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.


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.


Your Weekend Wow!

It is dark and windy and spitting – oops, make that pouring – rain today. Nothing like a wonderful bit of pink silk to brighten the mood. This comes courtesy of the Chertsey Museum in Chertsey, Surrey, England. Sadly, there is only one photo – but what a photo it is. Hope this enlivens your day as much as it does mine.

pink silk spencer

Pink silk spencer with front opening and turn down collar, applied decoration of pink satin rouleaux loops with five rouleaux strips at wrist and two rows at lower edge, collar piped in silk, three layers of ‘leaf’ decoration on epaulettes over straight sleeves; c.1815. The spencer is silk, the collar is buckram, and the lining is cotton. Dimensions: length at Center Back = 300mm, length at Center Front = 160mm, width at chest = 350mm. MT.2043.

And for those curious minds who want to know what a rouleau loop is (hint: it’s not piping) and how to make one properly, here are a few good tutorials: Peggy’s Pickles (uncorded), By Hand (corded), and Pattern Scissors Cloth (uncorded). If you’d prefer written instructions you can print out and keep, try this free PDF tutorial from

Edwardian Undies – What, When and Where.

Window display of unmentionables (underwear). Lewisham High St., England. 1901

Window display of unmentionables (underwear). Lewisham High St., England. 1901

When trying to reproduce a style from a certain era I try to be as accurate as I’m able/willing to. And accuracy starts from the skin and builds outward. It’s the basis for getting things to look right – the under layers must be correct or the outer layers won’t be. Which means that before I start on my 1912 dress I want to understand 1912 underwear.

The Victorian period and early Edwardian years followed a standard pattern. The style of dress changed through the decades but the under layers remained essentially the same:

    • chemise
    • unders/drawers
    • stockings
    • boots/shoes
    • corset
    • corset cover
    • bustle (starting in the early 1870’s and gone by 1890’s)
    • petticoats – lots and lots of petticoats


"Help me! Is this right?"

“Help me! Is this right?”

It took me all of about two minutes to realize that doesn’t apply to the Edwardian era. Until I started planning my sewing strategy I hadn’t really paid attention to just how many changes happened in such a relatively short period of time. It’s the reason we’re able to delight in such a variety of fashions when watching Downton Abbey – shapes were moving from antique to modern at a rapid rate. (See end of post for a montage of style from 1901 to 1914 to see the changes, year by year.)

The underwear required to support the silhouette of 1905 was different from that required in 1912, and different again by the WWI years (1914-1918). I thought I had a good start with the Edwardian and Edwardian reproduction underwear I already had. Not so. The things I have work for the early Edwardian years of nipped waists and flowing skirts. None of them will work for the columnar styles of 1912. For this, I don’t want bulk – I want sleek.

Enter the revised underwear list for 1912:

  • combination (also called a combination suit = chemise top + drawers on the bottom)
  • stockings
  • boots/shoes
  • corset
  • a single petticoat
  • a dress (or blouse and skirt)

Fewer layers and a lot less poundage. I can do that. And I already have what I need in my stash.


Combination Underwear: I have Truly Victorian #TV105, a small mountain of muslin and period mother-of-pearl buttons. I’m going to make it sleeveless to accommodate a variety of dress styles and fabrics.



This is what “combination suits” looked like by 1914. TV105 is obviously more Victorian in style, but it will do.




Corset:  A while back, I had a 1912-style corset custom-drafted to my measurements by AriaCouture. It’s named “Rose’s Corset” and was inspired by the corset worn by Kate Winslett in Titanic. I also have some lovely robin’s egg blue coutil that I’ve tagged just for this. I may or may not be able to get it done in time, it’s last on the “to be sewn” list, but I have a long-ish Victorian corset that I can use. But Edwardian corsets have interested me for a long time, so I’d like to get it made someday. (Photos courtesy of AriaCouture)


Petticoat: Happily, this will not be a monstrous fabric-eater that requires endless hours for gathering layers of flounces and ruffles. Even better, I only need one. I can make it either princess-style or with an “empire” waist, but since my 1912 dress has a raised waistline I’ll probably go in that direction. Either way, I’m eager to finally use a lot of the antique and reproduction lace I’ve been hoarding diligently collecting.

