Your Weekend Wow!

Behold an amazing c. 1910 dress in an amazing deep rose color, with amazing detail. I know, I know…adjective overkill. Still…I think it’s just plain, well, you know. The label reads “Emma Wagen, Lucerne.” This lovely dress is #7583, currently available for purchase at The Antique and Vintage Dress Gallery – in the 1850’s to 1930’s gallery. If you’ve never browsed through Deborah Burke‘s fabulous collections, you are missing something special.


In Honor of Betsy

"The Birth of Old Glory" by Percy Moran, 1917. Library of Congress.

“The Birth of Old Glory” by Percy Moran, 1917. Library of Congress.

Betsy Ross died on this day in 1836. Whether she actually made the first American flag or not remains in question, but her story is a tale of personal resolve and endurance through a number of personal tragedies and losses.

The following is from (© 2014 A+E Networks. All rights reserved.):

Betsy Ross, best known for making the first American flag, was born Elizabeth Griscom in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on January 1, 1752. A fourth-generation American, and the great-granddaughter of a carpenter who had arrived in New Jersey in 1680 from England, Betsy was the eighth of 17 children. Like her sisters, she attended Quaker schools and learned sewing and other crafts common in her day.

After Betsy completed her schooling, her father apprenticed her to a local upholsterer, where, at age 17, she met John Ross, an Anglican. The two young apprentices quickly fell for one another, but Betsy was a Quaker, and the act of marrying outside of one’s religion was strictly off-limits. To the shock of their families, Betsy and John married in 1772, and she was promptly expelled from both her family and the Friends meeting house in Philadelphia that served as a place of worship for Quakers. Eventually, the couple opened their own upholstery business, drawing on Betsy’s deft needlework skills.

In 1776, at the start of the American Revolution, John was killed by a gunpowder explosion while on militia duty at the Philadelphia waterfront. Following his death, Betsy acquired his property and kept up the upholstery business, working day and night to make flags for Pennsylvania. A year later, Betsy married Joseph Ashburn, a sailor. Joseph, however, also met an unfortunate end. In 1781, the ship he was on was captured by the British and he died in prison the next year.

In 1783, Betsy married for a third and final time. The man, John Claypoole, had been in prison with her late husband Joseph Ashburn, and had met Betsy when he delivered Joseph’s farewells to her. John died 34 years later, in 1817, after a long disability. Betsy Ross’s life and struggles were truly impressive, perhaps even more so than the legendary flag making for which she is best known.

Betsy died on January 30, 1836, at the age of 84, in Philadelphia. The story of her making the first American flag was shared with the public by her grandson nearly 50 years after her passing. The story goes that she made the flag in June of 1776 after a visit from President George Washington, Robert Morris, and her husband’s uncle, George Ross. Her grandson’s recollections were published in Harper’s Monthly in 1873, but today most scholars agree that it was not Betsy who made the first flag. However, Betsy was without dispute a flagmaker who, records show, was paid in 1777 by the Pennsylvania State Navy Board for making “ship’s colours, &c.”

Is an appeal to patriotism good for business? The makers of Hole in the Head 5¢ cigars thought so.

Hole in Head 5¢ cigars.

Regardless of whether she would have wanted the attention or not, Betsy Ross became an American legend and a venerated national patriotic symbol.

An example of the veneration of Betsy Ross in the late 19th century.

An example of the veneration of Betsy Ross in the late 19th century.

Information about the legend of Betsy Ross can be found in Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s excellent article “How Betsy Ross Became Famous – Oral tradition, nationalism, and the invention of history”  at

HSF #2 – “A Fine and Flattering Fichu” – is finished!

copyright Daisuke Tomiasu 2003

copyright Daisuke Tomiasu 2003

It’s been dark, foggy and raining for the past days. So dark that I’ve had the front room lights turned on during the daytime AND had to wear my hiker’s headlamp to hand sew the black organdy double-ruffle with black thread. But it is finished and I LOVE IT!

HSF #2 - A Fine and Flattering Fichu

HSF #2 – A Fine and Flattering Fichu

Title: A Fine and Flattering Fichu

The Challenge:  #2 – Innovation: machine-made lace

Background and history:

The word lace is from Middle English, from Old French las, noose, string, from Vulgar Latin laceum, from Latin laqueus, noose; probably akin to lacere, to entice, ensnare.

In the late 16th century there was a rapid development in the field of lace. With the passage of time and an increasing demand in the market for lace, the way the world produced goods changed.

St. John Francis Regis (31 January 1597 – 30 December 1640) helped many country girls stay away from the cities, and aided disenfranchised women and prostitutes by training and establishing them in the lace-making and embroidery trades, which is why he became the Patron Saint of lace-making.

