripes, and I thought cotton would be the best fabric for an afternoon picnic. I ended up finding a nice shirting-weight cotton in a grey and white stripe that worked perfectly. It's stripey without being quite as dizzying as the black and white striped dress from the Tissot paintings. 

Dresses in this period were covered in scads of ruffles and trim. I think I spent more time on trimming this dress than on actual construction! The base skirt, overskirt, and sleeves are edged with gathered flounces of the striped cotton cut on the bias. I then trimmed the flounces with a delicious lavender velvet ribbon, accented with bows made from a matching silk satin ribbon. I used a matching lavender silk taffeta for the covered buttons and the box-pleated frill around the neckline. I also trimmed the neckline with some cotton lace, which I used to edge the cotton organdy undersleeves as well. The same cotton organdy made a faux chemisette to fill in the open neckline. Lastly, I made a separate belt out of the lavender silk taffeta, with a satin bow to hide the hook-and-eye closure. 

The best photos I have of the dress were taken by the lovely Kim Yasuda. The next few shots are from her photoset, which you can view here.

My favorite shot of the front of the dress:

On the front steps as we began a tour of Patterson House. 

Here's a shot that shows the neckline trim and my braided hairdo:

My feathers were behaving better by this point!

I think the dress looked best from the back:

Checking in at the gate

Walking to the picnic site

I wore the dress with a simple lobster tail bustle, one plain petticoat, and one with deep ruffles. My hat was a tiny black straw hat from the Berkeley Hat Company, heavily modified and trimmed with cream and pink paper flowers, lavender silk satin ribbon, a vintage black silk taffeta ribbon, and two small grey ostrich drabs. 

Jane the cat finds hat-trimming rather boring

I carried a cheapo nylon-covered costume parasol purchased here, and wore my American Duchess Tavistock button boots. My necklace is a lovely (antique?) porcelain pendant with painted flowers that I picked up at the Alameda Antiques Fair last month. Here's a closeup to show you how pretty it is:

I think I paid $5 for it. 

Here are the details for my Danish Princess 1870s day dress:

The Challenge: #12 — Pretty, Pretty Princesses

Fabric: Grey and white striped cotton shirting, lined with white pima cotton broadcloth and trimmed at the neck and sleeves with a bit of white cotton organdy. Also, some lavender silk taffeta for some of the trim. 

Pattern: The bodice is TV400 -- 1871 Day Bodice. I modified the back slightly, combining the side back and side pieces into a single piece. That extra seam isn't very common in the earlier bustle period. I also added deep flounces to the sleeves. The skirt pattern is from Period Costumes for Stage and Screen. The overskirt is from the striped dress on pg 28-29 of Patterns of Fashion 2

Year: 1870-71

Notions: hooks and eyes, lavender velvet ribbon, lavender silk satin ribbon, white cotton lace, covered buttons (the Dritz ones — I was being lazy)

How historically accurate is it? Pretty good. My materials were all plausible, though the velvet ribbon is rayon instead of silk. Techniques were all period-correct and my patterns were all very accurate as well. 

Hours to complete: no idea — many

First worn: Tissot Bustle Picnic on June 23, 2013

Total cost: around $175

Sunday, July 14, 2013

1790s Turban

This year, I will be attending Costume College for the first time. I'm super excited! I made the decision to go rather late in the year, and therefore was unable to make any clothes specifically for the occasion, so I'll be revamping and reprising some of the garments I've made in the last few months.

Part of my plan is to wear my white muslin dress again, but enhance it with some exciting additions. I think an overdress of some kind is in order, perhaps an open robe? I found a beautiful deep gold silk with a subtle stripe and jacquard floral pattern on sale at Discount Fabrics that will be just the thing. The deep bronze-ish color is a bit striking against my almost-Tiffany-blue Pemberley shoes, but I think with the right accessories, I can pull them together.

