A Heartfelt Thank You

I want to send out heartfelt thanks to reader Elisabeth, who pointed me in the direction of Sharon Ann Burnston’s article on 18th century chemises. I think she just may have saved me from myself.

As my lovely linen was washing yesterday, I pulled out my pattern to review the instructions and realized that it calls for 3 1/2 yards of fabric however I’d only ordered 2 1/2. Oops.

But 2 1/2 yards of 54″ wide fabric seems like it should be enough. I’m not 54 inches wide, after all. I don’t want full sleeves with cuffs and ruffles. And if it’s a bit on the short-ish side I can live with it. But there was no way I was going to get the chemise I wanted out of the pattern I had without that extra yard.

Enter Plan B – Sharon Ann Burnston’s article. I need to measure and draft it out on my pattern material (conveniently printed in a one-inch grid) but I think it will work.

So many thanks, Elisabeth – looks like I might be able to bail myself out of this one without having to buy more fabric.


HSM #2 – and the hits keep coming

(found on Pinterest)

(found on Pinterest)

It’s now into March, so I’ve obviously missed the deadline for the overskirt. But I could see it coming and decided that I’d rather have it done the way I wanted it than have it done “on time.” Which is a good thing, because there have  been nothing but headaches with this project.

I’ve unpacked all of the sewing room boxes and I can’t find my iron. My Rowenta iron. Aargh! It is nowhere to be found. So I ended up buying a very nice, lightly used iron at Goodwill for $8 and so far it’s been a peach.

I finished with the new trim on the right side overskirt and back tail, then went to pull the left side pieces and…NO!!…I can’t find the pieces for the left back tail. I know I cut them out. They had been laying on the cutting table in the old house, along with the side pieces. And now they’ve disappeared. I have the sinking feeling I might have accidentally thrown then out while I was packing up the fabric, mistaking them for scraps.

So now the challenge is to see whether or not I have enough fabric for the bodice and an extra tail piece. And that means that I have to cut out the bodice and conserve as much fabric as possible. The tail pieces are 32 inches long, so it’s going to be interesting.

On the other hand, I’m very happy with the revised trim scheme.

As you may recall, the first idea was to layer black and white woven check ribbon over ruffled black organdy.


The concept was to echo the ruffles on the fichu that will be worn with the bodice.


But it started looking disproportionate and the folds of the overskirt did not hang smoothly with all the bulky layers of trim. (My apologies for the blurry photo – bad camera day.)

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Getting rid of the bulk improved the drape and the layers hung correctly. So I went with a simple, single layer of ribbon trim and I think it looks tons better. How about you?

the new trim

HSM #8 – A Very Productive Thursday

WooHoo! It’s finally looking like a dress, or at least a bodice, and I’m loving the stripes. The fabric is by RJR and is from a 2012  collection called “The Sweet Shop” by Dan Morris. All day yesterday I kept thinking of candy canes and peppermint sticks (when I wasn’t cursing the placket) and hoping I don’t end up looking like a giant version of same. Now I’m far enough along I know that won’t happen.

After I set in the sleeves I kept thinking it looked fine – but a bit boring. I tried adding some solid pink, like I’d done in for faux-draping session, but it wasn’t working for me. So I left the sleeves unhemmed while I considered the options. Then I remembered my stash of vintage lace and something I’d bought a while ago because I thought it would look great on an Edwardian dress. Just as had happened with the hat, once I saw it on the bodice I knew I had to go with it. Using the lace added about three hours of hand sewing but it was worth it.

I used it to hem the sleeves…

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And across the front panel of the bodice…

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Then, just to go a bit overboard, I also used it to edge the pieces running over the shoulders…

I’m not worried about the shoulder straps being too short, since the bottom edges will be completely covered by the cummerbund wrap around the waist. They are not part of the pattern, so I had to figure them out and make the stripes work. It wasn’t difficult but it did take three tries to get them the way I want.

The remaining steps are:

  1. sew the skirt to the bodice,
  2. sew the cummerbund waist wrap in place,
  3. sew on the hooks and eyes, and
  4. hem the skirt.