Or I could just jump two years ahead and go with a 1914-style petticoat, which would serve quite as well.

fortunately, I have a handful of dress patterns that will easily convert into a proper petticoat, and that mountain of muslin. I also have Folkwear #226 Princess Slip pattern, but it needs serious altering so I’m trying to avoid it.



And that’s it for the underwear department. The muslin is in the wash for the combo and petticoat as I write this. In addition, any one of these will fill the gap for HSM#1 – Foundations. (More than a bit late, but better late than never.)


Disclaimer: I am not a fashion historian, just a fashion history student. This is by no means a rigorously researched tutorial. These are the changes I notice happening throughout the Edwardian years.

1901-1904: The S-bend corset, wasp waist and pigeon front. Skirts are smooth at the waist and hips, then flare at the hem.

1905-1907: Droopy pigeon fronts go away and a smoother line is favored. Skirts are fuller, starting to flare at the hip.

1908-1911: A variety of waistlines are worn, but they steadily move upward. As the waistlines move up, skirts become more columnar.

1912: The waistline is up and stays up. Skirts are straight.

1913: The waistline starts drifting a bit again. Skirts gain a more ease in the hips, but lose it at the hem.

1914: Silhouettes are loosening up. Overall form is less structured, skirts are hobbled. WWI begins and the Edwardian period is long gone.

Then styles start to go crazy. Waistlines come and go, rise and fall, and shapes evolve rapidly as the effects of war are felt until its end in 1918, by which time most shape has been completely lost.



A Brief Diversion Back to the 18th Century.

It seems like forever since I’ve been able to start and finish a project in one clean swoop and it’s getting frustrating. I want to get something done. So, since fiddling around with the Great Regency Armscye Debaucle wasn’t getting me anywhere, I hopped back a decade or so to do more work on my 18th century things…the pockets, to be specific.

2014-09-30 09.39.26As you may recall, I was drawn to this fabric, which I thought would make a fabulous 18th century apron. I was informed advised that it wasn’t right for the times (BTW – the advisers were correct) and I’d set it aside. But I still like it and was hoping to use it for something. Then the pockets rotated into production and that’s where the orange is going. I get to use it and no one will see it – a win-win as far as I’m concerned.

I do like this orange. The major benefit: if a pocket falls it will be easy to spot. In the dark. Without a flash light.

This fabric is a lightweight cotton. When I held the front and back pieces together it seemed a bit flimsy. Those pockets have to carry my keys, cell phone and change purse at the least: not exactly a ton, but too much for the fabric alone. Even doubling the fabric wasn’t sufficient.

I have absolutely no clue as to whether this is period-correct or not, since I made it up on the spot, but I decided to make a lining of heavy twill. It only goes as far at the center pocket slit, so the pockets will hang smoothly from their waist ties, but leaves enough supported area for the things I’ll want to have with me.

To avoid bulky edges and keep the outside line clean, I used the selvage for the top edge of the liner. Then I whip-stitched the top edge of the liner to the inside (wrong side) of the pocket using matching thread and tiny stitches. A few extra tacking stitches went to the bottom of the pocket slit, since that’s where most wear and tear occurs. From the outside you can’t tell it’s there, which was the goal.

Pin shows stitches from attaching the liner as they appear on the right side (outside).

Pin shows stitches from attaching the liner as they appear on the right side (outside).

I applied the lining to the wrong side of the other pocket piece and pinned them together. Yes, it does make the pocket a bit heavier. Fortunately, since the pockets tie around the waist the weight will be resting on my hips. (No comment.)

Next step is sewing around the outside edge (machine), turning the pocket right side out, then sewing around the edge a second time (by hand) to conceal the raw edges on the inside.

As for the sleeve cap, I’m deciding what I want it to look like so I’ll be mulling that over for a day or two.

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!

Armscye versus Sleeve. Fiddlesticks!

It should have been obvious to me that a public display of enthusiasm would come back to bite me. And it wasted no time doing so.

Sleeve edge is at the top, armscye is at the bottom.

Sleeve edge is at the top, armscye is at the bottom. Not good.

I pinned the right side sleeve into the right side armscye and…uh oh. The armscye is larger than the sleeve, which is not supposed to happen. And it’s weird because I never have problems with setting in sleeves and never have had. Even matching plaids. (It’s as close as I come to having a super-power.) Anyway, I was stumped.

