The 18th Century Chemise – Update

Well, I got a bit sidetracked for a few days and didn’t get much sewing done. Poor little chemise, just sitting there in pieces, waiting for some attention. But now all of the main body seams are done, except for the side seams which go in after the sleeves are set. I’ve got the marking, sewing and trimming for the hand sewn French seams down to a science so my speed is definitely picking up while the results look better than ever. I’d show photos, but they’d only be of more straight seams and you’ve already seen those.

So now it’s time for the sleeves and their square BFFs, the gussets.

I originally intended to put in a plain sleeve: gathered at the cap, full and flat through the body, then gathered into a banded cuff at the hem. However I don’t like the feeling of bulk under layers of clothing and I’m not sure how a full sleeve on a chemise would feel under a more streamlined sleeve of an 18th century bodice. And then I found this:

A woman's shift of linen, England, 1740 - 1780. VandA Museum Number T.25-1969.

A woman’s shift of linen, England, 1740 – 1780. V and A Museum Number T.25-1969.

It’s a sleeve of a chemise from the time period I’m trying to recreate. I like the notion of having the fullness pulled in by all of those pleats and then sewn flat, but I’m not about to make myself crazy trying to wrestle a zillion teeny, tiny pleats around the entire width of the sleeve. Nope, not gonna happen. But perhaps I can modify the sleeve I do have into something similar.

That’s the experiment for the upcoming week. I don’t have any more linen, so whatever I come up with has to work without ruining the sleeves I’ve already cut. No pressure, right?


My Two Big Bodacious Costuming Goals…it’s not the destination, it’s the journey

SideWireDressformOne of the major reasons I haven’t been sewing garments, besides that elusive muse, is because I’m changing sizes. Losing weight (on purpose) is wonderful and requires a concerted effort. However, it becomes nigh on impossible to make a waist or a set of stays or anything with much of a fit when I don’t know what size I’ll end up. I know where I’d like to end up, but liking is one thing and getting there is another. (At my age my metabolism is nearly in a coma, so a little intake goes a very long way.)

But that itch to sew and create is back at long last, so what to do?

An 18th Century Gregorian Reflecting Table Telescope

18th Century Gregorian Reflecting Table Telescope

Rather than follow the HSM, I’ve decided to think in terms of dreamy costumed events I’d like to attend and set my sights accordingly. And if I’m going to chart a new course, why not lift my eyes and shoot for something grand and just a bit insane? Why not, indeed.

So, resolutely jumping in way over my head, I’ve chosen two very big Biggies – one I’ve known about for a while and one that I’ve just discovered: the annual Jane Austen Festival in Bath, England, and the 18th century evening (Les Fêtes Galantes) at the Palace of Versailles, France.

Neither of these is going to happen any time soon. 2018 sounds like a good target, although there is a slim chance (no pun intended) I could be ready for Bath by next fall. We shall see. Heaven knows I’ve done crazier things.

Here’s my current catalog of acquired and/or finished items for each event.

  • Bath: period boots, stockings, chemise, stays, petticoat, fichu. Multiple outfits required. Have patterns for gowns, caps, bonnets, turbans, overdress, redingote, spencer, cape, mitts and reticules. Lots of fabric, too.
  • Versailles: not a thing – zip, zilch, nada, rien. Single outfit required. Have pattern for chemise. Have fabric for pocket hoops.

And so, as you can see, I’ve a lot of sewing ahead of me. Fortunately, the garments on the “to do” list have quite a lot of diversity – I don’t think I’ll get bored. And I hope the enticing goal events will help keep me going when I get frustrated and/or stuck – which is likely, considering this is all new territory for me.

Since I’m currently shrinking (and, hopefully, not re-expanding) I think my best bet for now is to stick with things that don’t require a close fit or a specific size.

For the festival in Bath that means working on the cap, bonnet and reticule(s). The cap I’ve been fiddling with has become a veritable thorn in my side. The cotton organdy is way too stiff and heavy…it’s more like a bonnet than a cap. So I’m going to start over and use a fine linen this time. The former cap may actually become a white summer bonnet with some trim added to spice it up a bit.

Remember this? I do. Grrrr...

Remember this? I do. Grrrr…

For the “do” at Versailles it means starting with the chemise, since that’s the only pattern I have at the time. If I’m going to do 18th century French fashion at Versailles I want to do it right: inside-out and bottom-up. In that spirit I’ve just ordered some 3-ounce handkerchief linen (WLG119) from Wm. Booth, Draper – enough for a chemise and that pesky late Georgian cap.

Who knew my muse would come back with this? I’m really hoping I don’t have to make another set of Regency stays, although worse things could happen and likely will – I’ll need to make myself a set of 18th century stays, after all.

After that will come a set of pocket hoops. I’m planning on using the pattern from J.P. Ryan and already have fabric for them.