In 1768, John Heathcoat invented the bobbin net machine, which made the production of complex lace designs much easier and faster.  

Heathcoats' Bobbin-net lacemaking machine (Wikipedia)

Heathcoats’ Bobbin-net lacemaking machine (Wikipedia)

John Heathcoat's Tiverton Lace Manufactory, c.1836

John Heathcoat’s Tiverton (England) Lace Manufactory, c.1836

In 1837, Samuel Ferguson first used jacquard looms with Heathcoat’s bobbin net machine, resulting in endless possibilities for lace designs.

The term “machine lace” and chemical lace” are often used interchangeably, however they are not the same:

  • Machine-made lace includes any style of lace created or replicated using mechanical means.
  • With chemical lace, the stitching area is stitched with embroidery threads that form a continuous motif. Afterwards, the stitching areas are removed and only the embroidery remains. The stitching ground is made of water-soluble or non heat-resistant material.

Fabric: white muslin background

Pattern: Ageless Patterns #1530-2


Ageless Patterns #1530-2

Ageless Patterns #1530-2

Year: 1870

Notions: machine-made cotton laces, machine-made cotton-blend lace, machine-gathered black and white checked ribbon trim, machine-gathered black organdy trim, white and black thread, 1/8-inch sage green grosgrain ribbon edged in dark brown, needle, thimble, scissors, and assisted by many cups of hot tea.

How historically accurate is it? Very – taken from a vintage garment pattern with vintage instructions and created using vintage photographs for reference.

Hungarian woman wearing a beautiful fichu, c. 1870.

Hungarian woman wearing a beautiful fichu, c. 1870.

Hours to complete: Planning, playing, and dithering = 6+ hours. Final placement prep = 4 hours. Actual sewing time = 10 hours, maybe a tad more.

First worn: not yet worn

Total cost: $26.60 in lace. I already had the muslin, thread, and some white lace.

The end is in sight!

Victorian Street Telescope Exhibitor, 1861-62.

Street Telescope Exhibitor, 1861-62.

I could have made this post earlier, but my uploaded photos went missing again in the Cloud-o-Sphere until now. The fichu is soooo close to done and I’m even more excited. I love the creative process. Here’s what’s happened since yesterday’s post

I started building the left front in layers, just as I did the right, and did a visual check for symmetry and to see how the front closure overlap will look:

Front of fichu, showing look of final overlap. Left half 3/4 finished.

Front of fichu, showing look of final overlap. Left half 3/4 finished.

I finished layering the left half and aligned the center back seam:

Left and right halves done. Center back seam aligned.

Left and right halves done. Center back seam aligned.

I hand-sewed the center back seam to ensure the halves mirrored each other accurately, then I continued the first row of black lace along the neck edge:

Center back sewn together. Inner neck ruffle in place.

Center back sewn together. Inner neck ruffle in place.

I liked the look so much, I decided to do a mirror reverse for the back neck edge:

Second back neck in place.

Second row of back neck in place.

But it looked too blah where the two pieces of black lace butted up against each other. Thinking of he Unofficial Victorian Motto “Nothing succeeds like excess.” it occurred to me that a little line of beaded lace would look great. But the nearest fabric store is almost an hour away – I kid you not – and I was not about to spend 3 hours of the day and all that gas just for a few inches of beading lace. Cue Inspiration: just cut down the double-layered beading lace and use that. (These are the moments that make up for all the time spent playing around with the bits and pieces.) And so:



The final outer double-ruffle of ruched black organdy (yes, more ruffles) is pinned into place and as soon as this post is done I’ll be hand-sewing it in place.

Outer ruffle in place; front edge up, back edge is down.

Outer ruffle in place; front edge up, back edge is down.

Outer ruffle in place, front side.

Outer ruffle in place, front side.

Then there will be a black rosette center front to hide the closure. And, although it’s not easy to see in the photo, the outermost black lace is gathered underneath the organdy ruffle:

2014-01-27 18.54.30

The next photo will be of the finished fichu. I’m not going to hurry this through – a bit late to worry about that now – but it will be done by the posting deadline and that’s good enough for me.

HSF #2 Update – almost there

I didn’t get the fichu finished today. It is amazing how many hours I can play around with possibilities. *rolling eyes* But I did get the right half done except for the final trims, which have to wait until I attach the left side. But for now, here are the layers as they went together.

General orientation: This is the right half, laying on its side. The outer edge is at the bottom. The front is to the right. The center back seam is on the upper left. The neck edge is at the top.