I double-checked that I did indeed sew the right sleeve to the right armscye and not the left sleeve to the right armscye. I didn’t know why this was happening but I basted it into place, went to the left side and the same thing happened. They say one sign of success is being able to reproduce your results, but this ain’t it.

Lookin' good from the front.

Lookin’ good from the front. Sleeves will be trimmed to elbow length.

Since I’m a visual learner I put the bodice back onto the dress form. Sure enough, it was evenly “air-conditioned” on both sides. No matter how I wiggled it around on the dress form, it wasn’t going to make a difference in the gaps.

I racked my brain trying to figure out how this happened and the light bulb finally flickered. Back at the workshop, when Nora was helping me with fitting the sleeves, there was too much fabric at the top (because of my sloping shoulders) so she re-drew the cutting line and it ended up below the original cutting line. She said, “Here you go.” I went merrily on my way.

Now I know that when you’re changing a curve the adjoining curve also need altering so the two curves will still meet at the seam. I know that. And today I forgot all about it. Since we made the sleeve cap smaller the bodice armscyes need to be adjusted. I didn’t do that. Hence the mismatch.

A pinch here...

A pinch here…

Luckily, a minor adjustment at the back strap seam takes care of the problem nicely, makes a good match with my sloping shoulders and leaves just enough sleeve for a bit of minor gathering/pleating. So now I’m figuring a way to make the adjustment without taking the whole thing apart. Fingers crossed.

...and a tuck there...

…and a tuck there…

Regency Gown Workshop and a Great Fabric Info Link

It’s time to shift gears and head back to Regency fashions. Flipping back and forth through the centuries like this can make my head spin, but it also makes for variety.

This coming Saturday, I will be attending a SITU-University Round Gown Workshop. Somewhere in Time Unlimited – Seattle is a great costuming group and our members’ interests cover all aspect of costuming genres. The University meetings are instructional and cover a range of needs and interests. And they’re always great fun.

Nora Azevedo in her Regency Round Gown pattern. (Oregon Regency Society)

Nora Azevedo in her Regency Round Gown pattern. (Oregon Regency Society)

On Saturday we will have Nora Azevedo, from the Oregon Regency Society spend a day teaching us the ins and outs of making a Regency gown using a pattern she’s developed. Just the tutorial I need! The instructions are to bring you Regency undies (so we will be dressed for proper fitting) and at least 5 yards of 45″ fabric.

As for determining which fabric, I found a fabulous resource. The Oregon Regency Society has a Northwest Chapter and I’m a member. The latest entry in the chapter’s blog is “Telling your Regency story with colour (sic) and fabric.” It covers colors, tones, prints – the works.

Best of all, it is chock full of visual examples: color palettes and prints and all sorts of visual references. No more wondering what “vibrant rose” or “muted greens” mean – you can actually see the color. Not only is the range of colors is much larger than I’d imagined, it contains some colors I love but thought were excluded. Yay!

The elbow is still pretty achy at times, but this is an opportunity I don’t want to pass up. (Note to self: throw some aspirin in the bag, too.) Photos and report to follow.

PS – My 18th century outfit hasn’t been put aside. I just need to go slow because my elbow hates staying tightly bent and pretty stationary while I do the handwork.

Fabrics for Historical Costuming – a re-blog to share

I found this fabulous post, written yesterday by A Damsel in This Dress. It’s an excellent, concise review of period-appropriate fabrics and contains great links to suppliers. I’ve bookmarked it and will be referring back to it for a long time.

A Damsel in This Dress


We all know that very often it is the fabric that makes The Dress. A wisely chosen set of materials will bring out the beauty of the design, will enhance the tailoring – or even hide some dressmaking mistakes.  A less than perfectly sewn dress will look amazing if the fabric is right – and a fantastically well stitched creation can be badly marred by a poor fabric choice.

Naturally what fabrics we chose differs – all depends on the purpose of the garment. If it is a one off frock cobbled together for a friend’s fancy dress party,  you may not want to spend a lot on expensive silks; however if you are planning  a creation that you are going to wear a lot, or if you strive for authenticity, the correct fabric choice is essential.