JP Ryan #14 - 18th Century Pocket Hoops Pattern

JP Ryan pattern #14

But first, the chemise. And so the games begin.

A Spark, an Embroidered Reticule and It’s Back into the Fray

(photographer unknown)

So. The spark has presented itself and I am gingerly taking up its energy, hoping to nourish it into a flame.

I think I mentioned I have a very dear friend who has a Very Big Event coming up soon. I want to make something for her but hadn’t been able to decide what. She likes “old-fashioned” things, things that are feminine without being too “frou-frou” and things that are utilitarian. She also likes to “dress up” on occasion. However, I don’t have enough time to create a large piece. It has to be of reasonable size and effort for me to meet this deadline. So I spent some time trolling through Pinterest and my favorite historical fashion blogs when, rather suddenly, it all came together, all at once.

Don’t you just love it when that happens?

On my friend Nessa’s blog, Sewing Empire, I found some inspiring Regency embroidery designs from Ackermann’s Repository and further sleuthing lead me to one published in 1821.

Regency handkerchief embroidery patterns

It’s feminine without being too much and I’m sure the recipient would be thrilled, but only if I take the “Love” out of it (literally, not figuratively). Perhaps replace it with her initial(s)? Although it was originally a design meant for handkerchief embroidery, I immediately thought of a reticule – a little something for special occasions, a decorative and utilitarian yet also manageable project for the amount of time I have.

Next step – choose the fabric. It is often tricky finding appropriate colors, but I found three high-quality cottons that fit the bill: a steely grey-blue, a deep maroon, and a rich mustard. Now it’s just a matter of choosing.


I’m leaning toward the mustard because it’s a classic Regency color that “goes” with almost nothing else yet manages to “work” with just about everything. (Accessories weren’t all matchy-matchy back then: your reticule didn’t necessarily match your shoes, which didn’t match your gloves, which didn’t match your bonnet.) As a color it’s a bit risky, but I think I’m safe.

She does love a surprise…

When Your Muse Wanders Off…Indefinitely


To be fair, I probably should have written this a while back. But I’ve been confused and haven’t known what to say so I’ve been putting it off. I’m sure you’ve noticed I haven’t been posting much lately – for a couple of months, in fact. Well, there’s a reason and I’ve been struggling with it.

What does one do when one writes a blog about reproducing historical fashions and one’s sewing muse abruptly just ups and leaves?

That’s what’s happened to me. At first I thought it was just all the kerfuffle from deciding to move and then getting the whole thing organized so all the pieces came together in the right order. Then there was the move itself and a month of pure chaos – half living in one town and half living in another. That was followed by the exhaustion of unpacking (still not finished, by the way) and further sorting. And so passed December, January, February and a good chunk of March.

(original source unknown)

(source unknown)

Now it’s two months later and in that time I’ve not even been able to make myself sew. Which is so very weird because I have loved sewing since I was a kid, just as I’ve been interested historical fashions since even before I started sewing. Then suddenly – poof! What the heck? I have a marvelous sewing space, a small mountain of a stash, a tall filing cabinet full of patterns…and not a single thing moves me.

I got to the point of considering whether I should let this blog go altogether – admit that my urge to sew was gone for good, pull myself together and move on.

But I just couldn’t do it, and for two reasons: 1) because I could not believe that my sewing muse has departed for good and 2) there is a lot of historical sewing I haven’t yet explored and I’m still interested in learning about it.

So, after months and months of pretty much agonizing over what to do, I’ve finally made a few decisions which I hope will entice my muse to return.

First off, I’m dropping out of the Historical Sew Monthly – at least for the time being. I’ll keep the badge and link active on my home page because I think it’s a great idea and support the HSM wholeheartedly. I just don’t want that additional bit of pressure from a deadline right now. Having said that, the Challenge for May (Holes) is finished and I’ll be sharing that with you as soon as it’s been blocked.

I am really drawn to hand sewing at the moment, so perhaps focusing on a couple of small projects to get the wind back in my sewing sails. A friend of mine has A Big Life Event coming up soon and I’d like to make something for her, so perhaps a little something of a historical nature would fit the bill. So my second decision is to work on smaller projects so I can get to the finish line – hoping that garnering a series of successes will help bolster my enthusiasm.

And, with the HSM retired, I can pick what I want to make for myself and do it at my own pace. My third decision: be a little more selfish in choosing what garments to make and start with something casual that won’t be on display…anywhere. I’m interested in having something to wear around the house other than sweats. And I’m interested in the idea of wrappers. And it so happens I have two Laughing Moon patterns for wrappers and the fabric to make them. So maybe, just maybe, I’ll try that – something just for me to be worn just for myself and my pleasure.

