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.


Two Regency Surprises: The “Other” Lazy Lacing Corset and Stockings Tied to Pantalettes

One thing that seriously impacts/inspires/limits/challenges my sewing is the fact that I have to dress myself. No spouse, significant other, understanding neighbor or eternally patient lady’s maid…I must get in and out of these undergarments and clothing on my own, or risk getting my 15 minutes of fame by appearing on the front page in the midst of arrest for indecent exposure. (Frankly, not my first choice.)

This is especially problematic with my Regency long stays. I have to put them on over my head and wriggle in like an armless tube worm donning a spandex sheath dress. By the time it’s on I’ve worked up a sweat. It’s particularly annoying when I’m sewing and fitting as I go. Each stop to fit takes up an hour or so when you count getting into and out of the stays. Sure, I could just leave the silly things on…but have you ever tried spending the day sewing while wearing Regency long stays that keep you firmly lashed to a ginormous wooden busk? I tried it once and didn’t last long.

This has made it to the front of things in my mind because there are a mere six weeks left in the year (no, I don’t know how that happened either) and I have promised myself I will finally finish a somewhere-around-1800 dress for myself before New Year’s Eve. I’m not demanding a certain color or style…I just want one that fits my uneven sloping shoulders and doesn’t leave the girls served up like an all-you-can-eat buffet. However, the thought of wrestling those stays on and off a dozen or so times does not exactly bring to mind hours of joyful sewing.

But there’s more than one way to support the girls, Regency style. I ran across this on Pinterest. It’s not new, but it’s new to me and perhaps it’s new to you, too. In any case, it’s worth sharing. The French term for this method is “lazy” lacing which would indicate it’s perfect for the single costumer who must manage on her own. It looks positively simple and lightning fast. (You may have to adjust the sound, as the recorded volume is rather low and her son is “helping” with background mommy chatter.)

According to the videographer, this method and style was patented in 1796 and used throughout the early 19th century. She made hers based on one in an 1810 fashion plate and I can see a center busk sewn in place.

This looks like the perfect short stays for me. It’s long enough that it comes to the wearer’s high hip, instead of mid-ribcage. The shoulder straps attach in the front and cross in the back so they won’t fall off the first time I reach for something, which is currently a problem. They are wide and flat, so they won’t dig. Best of all, because they cross independently of each other, my uneven shoulders would be easily accommodated. I don’t know if a pattern already exists, but I’m on the hunt. If anyone knows of a pattern for short stays just like these, please let me know. It may take a number of trial muslins to get the right fit, but I think it would be worth it to have a set of stays that I can whip on in about five minutes without assistance.


The other surprise discovery is this Walpole cartoon, published in London in 1799.

"The Virgin Shape Warehouse", satirical drawing, London 1799. Lewis Walpole Library Digital Collection - London. Publish'd Sepr. 1st, 1799, by S.W. Fores, No. 50 Piccadilly, [1799]

“The Virgin Shape Warehouse”, satirical drawing, London 1799. Lewis Walpole Library Digital Collection – London. Publish’d Sepr. 1st, 1799, by S.W. Fores, No. 50 Piccadilly, [1799]

Look at those stockings – they caught my eye immediately because they are supported by the pantalettes – I think it’s too early to call them “drawers” – seemingly attached (buttoned or tied) at the outside edge. No less than three of the caricatures are wearing stockings in this manner. Only the seated figure appears to have her stockings supported with garters secured above the knee. The skinny woman’s stockings are simply falling down. In addition, the four pairs of pantalettes hanging up on pegs all have ties dangling from the outside edge of the hems.

This is new to me and it’s a much bigger surprise than the alternative corset. Social satirists keep their metaphoric fingers on the pulse of society’s practices and trends so I have no reason to disregard the stocking treatments as a figment of Mr. Walpole’s imagination. Although holding my stocking up in this manner would probably feel less secure and even a bit less comfortable, varicose veins run in my family and being able to wear stockings without a tight band around my knee, whether above or below, is a fantastic option.

This also belies the notion that women didn’t really start really wearing pantalettes until the 1820’s or 30’s.

So there you have it: two new ways to look at Regency dress. Speaking as one who is more than happy to color outside the lines, I love it.

HSM #6 – Easily Out of My Comfort Zone

The HSM Challenge for June is “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.

This one is a no-brainer for me (sadly, that’s likely all too true) since I have limited experience creating garments from any time period before the 1960’s. Deciding what to make has been a challenge in and of itself – everywhere I look there’s something I’ve never tried before. I’m overly spoilt for choice.