First layer – double wide black lace that runs along outer edge of fichu.

Layer 1

Layer 1

Second layer – double layer white lace on top of the black.

Second Layer

Second Layer

Third layer – single wide black lace around neckline.

Third Layer

Third Layer

Fourth and Fifth layers – open back area filled with layered flat white lace, then wide white beading lace applied

Fourth and Fifth layers

Fourth and Fifth layers

Sixth layer – Black and white checked ruched ribbon applied

Layer 6

Layer 6

Close up of fichu layers as they will be worn (outer edge on left, neck side on right):

Right side of fichu as it curves around the back of neck.

Right side of fichu as it curves around the back of neck.

Front edge of fichu, right side.

Front edge of fichu, right side.

So that’s where it is at the moment. I’m really pleased with the way it’s coming together and so glad I held off on the purple. Now that I know where I’m going, the left side will be done tomorrow. And then it just needs the the final trims around the edge. I can’t wait to see it all put together and finished!

Your Weekend Wow!

When I started researching antique clothing I could not believe how many garments have survived in such good condition. I have already amassed a collection of thousands of photographs. They are my visual guides to how clothing really looked “back then.” There are so many beautiful garments I want to share. So I’m starting a weekly posting of the ones that blow my little seamstress mind to smithereens. I hope you enjoy and appreciate them as much as I do.

Fripperies and Fobs Dress, 1870’s Scanned from Russian Elegance (found on Pinterest)

Fripperies and Fobs Dress, 1870’s Scanned from Russian Elegance (found on Pinterest)

HSF #2: Gone and Back

Ageless Patterns #1530-2

Ageless Patterns #1530-2

I’ve been playing around with this fichu for a while now. My initial idea was to make a pretty piece to complement the V-shaped neckline of an upcoming 1870’s dress from the early bustle era. The fabric is a beautiful purple that I’ve been holding for “the right dress.”



Then I started playing around with machine laces and different trims. And played. And played. And didn’t like any of it. The white laces are too white. The ivory/cream/ecru laces are too yellow. And although the drawing seems to indicate the use of colored lace, the two-color lace I have (third from the left, white and pale lavender) looks just plain wrong. Really wrong.

purple and lace2

Fortunately, these days I listen to my inner klaxon when it screams DO NOT PROCEED: YOU DON’T LIKE THIS AND YOU WILL NEVER WEAR THIS BECAUSE YOU DON’T LIKE THIS. STOP. NOW. (Sometimes it takes more than gentle inner persuasion to get my attention.)

So the whole shebang has been sitting there while I waited for inspiration to strike – or the deadline to arrive. And I suddenly recalled that one of the upcoming HSF Challenges (#9) is Black and White and hey, presto – problem solved.

Realizing that I needed another “fix” before I could manage to go any further, yesterday I visited my local “dealer” (JoAnn’s) and scored on some perfect black and white laces and trims that look great together. They’ve been washed, dried and are ready to rumble.

Bonus: I have the entire weekend free…

(image from thegraphicsfairy)


A Classy Victorian Undergarments Class

Thompson's Glove-Fitting Corset, 1900. (

Thompson’s Glove-Fitting Corset, 1900. (

I need unders. Victorian unders. And I need them by mid-March.

I reached my weight goal (whoop-whoop!) and now I have no pants that fit, tons of baggy sweaters and a Victorian corset that hangs on me even when pulled completely closed. Tragic, I know, but I think I can bear it.

I realized that, with my town’s annual Victorian Whoop-de-do approaching in March, it would be nice to have period underwear that fits. And is a bit better-made than my first attempts.

TV102 - chemise and drawers

TV102 – chemise and drawers

So I have registered for Jennifer Rosbrugh’s Victorian Undergarments class. We will be using these patterns, all copyrighted by Truly Victorian. In six weeks I’ll have everything I need except for the corset.

TV163 - Imperial tonure (bustle)

TV163 – Imperial tonure (bustle)

But now that I’ve done a first one, the next one should go a lot faster. (She says.) Doing this on top of the Historical Sew Fortnightly is probably nuts but, as history shows, I’ve never been afraid to go down that road.

TV170 - Victorian pettticoats

TV170 – Victorian petticoats

My HSF #2 project is a part of my Victorian ensemble. And, if worse comes to worse, HSF #3 will go comfortably under my petticoat(s). March can be windy and chilly up here, so I may resort to adding one of my Edwardian flannel petticoats just to stay warm.

And, speaking of HSF #2, I bet you’re wondering how it’s going. Hang tight…it’s the next post.

