The Great 18th Century Scramble

antique clock found on Pinterest, no information

By now I bet you’re wondering how my pull-it-together dash toward the 18th century is going. All in all, not too badly.

The apron is just a simple rectangle and went quickly, but I think I may have selected a not period-appropriate print. More on that later.

I next wanted to tackle the quilted “under” petticoat, but wasn’t sure how to proceed. I don’t want a lumpy mess. So I was deliriously happy when I discovered this: easy-peasy-quilted-petticoat on Dressed in Time. What a lifesaver! So I took my light blue WalMart quilted cotton and cut in half with the diamonds running vertically. Yeah, it has the cheesy knit backing, but it will do. Besides, I will be wearing this under my “petticoat” – it’s mainly for warmth.

2014-09-27 20.51.47

Then I started picking out the stitching from the top 2 inches. It went a whole lot faster than I thought (thanks to a “Big Bang” marathon weekend). After the stitching was undone, I tied off the threads on each side of each piece. One. By. One. (Or two by two – depending on how you look at it.)

2014-09-27 20.48.41

Then I got this worried notion that the knots weren’t going to hold. I couldn’t shake it, so (after a test spot) I put a dot of FrayCheck on each knot, front and back. It dried perfectly clear and I feel better about the knots staying tied. (Of course, they must have used a FrayCheck equivalent…tree sap/resin…pine tar…something, right? OK – no.)

The next steps are to sew the sides together, leaving the top sides open for pocket access, pleat the front and back sections, and sew on the twill tape waistband and ties. For expediency’s sake, I’m using the machine on all the hidden seams. I want to get as much of the exposed seams done by hand as I can, but time is tight so…I’ll do what I can do.

Selecting fabrics for the undergarments was easy, but choosing for the outer garments was tough. I want to be as correct as I can, but budget is a reality. Hence the foray to WalMart.

I read as much as I could find and nearly went blind looking at fashion plates and photos of extant garments and fabric remnants on Pinterest. Then I found a treasure trove of period portraits, paintings and engravings showing everyday working class women and their dress. With colors. And prints. Yay!

Now I’ve got etchings, engravings, paintings…I’m in fat city. I can see the elements of dress and the colors. However, artists being the artists they are, I ran into this:

These are both 18th century paintings by Robert Henry Morland. Notice anything? Like the same work table, the same iron, the same pose and, I believe, the same model. But two different styles of hair and dress. It’s not unusual for artists to do this king of thing – creating a “base” then adding different elements to each creation. But it’s a pickle when I’m trying to learn what was real. Who’s a girl to trust?

One thing for sure – I’m not going as “low” as a scullery maid or oyster seller. Talk about cheap fabric. To make matters worse it was most likely rough and didn’t soften up until it rotted off. Yuck.

Anyway, I went through hundreds of bolts at WalMart and finally settled on these. They’re obviously not 100% correct. But at this point if I can evoke a sense of proper dress I’ll be happy.

This is for the short gown (dark navy blue on white) and the petticoat (a very dark green, goes over the light blue quilted petticoat). The pen is there for scale.

And this is where going to WalMart helped – women of this class did not have fine fabrics to use for clothing, so not buying the best stuff worked out relatively well.

The blue and white fabric is a rough weave, which works. The print is too heavy, but the subject (curling vines with flowers) is headed in the right direction. The green is just cotton broadcloth, a bit rough but not terribly so.

Which brings us back to the apron. When looking at the visual art, it quickly becomes apparent that women (especially of higher status) weren’t afraid to use color. Bright colors. Odd (to our eyes) color combinations. Layers of color and pattern that shouldn’t work, but they do. The working class was more subdued, since they couldn’t afford the fabrics with the more expensive colors and prints.

I do have a lot of somewhat rough brown cotton, but I wanted to try the color zap thing with the apron. So I got some orange cotton with a stripe design of printed red and gold (not metallic) squares set on point. I don’t know how horribly incorrect it is – and do let me know if I’ve lost my mind on this one – but I liked the three together. Brace yourselves.

2014-09-30 09.39.26

I sincerely hope no retinas were lost in this viewing.