I think I’m going to make it on time!

Why Do Plackets Hate Me?

I’ve made progress today. The sleeves are on the bodice. My big ol’ upper arms are comfortable in them and they don’t bind at all. I’ll post more dress photos tomorrow. But mostly I’ve spent a good deal of time today with the skirt’s center back placket…more than I’d like.

I don’t know why plackets drive me nuts, but they do. It’s not like they’re intellectually confusing or hard to understand. I’ve done them before although, admittedly, it’s been a while since I last tackled one. And that’s probably because they never come out looking good. Never. Setting in sleeves is a dream. I can do them in my sleep. And I’d rather tackle a dozen sleeves in black fabric, using black thread, at night…rather that than mess with a single placket.

The first time through was completely my error. I had a moment of visual confusion and cut the placket with the stripes running horizontally. The stripes on the skirt run vertically. As a result, the back would have ended up looking like a confusion of peppermint sticks. Fortunately, I caught it early and little harm was done other than loss of some time.

Second time around I oriented the stripes correctly and went through the application step by step. Slowly. Carefully. I reinforced the pivot point. I clipped with caution. And I still ended up with a pucker. Perhaps I should have clipped it more deeply? It’s such a silly thing, but it annoys me to no end.

At this point, my solution will be to carry my picnic basket behind me, hope my shawl is long enough, and spend a lot of time sitting beneath my parasol.

HSM #6 Update – The Deadline is Closing Fast

Bodice front with the rest of the ribbon in place.

Bodice front with the rest of the ribbon in place.

I’ve been working hard on my Edwardian petticoat – after all, the deadline is tomorrow. Eek! This is the first time I’ve designed a garment and being faced with innumerable choices slowed me down. In the end I solved my dilemma by conveniently discovering I didn’t have enough fabric left over from the bodice to make a complete skirt. That, and realizing that using a pre-made bed ruffle from Goodwill meant the cotton-poly blend would need a bit more support than the semi-sheer bodice fabric could give.

So, like all inspired types who find themselves painted into a creative corner, I punted and made up the rest as I went. And I think it’s working.

I used the remainder of the bodice fabric for the upper portion of the skirt and the cotton body of the bed skirt for the lower part. That allowed me to leave the ruffle attached and not spend time messing around with it.

But the fabrics are distinctly different, both in texture and in color…the bodice fabric is a much whiter white. I have plenty of the vintage beading lace, so I used a round to create a softer transition from one fabric to the other.

Petticoat skirt with beading lace in place.

Petticoat skirt with beading lace in place.

Of course, things being as they sometimes are, I seem to have…um…mis-measured a bit.



Fortunately, this is an easy fix. In the end, very few people will notice it…especially since it’s underwear.

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Adding beading lace to the lower ruffle, also to create a nicer look, went smoothly…mostly because I’d learned not to cut anything from the spool before it was all sewn in place.

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The end result was two even rounds of lace, ready for the ribbon.

Upper round, the transition from bodice fabric to the bed skirt cotton.

Upper round, the transition from bodice fabric to the bed skirt cotton.

The lower round, for a nicer transition to the bottom ruffle.

The lower round, for a nicer transition to the bottom ruffle.

To add a bit for heft to the upper portion of the skirt, I doubled the fabric to create a self-facing. Then I whipped it into place and sewed the center front closed up to the opening, adding a small tack at the top end to guard against any damage from tugging while pulling it on overhead.

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At last…time to attach the bodice to the skirt. Hooray!

Now, I’m basically lazy enough to avoid duplicate steps whenever possible. It makes up for the time I lose in silly errors, like cutting the beading lace too short. When I decided to self-face the upper portion of the skirt, I deliberately placed the fold at the top edge. That way I could attach the bodice and create the base of the channel for the front drawstring closure at the same time. It gets a bit “fabric-origami-in-space” at this point, but it works.

