HSM Challenge #3 is Done!

2015-03-31 21.42.30My “stashbusting” 1855 wool crocheted shawl is done…and with 2 hours to spare, no less. I scavenged the wool (“frogged” it) from an 1840’s-style shawl I’d started to knit long ago but didn’t like the way it was draping. The wool’s partially recycled and somewhat coarse. That makes it ideal for its intended use as a cool-weather wrap while I spend time as a re-enactor at a historic frontier fort and fur-trading site where time has been frozen at 1855…basic, no frills, no luxury. It’s just what I’ll need come early fall. And those few women who were settling the area needed to re-use whatever they could, so I figured /hoped using 100% recycled wool would not run afoul of historical correctness.

Sophie, of course, stayed with me to the bitter end.

Here are the specifics for HSM #3, which I’m calling “Warm Wool Wound all Around”:

The Challenge: Stashbusting: Make something using only fabric, patterns, trims & notions that you already have in stash.

Fabric: 100% wool

Pattern: My own

Year: 1885

Notions: wool and crochet hook

How historically accurate is it? Very – I created the pattern based on photos of extant shawls and extant crochet patterns from the era

Hours to complete: approximately 10-11

First worn: not yet worn

Total cost: 0$ – everything came from my stash


Polaire and her 14- (or 15- or 16-) inch waist.

My fingers are flying to finish my HSM #3 project in time, i.e., midnight tomorrow. In the meantime, while researching corsets and corseting practices, I discovered Polaire. This biographical information is paraphrased, primarily from Wikipedia.

Polaire – Émilie-Marie Bouchaud

Émilie-Marie Bouchaud had a tumultuous childhood. She was born in Born in Agha, Algiers, Algeria in 1874. When she was five her father died of typhoid fever and, because her mother was unable to support the family alone, the children – Émilie and her three siblings – ended up temporarily placed with their grandmother in Algiers.

In 1889, her mother began a relationship with a man named Emmanuel Borgia and the family moved with him to Paris. There her mother found work and tried to find domestic employment for her daughter. Eventually however, Émilie was sent back to her grandmother in Algiers. Her mother and (by that time) only surviving sibling Edmond remained in Paris with Mr. Borgia.

In September 1890 she ran away from Algiers to rejoin her mother in France. However, she feared Mr. Borgia and so first approached her brother Edmond. He had started getting recognition as a café-concert singer under the name of Dufleuve and, with his help, she auditioned successfully for her first job as a café singer about the time she was 17.

Tolouse-Lautrec's Polaire

Tolouse-Lautrec’s Polaire

Émilie adopted the stage name Polaire (“Pole Star”), working first as a singer and dancer. Having quickly made a name for herself – Toulouse-Lautrec portrayed her on a magazine cover in 1895 – she briefly visited New York, appearing there as a chanteuse at various venues, but without achieving major success.

Polaire in "Claudine à Paris" de Willy – 1902

Polaire in “Claudine à Paris de Willy” – 1902

On her return to Paris she extended her range and went on to act in serious theatre. Her first major appearance was in 1902, in the title role of a play based on Colette’s Claudine à Paris. A comedic actress, Polaire became one of the major celebrities of her day and later, as cinema developed, appeared in several films.

Throughout her career Polaire skillfully in using her appearance to attract attention. In her early days as a café singer in the 1890s she wore very short skirts and cropped her hair, fashions that did not become common in the rest of society until the 1920s. She was brunette and wore unusually heavy eye makeup, deliberately evocative of the Arab world.

Many artists besides Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec captured her image, including Pablo Picasso, Antonio de La Gandara, Leonetto Cappiello, and Rupert Carabin.

At a time when tightlacing was in vogue, she was famous for her tiny, corseted waist, which was reported to have a circumference no greater than 16 inches (410 mm). This accentuated her large bust, which was said to measure 38 inches (970 mm). She stood 5 feet 3 inches (1.60 m) tall. (While Wikipedia reports her waist size as 16 inches, Polaire reported her waist as 14inches, while other sources state it was 15 inches. I read a remark insisting a 14-inch waist was impossible, since that was the size of an average woman’s neck. All I can say is look at the photos and compare her waist to her neck. 14 inches looks feasible to me. While the seated photos are likely retouched, the standing photos appear unaltered.)


Her striking appearance, both on and off stage, contributed to her celebrity. For her 1910 appearance in New York she provocatively allowed herself to be billed in the advance publicity as “the ugliest woman in the world.” Returning to America in 1913, she brought a diamond-collared pet pig, Mimi, and wore a nose-ring. Talk of her figure and her lavish overdressing in fur coats and dazzling jewels preceded her appearances wherever she went.