Lastly, my fourth decision is that historical sewing needn’t be confined to garments and accessories only. I’m still hand sewing my 1840’s reproduction quilt using historically accurate reproduction fabrics I’ve collected over the years. I used to think that English paper piecing was the definition of mind-melting, repetitive boredom. But now I find it relaxing, almost meditative. And I believe that making home goods counts, so it’s staying in the mix and you’ll be able to watch it grow over time. Here’s the pattern, as made by someone else (I don’t know who) and posted online:

"Grace's Quilt", based on an extant 1840's quilt

“Grace’s Quilt”, based on an extant 1840’s quilt

So that’s where I am. A little of this, a bit of that and, hopefully, great success in luring my muse back home.

Getting Back on Track with the HSM and HSM #1 Makes Its Very Belated Appearance

Competitors in a sack race, 1933. (

I don’t remember much of January or February. For that matter, I don’t remember very much of December, either. It’s been a whirlwind of To Do lists and deadlines, packing and unpacking, sickness and health, deadlines and little down time. In the midst of it all I got kinda disorganized and the HSM kinda got lost, or at least misplaced. In fact, I never formally signed up for it. But now it’s time to get it together and either do this thing or not. So I think I will.

Here’s what has, and hasn’t, been happening.


January: Procrastination – finish a garment you have been putting off finishing (a UFO or PHD) or make something you have been avoiding starting. Due Jan 31st.

January’s project was supposed to have been the white organdy Georgian cap, but problems plagued me and I’ve still not got what I think I should have. Late in January it became clear that moving and doing fine hand sewing weren’t going to be compatible so I started wondering what I could substitute for the cap. After all, it’s not like there weren’t other items I’d started but hadn’t managed to finish. I do love a good experiment, but they can be frustrating when you’re treading new territory.

With just a few days remaining in the month, I remembered the red sontag wrap I’d started to knit some months ago. Under the circumstances, hand knitting was a lot easier to do than hand sewing. I found the abandoned sontag and recalled why I’d stopped – the yarn was not knitting into even pattern blocks.

Around the same time, I started knitting a red shawl for the HSM “Red” Challenge later in the year. It starts with casting on 1069 stitches and goes from there. I’d figured it would take me forever to get through it, hence the way-early start. But, to my great surprise, I had it done by early February; on the 10th, to be precise.

I still needed a project for the January HSM, and here I sat with a completed wrapping shawl – a perfect substitute for the sontag that never was. So it all just came together.

And, therefore, I give you HSM #1 – The Procrastination Wrap. It’s made of a heathered red wool that can almost look like a dark raspberry pink in different types of light. It wraps like a sontag and ties in back at the waist. The back is long enough that it covers the tie ends when worn. It’s cozy, easy to wear and easy to work in. I’m very happy with the way it turned out.



February: Tucks and Pleating – make a garment that features tucks and pleating for the shape or decoration. Due Feb 29th.

The project for February’s Challenge is the blue Victorian overskirt, which is still languishing on the dress form. I’ve got the other half of the pleated side panel and the lining cut, as well as the self ruffle I’m adding. While cleaning out the car, I discovered my Rowenta iron had gotten wedged under the passenger side front seat. That’s a good thing, because the iron I bought at Goodwill has been an OK substitute, but if I iron a bit too vigorously, water leakes out the fill cap and dribbles everywhere.

As of this point in time, the ruffle is sewn and is ready for gathering into place. I’m definitely in the home stretch with this one.


March: Protection – make something to protect yourself (from weather or injury) or your clothes (from soiling etc.). Due Mar 31st.

I don’t have any period-correct outerwear to speak of, so this is a welcome Challenge. The local Victorian Heritage Festival is held late in March each year and the weather is extremely variable. It could be 65 degrees (F) or 45 degrees. It could be sunny or rainy, windy or calm. Most years I’ve been freezing outdoors and uncomfortably warm indoors. That ends now.

March’s project is a Victorian Talma Wrap appropriate for the Early Bustle Era. I’m using the Talma Wrap pattern from Truly Victorian – TV500 – which I purchased some years ago.

I started to make a Talma Wrap last year. Unfortunately, the fabric I chose was a one-way design and cutting a mirror-image left front turned out to be impossible. Normally, I’d just lay the fabric flat, selvage to selvage, cut the right front, flip the pattern and cut a matched, mirror-image left front. But the pattern rebelled and I still haven’t been able to work it out. So it’s all been sitting in a jumbo project bag awaiting my attention: main fabric, interlining, lining, trim, buttons, embellishments, thread…everything.

This time around I opted for a fabric with no pattern and excellent drape. It’s a lightweight, 100% wool tweed in black and white that “reads” grey from a distance. I’m using a heavy cotton flannel interlining for warmth. My allergy to silk means I need a substitute and I found a cloud-grey, static-resistant polyester fabric that will do the job nicely. The trim is a wonderful run of cotton tassels in a deep red-maroon. I bought it ages ago at a Big Box Fabric Store final clearance sale so I ended up with two kinds to choose from, each at $1.86 a yard (!!!).