The diamond shapes are a rusty red. The circles are a golden gold – again, not metallic. The orange isn’t really that “electric” and bright, but the camera refused to give me anything that was more toned down.

Now it’s your turn – opinions, please: Is the orange apron straying unreasonably far from acceptable? Am I better off going with the plain brown? It’s just an apron, after all. I really like the orange, but your opinion counts and if I’m way off I want to know.

I can always use the orange for something else. Like maybe cover a pair of shoes…?


Fabrics for Historical Costuming – a re-blog to share

I found this fabulous post, written yesterday by A Damsel in This Dress. It’s an excellent, concise review of period-appropriate fabrics and contains great links to suppliers. I’ve bookmarked it and will be referring back to it for a long time.

A Damsel in This Dress


We all know that very often it is the fabric that makes The Dress. A wisely chosen set of materials will bring out the beauty of the design, will enhance the tailoring – or even hide some dressmaking mistakes.  A less than perfectly sewn dress will look amazing if the fabric is right – and a fantastically well stitched creation can be badly marred by a poor fabric choice.

Naturally what fabrics we chose differs – all depends on the purpose of the garment. If it is a one off frock cobbled together for a friend’s fancy dress party,  you may not want to spend a lot on expensive silks; however if you are planning  a creation that you are going to wear a lot, or if you strive for authenticity, the correct fabric choice is essential.

In this post I shall mostly concentrate on the historical accuracy and will…

View original post 1,301 more words

A Second Liebster Award Nomination! (Part Two)

Liebster Award badge 1

On to the second part of accepting the Leibster – sharing the smiles and publicly recognizing upcoming bloggers from whom I learn a lot of things and that I enjoy reading.

The Eleven Nominees are:

  • The Shadow of My Hand – Written by Nora, a talented historic costumer from, I think, Finland (although the blog comes up English). Lovely work, great photos, good writing.
  • Unsung Sewing Patterns – “an archeology of home sewing.” This blog just squeaks under the 200 followers, but is worth mentioning. Andrea goals are “to document an ongoing experiment in sewing new clothes from old patterns” and “shed a little light on this lesser known side of home sewing in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.” Very interesting for vintage sewing buffs.
  • Costumes, Cats and the 18th Century – Coming from Stockholm, Sweden, in English, this is all about – wait for it – the 18th century. Great photos and text. Lots of costumed activities.
  • Medieval Silkwork – Dedicated to medieval clothing and needlework (“late Middle Ages to Early Modern times”). Fabulous costuming with lots of step-by-step photos. I’m not much into those eras, but love the blog.
  • Frolicking Frocks – Written by an “over-enthusiastic amateur costumer” from the SF Bay area. Lots of photos, good research, great reproductions.
  • Costumière hystérique – Funny, well-written, great photos plus loads of history and background. (In French)
  • Dressed In Time – Caroline gives wonderful how-I-did-it instructions with tons of photos. Love her sewing.
  • Mode Historique (Historical Personality Disorder) – Loads of info and photos, great writing and fun, fun, fun.
  • Rococo Atelier – Another nominee from Finland! Sanna is a graduate of “modern dressmaking studies with a passion to historical costumes and history in general.” Wonderful writing, great projects, lots of history and photos, and tons of great links.
  • 18th Century Stays – “Discussing aspects of stays and the stay-making trade” Need to know about 18th century stays? This is the place.
  • The Quintessential Clothes Pen -A great exploration of historic costuming with tons of historic references and construction details with photos.

The Eleven Questions are:

  1. What do you enjoy most about writing your blog?
  2. If you could travel to anyplace in the world, where would it be?
  3. What is your fondest memory from childhood?
  4. If you could dress in any style you wanted you wanted (ignoring dress codes, peer pressure, family outrage, and financial ruin) what would you wear? Marie Antoinette? Japanese samurai armor? A cloak of invisibility?
  5. What is your favorite color combination?
  6. What is the best thing about where you are in life at this moment?
  7. What is the one as-of-yet-nonexistent invention you wish you could get your hands on now?
  8. Which is your favorite pair of shoes and why?
  9. If you could instantly become competent in a new art or craft, which one would you pick?
  10. If you could live out the storyline in any one book, which would it be and why?
  11. What one thing are you most looking forward to in the future?