Jean Lorrain (a French poet) said of her:

Polaire! The agitating and agitated Polaire! The tiny slip of a woman that you know, with the waist slender to the point of pain, of screaming out loud, of breaking in two, in a spasmically tight bodice, the prettiest slimness … And, under the aureole of an extravagant masher’s hat, orange and plumed with iris leaves, the great voracious mouth, the immense black eyes, ringed, bruised, discoloured, the incandescence of her pupils, the bewildered nocturnal hair, the phosphorus, the sulphur, the red pepper of that ghoulish, Salome-like face, the agitating and agitated Polaire!
What a devilish mimic, what a coffee-mill and what a belly-dancer! Yellow skirt tucked high, gloved in open-work stockings, Polaire skips, flutters, wriggles, arches from the hips, the back, the belly, mimes every kind of shock, twists, coils, rears, twirls…trembling like a stuck wasp, miaows, faints to what music and what words! The house, frozen with stupor, forgets to applaud.

Now that’s an epitaph!

Carte d'identité (identity card) 30 octobre 1930

Carte d’identité (identity card) 30 octobre 1930

Later in life she was plagued by tax problems with the French authorities and it is said she suffered from depression. She died in 1939, at age sixty-five, in Champigny-sur-Marne, Val-de-Marne, France.

Your Weekend Wow!

Evening dress, 1883. Charles Frédérick Worth, France.

“Light blue white floral silk moiré. Bodice has scooped neckline, pleating at shoulders, 3/4 sleeves. Lace trimmings at neckline cuffs; additional light blue faille trimmings at cuffs. Center front button closure. Skirt has pleated front panel. Large light blue faille bow near bottom hem. Large bustle uses blue white moiré on proper left side and blue faille on proper right; bustle extends to become a train. Skirt hem trimmed with lace pleated blue faille.” (Object number 1980.256.3a-b)

Evening dress, Worth, 1883. Light blue white floral silk moiré. described in pin, LBE.

I freely admit there are aspects of past fashions that I either don’t understand or can’t appreciate from the uninformed perspective of my 20th century eye. Sure, a lot of the extant high-end garments we see today are testament to the high-end designers of the time and, seeing what the current high-end designers send down the runways, I understand that designer styles of the past were the purview of select few, just as they are today.

But (no pun intended)…who would want a  huge, heart-shaped bustle appended to their backside? A nineteen-year-old in love, that’s who.

Object history and curatorial statement from the Chicago History Museum: Worn by Mrs. Henry Nelson Tuttle, née Fannie Farwell. The young Fannie Farwell was only nineteen in 1883 when she traveled by horse-drawn carriage, train, and steamship to Paris to have this gown made for her by Charles Frédérick Worth, the “father of couture.” In the late nineteenth century, many wealthy families took grand European tours that involved visits to the best European fashion houses. These visits were often scheduled at the beginning of the trip to allow for the many fittings that haute couture garments required.  

Reflect, Reconsider and Revise

(Image found on Pinterest)

(Image found on Pinterest)

This past weekend was our town’s annual Victorian Heritage Festival. It was windy, rainy and cold. But that’s not why I missed it. I missed it because, once again, I hadn’t finished my Victorian clothing. And, once again, that irritates me.

In addition, March is almost at an end and I’ve only completed one of the twelve HSM 2015 challenges. I didn’t make it past April last year and I want to see the finish line in December this year.

sherlockI decided it was time for a good course of forensic retrospection to determine the cause and change where I’m getting off course. Identifying the underlying issues wasn’t too tough. It boils down to six areas of consistent error:

  1. I love recreating period dress. I love a wide range of eras and styles. I want to try it all. And I want to do it now. Think Historic Costuming meets ADHD, then add sugar.
  2. I sew more slowly than I used to. On one hand I’m more cautious about doing things correctly. On the other hand, I’m just slower and can’t stand to rush. I used to get into production mode when I was sewing and could go for hours without stopping (15 hours is my personal best). But not any more.
  3. I like challenges and tend to sign on to whatever looks enticing – regardless of whether I have even the faintest idea of what’s involved or not. And I choose the project for each challenge randomly.
  4. Because of #2 and #3 I consistently and chronically underestimate how long it will take to get anything done. I used to whip out a skirt in an hour, easily. But it didn’t involve yards of fabric, flatlining, plackets, hidden pockets, and all sorts of ruffles and other hemline treatments. I tend to forget that.
  5. Events pop up throughout the year and I think “Ooh – I want to do that one, too.” So I stop what I’d started, start something new, can’t get it done in time and find myself with two unfinished projects, instead of one.
  6. The corollary to #5 is that since my historically-correct underwear collection is, shall we say, sparse, heading into a new style means sewing everything from the inside out. An Edwardian tea coming up? I can’t just make a dress. I need corset, princess slip and petticoats, stockings, gloves, shoes. The same goes for Regency, Romantic Era, all the Bustle Eras and on and on.