TV500 - Talma Wrap (from Truly Victorian)

TV500 – Talma Wrap (from Truly Victorian)


April: Gender-Bender – make an item for the opposite gender, or make an item with elements inspired by the fashions of the opposite gender. Due Apr 30th.

One word: spatterdashes, aka spats, in wool. (OK, five words.)


May: Holes – sometimes the spaces between stuff are what makes a garment special.  Make a garment that is about holes, whether it is lace, slashing, eyelets, etc. Due May 31st.

I’ve already started on this one. I want a black wool shawl to wear for an event coming up this Fall and I want one that will work across a number of historical fashion eras. After looking at more dreary, acrylic shawls than I care to remember, I decided to knit one.

I tried a number of “historic” patterns, all with varying issues related either to old knitting terminology or to bad transcriptions of old instructions. I also didn’t want something heavy and smothering. Finally I found an acceptable pattern that works, started it last week and it’s zipping along. It’s made of wool sock-weight yarn from Norway. There’s a little bit of nylon in it, as there is with most sock yarn, for durability and it’s hand-washable.

This takes a tremendous amount of yarn, but it’s fun to knit and easy to problem-solve if I make an error. I like it so much I just might make another one. It’s still on the circular needle, but here’s a peek. Think I have enough holes?


And, looking far ahead, I’ve also started working on the August Challenge. August: Pattern – make something in pattern, the bolder and wilder the better. Due Aug 31st. Bold and wild? Check!

HSM #2 and The Blue Dress – a breakthrough

(original source unknown)

(source unknown)

This overskirt has been driving me batty.

The more hours I spent carefully hand sewing on the layers of trim, the less I liked it. It got to the point where I really didn’t like it at all. The layers of seams and trim made the outer edge so stiff it wouldn’t fall into folds and stay there. The center back kept popping up as if ejecting itself from a toaster. When viewed from a distance the black ruffles stood out so far from the dress they looked more like growths than a purposeful addition to style.

It finally got to the point where I had to force myself to work on it. And where’s the fun in that? Why spend buckets of hours on something I was clearly bound to dislike in the end? I was torn over what to do: chuck the investment in time, or finish something that was not going to make me happy.

So, after much grumbling and procrastination, yesterday I sat myself down and picked off all the trim. (I was so anxious to get it off that I forgot to take a photo of how wrong it looked with all the pieces in place.) It took a little over four hours to remove it all, but as soon as it was gone I liked the dress all over again.

Instead of all the fluffy black organdy ruffles, I went with a single band of black ribbon with a like of white stitching woven down the center. It’s a cleaner look. The edge of the overskirt now falls into folds properly and the back doesn’t stick up at an annoying angle.

the new trim

The other thing I did was to remove the buttons and loops from the edge of the overskirt front panel. I put them there as a way to pleat the side edges into folds when the overskirt is worn, yet leave them flat for storage and ease of ironing. But they made the edge bulky and the side panels would not hang straight over them when buttoned into folds. So I decided to go with a modern solution and used large snaps instead.

snaps, side view

Side view of front panel edge: hooks and eyes on the front and snaps on the back make for a better and flatter series of folds.

snaps, back view

Placement of the snaps, back edge view.

It’s probably not a period-correct solution, but the results are fantastic: the edge folds up perfectly, stays flat and the overskirt side back panels hang as they should. So I’ll live with it.

HSM #2: Tucks and Pleating – a decision made

Sometimes all it takes is for a single piece of information to make itself known and everything else falls into place. When Val’s comment on my previous post reminded me that the Port Townsend Victorian Heritage Festival was next month (um…I “knew” that) everything about HSM #2 clicked.

The challenge for HSM #2 is Tucks and Pleating: make a garment that features tucks and pleating for the shape or decoration. I’d been half-halfheartedly trying to convince myself that I could hand sew a well-done bonnet in two weeks and kept failing because I know otherwise. Val’s comment reminded me that I don’t have a thing to wear to this year’s festival and that I still have the blue Victorian ensemble that I’ve been working on for two years now (aka, The Perpetual Blue Dress) and that the overskirt to said dress is shaped with tucks.

A light-bulb moment was born.

In the previous post I’d lamented about how marvelous it would have been if I’d identified HSM projects and packed them in a marked box where everything was in a place I could find. Well, I actually did that with the materials for The Perpetual Blue Dress, primarily out of fear I’d never see all the pieces in one place again if I didn’t.

box blue 2

When the dress was last seen, sometime before Halloween, I’d added a hidden traveler’s pocket, had finished the front part of the overskirt and was working on adding the trim to the right rear half of the overskirt:

So it’s back to the challenge of finishing the project that seems to resist coming to an end. Today I’ll re-dress the mannequin in Victorian undergarments, clear off the sewing table and create some layout space. I know I can’t finish the entire dress by the end of the month, but I can finish the overskirt and that will fulfill the requirements of the challenge.