However, this year I’m trying to make smarter choices for my HSM Challenge projects and pair them with things I’ll want for upcoming events. Two birds, one feebly thrown stone.

There are three events that I would like to attend in period dress:

July 12th: “The Romance of Roses.” It’s a private showing of a collection of vintage and antique fashions featuring rose colors, patterns and motifs. Guests are encouraged, but not required, to attend in period dress, anywhere from Victorian to 1950’s, that features roses or the color rose.

July 19th: “Seaside Get-away.” A Victorian-style picnic with a seaside theme.

August 8th: The SITU-Seattle Summer Event – “Dunnton Abbey Picnic” which will be held at a private estate for Downton-attired SITU members (period dress is not optional for this one).

I don’t have the time to make a dress for each event, but I think I can manage two if I don’t let enthusiasm get the better of me. So now it’s just a matter of mix and match.

Rose + Victorian seaside dress?

Rose + Edwardian summer dress?

Too bad I can’t get away with a rose Edwardian seaside dress…

I do have a bit of a cheat, though, and it’s become the deciding factor. Instead of having to make both dresses from scratch – i.e., copying an extant garment without a pattern to go on – I do have a pretty-darned-close pattern for one. It needs a few changes to make it more period-correct, but nothing too drastic. This will be my Victorian Seaside Dress, with fabric colors subject to change. (The pattern photo is from eBay. I do not wear a 6-8-10 anymore. Sigh.)

So, that leaves making a rose-inspired Edwardian summer/picnic/garden/tea dress. As much as I’d love to do a really frou-frou dress, I don’t have the time or the skills (yet) to pull it off as well as I want to. And, for comfort’s sake, I’m foregoing hobbled skirts, high collars and S-bend corsets. But that still leaves me with some very nice styles from which to choose.

And since the rose-inspired event is coming up first, this is the one getting tagged for HSM #6. I’ve never made an Edwardian-era dress before. I’ll have to cobble together pattern pieces and learn a bit about draping. I have some beautiful rose and off-white stripe fabric ready to go. Guess it’s time to choose a dress.

This one would be relatively easy to figure out and it obviously works with vertical stripes. But would I look too dumpy in it?

Day dress, circa 1910.

I love the center dress, but not too sure about the layers of ruffle draped over the hips – camouflage or “hey, look at this!”?

1910's Day dresses - lamp shade or tunic styles. An elongated top over a tight skirt. Large hat. Note the change from Gibson Girl fashion at the turn of the century. Art Nouveau slim, trailing gowns are coming in.

I like this style because it looks comfortable for warm weather, should that ever happen up here, but I’m not sure how the stripes would look.

Instead of lace, I think I’d like to use a solid rose-pink for the trim at the neck and sleeves and for the pleated underskirt. Might try draping the dress form to see what happens visually…could be interesting or a total headache. Only one way to find out…

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*

Some Thoughts onThe Natural Form Era: 1887-1882

"La Mode Ilustree", 1879

“La Mode Ilustree”, 1879

The Natural Form Era. I started this historical reproduction thing being enamored of the Early Bustle Era fashions and I had trouble appreciating the relatively bustle-less styles that followed. Then, as I started researching the bustle eras and saw extant examples, I began to enjoy the design aspects: creative use of asymmetry, the overall sleek lines and the infinite potential for playing with the back skirt and train. I absolutely love the red stripped dress on the left – she reminds me of a walking peppermint stick.

Carolyn Jones as Morticia Addams.

Carolyn Jones

My enthusiasm wanes with the extremely hobbled styles, however, which make no sense to me – neither in the Natural Form Era nor the 1910’s. (It brings to mind TV’s 1964 original Morticia Addams (“The Addams Family”) and how Carolyn Jones seemed to simply glide . I always wondered how long she had to practice to do it so well. I would have spent half of the filming time on the floor, flailing to get upright – like a beetle on its back, but far less graceful.)

One giant leap one.

One giant leap for…no one.

But I digress. Now I’ve come to like the Natural Form Era; the appeal of shape and the myriad methods of creative draping it allowed…especially in the back.

I’ve  already put these two fantastic designs into my “one of these days” queue, but I need to work on my skills and understanding of the construction before I can even start draping and make a muslin.