Here's a sneak peak of the fabric with my shoes:

Isn't that fabric pretty? I'll be starting the robe very soon, but first up is new headwear! When I wore the white dress before, I didn't have enough time for anything elaborate, so I just wrapped some gold braid around my head. It was simple and effective, but for Costume College, I want something a bit more exciting.

Luckily, the current HSF challenge is perfect for the task. The theme is Eastern Influence, and the late 1790s were full of clothes and accessories that reflected the influence of Turkish and Indian costume. You know what that means: turban time!

I started by looking for inspiration in fashion plates:

This ensemble is exactly the silhouette I am aiming for. The eastern inspiration is visible not only in the turban-style headdress, but in the robe, which references traditional Turkish clothing. 

Here the eastern references are toned down a bit, but you can still see their influence. 

Portraits from the period are also a great source of inspiration:

1797 — Princess Galitzin by Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun 
What fantastic plumage!

There are two options for making a turban headdress: you can wrap a scarf or length of fabric around your head, styling it anew every time you wear it, or you can make a fixed hat, where the drapery is secured to some kind of base. I chose the latter approach; we all know how stressful last-minute dressing can be, and wrapping a turban on top of carefully styled hair right before an event seemed just a little too risky to me. 

Luckily, it was very easy to find good information on how to make a turban. Here are some of the websites that I found useful:

A series of articles from Lynn McMasters:

An article on the blog of the Oregon Regency Society:

Jenny Lafleur's project page for an 1810 Turban

I ended up using a hybrid of the techniques shown on these various pages. I started by making a small base cap out of a turquoise and gold shot dupioni silk that matches my Pemberley shoes:

The cap is made from a circle about 14" in diameter gathered to a narrow bias band the circumference of my head. Since the gathers and band would be completely covered by the subsequent drapery, I was not overly particular about getting the gathers even, as you can see. 

From there, I just started draping! I used more of the shot silk, cut on the bias into strips about 16" wide.  I added some darker turquoise silk organza cut the same way, and a narrower bias strip of a pale lavender silk taffeta (leftover from another project that I will be sharing with you shortly). I didn't bother finishing the edges, but made sure the raw edges were concealed as I went along. I twisted the strips of fabric loosely around one another and draped them onto the base cap, pinning as I went. When I got it the way I wanted, I tacked the drapery into place with stitches. To finish it up, I wrapped a bit of gold braid around the lavender silk and accented the front with two ostrich plumes in a natural brown and deep dusty purple, two bleached and dyed peacock feathers in a beige color, and a gold button with crystals for a little sparkle. 

The finished turban:




The Challenge: #14 — Eastern Influence

Fabric: 2/3 yd turquoise/gold shot dupioni and 1/2 yd turquoise silk organza (these are the amounts I purchased — in the end I used much less); lavender silk taffeta (remnants from another project) 

Pattern: improvised/draped

Year: late 1790s

Notions: two small ostrich plumes, two bleached and dyed peacock eyes, gold and crystal button, 1-1/2 yd dark gold metallic braid

How historically accurate is it? I have not seen any extant historical turbans of this type, so it's hard to say. It gives a very good approximation of the look shown in period fashion plates and portraits, and the materials and techniques are all plausible. 

Hours to complete: 2-3

First worn: will be worn at Costume College 2013

Total cost: about $35

Saturday, July 13, 2013

New 1860s Corset

When planning out my summer sewing, I decided right away that the HSF Challenge #13 — Lace and Lacing would be a perfect opportunity for me to make a new mid-19th century corset. You can see my current corset in this post. It has served me well for almost 3 years, but it is starting to show its age. I never loved the fit that much to begin with — it doesn't have quite enough flare for my rather curvy hips, and sort of smooshes my bust instead of supporting it. Several of the bones, particularly the ones in the sides and back, have permanent bends in them where my hips jut out below the waist. And now, after years of dancing and sweating in it, the bones and busk are starting to show signs of rust. Time to make a new one!