In this post I shall mostly concentrate on the historical accuracy and will…

View original post 1,301 more words

A “Heads-Up” for Novice Fashion Sleuths like Me

Deborah Hay (Celimene) sinks to the floor in exasperation in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's The School for Lies. photo by Liz Lauren, Chicago Examiner

Deborah Hay (Celimene) in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s The School for Lies. Liz Lauren, Chicago Examiner

While Toile #2 is in a holding pattern pending Sunday’s sewing circle and expert fitting session, I thought I share something I’ve stumbled upon over on Pinterest more than once…and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

I use Pinterest A LOT. It is my visual library and I peruse it regularly. While the visuals are usually great, the information is not always so and it can be truly exasperating.

This particular pin, for example, is presented as having come from The Gallery of Fashion. Here is the fashion plate:


1811 “Même Coeffure qu’an N°1156. Robe de Gaze.” (Same hairstyle as #1156. Gauze dress.”

And here is the description, as provided by the pinner:

“Costume Parisien ca 1803. Note the deep bodice back. Regency bodice backs are often no wider (from top to bottom) than about 3 inches. Also, contrary to many modern costumers’ beliefs, the Regency dress rarely closed at the back center seam. Side closures were more common. Note the braid made our of the hair taken from underneath the upswept hairpiece used to make the bun.”

The a copy of the fashion plate is sold by, with whom I am not familiar. They title the print as: Le Journal des Dames et des Modes 1811 Costume Parisien Number 1157. However, they source the print as: Le Journal des Dames et des Modes (1797).

 So we’ve got conflicting data and information that contravenes our (meaning “my”) knowledge base:
  • Origin: is it from The Gallery of Fashion or from Le Journal des Dames et des Modes?
  • Dates: the pinner says 1803, the fashion plate says 1811 and a seller of the print says 1797.
  • The pinner’s statement “Regency bodice backs are often no wider (from top to bottom) than about 3 inches.”
  • And the pinner’s claim “…contrary to many modern costumers’ beliefs, the Regency dress rarely closed at the back center seam. Side closures were more common.”

As far as I’m concerned, if the fashion plate says 1811, it’s 1811. But one has to keep an eye out for such things.

Which is the true source? More homework required.

Regency bodice backs varied greatly through the period as fashion changed, so I feel the use of the word “often” is both meaningless and misleading (in my humble opinion).

And as for Regency dresses closing on the side rather than the back, this is the first time I’ve heard of it. It contradicts everything I’ve learned about Regency fashion. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s incorrect, but I’d do some research before formally passing it on.

Even with the fashion plate images themselves there’s weirdness. I’ve encountered this more than once:

Which one is “correct”? I haven’t the foggiest…I’d need to go to the original source (if I could determine what it was) and hope to get lucky.

I’ve gotten things wrong more than once and am trying to be more diligent. but the truth is that I’m bound to miss contradictions like these again in the future.

So tread carefully, my friends. We are humans, not machines, and I am glad of it.

Toile #2, Part One: Research

(original source unknown)

(original source unknown)

After the debacle of Toile #1 one thing was clear. I have no idea of the specifics I’m trying to reproduce. I have a 15-yard bolt of unbleached muslin, so I can cut pieces to my heart’s content. But I’d rather not see Toile #28, if you know what I mean.

Since the best defense against ignorance is education, I headed for my sewing library to find some answers. I have two areas that are hindering my progress: constructions details and fitting.

For details and seam placement I pulled:

  • Costume in Detail, 1730-1930 by Nancy Bradfield
  • Patterns of Fashion, c. 1660-1860 by Janet Arnold, which had just arrived in the mail. *happy dance*

For instruction on fitting and alterations I went to:

  • The Complete Photo Guide to Perfect Fitting by Sarah Veblen
  • Fitting for Every Figure by the Editors of Threads Magazine
  • Pattern Fitting with Confidence by Nancy Zieman.

I read through the relevant parts of each a couple of times and studied the variation between my toile and the illustrations, details and dimensions of historical garments.

There were some construction and style differences, which made me wonder if using a pattern designed from what looks like a laborer’s work dress (the original of which was well-worn, poorly patched and roughly mended) factored into it.

Underbust pleats have never worked for me, but I’d decided to make the pattern as given anyway. I did manage to sew one set backwards (facing toward the center front instead of toward the center back), but no matter – I just don’t like the way they look. So I’ll be changing the pleats to gathers, as well as raising the neckline a bit.

I may have to fiddle with the back shoulder and back side seams, but I’m making the easy changes first before I dive in way over my head.

Good thing I can swim…even though at times it looks a lot like flailing about.