Ahhh – how wonderful to be sewing again! (Remind me I wrote this when everything goes wonky again.)

HSM #11 – A Regency Reticule, Part One

Antique Scissors

I am happy to report that production “chez moi” is up and running once again. We’ve had a series of severe windstorms blow through in the past three days, severe as in half a hurricane or so, so I’ve pretty much stayed away from the computer. But the skies are calm today so I want to catch you up on the action.

I decided to go with a Regency Reticule for HSM #11. As you may recall, the Challenge is 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.” I based the decision to make a reticule on somewhat perverse logic: they were a foundation piece, historically speaking, of everyday dress. Yet they are rarely seen in films. Women gambol across fields and prance at balls with great regularity. But they spend a good part of their time empty-handed in terms of reticules, with rare exceptions. Here are a few “caught on screen” examples from the BBC’s 1995 production of Pride and Prejudice.

A phantom reticule dangling from Lydia's arm. BBC's Pride and Prejudice, 1995.

A phantom reticule dangles from Lydia’s arm (far left).


Charlotte, Lizzy, Maria Lucas, and Sir William Lucas. BBC's Pride and Prejudice, 1995.

Maria Lucas carries a green reticule (center back).


Kitty's reticule. BBC's Pride and Prejudice, 1995.

Kitty carries a patterned maroon reticule (center).


Lady Catherine sports a reticule. BBC's Pride and Prejudice, 1995.

Lady Catherine sports a dark brown reticule. (You know which one she is.)

It’s understandable. If our heroine is trouble-free it would be visually distracting to have a hand bag swinging about. If she is burdened by great sorrows it would seem cruel to burden her further with something to lug around. I do get it, from the artistic standpoint. But I still notice it. So my tribute to the Silver Screen is to put a reticule in hand, where it belongs.

In order to decide what type of reticule to make I did some visual research at my favorite “what it really looked like” site – Pinterest. On the plus side, reticules came in a plethora of shapes and sizes. On the down side, that meant the field was pretty much wide open for interpretation. I already knew I tended to like the more angular shapes and all of those with tassels, so I focused primarily on those.

In the end I decided to merge shapes and decorations into a manageable size that would hold the essentials and be just slightly better-than-average with embellishments. I want to emulate the shape of the reticule on the left and incorporate the swirling spangles of the one on the right.


I fooled around with the shape and the swirl pattern. I knew I wanted the pattern to be symmetrical. I also know I wanted a little area for some embroidery – an initial or a little flower. The pointed reticule above is nearly 24 inches long. That may be OK for someone six feet tall, but a bit much for me. I ended up with this:

2015-11-12 12.14.19

I used a fine point Sharpie (indelible ink) on cheap printer paper. The cheap part is important because of what happened later.


The vast majority of surviving reticules are made of silk. That’s all well and good, but I am allergic to silk so I rarely use the stuff and certainly don’t keep it in my stash. I found a fairly local fabric store that carries a large selection of reproduction fabrics and they had a line of shot cotton solids. I’d heard of shot silk, but shot cotton was new to me and I immediately loved the look of it.

What does “shot” mean? When looking at extant garments, one sees a lot of shot silk. Wikipedia gives a nice definition:

Shot silk (also called changeant, changeable silk and changeable taffeta) is a fabric which is made up of silk woven from warp and weft yarns of two or more colours producing an iridescent appearance.

This shot cotton is the same. The warp and weft threads are two different colors: one is orangey, the other is beige. They read as a solid, but the color changes depending on the light and the fabric’s position in relation to it. In the fabric store it looked a medium apricot-rose. In outdoor light it looked more salmon. At one extreme it looks almost pumpkin orange, at the other it appears a medium-light apricot pink or looks like an electric carrot. The camera picks it up through its full range. (You’ll notice it looks as if I’m changing fabric, but it’s all the same single piece.)

This is an unlikely color choice for me. I look deathly ill in orange and any of the yellow-based colors. But this one is a bit of a chameleon – I spent a very long time walking around the store holding the bolt up next to a wide variety of other colors and prints and, much to my surprise, it looked good with almost all of them…a very unlikely neutral indeed. So not only would it work with all of the fabrics in my stash destined to become Regency wear, it would perk the wardrobe up a bit without getting the dreaded orange too close to my face.

A winner all around and still in keeping with a historically accurate color palette. I promise – it’s not nearly as harsh a color as it appears in the photos. It is more tempered; richer and softer by far. And one can find all manner of oranges in Regency fashion plates.

2015-11-12 12.13.14

Embellishment: Paillettes versus Spangles versus Sequins

I spent some time studying what we call sequins and how they were used on reticules.