Closer to (theoretical) reality, in a bout of what must have been temporary insanity, I actually puchased the pattern to make this dress, seen in Harper’s Bazar, 1877:

Harper's Bazar, 1877

It’s sold by Ageless Patterns, which are currently way over my head. But the design is so intriguing I couldn’t pass it up. No matter that I’m not even remotely close to being able to pull it off. One day I’ll be ready. And I can already hear myself banging my head against the wall over the zillions of tiny pleats. It will take me at least a year to finish it. But won’t it be grand?!

First, however, comes the matter of catching up with the Historical Sew Monthly. #3 is in progress, but #1 is far from done. I’m still moving boxes, but now the patterns and most of the fabric are in the new house with me. Tomorrow I’m bringing over the sewing machines and production will, finally, re-commence.

HSM Challenge #3 – Stashbusting: Sing a Song for the Sontag

1827 portrait of Henriette Sonntag by Franz Xaver Stöber (Albertina - Wien Austria)

1827 portrait of Henriette Sonntag by Franz Xaver Stöber

Henriette Gertrude Walpurgis Sontag (or Sonntag), Countess Rossi (3 January 1806 – 17 June 1854), was a beautiful German operatic coloratura soprano of international renown. The sontag is alledgedly named after Henriette, who is said to have brought this style of a shallow, front-crossing shawl to the attention of fashionable Victorians.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines a “Sontag” as “a type of knitted or crocheted jacket or cape, with long ends which are crossed in front of the body and tied behind, worn by women in the second half of the Nineteenth Century.” Oddly, although there are a great many portraits of Countess Rossi, there are no portraits or photographs of her wearing such a garment (and I looked).

(My personal conjecture? Perhaps a garment like this was part of a stage costume she wore, devised by a creative costume mistress, in an especially outstanding performance which inspired women to emulate the style. It’s a notion full of flaws, but I like to imagine an opera company’s costume mistress as the unsung heroine of a long-lasting fashion movement.)

Instructions (“receipts”) for sontags (also called “cache coeurs”, or “bosom friends”) are found in many women’s magazines from the 1860s onwards. In fact, they are one of the first styles of shawl to be written up in modern pattern form.

Sontags are very good at keeping the upper body – especially the bosom – warm. As a result they are often worn by re-enactors and living historians. I’ve been wanting to make one, but kept coming up with the same pattern or two that “everyone” uses. Being me, of course, I wanted something different. Something to keep both my back and my front warm. Something that had instructions I could understand.

Then, a while back, I stumbled upon this.

1860 pattern for knitted sontag

1860 pattern for knitted sontag

Colleen Formby took this original 1860 pattern and “translated” it into modern knitting instructions, complete with yarn and needle equivalents, photographs and directions on how to make the “ermine” spots on the edging. Ms. Formby holds the copyright, but it’s licensed for individual use.

I love the checkerboard knitting pattern and the addition of the faux ermine spots. I like the way the back is completely covered. I also like that the ties wrap around the waist completely and tie in front, instead of tying in back.

And the best part is I can use it for the HSM Challenge #3, since I already have everything needed to make it in my stash, including period-correct colors in period-correct yarn (both content and weight) with period-correct (i.e., wooden) needles. It’s also a project I can do whilst packing/unpacking, since it doesn’t demand a lot of space – if there’s a chair/bench/stool/pillow where I can sit, I’m good.

Here’s a link to pictures of the same pattern done by an Australian historical sewer/knitter. As you can see, her sontag turned out looking very nice indeed. (Love the Dorset button!)

It’s getting easier and easier these days to find reproductions of extant patterns, which is good, but most of them are only copies of those originals and have sparse or confusing instructions, which is not so good. So I was thrilled when I come across a vintage pattern that is in contemporary terminology – not changed in any way, just translated into something understandable. Thank you, Ms. Formby, where ever you are.

Sadly, Henriette, Countess Rossi, only lived to the age of 46. She died from cholera in 1854 while on tour in Mexico. Every time I wear this sontag I’ll think of her – the woman with the beautiful voice who lent her name to such a practical garment, yet died so young.

The 17th Century Challenge – Sanity Returns

Frans Hals (Antwerp 1582 – Haarlem 1666) Portrait of a Woman Holding a Fan 1640I’m looking at the project I chose for the 17th Century Challenge. There is no way I can do that and the HSM challenges. I don’t know what I was thinking. Either I got caught up in the holiday buzz or suffered a temporary break with reality.

More likely it was just plain intimidation after seeing what other people in the challenge have chosen to make – difficult and intricate beyond my current ability. My original choice looked comparatively bland. I wanted to play on the same level and that’s not possible. It would be like sending a bunny rabbit up against a grizzly bear: the outcome is pretty predictable.