The problem is glaringly obvious: I don’t really have a plan with/for any of this.

white lotusSo I let that thought percolate a while, after which I changed my perspective and the way I make decisions about my sewing. Instead of “What do I want to make?” I asked myself “What do I want to do in my period dress?” and “What do I need to do to make it happen?” Then things started falling into place.

First, I’m letting go of the 17th Century Challenge. It’s just too much and requires techniques I know nothing about – I can’t even correctly name all the pieces of clothing. That’s a clue. But I’ll follow what the rest of the folks are doing this year and learn from them so maybe I can hop back in next year.

Second, I’d like to complete three sets of period dress this year: Regency, 1855 and 1888. Here’s what involved with each –

Regency: a dress, cap, stockings, reticule and a spencer/cape/redingote. I’ll buy the stockings (silk). I have patterns and fabric for the rest.

1855: a dress, corded petticoat and a few regular petticoats, stockings, cap, bonnet, shoes, stockings and a mantle/pardessus/cloak. Have patterns and fabrics for everything but the bonnet. Will buy shoes and stockings (wool for winter). Should make a period-correct corset, but will cheat this year with the Victorian corset I already have and put a period-correct corset on next year’s list.

1888: a wintertime dress, two more petticoats, bonnet, boots, warm coat, muff. Have patterns. Have fabric for petticoats. Have antique Victorian coat buttons. Have lining for coat. Need fabric for dress, coat and muff. Will buy boots.

That’s a lot, but I have the HSM monthly challenges and I can revise them to do double duty: meet a challenge and finish my goals. Like this –


  • Foundations: make something that is the foundation of a period outfit.
  • Project: 1855 petticoat.
  • Title: A Pert and Pretty Petticoat


  • Colour Challenge Blue: Make an item that features blue, in any shade from azure to zaffre.
  • Project: A Civil War era houswife (hussif, husif).
  • Title: The Blue Housewife


  • Stashbusting: Make something using only fabric, patterns, trims & notions that you already have in stash.
  • Project: An 1888 petticoat.
  • Title: I Can See For Miles and Miles


  • War & Peace: the extremes of conflict and long periods of peacetime both influence what people wear.  Make something that shows the effects of war, or of extended peace.
  • Project: 1855 corded petticoat.
  • Title: The Ties That Bind


  • Practicality:  Fancy party frocks are all very well, but everyone, even princesses, sometimes needs a practical garment that you can DO things in.  Create the jeans-and-T-Shirt-get-the-house-clean-and-garden-sorted outfit of your chosen period.
  • Project: 1855 wrapper.
  • Title: That’s a Wrap!


  • Out of Your Comfort Zone: Create a garment from a time period you haven’t done before, or that uses a new skill or technique that you’ve never tried before.
  • Project: 1855 mantle/pardesus from a period pattern.
  • Title: Oops, I Did It Again.


  • Accessorize: The final touch of the right accessory creates the perfect period look.  Bring an outfit together by creating an accessory to go with your historical wardrobe.
  • Project: Knitted 1860’s sontag (“bosom buddy”).
  • Title: Sing a Song for the Sontag


  • Heirlooms & Heritage: Re-create a garment one of your ancestors wore or would have worn, or use an heirloom sewing supply to create a new heirloom to pass down to the next generations.
  • Project: Late Bustle Era petticoat with antique lace and trim.
  • Title: Ruffles and Laces and Bows…Oh, My!


  • Colour Challenge Brown: it’s not the most exciting colour by modern standards, but brown has been one of the most common, and popular, colours throughout history. Make something brown.
  • ProjectHand-sewn 1855 bonnet.
  • TitleBippity, Boppity, Boo!


  • Sewing Secrets: Hide something in your sewing, whether it is an almost invisible mend, a secret pocket, a false fastening or front, or a concealed message (such as a political or moral allegiance).
  • Project: Hidden Traveller’s Pocket.
  • Title: My Pockets are Empty, See?