Congratulations to all the nominees. Your work is excellent and I look forward to reading more.

Doubly Honored – A Second Liebster Award Nomination! (Part One)

I am doubly honored and humbled to have been nominated for a second Leibster Award by Samantha at Strings Attached Sewing. Thank you, Samantha!

For those new to the Liebster Award, it is a way to promote recognition for blogs that have less than 200 followers (that includes Twitter and, I think, Facebook).


It works kind of like a Round Robin, in so far as it’s an award from bloggers to bloggers. The purpose is to gain recognition for promising bloggers who’s audience is still growing..

There are, of course, rules. They change and morph a bit as time goes on, but the fundamentals remain the same, as summarized on

ironyca.wordpress.com500 × 326

It’s OK to nominate 5 – 11 qualifying blogs that you feel deserve the award – this about the quality, not quantity.

In accepting this award, I am horrified and more than slightly embarrassed to realize that I never finished my commitments to my first Leibster from Nessa. I hope to rectify that here and in Part Two.

First, though, my questions from Samantha:

What is your creative process?

Basically, it’s being able to let go of my critical side and just “do.” I get inspiration from a number of sources – images, people, conversations, you name it. Words, language, color, texture, shape…it’s all good. Not mistakes, just ideas that didn’t work out so well. Not failure, just a need to sharpen my knowledge and/or skills. Once the timid and risk-averse self-critic is banished, anything can happen.

What can you absolutely not function without?

Setting aside edible food, drinkable water and protection from the elements…this is a toughie. Everything else is just stuff. I would hate being homeless. I would have a hard time being 100% dependent on others for my care. I would hate to be without my rescue dog Sophie. But as grievous as those situations may be, I would still be able to function – not well, but function.

I guess the answer would be my brain. Not being able to think or remember or analyze or create or feel happiness… Nope, that would do me in.

What is your favorite part of your day and why?

In the morning, when I’m still in bed and slowly waking up. I’m relaxed, no pain. Sophie is usually snuggled up beside me. I can feel my senses coming alive, almost one by one: hearing, then touch, then smell, then sight. And taste – must brush teeth.

What accomplishment are you most proud of? (bragging time guys)

I have saved lives, literally, while working as an RN in critical care. I’ve done CPR on the floor and kept the patient alive. I caught an unanticipated heart attack at 3 a.m. in a patient who had been admitted for something completely different. I’ve manned the defibrillator and zapped people’s hearts back to normal, more than once.

On the flip side, and equally important, I’ve helped people cope with death and dying. It’s some pretty serious stuff, so I won’t go into a lot of detail. Let’s just say I worked in a pediatric/trauma unit. “Nuff said.

What is your favorite book and why?

A single book? Impossible. However, there are series that I love and re-read:

  • “In Death” series by J. D. Robb
  • “Miles Vorkorsigan” series by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • “Dexter” series by Jeff Lindsay
  • “Wire in the Blood” series by Val McDermid
  • “Bryant and May” series by Christopher Fowler

Why? They are all character-driven. Interesting and strong characters that interact, great story lines that intermingle from one novel to another, creativity and imagination, the first two take place in the future and yet the situations and circumstances are very believable (i.e., no Godzilla), and the ability to include humor in the most unlikely moments. Each novel pulls me into the next and I never tire of the characters.

What makes you fangirl?

I had to look up the definition of fangirl (“a rabid breed of human female who is obsessed with either a fictional character or an actor”) so that’s probably a clue.  Obsessed is a pretty strong word – I don’t think I obsess about anything.

Having said that, I do have a keen interest in the characters of Elizabeth Bennet, Commissaire Maigret, Bryant & May, Dr. Tony Hill and Roarke. As for real people it’s Colin Firth’s body of work (that means his films, guys); Mozart; Georgianna, The Duchess of Devonshire (1757-1806) and Marie Antoinette (such a complex story).

How do you deal with stress?

