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?

The 18th Century Chemise – lengthening and side gussets

This week’s progress on the chemise consists of two elements: a decision and a discovery.

First, the decision. Once I had the neckline hemmed, pressed and stable I popped the chemise on over my head to check the length. It came to just below my knee, which would have been acceptable, but I wanted a bit more length. The size of the neck opening was perfect so I decided to forego adding a ruffle and used the last bit of extra fabric to lengthen the chemise by adding a strip at the hem in both the front and back. I had to cut the strips from the selvage edge, which contained two holes that looked like an accident of manufacturing. I was able to bypass the largest of them, but couldn’t avoid the smaller one and it will need mending. I figure it just lends a bit of an authentic air.

hole

Second came the discovery. The more I work with this lightweight linen, the more I like it. It’s still squirrely stuff, but I’m getting used to it. One of my biggest challenges in hand sewing with this fluid fabric has been keeping my seam lines straight. As the fabric shifts around in my hands the seams end up looking as if they’ve been sewn by someone on their fifth pint of lager while crammed into the corner of a rowdy pub. Not the look I’m trying to emulate.

I kept thinking that what I really needed was a line to follow. About two seconds later it occurred to me that if I needed a line I could add one – in chalk. I shake my head at how the simplest of solutions sometimes elude me.

In any case, the line kept the stitches straight. And once I was no longer struggling to maintain a straight line I could focus on taking smaller, even stitches.

tiny stitches

following the line

The result was french seams that look as nice as if they’d been sewn by machine and I couldn’t be more pleased. This is the front right side gusset seam, which also shows the extended length.

side gusset 2

So the side gussets are in place on the right side of the chemise. Next week, the left side gets its side gussets. Then…the sleeves.

The 18th Century Chemise – cut and underway

The chemise has been cut out and sewing is underway! Since I was a full yard short of being able to use the pattern I had, I went to The Cognitive Shift, by Sharon Ann Burston, and found the answers I needed.

The first challenge was simply drawing the pattern on my gridded pattern material – I don’t have a space large enough to lay everything out. The cutting table wasn’t sufficient for this. The fabric store where I used to live has a large sewing room with lots of tables I can use for free as long as a class isn’t in session. But it’s a 40-minute drive each way. The local fabric store also has tables, but charges $5 for the privilege. Figuring that gas and my time would be worth more than $5, I paid up and moved in.

I only had one change to get it right, so I checked and double-checked the measurements then transferred the pattern to the pattern material and cut the chemise. With a bit of math and a minimal amount of tweaking I was able to fit the entire shift on the fabric I had at hand, which surprised the stuffing out of me. I was able to get all the pieces and there’s even enough left to put a ruffle around the neck line, if I decide to do so.

Only one catch: it’s almost 2 inches too short. But I’m considering using the time-honored, and historically accurate, technique of piecing with other fabric to make up the difference along the hemline. I don’t know how much that would change how the chemise hangs, since the side gussets are from the linen. The resolution will come when I decide whether I need the full length and that won’t happen for a while.

In addition to Ms. Burston’s article, I also read other articles and posts about making 18th century chemises. One message came through loud and clear: finishing the neckline is the first priority. Cutting the neckline first and finishing the edge immediately is the best way to avoid distortion through stretching while handling. A lot of it is on the bias, after all. I took it a step further and marked the cutting line for the entire neck, but started with edging the back half of the neckline only. Handling linen is like handling water and, given that the front of the neckline is deep and long, I worried that even the small amount of handling required to finish the back edge would be enough to distort the front edge. So I left the front edge uncut while I hemmed the back edge.

neck edge2

Ms. Burston recommends 11 stitched to the inch for finishing the edge. I don’t know how close I came to that…I just used lots of tiny stitches, close together. The linen is beautiful and so easy to hand sew. A new experience for me is hand sewing with linen thread. I’ve never used it before and, even with beeswax, it’s a bit of a temperamental beast. But we’re getting to know each other and it’s getting easier.

neck edge1

And just this morning I found this post on linen thread from At the Sign of the Golden Scissors and, wouldn’t you know it, they now import fine linen thread and sell it in three weights. Since the thread I’m using is less than ideal for what’s ahead I think I’ll be ordering a spool or two.

The back neck is now finished and I’m ready to start on the front. I’ve cut he edge and it’s pinned, and it’s an overcast and damp day – perfect for more sewing.

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.

The Embroidered Reticule Gets Its Start

It seems like the weather has been conspiring against me. Once I decided on the fabric color and the design for the embroidered reticule, I went shopping for floss and chose some complimentary colors. Easy enough, sure. The only thing left to do was transfer the Ackermann’s design to the fabric. And that took until today.

I tried a pressure transfer paper, but everything came out thick and blurry. I could draw the design free-hand, but I want an exact replica so no go there. I don’t have a light box any more (it’s been gone for years) and the local quilt shops don’t have one I could use. Nor do I know anyone who has one. And it’s been grey, overcast and rainy for days – not enough light to trace it. Grrrr.

But, at long last, today the sun came out for a few hours and I did the old tape-it-on-the-window-and-trace-it-while-you-can-still-see-it method, which worked without a hitch. Now it’s in my favorite embroidery frame (a souvenir from my class at the Royal School of Needlework in England) and ready to start getting gorgeous.

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

Competitors in a sack race, 1933. (dailymail.co.uk)

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.

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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.

wrap6

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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.

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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)

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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.)

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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?

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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 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.

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

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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.)

2015-10-14 11.56.26

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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 #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 #12: Two Parts – an Update

HSM #12, Part A: The Late Georgian/Early Regency cap is coming along nicely. I ended up doing some machine sewing after all because my hand stitching isn’t even enough to look good on the cotton organdy. Organdy, as I’ve discovered, loves to disclose faults and forgives little. Sewing it is proving a challenge in and of itself. I need more practice before I can hand sew without it looking like I dashed it off in 20 minutes.

IMG_0124

Practice, practice, practice!

With the front brim and back horseshoe sections together it now looks like a proper cap.

The back of the cap is self-lined. I cut the pieces at a 90-degree angle, which gives it an optical illusion for a little variety.

Cutting the lining piece at a 90-degree angle creates the optical illusion of a checked weave.

Cutting the lining piece at a 90-degree angle creates the optical illusion of a checked weave.

The next step is to secure the edges all around with straight-cut binding. However, I’ve decided I want to add just a bit of narrow bobbin lace and that must be done before the binding is applied. So the search is on.

IMG_0140HSM #12, Part B: As I mentioned before, I want to use this opportunity to “re-do” to actually do the two challenges I couldn’t complete earlier in the year. Another accessory I need for my period dress is a nice fichu, so that will be my make-up for Challenge #4. I have some ultra fine and soft netting in my stash: not silk due to 1) allergy and 2) expense. But it behaves, looks and feels like silk (without the infernal itch). I’ve never sewn on anything this fine before, so another steep learning curve lies ahead. I’m searching for some fine, elegant lace with which to edge each side of a large square. The color is somewhere between antique white and off white and winter white and finding something that’s not a harsh, pure white might prove difficult. Oh, well. It’s a challenge, after all.