The Potato Chip Can Thread Catcher

The last time I got together with the other members of SITU-Seattle sewing circle I was once again faced with wrangling and policing all the snippets of thread I’d strewn about. I am not a “compact” designer/artist/crafter/sewer – I tend to spread out. I work harder at keeping “my” area in check when I’m at someone else’s house, especially when there are a lot of people working in close proximity. But thread bits and other drifting pieces of sewing fluff are my downfall…they end up everywhere.

So imagine my delight when I ran across a YouTube video on Pinterest that shows how to make a portable thread catcher out of a potato chip can.

A lot of you probably already know about this nifty little thing. As you can see, Rachel certainly did. She posted her set of thread catchers just a couple of weeks ago. But it I’d never heard of it until I discovered Angie’s video. I was instantly enthralled and knew I had to make one. And so I have.

Here is the instructional video from AngiesBitsAndPieces and here’s what I did with it. (Please excuse the color changes in the photographs. I worked on it off and on throughout the day yesterday and today, and the light’s been all over the place.)

I used a short can of Pringles potato chips - don't need all the calories from the big can.

I used a short can of Pringles potato chips – don’t need all the calories from the big can.

Two half-inch wide rings. The inner ring trimmed down to fit snugly against the outer ring, the glued together.

Two half-inch wide rings. The inner ring trimmed down to fit snugly against the outer ring, the glued together.

Circles for base cut from facial tissue box. Quilt batting  circles cut from scraps begged from local quilt shop.

Circles for base cut from facial tissue box. Quilt batting circles cut from scraps begged from local quilt shop.

I added this step: a dab of glue in the center of the cardboard to prevent the  batting from slipping around.

I added this step: a dab of glue in the center of the cardboard to prevent the batting from slipping around.

Cardboard base placed batting-side-down in center of cover fabric circle, edge gathered.

Cardboard base placed batting-side-down in center of cover fabric circle, edge gathered.

Drawstring edge pulled snug and tacked closed. Kinda looks like a mutant Oreo cookie.

Drawstring edge pulled snug and tacked closed. Kinda looks like a mutant Oreo cookie.

Paded base circles pinned with wrong sides together, ready for sewing closed around the edges. Now looks like a mutant Oreo cookie throwing star. And draws almost as much blood if one isn't paying attention.

Paded base circles pinned with wrong sides together, ready for sewing closed around the edges. Now looks like a mutant Oreo cookie throwing star. And draws almost as much blood if one isn’t paying attention.

The padded base is done.

The padded base is done.

Here's another deviation from the video. I decided it would be neat to have a contrast color on the ring of the catcher, and that using a stripe fabric for the body would give it a cool twister look when closed. So I went for it.

Here’s another deviation from the video. I decided it would be neat to have a contrast color on the ring of the catcher, and that using a stripe fabric for the body would give it a cool twister look when closed. So I went for it.

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Besides being a fun project, it's 100% hand sewn. You can make one (or a dozen) of there anywhere.

Besides being a fun project, it’s 100% hand sewn. You can make one (or a dozen) of there anywhere.

You could even use a creasing stick or finger press instead of an iron. No electricity required!

You could even use a hera marker or finger press instead of an iron. No electricity required!

Fabric tube folded over and sewn down around the cardboard ring.

Fabric tube folded over and sewn down around the cardboard ring. This shows the true fabric colors.

Next the inside is pulled out (up) and padded base sewn on. Now it looks a bit like a fantasy pig's snout.

Next the inside is pulled out (up) and padded base sewn on. Now it looks a bit like a fantasy pig’s snout.

Padded base pushed back down through center of the ring. Now it's like a fabric cup, which is the goal.

Padded base pushed back down through center of the ring. Now it’s like a fabric cup, which is the goal.

Outside view. Now the edges of the outer fabric tube get turned under and sewn to the padded base.

Outside view. Now the edges of the outer fabric tube get turned under and sewn to the padded base.

All sewn and ready to use.

The sewing is done.

Ready to use!

Ready to use!

At the end of the day, just twist to close.

At the end of the day, just twist to close.

It doesn't matter whether you twist it to the left or to the right...

It doesn’t matter whether you twist it to the left or to the right…

...both work equally well.

…both work equally well.

Two notes of caution, though.

In her video, Angie mentions about making sure your circumference measurements are correct. My Pringles can measured 9 1/4 inches, not 9 1/2. I measured carefully but still had to adjust the side seam of the fabric tube by letting it out a bit over 1/4 inch to get it to fold over the cardboard ring.

In addition, make triple sure the cardboard base circle is small enough to fit into the covered cardboard ring once all the padding is in place. I cut mine a bit too large, and not perfectly circular, so the base of the thread catcher will not push into the ring and stay closed.

Aw, nuts!

Aw, nuts!

That’s my error, not a problem with the instructions.

But it means I have to get to make another one. This is a perfect scrap or fat quarter project.

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Next time, I think I’ll add a fabric loop so I can button the thread catcher onto an apron or a belt loop. And I’ll definitely use my compass to trace a true circle for the base.