Something Delightful is A-foot

From Ackerman's

From Ackerman’s Repository

Well, I survived my first session of English Country Dance and loved every step of it. The focus on last night’s lesson was the “Hey” – apparently referring to a complex interweaving of the dancers. We did 3-person Heys, 4-person Heys, and 6-person Heys…really neat once you get the hang of it.

Having no visual or intellectual reference, for me it was a bit like learning to play living 3-dimensional chess to music. I briefly thought of bringing a compass the next time, but one never has a chance to look other than where one is going. Theoretically, that is. I executed a few vigorous “Collinses” (pardon me; excuse me; oops; oh, my – sorry), but for the most part caught on fairly quickly, had a great time and no CPR was required.

Better yet, at the dance I learned there is also a local Contredance group…I am so in! I admit to being a bit confused by overhearing distinctions being made between English Country Dance and Contredance. My understanding of the two has been as described below, this quote being from Britain Express:

By the beginning of the 18th century dances such as the Branles, Corantos and Gavottes had become ‘ever more complex, stilted and affected’, so European dances were increasingly re-placed by English Country Dances.

Although many thought that the contredance was originally French, these dances were, in fact, exported from Britain to France, in spite of the name, which was used to describe the English Country Dance in longways form.

The Dancing Lesson, Part 2. Cruikshank, 1824.

The Dancing Lesson, Part 2. Cruikshank, 1824.

But we danced on longways forms last night, so I am not at all clear on the difference between the two. To my knowledge, the word “contredance” morphed into “country dance” in the transition from French to English, but that notion appears to have some issues as well. In addition, one of the dances I “learned” last night has a French name, but was an English Country Dance imported for the Dutch court.

I am sure all, as they say, will be revealed. I did hear someone say that contredance is much more vigorous than country dance. Hmmm.

The next contredance dance and lesson is February 8th. We’ll see how I feel on February 9th.

Hoping for Colonel Fitzwilliam, Hiding from Mr. Collins

The first quadrille at Almack's, 1808.

The first quadrille at Almack’s, 1808.

I discovered some earth-shattering, or at least sand-rippling, news yesterday. My sweet, somewhat-weird-in-the-cool-artistic-sense little Victorian town has a group of English Country Dancers. That holds classes regularly and that I can join without going bankrupt!

Oh, be still my swooning slippers!!!

It feels like I have been dancing for just about ever. My grandfather owned the first soft-serve ice cream machine in the state. From the time I could walk, he’d lift me onto the counter at the soda fountain, fire up the jukebox, and I would dance for the customers. They, in turn would buy me ice cream. The customers loved it, grandpa made extra sales, and I got an early peek into the unimaginable fortunes to be had as a dancer.

Dancing was a natural joy and I kept it up: tap, ballet, jazz, modern, on stage, on camera…nothing big, but fun when you’re a kid. As an adult I kept on going: international folk dancing, Hula kahiko, Hula ‘auana, and Western swing. And if I had about 40% more muscle tone I’d happily tackle Beyoncé right this minute. (You know what I mean.)

But, back to the important stuff.

So now I can get back into dancing and learn a lot of culture and history at the same time. That’s my kind of multi-tasking. I really do want to make it to the JASNA AGM this fall in Montréal, Québec. And it would be fabulous to dance and not just watch.

Besides, Pride and Prejudice taught us all a lesson about dancing and what it leads to. (Or, for the English majors, “that to which it leads.”)

darcy-and-elizabeth-at-ballEver since Colin Firth, poor fellow, nailed the All-Round-Best-Ever-Regency-Attired-Gentleman-in-a-Wet-and-Nearly-Transparent-Linen-Shirt Award, I’ve been interested in English Country Dance. You see, first Mr. Darcy danced. Pride_and_Prejudice_Colin_Firth_Wet_ShirtThen, before you could say “Please pass the treacle, Lydia”, there he was in a see-through shirt. That’s about as direct as logical progression gets, no? (And it provides irrefutable proof regarding the value of paying attention to the story line because you never know when real-life tips like this will turn up.)

So this coming Sunday afternoon, for the meager entry fee of $5 and a potluck dish, I will take my first steps into the world of Regency-era dance in the form of a two-hour lesson that covers six new-to-me dances. I remember reading, somewhere in a Regency manual or letter of the time, that a dance set can last as long as thirty minutes and either you can dance or you cannot – meaning there’s no sitting one out because you have to catch your breath.

I just hope there is a Regency-era defibrillator and oxygen tank nearby.

"The Dying Patient, or The Doctor's Last Fee" by Rowlandson.

“The Dying Patient, or The Doctor’s Last Fee” by Rowlandson.