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On your right is the bodice pinned to the skirt. Looks all wrong, doesn’t it? But on your left you can see what happens when the top edge of the petticoat is turned up. By doing it this way, the raw edge of the bodice will be enclosed in the drawstring casing and it’s all done in just two passes of the machine. I’ve used this trick before and it’s an absolute winner.

To finish, I need to complete the casing, add the last of the beading lace, thread the ribbon into place and finish the armholes. They keep changing shape slightly, and for the better, as more weight gets added to the bodice so I saved them for last. And by tomorrow evening I should have a petticoat of my own design…that actually fits. How fab is that?

Caveat Emptor – Let the Buyer Beware.

I want to make a pinner apron for one of the HSM challenges. Simple. Straightforward. Relaxing. Advanced engineering degree not required.

Fabric, however, is required and there’s not a lot of it around here. I’ve been loathe to jump into the car and drive an hour (or so) to shop in person, especially for apron fabric, so I looked at the offerings online and though I’d found the perfect deal.

This is meant to be a working apron, so I want to use homespun. Good news, since homespun is pretty inexpensive. And there’s a relatively decent selection of colors and woven patterns. I want a subtle pattern in a color that can hide a bit of grime. So I was delighted when I saw “Robert Kaufman Quilters Homespun Checkerboard” in colorway “Country” and ordered 2.5 yards.

Here’s the Fabrics.com photo (enlarged version) – looks like a textured, homespun weave:

(photo by fabrics.com)

(photo by fabrics.com)

Here’s what came – a print that looks as flat as the plastic in which it’s wrapped:

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I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. What a disappointment! How…why…huh? I went back online and figured out what happened. I saw “homespun” in the title and thought “yay, homespun!” Silly me. The full online description is: Designed by Studio RK for Robert Kaufman, this cotton print fabric is perfect for quilting, craft projects, apparel and home decor accents. Colors include black, tan, shades of red, and shades of blue.”

Cotton print fabric. Well, jeeze. Hoping to save others from making the same mistake I did, I left a review cautioning potential buyers that this is a printed fabric that’s supposed to look like homespun, not actual yarn-dyed, woven homespun fabric. Great quality, like all Robert Kaufman cotton, but not homespun.

So it’s going back to fabric.com, thanks to their generous return policy, and I’m going to the fabric store to buy real yarn-dyed homespun.

One Squirrely Lake O’ Linen

Pattern transferred to grid

Pattern transferred to grid

I can only stay away from sewing for so long, then I get itchy/twitchy/antsy. So, yesterday I played around with the linen a bit. As I mentioned before, linen is a new experience for me. I started out with the smaller pieces to keep the learning easier: sleeve, cuff and sleeve gusset. It’s going fairly smoothly and I hope to have some real progress to share soon…maybe even a complete sleeve by the end of the month. Not bad, considering all the preparations for the move.

Yesterday I was going to cut out the large pieces: the rectangle that makes up the body of the chemise and the triangular piece that is cut from the main block, flipped upside down and added to the lower half of the sides to widen the hem. I know…it sounds confusing if you’ve never done it before, but it makes complete sense when you see it, and I will show the process.

I can’t get to my cutting table, or much of anything else at the moment, so I used the kitchen island counter top for cutting. The way this pattern works, you take the length of fabric for the body of the chemise and fold it in half lengthwise (selvage-to-selvage), then fold it in half widthwise (end-to-end). Now you have a four-layer rectangle from which you cut the body of the chemise.

Why do this? Because now, in just one cutting, when you unfold it you have one large piece of fabric which gives you a chemise that is seamless at the shoulders, the front and the back. Think of it as fabric origami and you’re making a really weird-looking rectangular snowflake (without the diagonal fold).

square snowflake, instructables.com

square snowflake, instructables.com

The problem I’m having is getting and keeping this big chunk of lightweight linen folded on the grain. It flows and creeps and slides. I have trouble keeping the grain lines straight. I don’t know the density of the weave, but it’s tight enough that I haven’t been able to fold it straight by eye alone.