My first query was terminology – what were they called? Paillette is defined a number of ways:

  • a small shiny object (as a spangle) applied in clusters as a decorative trimming (as on women’s clothing) [Merriam-Webster]

  • a spangle for ornamenting a costume [Free Dictionary]

  • sequin, spangle [Oxford Dictionaries]

Paillette is French for spangle or sequin. Spangle appears to be a British term: a small thin piece of glittering material, typically used in quantity to ornament a dress; a sequin. (It was also a type of British sweet, first made in the 1940’s; eaten, not applied to clothing.)

So sequins, spangles and paillettes are all the same thing. I thought that was the case, but now I know for sure.

Today one can buy sequins that are curved, faceted, laser etched, iridescent, glow in the dark…you name it, it’s out there. Historically, spangles (my favorite term) were shiny, flat discs of a single color – originally metal, later made of processed vegetable matter, colored resins or synthetic material.

In the Late Georgian and Regency periods, I found examples of spangles sewn on with two different methods: either sewn with thread through the central opening on opposing sides or with a bead sewn over the center opening. It looks like they were generally placed edge-to-edge to form patterns, not densely overlapping to create a sparkling mass.

I feared that metal spangles on cotton would look out of place, so I hunted for other options. To my delight, I found a local bead supplier who frequents the Paris flea markets and buys antique spangles in different colors. She told me they are becoming harder and harder to find, so she buys whatever she can find. She happened to have two containers of chocolate-brown spangles from the early 1880’s – flat, shiny discs. Not exactly Regency, but as close as I was going to get without having to sell off a kidney so I snapped them up at a bargain price of $2 each for hundreds, if not thousands, of the little buggers. They feel like some kind of vegetable material, but they may well be synthetic. There’s not much bend to them, but they don’t snap easily. And, having been poured into their containers, they harbor a fierce static cling so it’s a real challenge to separate them.

Design Transfer

First step was to transfer the design onto the fabric. I used to have a nice light box which I used a lot during my quilting days for my appliqué work. (I was into appliqué Big Time.) But it’s long gone, so I tried using Mother Nature’s light box. As it turned out, there was a big storm blowing in and I was losing light almost as fast as I could get everything taped on the window.

The fabric is made of mercerized cotton, so the warp and weft threads are strong. But they are not tightly woven. This made transferring the design by tracing over it with pencil not only difficult, but tiny separations in the threads started to appear. You can just barely see it in the photo. Not good.

2015-11-12 12.16.55

Time to consider the options.

Thinking back to my quilting days, I recalled a technique for appliqué where the design area is outlined with thread using a simple running stitch. This way, there is no direct marking on the face of the fabric. The thread can either be covered with the appliqué or removed as you go. Looking at my swirls, it looked reasonable. So I pinned the paper design to the fabric, being careful to keep it flat and straight, and started stitching. It worked a charm.

If you ever use this method, an important thing to remember is once you’re done you only have your thread to guide you. Big stitches are fine for straight lines like parallel runs or boxed grids. But curves require smaller stitches: the tighter the curve, the smaller the stitches or you lose definition. Here’s what I mean.

This is one of the larger curves, marked with long stitches:

2015-11-12 13.01.20

Here is the same curve, marked with short stitches:

2015-11-12 13.18.27

See the difference? The long stitches don’t give you enough guidance to keep the curve smooth. If everything was marked with long stitches it would end up an indecipherable hodge-podge. (Ask me how I know.)

It took a while to get the entire design transferred. I kept my pace deliberate to make sure the paper stayed flat against the fabric and that nothing slipped or twisted. But soon enough it was done.

Back side view, all stitched up.

Back side view, all stitched up.

From there, I traced the final cutting lines and trimmed away some of the excess fabric to make it easier to work with.

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The next step is to remove the paper. There are products which allow you to transfer your design as I did, then all you do is wet the product and it dissolves completely. I couldn’t get my hands on one, so I’d gone old school with the printer paper. I dampened a sponge with warm water and pressed it to the paper. I’d used indelible ink, so I wasn’t worried about transfer or bleeding. This is where using the cheap stuff became a bonus, because it turned mushy in no time at all.

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I lifted it away carefully, getting as many of the little stray bits as I could. Once they dry, they are like teeny, rock-hard spit balls and a needle won’t go through them easily. It takes a little time, but not much and the extra effort is well worth it. And because I didn’t have to soak the paper, the fabric air-dried fairly quickly.

At this point, given the loose-ish weave of the main fabric, I decided to back it with muslin to provide extra support for all those spangles and basted the two layers together. I went around the inner and outer edges of the design and used a different color thread (because I know myself all too well). I also basted a center line through the bottom of the design for extra stability. Then I mounted it on an embroidery frame I bought from the Royal School of Needlework in England when I took a course there a few years ago. Of all the frames I’ve ever used, it is my favorite. (If the house ever catches fire, Sophie will be in one arm and this frame and my handbag will be in the other.) Here are two photo color variations of the fully marked design: electric carrot and mellow pumpkin.