My old corset is made from shaped panels; I knew I wanted the new one to have gussets instead. Many costumers out there on the internet have suggested that gussets provide better shaping for us curvier ladies, and my limited experience with them suggests this is true. My Edwardian corset gets much of its shaping from gussets, and that thing is not only curvalicious, but also gives me a smaller waistline than any other corset I've made, by a full inch! 

As for a pattern, I picked up Simplicity 2890 at a pattern sale a couple years ago, suspecting that it would be my next corset. It is a simple gusseted corset taken from a period pattern from 1867, and calls for single-layer construction, with flat-felled seams and minimal boning (only 6 bones aside from the ones at the back lacing and 4 short ones in the upper back). The corset has a fairly short and curvy shape, but I went ahead and added extra width to both of the bust gussets and the back hip gusset, just to be sure it would be curvy enough. I think I added about 1/2" to the curved side of each bust gusset (a total of 2" added to the bust circumference), and about 3/4" on each side of the back hip gusset (a total of 3" added to the hip circumference).

Aside from that, I did not alter the pattern at all, other than to change the rather odd method of boning that the pattern called for. I won't even try to explain what the pattern asked me to do with the boning, because I read it through once, didn't understand it, read it again, finally grasped what it meant, decided it was silly, and put the boning in the way I always do: bone casing tape applied from top to bottom along the placement lines. This straightforward approach meant that I needed bones that were on average 2" longer than what the pattern called for. Take note: if you decide to make this pattern, put it together first, decide whether you want to follow those silly instructions, and then buy your boning accordingly. 

Enough talking, here's the corset: 

Front view — I'm pretty happy with the shape and fit. The straight, tidy waist is particularly pleasing.

You can see a little more detail here. I'm hoping some of those wrinkles will smooth out as it stretches and forms to my body. 

The side view really shows how great the bust support is — a much more rounded, natural shape than my previous corset. 

See how much curve this corset gives in the back hip area?

I'm very happy with it. It's comfortable and pretty, and the shape is much better than what I was getting with the old one. I can comfortably lace almost an inch smaller at the waist than I could in my old corset (though I probably won't since I have so many dresses made at the larger waist measurement). 

The Challenge: #13 — Lace and Lacing

Fabric: White cotton coutil

Pattern: Simplicity 2890

Year: ca. 1867, but I will probably wear it for 1850s-1870s

Notions: 12" busk, 10 spiral steels, 4 white spring steels, 1/2" bone casing tape, 5 yd corset lacing, 5/8" twill tape for binding, size 00 grommets

How historically accurate is it? Aside from substituting steel boning for the whalebone that would have been used in the period, I would call this very accurate.

Hours to complete: maybe 7

First worn: will be worn at Costume College 2013

Total cost: The coutil was leftover from my Edwardian corset, so about $35 for the busk, bones, tapes, and lacing.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Long Sleeves for Mrs. Bennet

Months after making my Regency muslin dress, I went back and sewed a pair of long sleeves that can be attached to the dress for daywear, just like the ones that go with the dress from Patterns of Fashion 2 I used as a modelI sewed the sleeves back in May for a Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge, but couldn't very well post about them without posting about the dress first. So here is my very late entry for HSF Challenge #10 — Literature: a pair of long sleeves for Mrs. Bennet.

I don't have a picture of them with the dress yet — this will have to do!