So this is a call out for help, please. Does anyone out there know how to “square up” this squirrely thing? Can I pull threads on such a large piece to find and follow the grain? All help and suggestions appreciated.


Eureka! (Maybe) + Hooray! (Definitely)

The Eureka

The comments about the previous post got my mental juices flowing again…must the sleeve cap be a single piece or were there alternate styles? So I went back to Google and Pinterest, searched for images of 1795 round gowns, again, and I think I may have found a solution. (Note to the befuddled,  like me – never give up, the answer’s out there somewhere.)

1795 round gowns.

1795 round gowns.

Dress (round gown)c. 1795-Italy. White silk taffeta brocade one-piece dress; green silk and gold embroidery and sequins; pin-tucks at top of front; fly fringe and tassel ornamentation.

Dress (round gown)c. 1795-Italy. White silk taffeta brocade one-piece dress; green silk and gold embroidery and sequins; pin-tucks at top of front; fly fringe and tassel ornamentation.

Looking at these extant garments, it appears that I can put a cap over the cap (don’t you love it when I get all technical?). Which means I could add some volume back onto the sleeve cap and hide it with the extra piece on top, so it would essentially end up looking like a removable sleeve without actually being one. And that would be a heck of a lot simpler than going through any more gyrations (she says now). So I’m gonna give it a go and see what happens. If nothing else, it will be desperately exasperating fun and instructive.

Thank you Val (#1) for taking a swing with your idea…I don’t know if I would have stumbled upon this without your help.

The Hooray

(photo copyright American Duchess)

(photo copyright American Duchess)

This morning, whilst lurking around  in blog-land, I discovered that American Duchess is having a sale. I’ve been hankering for a pair of her buff-colored Regency Nankeen boots since she introduced them and they’re on sale!!! So HoHoHo and Happy Holidays to me…I have a pair on Easy Pay layaway. Even better, they are dye-able. I have my eye on a lovely, soft lilac or perhaps a yummy rosy-coral. Or I  may like the buff and leave them be.

In any case, they’re mine as of the first of February and the SITU-Seattle Winter event (“Victory over the British”, 1815 attire – celebrating the end of the War of 1812) isn’t until February 22, 2015, so they’ll get here in plenty of time to be dyed and waxed. WooHoo!

Curses, Foiled Again!

Labyrinth - 19th Century Board game 'The Mansion of Bliss' . Created by Thomas Newton.

Labyrinth – 19th Century Board game ‘The Mansion of Bliss’ . Created by Thomas Newton.

It is now quite clear to me that I cannot fix my bodice issue without help from someone who knows how to “see” what needs to be done. If the sleeve cap was too big for the bodice, all I’d have to do would be pleat it at the back bodice armscye and call it done. No such luck.

The problem is that the bodice is too big for the sleeve. In a ridiculously overemphasized 3-D view it would look like a mixing bowl set upside down over marble. The curve of the sleeve being the marble, and the mixing bowl being the way-too-big bodice armscye…and I can’t gather or pleat the bodice to bring to down to the match the sleeve cap.

I’ve put this bodice through all manner of tortured origami with no luck. When I used my original approach it distorted the bodice armscye to the point where I would have needed to go back to the original sleeve (before trimming down the cap) to even come close.

Yesterday, I spent nearly four hours fiddling with this problem and getting nowhere. One obvious solution is to just cut another bodice and/or another set of sleeves, but there’s no more fabric left. I bought it years ago and that fabric run is long gone: I had just enough to cut this one garment. (Which serves to reinforce the value of making a muslin for everything first, which there wasn’t enough class time to do.)

So, it’s time to call in the pros. Fortunately, the next SITU sewing circle is in a couple of weeks and I know Bobbie Kalben will spot the problem in an instant.

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As I see it, the worst case scenario is that I end up ditching the bodice and the sleeves and turning the skirt into a “petticoat” with shoulder straps. Then I could make a spencer to go with it and not lose this beautiful fabric altogether.

(Lemons…lemonade…you know.)

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.

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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.)

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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.

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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…?