If I do the project I chose it will lessen the quality of everything else, and I don’t want that. I want to push my skills and learn more, but not at the expense of enjoying the process. Why do that to myself?

So my Christmas present to me is something that won’t interfere with or diminish accomplishing the HSM challenges. It’s from this 17th century painting, artist and exact date unknown:

17th century, artist and date unknown (2)

I will be making the clothing worn by the woman in the lower right corner:

17th century, artist and date unknown - detail close-up

I like the components, the style, the colors and I get to make a coif, which is something I’ve been wanting to do for a while now.

All I can say is – thank you, Santa, for returning peace to this little village.

2015 – Looking Ahead

Since it’s nearly time to start closing out 2014, sewing-wise at least, it seems right to look ahead to 2015 and see just how much trouble I can get myself into make some plans.

2014 has been a year of learning – a LOT of learning. One of the most often repeated lessons was that my eyes are bigger than my cutting table, so to speak. I want to try just about everything, but the reality is there’s only so much I can accomplish in a single year. (Funny how that one keeps coming up year after year…almost as if it’s a pattern…) This blog’s tag line has “over enthusiastic” in it for a reason. My interests and appreciations are wide-spread and far-flung through time: I can’t pick just one or two.

Which is why I have a lot of unfinished projects and as-of-yet-unused fabric and patterns lying about.

So. What would I like to accomplish in 2015?


  • Make all the costumes for CoCo 2015: a Georgian/Regency morning dress, a 1930’s dress (have pattern and fabric), my blue early bustle era dress (partially done), and a Legendary Lady dress (finally decided which way to go),
  • Participate in the Historical Sew Not-Going-To-Be-Fortnightly-Anymore Challenge for 2015: now one project will be due every two months for a total of six for the year – first one is “Foundations” due January 31st (have pattern and fabric),
  • Participate in the Isis’ Wardrobe 17th Century Challenge (one year to reproduce an entire outfit from a painting or colored drawing),
  • Manage to finally make a Georgian/Regency dress that fits (don’t get me started),
  • Finish up the 18th Century costume,
  • Participate in the town’s Victorian Heritage celebrations in a dress that I’ve made (not a purchased outfit), and
  • Participate in each of SITU-Seattle’s four seasonal events, each of which “occurs” in a different era and the first one is mid-February.

I’m sure you can see my problem. The list not ambitious…it’s insane. One year, 15+ projects (potentially) – that’s more than one every month. And that is so not going to happen.

On one hand, I don’t know what all of the projects are. I only know the first of the six HS(not)F challenges. I only know the era of dress for the first of the four SITU-Seattle events. And I’m still not sure I can afford to go to CoCo 2015 – but I’m gonna try (fingers crossed).

On the other hand, fortunately, I already know there is some overlap. The blue bustle dress can double for the Victorian Heritage Festival. The Regency dress can double for the SITU-Seattle February event. The 17th Century Challenge is for just one outfit, I’m allowed an entire year to make it, and I’m choosing something relatively easy (i.e., no fussy gowns). The HS(not)F January challenge will give me the last corset style I need to wear anyone of the list above, since I already have Victorian and Regency done.

But that still leave a huge list. At this time really I want to do the following:

  • CoCo 2015,
  • one danged Georgian/Regency dress,
  • the Historical Sew Not-Going-To-Be-Fortnightly-Anymore Challenge for 2015, and
  • the Isis’ Wardrobe 17th Century Challenge.
  • (Who am I kidding? I still really want to do them all.)

Yes, it’s way too much, so we’ll just have to see how it goes. I’m pretending Theoretically I should have more time to sew in the upcoming year. Theoretically, I had a lot of time this year but life handed out a couple of whoppers that slowed me down and, I can almost guarantee, 2015 will likely offer its fair share of lumps and bumps, as well.

At least there’s one thing I know for sure: by this time next year, I’ll know exactly how much I’ll be able to accomplish in 2015.

A Revelation About Late 18th Century Dress

I’m still looking at the late 18th century for an ensemble. I wanted to go with common dress, not the upper class stuff. But the colors I kept finding for the very low classes were so…blah. Then, last night – a breakthrough!