Not blow things out of proportion, not let the “what-ifs” run amok, putting things in perspective. Classical music. Playing with my dog. Meditation. Loosing myself in the sound of the ocean. And my mantra “What am I willing and able to do right now?”

What is your favorite food?

The entire carbohydrate food group works for me. 😉

Who inspires you?

Every single person who risked it all by working for the Resistance in WWII. Their stories are awesome, and I do mean awesome. (For clarification’s sake, this is not a slam against Germany or her people – just “you-know-who” and the people who willingly carried out his orders and killed without remorse.)

What do you love about yourself?

I love that I am unique. I love my brain for being smart, quick and able to think outside the box. I love that I can dance. I love my ability to laugh at myself and the absurdities of life. I love that I’m able to take risks. I love that I can write. I love that I’m empathetic. I love that travel is easy for me and that I love the experience.

Egads, that was hard.

OK, now for eleven random facts about me:

  1. I’m ambidextrous (use both hands just about equally)
  2. I’m a lousy cook.
  3. But I love to bake – especially bread.
  4. I love snow – makes me feel like a kid again.
  5. I hate Sudoku.
  6. My favorite pie is Cherry.
  7. My favorite cake is Red Velvet.
  8. Yellow looks hideous on me.
  9. I love the ocean and just sitting, listening to the sound of waves breaking on the beach. It’s a transcendent experience for me.
  10. I am in perpetual hope that one day I’ll go to France and the second part of my round-trip ticket gets lost and I can’t afford another ticket so I can’t leave but I charm the administrative powers-that-be with my clever repartee (as if that would be possible) and get to live there for the rest of my life.
  11. Or Italy…I’m flexible.

I’m exhausted.

Stay tuned for Part Two.

Your Weekend Wow!

Old, old, very old shoes…I love them. As I look at them, though, and enjoy their aesthetic beauty I’m simultaneously wondering how on earth the women who wore them managed to do anything but sit around the house/villa/chateau/whatever. They have no left and right, no insoles to speak of (usually just the top of the wood soles), thin fabric or leather uppers, and no foot support whatsoever.

But boy-o-boy are they gorgeous.


All the Fit That’s News to Print: on to Toile #3 and a Brief Excursion to the 18th Century

1822: "A woman, proud of her beauty, says he, may possibly be nothing but a coquet.. one who makes a public display of her bosom, is something worse." – The Mirror of  Graces, by A Lady of Distinction, 1811, p. 120

“A woman, proud of her beauty, says he, may possibly be nothing but a coquet.. one who makes a public display of her bosom, is something worse.” – The Mirror of Graces, by A Lady of Distinction, 1811, p. 120. (I believe the cartoon is by one of our dear Mr. Cruikshanks.)

Sunday’s SITU sewing circle was tons of fun, as usual, and master fitting went very well. Once I donned the chemise, stays, and petticoat the muslin toile #2 fit much better than it did on the dress form. In the midst of all the pinning, re-pinning, discussion and general activity I forgot to take any photos. That’s too bad because the stays do an incredible job in the “up and out” department. Photos next time, for sure…promise

As it turned out, the bodice doesn’t need that much alteration. I can resolve the excess fabric at the front armhole by moving it down to an additional underbust pleat, or distribute the excess between the existing pleats. The bodice back needs to loose a bit more from the center front in order to get rid of the “bubbliness” that pooches out and the length is not an issue after all.

Those are minor and easy to do, but it means the armscye is totally whacked. It needs to come down under the arm, move toward the shoulder in the back and come away from the shoulder in the front.

Those issues will be tackled at the next sewing circle, which is in October (we only meet once a month). Hopefully, November will see the completed toile for the bodice with sleeves. I don’t need this gown until July, so I’m glad I started early.

During this one-month pause in activity, I’m going to see if I can knock out an acceptable 18th century outfit for a SITU event on October 26th, “A Gathering of Rebels,” which is being held in a German-style alehouse. (Beer, potatoes, bratwurst and cheese? Count me in!)

Dress is 18th century American colonial and it needs to be done quickly so don’t think in terms of “Dangerous Liaisons” (yes, it’s French)…

Costume from "Dangerous Liaisons"

Costume from “Dangerous Liaisons”

…think “Colonial Williamsburg.”