  • Silver Screen: Be inspired by period fashions as shown onscreen (film or TV), and recreate your favourite historical costume as a historically accurate period piece.
  • Project: Regency dress and cloak.
  • Title: Hiding from Mr. Collins


  • Re-Do:  It’s the last challenge of the year, so let’s keep things simple by re-doing any of the previous 11 challenges.
  • Color Challenge Brown
  • Project: 1888 dress.
  • Title: Hot Chocolate!

This gives me most of what I need to end up with three complete wardrobes by the end of the year. I feel less mentally scattered and more focused on specific end points. I’ll be ready for this year’s upcoming winter events and won’t get caught short for next year’s Festival.

If all goes according to plan. *wink*

Downton Abbey Hits the Road in “The Colonies”

(image from dressingdownton.com)

(image from dressingdownton.com)

As you may, or may not, know, costumes from Downton Abbey have started their North American road tour, thanks to the generous folks at London’s top-notch costume house Cosprop, Ltd. And what a tour it is. It began February 5th at Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina, and will run there until May 25, 2015.

(image from biltmore.com)

Costume worn by Dame Maggie Smith as Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, during season 1 of “Downton Abbey” covering the years 1913-1914. (Image from biltmore.com, photo of Dame Maggie Smith from Carnival Films.)

At present, they are scheduled to be exhibited in 22 cities. You can find the latest and most complete North American tour schedule at dressingdownton.com. These are the dates published as of today:

  • February 2015 – May 2015: Asheville, North Carolina


  • June 2015 – September 2015: Oshkosh, WI

    Paine Art Center and Gardens

  • October 2015 – January 2016: Richmond, VA

    Virginia Historical Society

  • February 2016 – May 2016: Chicago, IL

    The Richard H. Driehaus Museum

  • July 2016 – September 2016: Cincinnati, OH

    Taft Museum of Art

  • October 2016 – January 2017: South Bend, IN

    Northern Indiana Center for History

  • February 2017 – May 2017: Anaheim, CA

    Muzeo Museum and Cultural Center

  • June 2017 – September 2017: Nashville, TN

    Cheekwood Art & Gardens

  • October 2017 – January 2018: St. Augustine, FL

    The Lightner Museum

As you can see, this “only” covers the next three years.

Intricate beading on Lady Mary's proposal dress (image from Huffington Post)

Intricate beading on Lady Mary’s proposal dress (image from Huffington Post)

So far, the closest exhibition for me will be in Anaheim, California, in two years. By then young Master Crawley will have graduated Eton and Downton may well be into the days leading up to WWII. But it doesn’t matter – it’s on my calendar for 2017. In ink.

And if Bates and Anna aren’t safely, comfortably and quite happily together – forever!! – by then I shall never forgive Julian Fellowes his hard artistic heart.

Bates at work. (image from Huffington Post)

Bates at work. (image from Huffington Post)

Your Weekend Wow!

The Roaring 1920’s bring to mind Prohibition*, the speak-easy, the Charleston, flappers, and P. G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster stories (where Woosters abound and the Jeeves are few).

"‘There are moments, Jeeves, when one asks oneself 'Do trousers matter?’ ‘The mood will pass, sir.’" (image from the BBC)

“‘There are moments, Jeeves, when one asks oneself ‘Do trousers matter?’ ‘The mood will pass, sir.’” (image from the BBC)

1920s Fashion doesn't favor the shapley

The tubular-shaped dress, with its emphasis on the hip line, is never going to be a favorite of mine. The gal at the left would look right at home on my family tree. Surely you can spot the – uh – problem.

Essie Davis as Phryne Fisher ~ Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (PBS)

Essie Davis as Phryne Fisher ~ Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (PBS)

However, If you’re reasonably tall-ish, slender and not burdened with a lot of, shall we say, curves you can do more than merely pull off these styles…they’ll look fabulous on you. As they do on Essie Davis, who plays the Hon. Miss Phryne Fisher on the PBS Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries.

So when it comes to day-to-day dresses, my hips and I avoid the ’20s whenever possible.

But the party dresses and gowns? That’s another story. I love colorful embroidery and I’m a sucker for a well-placed sequin (and a few thousand of her BFFs). I’d pop myself into one of these in a minute.

It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I like black and pink together, so I’d start with #1. Which one would you like to wear?

* In the U.S., Prohibition was a nationwide constitutional (!!) ban on the sale, production, importation, and transportation of alcoholic beverages that remained in place from 1920 to 1933. It was about as successful as trying to ban aspirin. My father was a kid in the 1920’s and his mother ran a speak-easy in the basement where she also, conveniently, had a still. And she was far from being the only person who did.