Like pretty much every woman I've ever met, I'm a huge Jane Austen nut. I read Pride and Prejudice more often than I would care to admit, and am well on my way to knowing the whole book by heart. When I set out to make my long sleeves, my mind immediately jumped to one of the rare instances when Austen alludes to fashion in the book. It's such a minor reference that many people probably wouldn't notice it, but it tickles me every time I read it. Mrs. Bennet is complaining to her visiting sister about the disappointment of her daughter Elizabeth's recent refusal of an offer of marriage:
“I do not blame Jane," she continued, "for Jane would have got Mr. Bingley if she could. But Lizzy! Oh, sister! It is very hard to think that she might have been Mr. Collins's wife by this time, had it not been for her own perverseness. He made her an offer in this very room, and she refused him. The consequence of it is, that Lady Lucas will have a daughter married before I have, and that the Longbourn estate is just as much entailed as ever. The Lucases are very artful people indeed, sister. They are all for what they can get. I am sorry to say it of them, but so it is. It makes me very nervous and poorly, to be thwarted so in my own family, and to have neighbours who think of themselves before anybody else. However, your coming just at this time is the greatest of comforts, and I am very glad to hear what you tell us, of long sleeves.”
The abrupt transition at the end of the speech, Mrs. Bennet's ability to be comforted by something so trivial as the fashion for long sleeves, shows us that her nervous distress over her unmarried daughters is just as superficial as most of her other worries and complaints throughout the book. She is thoroughly vain and silly, without a serious thought in her head. Every time I wear these long sleeves, I will try to remember to be a little more grounded and sensible than Mrs. Bennet. Here are the details:

The Challenge: #10 — Literature

Fabric: spotted white muslin

Pattern: adapted from Patterns of Fashion 2

Year: the dress these were patterned from is dated 1798-1804

Notions: white cotton thread

How historically accurate is it? Very accurate. The pattern was taken from an original garment, the fabric is very similar to original textiles, and they were sewn by hand. 

Hours to complete: 2 hours

First worn: Will be worn to some unknown future Regency event

Total cost: Cut from the leftover fabric from the dress, so a couple of dollars

Regency Muslin Dress

As I continue to play catch-up on blogging about my recent sewing projects, let's take a look at my Regency muslin dress:

(Yes, that's my blue late 1830s ballgown hanging in the back again. Anyone else have issues with costume storage?)


I made this dress back in February/March to wear to a Jane Austen ball, but never got around to posting about it. As I mentioned in my planning post, I based my dress on the 1798-1804 Morning Dress in Patterns of Fashion 2. When I scaled up the pattern, I found that the original dress was made for a tiny person, so I had to add quite a lot to every piece of the bodice to get it to fit me. 

Here you can see my pattern pieces with the tiny original pattern pieces on top (note that my pieces have seam allowance added, the original pieces do not):

You can see I had to enlarge the pieces quite a bit!

My fabric is a spotted muslin from Britex Fabrics. The bodice is lined with the same medium-weight linen I used for my Regency shift

I knew from the beginning that I would sew my dress completely by hand. My feeling was that the lightness and delicacy of the original muslin dresses could not be captured with machine sewing. Besides, I wanted to learn about the construction of garments from this period, and the particular way the seams are sewn would have been impossible by machine. I gleaned as much as I could from my costume books, and relied heavily on the various sewing techniques shared by Katherine at The Fashionable Past. In the end, it didn't take as long as I thought it would, it was very pleasant sewing, and the results were just as I hoped. I think I'll stick with hand-sewing for all my future Regency projects. 

I wore the dress over my shift and stays, along with a bodiced petticoat that I don't have photos of yet. I also wore my Pemberley shoes, a matching vintage taffeta ribbon as a sash, and some coordinating costume jewelry. 

Here it is in action:

Photo courtesy of Kim Yasuda (you can see more of her pictures from the evening here)

The dress was comfortable and easy to wear, though getting into it was not as simple as I had hoped. Pinning the bib in place was a real challenge, especially trying to keep the pins from showing on the outside. There was an aesthetic issue with the bib as well: the thin, sheer fabric, while very delicate and pretty, allowed every wrinkle and seam from my underpinnings to show through in the tight bust area. Was this just part of the look in the period, or should I re-make the bib in some way to give it more opacity? I am thinking some fullness and gathers would help a little. 

Also, the dress needs to be shortened before I try dancing in it again. It just grazes the floor when I move, which is very pretty, but not very convenient on a modern dance floor. At the ball, while I was being escorted off the floor after a dance, someone following too close behind me trod on my hem and pulled most of those tight gathers out of the back of my skirt! Luckily a kind stranger was able to pin me back together in the dressing room, but I learned my lesson. I think hacking off an inch or so will prevent that problem from occurring again.