Ladies from Colonial  Williamsburg, re-enacting an activity from 1774.

Ladies from Colonial Williamsburg, re-enacting an activity from 1774.

My outfit will be much like the re-enactor in the pink petticoat above: a chemise, short gown, petticoat (which is the skirt), an under-petticoat (because it’ll be pretty cold) and an apron. I don’t have 18th century stays, so I’m looking at making jumps instead. Hopefully I’ll get a cap and a pair of pockets done, too. That’s a lot of sewing, but it’s all plain and simple (she says now) and a good place to start.

So I’m in gear, have the apron in progress and will be hemming it tonight.

A “Heads-Up” for Novice Fashion Sleuths like Me

Deborah Hay (Celimene) sinks to the floor in exasperation in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's The School for Lies. photo by Liz Lauren, Chicago Examiner

Deborah Hay (Celimene) in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s The School for Lies. Liz Lauren, Chicago Examiner

While Toile #2 is in a holding pattern pending Sunday’s sewing circle and expert fitting session, I thought I share something I’ve stumbled upon over on Pinterest more than once…and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

I use Pinterest A LOT. It is my visual library and I peruse it regularly. While the visuals are usually great, the information is not always so and it can be truly exasperating.

This particular pin, for example, is presented as having come from The Gallery of Fashion. Here is the fashion plate:


1811 “Même Coeffure qu’an N°1156. Robe de Gaze.” (Same hairstyle as #1156. Gauze dress.”

And here is the description, as provided by the pinner:

“Costume Parisien ca 1803. Note the deep bodice back. Regency bodice backs are often no wider (from top to bottom) than about 3 inches. Also, contrary to many modern costumers’ beliefs, the Regency dress rarely closed at the back center seam. Side closures were more common. Note the braid made our of the hair taken from underneath the upswept hairpiece used to make the bun.”

The a copy of the fashion plate is sold by, with whom I am not familiar. They title the print as: Le Journal des Dames et des Modes 1811 Costume Parisien Number 1157. However, they source the print as: Le Journal des Dames et des Modes (1797).

 So we’ve got conflicting data and information that contravenes our (meaning “my”) knowledge base:
  • Origin: is it from The Gallery of Fashion or from Le Journal des Dames et des Modes?
  • Dates: the pinner says 1803, the fashion plate says 1811 and a seller of the print says 1797.
  • The pinner’s statement “Regency bodice backs are often no wider (from top to bottom) than about 3 inches.”
  • And the pinner’s claim “…contrary to many modern costumers’ beliefs, the Regency dress rarely closed at the back center seam. Side closures were more common.”

As far as I’m concerned, if the fashion plate says 1811, it’s 1811. But one has to keep an eye out for such things.

Which is the true source? More homework required.

Regency bodice backs varied greatly through the period as fashion changed, so I feel the use of the word “often” is both meaningless and misleading (in my humble opinion).

And as for Regency dresses closing on the side rather than the back, this is the first time I’ve heard of it. It contradicts everything I’ve learned about Regency fashion. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s incorrect, but I’d do some research before formally passing it on.

Even with the fashion plate images themselves there’s weirdness. I’ve encountered this more than once:

Which one is “correct”? I haven’t the foggiest…I’d need to go to the original source (if I could determine what it was) and hope to get lucky.

I’ve gotten things wrong more than once and am trying to be more diligent. but the truth is that I’m bound to miss contradictions like these again in the future.

So tread carefully, my friends. We are humans, not machines, and I am glad of it.

Toile #2, Part Two: photo results of the initial fitting

The set of photos taken this morning are a bit better. There are still issues with the lighting and my hands are a bit shaky today, but we’ll make do with what we have.

To make sure I kept the lower edge level, I pinned it to the waist band of the petticoat. Here are the results: the left side of the bodice as it is without intervention, the right side of the bodice is pinned for better fit.

bodice front

bodice front

bodice back

bodice back

The left side – unaltered:

rippling neckline, gap at armscye, folded underarm

Rippling neckline, gap at armscye, fold at underarm,

sagging back, again with deep underarm fold

sagging back, again with deep underarm fold,

but in spite of it all there is a decent shape to the back of the armsye

but in spite of it all there is a decent shape to the back of the armsye.