Catching Up

(original source unknown)

(original source unknown)

I’ve finished cataloging all of my historical sewing patterns. I have more than I realized – well over 70. Not really a big surprise, but an indication that learning how to drape and make my own patterns would save me considerable money.

The sewing studio remains a work in progress. Happily, my leg is on the mend and I can get back to unpacking and organizing. My friend helped me finish the last of the move and I appreciate it immensely. However, since she packed and hauled a number of things, some things are proving evasive.

I’ve located all of the fabric and all of the patterns. Sorting and organizing is an ongoing project. It took me until this morning to locate the power cord to my main sewing machine, but now it’s set up and ready to rumble. And now there’s an OttLight hovering above it so the lighting is fantastic.

My sewing library is scattered amongst three rooms. I was hoping to get another small bookcase for the studio, but I don’t know where I’d put it so re-organizing library is also on the “to do” list.

Progress on the sontag for HSM #3 is slow but steady. It’s chilly and damp outside and if it were done I’d be wearing it already. I just might make a second one, in my “spare” time, to wear at home. I’m trying to get it finished by the weekend, but the cold and damp make for aching hands – even if I wear fingerless gloves. I’d have thought the motion from knitting would warm then right up, but no. Fortunately, hot chocolate (ingested, not applied) appears to have magical and restorative powers.

So that’s all the news that isn’t. Unpacking and organizing. Catching up on laundry. Finding a place for everything in the kitchen. Keeping slugs from sliming their way under the back door at night (yuck!). Just another day at the manor house.

Your Weekend Wow!

While I don’t have much information about this dress, the colors and fabrics make me think of warmer weather (which a lot of us could use right about now). I ‘m not thrilled with the added detail on the left shoulder, but it’s not detracting enough to keep me from loving this one.

1892, from the Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum.

1892, From the Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum 1

1892, From the Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum 2

1892, From the Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum 3

Home for Good – at last!


The last few weeks have been exhausting. The good news is I’m now completely moved out of the house and the owner has it on the market. The not so good news is I tore the muscle in my leg again yesterday and am now hobbling around with my dad’s old cane. As a result, I can’t unpack as quickly as I’d like. On the other hand, it means giving the leg a rest and that translates into lots of reading and sewing time.

And I can’t wait to get back to sewing.

But, before I can do that, there is a small matter to deal with – the sewing space itself. At the moment it has a semi post-apocolyptic je ne sais quoi about it…

It’s easy for me feel a bit overwhelmed when facing things like this. But I know how I want to set it up and today is Step One: organize and catalog all of my historical sewing patterns. Most of them are in two bins, but some are in the storage drawers along with their intended fabric, trims and other notions. They were in order once, but they aren’t any more.

It’s getting to the point where I’ll be thinking about what I want to make and when I try to mentally run through my inventory, I can’t always remember which ones I have versus which ones I want. I’ve already accidentally purchased a duplicate and I don’t want to do that again.

2015-03-12 14.08.03

So today they will be physically sorted according to timeline (the current range is from the 17th Century to the 1930’s) and entered into a table so I can see exactly what’s on hand without having to paw through the lot. I’ve been meaning to do this for a long time and this is the perfect opportunity.

I already have the fabric and pattern for HSM #4 (War and Peace)…now actually I’ll be able to find them.

I’ve also been spending time in the evenings knitting the sontag for the HSM Challenge #3. After trials of different yarn weights and needle sizes I found the combination that will give me one size larger and keep the proportions correct. The wool is knitting up with just a bit of sheen, which I didn’t expect, but it’s not shiny and so should work out well.

One thing I regret is that the move threw my timing off for this year’s Victorian Heritage Festival, which is rapidly approaching. There is a very slim chance I might have my waist done in time (it’s not very complicated) but, as much as I want to be able to wear the new dress, I’m not going to pressure myself. There’s been enough stress around here lately – why add more?

So today the patterns get cataloged and tomorrow I’ll play with the waist and see how far I get. It’s good to be back.

Getting Back to “Normal”

(source unknown)

(source unknown)

The worst of the move is over. Today is dust and mop, then the house is done. There are a few things left to schlep over from the cottage’s storage area but, overall, 99% of the work is done. In the process, I tore a muscle in my calf, but it’s not in the sewing machine pedal leg so all is good. The sewing area is a bit of a wreck and I’ll be getting it organized and functional over the next few days. Then it’s time to pick up where I left off…if I can remember where that is. Thanks to everyone for your patience while the blog went quiet during this upheaval. I’ll see you here in a day or two.