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Finally – time to start playing with spangles. Whew!

I decided to start at the center bottom and work my way out and up. This way, if there are areas of overlap, the outer spangles will cover the inner spangles and the spangles toward the top will cover the spangles toward the bottom. I think this will make them less likely to snag on things, so I’m curious to see if I thought it through correctly.

I went with a straight up and down stab stitch: up through the center of the spangle and down at one edge, then up at an opposite edge in a line that follows the design and back down through the center again, then repeat for each one.

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Once in a while I snag a knot from the back side and pull it through to the front. No problem. I just carefully snip it in half and keep stitching. The design stays in place.

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Here’s a shot of the first spiral, front and back.

My original plan was to snip out the marking thread from underneath as I went, but I outsmarted myself. (If you’re surprised, I refer you to previous blog entries…you’ll notice the trend.) The spangles completely cover the marking thread on top – no surprise there. But by deciding to add a support layer underneath, I cut off all access to the marking thread. So I’ve ended up stitching just to the side of the marking thread so it doesn’t show through. For the most part, that is.

I knew this wouldn’t be a slap-dash project, but I’ve discovered just how tedious the going is. This is going to take some time. I could use a tiny dot of fabric glue to pre-place each spangle and then just stitch them on. It would be a whole lot faster. But for now I’m doing them one at a time. That feels like a more historically authentic procedure, although I don’t know it for a fact and I’m not sure how important a detail it is. We’ll see how I feel about it a thousand or so spangles from now and whether or not I can still feel my fingers.

In the mean time, if anyone out there knows for sure that Regency reticule makers used glue to secure their spangles/sequins/paillettes before sewing them in place (after all, glue was well-known and used in other applications) don’t be shy – please share! My fingers will thank you.

1870’s Bustle Dress Update – Time to Play with Trim

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The mound that’s left after the lengths for the apron and right half of the overskirt were cut.

My weight has been going down a bit lately (yay!) so I’m holding off on cutting the waist (i.e., bodice) for a while. That means work on the bustle dress is now focused on the trim. Lots of trim…nearly 15 yards. This dress represents 1870-73, so there is no such thing as too much trim. It’s a time when “if in doubt, just add more” seemed the operative phrase in dressmaking. That’s a good enough reason to go a bit nuts with it all, and so I have.

It’s double-layered (ribbon on top of pleated organdy) and each side of each layer gets sewn down one edge at a time. That’s a total of 60 yards-worth of edges and I’m doing it all by hand, so the going is slow. (Plus it’s gotten a bit chilly both outside and inside so what I really want to do is knit and bury myself under piles of cozy wool.)

I preferred the bias check, but there wasn't enough.

I preferred the bias check, but there wasn’t enough.

Bringing this concept to life was possible thanks to a handful of 50% off coupons from a big box store that still carried some of the black pleated organdy trim I used on the black and white fichu. I bought all they had, which was just enough. Unfortunately, the bias check ribbon trim was long gone so I substituted with a straight check woven ribbon trim in two widths: a bit wider for the ruffle at the hem and smaller for the rest of the trim.

The concept is to run the black organdy around the top edge of the fabric ruffles, then sew a band of black and white check ribbon down the center. The ribbon not only adds a bit of visual interest, but is just wide enough to help keep the pleats open so they don’t collapse in on themselves. I hope it looks as good when it’s done as it does in my head.

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I tackled the trim on the overskirt apron first, since is was a short run. It took less time than expected and looks right.

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At this point, I’ve sewn along one edge of the pleated organdy on the right half of the side-back overskirt. Here it is, roughly pinned over the underskirt and the overskirt apron so you can get an idea of how it’s going and how it looks compared to a photo before the time. (For some reason, they are both a little out of focus and so, hopefully, a reasonable comparison.) I have enough trim to edge the long tails at the back of the overskirt, but I’m not sure whether that will look “right” so I’m waiting until I’ve finished the rest of the overskirt to make that decision…even though I’m pretty sure I go ahead and trim them, too.


There was just one isty, bitsy problem with the overskirt apron. When I cut the checked ribbon I mis-judged the length and came up short, even though I measured twice, so I thought I’d show how I mended/fixed/fudged my way through it. Necessity truly is a the mother.

As you can see, I wasn’t short by much…just enough to require mending.

So I added a snippet and tried as best I could to align pattern at the short end. The stuff is a bit slippery, so I couldn’t get a perfect match – but at this scale it’s not a problem because, fortunately, close enough really is good enough.

Ends matched as closely as possible, including some overlap of the new piece over the original ending.

Ends matched as closely as possible, including some overlap of the new piece over the original ending.


I tacked the cut end, burying the fine black thread in the ribbon’s woven pattern.

Hard to see, but the end is sewn in place.

Hard to see, but the end is sewn in place.