After finding the cotton twill tape I want on (I’m getting a 55-yd roll at a great price – yay!), I Goggled “images of 18th century dress” and nearly fell over when I saw this:

1770s - 18th century - woman's outfit with mixed print fabrics (jacket, skirt, and apron are each a different floral pattern)

1770s – 18th century – woman’s outfit with mixed print fabrics

Prints! Colors! Nothing blah about it! Where has this been hiding? It’s from “An album containing 90 fine water color paintings of costumes.” Turin : [s.n.] , [ca.1775], in the collection of the Bunka Fashion College in Japan.

I realize they are Italian, not American. But I love them. They speak to me. So I’m going with ’em. My rationale? Italians were living in colonial America and had been for a few decades before the Revolutionary War. Hundreds of Italians fought alongside the colonists, too.

And then there’s this bit of trivia:

“The official seal of the state of Maryland reads Fatti, Maschii, Parola Femine, which is Italian for “Manly Deeds, Womanly Words.” It is the only state motto written in Italian, and Maryland also was the only state that was home to a signer of the Declaration of Independence who was of Italian heritage.”

So I’m feeling good about deciding to go this way. I know I’ll be much happier with the outfit when it’s done and more comfortable wearing it, too.

Even better, I already have fabric that will work for either the jacket or the petticoat (skirt). It’s 100% cotton with a woven-in design and a nice mid-weight that drapes nicely.

2014-12-10 14.29.23

back of fabric

back of fabric

In the meantime, it’s probably going to take a while for the Amazon order to get here, what with all the mountains of holiday mail, so I’m going to cut out my Regency day cap and see if I can get some more hand sewing done.

Baffled by a Dress

flapper reading a bookWhen looking through photos or fashion plates of antique clothing, it usually only takes a few seconds for me to decide whether I like something or not. There is, however, a dress that has had me sitting on the fence for a long time…a late bustle era dress that confounds my eye.

I don’t know what to make of it.

For me it’s kinda like the proverbial horrible accident with lots of badly wounded casualties and you want to respect their privacy and/or avoid the gruesomeness of it all and you don’t want to look…but you can’t help yourself and then you wish you’d kept your eyes closed and you swear to yourself that you won’t look the next time, but you know you will.

“Two piece day ensemble in beige, pale green, and purple, ca. 1882-1885, This day outfit, from the late bustle era, was worn by Kate Morris Cone, a student in the first graduating class of Smith College in 1879. The fawn wool bodice is cut in a ‘tailor-made’ style, tightly fitted with an obvious CF [center front] button closure, long cuffed sleeves and an elaborate tail, all to suggest a man’s tail coat.”

Two-piece day ensemble in beige, pale green, & purple, North American, ca. 1882-85. Cotton, wool, silk.

Two piece day ensemble in beige, pale green, and purple, ca. 1882-1885 3

First off – it’s not displayed on a correct late era (i.e., humongous) bustle, so it’s impossible to see the actual shape and drape. Another part of it is the color: the green and purple are fine, but I do not like it with the beige – that beige kills the colors…yellow-toned beige versus blue-toned colors.

I’m normally pretty big-bow phobic, but the three on the side are oddly compelling – I don’t think I like them, but I’m drawn to them nonetheless.

The other thing I find odd are the two bits of gathered purple fabric as the end of the “elaborate tail.” The side bows are big and puffy, while these look flat and smashed…as if they’d been sat upon, popped like a balloon and deflated.

But, by far, the worst of it all is I can see “potential” (the word that will kill me one day, I swear). The overall design has some merit. It’s certainly unusual, and I like unusual.

So I look at it and my brain starts revving its creativity cells:

If I ditch the beige and use a nice color instead, keep the diagonal plaid thing going in a color that works with the bodice, get rid of the piping at the bodice front and use a flat inlay instead, and get rid of the dead balloon at the back…well…it could be a pretty dress.

And in the end, this is what happens:

I see a nice winter dress for our Victorian Holidays up here. Done in a light-weight wool. The bodice in a deep blue, red, green or brown. A tartan-like plaid on the bias instead of the floral green. And a second solid (for the bows and bottom ruffle) that picks up a color in the tartan. Maybe change the bows to a flatter style, but maybe not.

See what I mean? Potential = Pandora’s Box.

Fortunately for me, while I do have the pattern necessary to re-create the look I don’t have the skills. Yet. Thank heavens for that.


  • The 18th century pockets are done and I’ll be picking up more twill tape (I’d used it all) tomorrow so another “action shot” is coming soon.
  • Still messing around with the sleeve cap re-do…having trouble deciding which way to go and am vacillating between two variations. Sewing circle is on Saturday, so they just might end up being subjected to a group vote.