The right side, pinned:

neckline lays straight and flat,

Neckline lays straight and flat.

the underarm is too high, but now it also lays flat,

the underarm is too high, but now it also lays flat.

The back needs the largest amount of changes - a horizontal fold to take up the excess length, pulling the shoulder strap back a bit further, and taking in some excess just in front of the back armscye.

The back needs the largest amount of changes – a horizontal fold to take up the excess length, pulling the shoulder strap back a bit further on the outer (sleeve) edge, and taking in some excess just in front of the back armscye.

But then the back contour of the armscye is almost completely lost.

However, then the back contour of the armscye is almost completely lost. But it does make the back strap seam line and the back side seam line almost meet in a diamond point which, historically speaking, is OK


When I looked at making an entirely new bodice in the next size down, the measurements were all wrong. I think it’s just the way I’m built and how it differs from the pattern model’s shape.

I do want to put in a left side sleeve to see how it changes the fit, if at all, and see what the overall armscye shape is supposed to be like (although I sincerely doubt it will resolve the problems).

And I may try to cut a pattern based on the pinned side, just to see what happens.

Either way, this coming Sunday is the Somewhere In Time, Unlimited – Seattle sewing circle where Bobbie Kalben, Costume College instructor and our fabulous fitting guru, can help bail me out.

On a different note: I found this video, courtesy of Ms. Daffodil Digresses, from Colonial Williamsburg which shows the making of a satin dress in one day using period techniques. And now I want a pinking iron.

Toile #2, Part Two: Style Confirmation and Fitting

In general, I like surprises and learning new things, which is one of the reasons I like doing research. Another benefit is finding confirmation that a change I want to make has genuine historical precedent.

Unusual Chintz Dress ca. 1770-1800

Unusual Chintz Dress ca. 1770-1800

The full description is: “An Unusual and Interesting Chintz Dress ca. 1770-1800, Indienne printed chintz, probably 1770’s remade in the late 1790’s, skirts gathered to the raised waist with fullness in the back, long sleeves with self-covered button closure and ruffled cuffs.”

It was sold by Christie’s with the following additional lot notes: “An interesting example of the value inherent in fabrics in this period; the chintz so typical of the third quarter of the 18th century here remade into a dress very typical of the very late 18th early 19th centuries.”

[FYI – The winning bid was £6,250 ($11,150) in October, 2008.]

This morning I spent even more time on Pinterest looking only at dresses from 1795-1799 (OCD? Moi?) and have a clearer picture in my head of what I’m after.

Finally, it was time to start measuring the pattern then roll out the muslin and start cutting. Only this time, I thought I’d try out fitting the pieces as I add them and see how that works.

It didn’t take long to realize that starting from scratch wasn’t necessary. I could use #1 to make #2, so I:

  • took the back bodice down a size, which consisted of merely trimming off a strip along each center back edge,
  • picked out and reversed the shoulder straps – they were indeed backwards,
  • changed the front bodice pleats to gathers, didn’t like it, so changed back to pleats…this time going the right direction on each side, and
  • discovered that I’d not turned under enough material along the neckline edge, so picked it out, measured and re-stitched.

The good news is that the front looks and fits so much better. I’m comfortable with the the neckline is now, so no changes planned, at least for now.

Everything else, however, needs work. I took photos, but the light is already fading and they didn’t come out. So the task for tomorrow morning it to re-take the photos so you can see what still needs improvement.

At this point, I think I may have to re-draw the bodice pattern to fit my body shape, at least that’s what the draping seems to imply. I’ve never done that before, but no time like the present to learn, right? I do know how to adjust individual pieces for fit, so some of the basics are there…”just” have to put them all together so they work.

And I haven’t gotten to the sleeves yet, so more adventures ahead.

Seamstress, 1890s. Probably an indication of why my poor little toile doesn't fit...not enough good measurements!

Seamstress, 1890s. Probably an indication of why my toile doesn’t fit…not enough measurements!