Then I sewed the top edge in place to the edge of the apron, stitching it underneath the bias fold tape to make a finished edge, then stitched along the bottom edge.

It doesn't take much - just a tiny dab will do.

It doesn’t take much – just a tiny dab will do.

It was looking pretty good, but the raw ends have a tendency to fray. This is when I use FrayCheck (TM). First, I test a small area to make sure it doesn’t darken as it dries, which it sometimes does. When faced with small areas like this, I use a drop of FrayCheck (TM) on my fingertip and use the tip of a needle to place tiny drops of it along the edge or area in question. This way I avoid huge blobs and can use the needle tip to work it into the fray itself and smooth it down. It always works. (And if I had more than 2 hands, to do it and photograph it at the same time, I’d show the process in detail.)

Here the FrayCheck (TM) is still wet and looks a bit dark.

You can just barely see a dark-ish spot where the mend is.

But when it dried the mend was, and remains, barely noticeable up close and invisible at a distance.

Dried and not noticeable at all.

I hope this helps if/when you’ve managed to find yourself in the same kind of pickle. 🙂

1870’s Early Bustle Dress: an Update on the Overskirt

Despite having my fingers in many things at once lately, I have been working on the bustle overskirt and making steady, if somewhat slow, progress.

At some point I realized that, as a result of making the lining side of the apron the front side, I was spending an inordinate amount of time playing with the silly thing in an effort to make that blue stripe running down the center front look like something that I did on purpose. Concepts that looked good on paper weren’t making me happy. Ruching, appliques, pleats, fan folds…nothing worked for me.

...or maybe I could add some diamonds in black and sew tiny buttons at the side points then put little bows where the diamonds touch...

…or maybe I could add some diamonds in black and sew tiny buttons at the side points then put little bows at the points where the diamonds touch, or…

So the lining side became the lining side once again and I moved on. The ruffles were going to have to do the heavy lifting here.

The double layer of net interlining does a nice job of supporting the draped apron fabric so it doesn’t collapse when it is pleated at the sides. However, as my sister pointed out, eventually I’ll want to wash and press it so sewing in permanent pleats isn’t such a good idea. Instead I created a finished edge that I can pull up and let out to make ironing a whole lot easier.

I know there are “proper” ways to do this, but I used what I had at hand to make it work. In essence, I faked it. Since the edge of the apron won’t show, I’m not worried about matching fabric. So I used some double-fold bias tape to reinforce the edge and finish it at the same time.

Here’s how the apron looks hanging flat with the bias tape on the edge.

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This shows how the back side section of the overskirt covers the apron edge. The overskirt is getting a ruffle along its edge, so the concealment will be even better.

Here it is from the other side, with the back side section of the overskirt covering the apron edge. The overskirt would be getting a ruffled edge, as well.


Next I added buttons and fabric loops on the inside. They will allow me to pull the edges up into folds when worn, then unbutton so the apron can hang flat when stored.

I used bits of stiff ric-rac for the button loops. I’ve found the zigzag design helps keep buttons in place better than smooth fabric loops and since they won’t be seen their looks don’t matter. After some rooting around I discovered some perfect old buttons in my button box. They have good size shanks that will stay put in the loops. And I just happened to have six, so that was a happy find.

I marked the pleat lines on the back side of the bias tape along the apron edge. To make sure I remembered which was is up, I put little arrow heads over the dots where the loops would be sewn. I also added “ease” to the loop position in order to allow for the bit of drop in the loop when it’s secured around the button. That was probably a bit of overkill, but for some reason it seemed important at the time.

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Which way is up? Aha!


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The loops are sewn toward the direction of the waistband.


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Buttons with good-sized shanks and heads that won’t slip out of the loops very easily.


All the buttons and loops in place.

All the buttons and loops in place.


Here’s the apron buttoned into pleats for wearing.

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The last step for the apron is sewing hooks and eyes at the edge to keep the folds in the upward “crumb-catcher” position. I’ll be sewing those in this evening.

And this is the finished look with the apron pleated and the ruffled overskirt hiding the apron’s edge.

Lookin' good, with Sophie at the ready in case things get out of hand (aka, napping).

Lookin’ good, with Sophie at the ready in case things get out of hand (aka, napping).


All in all, I think it’s working out rather well.

I played around with the two back tails, as well. The overskirt looks good without them. And it looks OK with them, too. So I’m undecided, at least for now. If there is time left over after finishing the waist (hah!) I’ll play with them a bit more.

Yes, the clock is ticking. I don’t do well with tight deadlines and that sense of pressure slows me down. I still have enough time on the calendar to get it done, but I acknowledge that I may not finish up in time for the exhibit. If that’s the case, I’ll go in “civvies.” But, no matter what happens, I will have a nice Victorian gown ready for next year’s Victorian Heritage Festival and that is a definite plus.