In the meantime, my latest little project needs a job. As it just to happens, we’re in a wee bit of a heat wave up here, so…

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…keep an eye out for my upcoming line of portable beer coasters. (You know you want one.)


It’s Better with Pictures!

Oops! I forgot to add photos to last night’s post, so here they are.

Knitting – sweater in progress, working on the second sleeve, needs blocking when finished:

Yummy yarn, yummy colors. Can't wait for Fall to come.

Yummy yarn, yummy colors. Can’t wait for Fall to come.


Collection of 1930’s reproduction fabric, gathered here and there over a decade or so:

My 1930’s quilt stash.


Reproduction 1840’s quilt:

First panel complete!

First panel complete!

First panel complete!

Fabric detail


Jacquard-weave ribbon with matching embroidery floss and faux pearls for Edwardian petticoat:

Very feminine, isn't it?

A very Edwardian and feminine combination, isn’t it?


When I was designing and selling quilt patterns I was – and forever remain – “The Fabric Floozie.” On Ravelry (an online knitting community) I’m “EccentricEwe.” Basically, if it involves a needle, some thread and/or fiber I’m all over it. That pretty much sums up my fiber-dependency issues. 😉

The Finer Points of Fibula Pins

Nearly all of the information I was able to read about pinner aprons included some variation on the statement that the bibs were held in place with straight pins. This makes sense, since straight pins are simple, cheap and have been around for ever. But they also fall out and I couldn’t imagine an active woman carrying around replacement pins for her apron, just in case.

Then I ran across a reference to fibula pins. I’d never heard of them before so, of course, I had to know more. It turns out they too have been around for just about ever and make a safer yet still historically accurate alternative to straight pins.

So, what are they and why are they named after a leg bone?

Meet Your Fibula:

image from

image from

The two bones that run from the knee to the ankle are the tibia and the fibula. The tibia is the thicker, heftier bone – it’s commonly called the shin bone. It runs down the center of the lower leg. It’s more delicate neighbor is the fibula, which runs down along the tibia on the outside edge of the leg (the side your little toe is on).

Meet the Fibula Pin (historical information – and liberal use of the passive voice – from Wikipedia):

Fibula (/ˈfɪbjʊlə/, plural fibulae /ˈfɪbjʊli/) (plural Fibulae): a brooch, or a pin for fastening garments. The fibula developed in a variety of shapes, but all were based on the safety-pin principle. The fibula form was invented by the Myceaneans between the 13th and 14th Century BC, and is considered an early precursor to a safety pin since they were used in a similar manner. However, it had major flaw. It had no clasp or spring at the end to help put it in place.

Unlike most modern brooches, fibulae were not only decorative; they originally served a practical function: to fasten clothing, such as cloaks. Fibulae replaced straight pins that were used to fasten clothing in the Neolithic period and the Bronze Age. In turn, fibulae were replaced as clothing fasteners by buttons in the Middle Ages. Their descendant, the modern safety pin, remains in use today. In ancient Rome and other places where Latin was used, the same word denoted both a brooch and the fibula bone because a popular form for brooches and the shape of the bone were thought to resemble one another.

There are hundreds of different types of fibulae. They are usually divided into families that are based upon historical periods, geography, and/or cultures. Fibulae are also divided into classes that are based upon their general forms. [Given the fact that fibulae have been around for so many centuries, I’ll spare you the details.]

OK, you ask, so what brings the bone and the pin together? Their shape. When you compare an x-ray of the lower leg with a “violin-bow” fibula pin, it’s easy to understand why archaeologists mentally connected one with the other.

The body of a fibula pin is known as either the bow or the plate, depending on the basic form. A bow is generally long and narrow, and often arched.  The head is the end of the fibula with the spring or hinge. The foot is the end of the fibula where the pin closes. Depending on the type of fibula, and the culture in question, the head of the fibula could be worn facing up, down or to the side. The degree of bend in the bow and/or the angle of the hinge also varied by time and culture.

These are the fibula pins I purchased to secure my pinner apron. They are handmade and the tip of the pin is not sharpened to a point. With the coarse weave of the homespun that’s not a problem, but a point would be good for anything more substantial.

One can wear them with the bow either up or down.

Overall, I really like the look.

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The apron is on the home stretch, so stay tuned…

A Nifty Little Doo-Dad that Makes My Sewing Life Easier.

It’s a bird! It’s a Plane! It’s a….what?!?!

This bit of sparkle has been in my office for longer than I care to remember. I really never used it much, but I felt there was something more to it than I was appreciating, some overlooked potential I was missing, so I never got rid of it. Then, the other day, lightning struck.

It’s a page holder. Now where could I really use easy visual access to instructions while my hands are busy? (No, not that!) Hmmmm…. Aha!!

The “Hidden History” of the Sewing Machine

Demonstrations of the sewing machine by Ms. Eliza and other women disproved the widespread belief that women could not work machines.

“Demonstrations of the sewing machine by Ms. Eliza and other women disproved the widespread belief that women could not work machines…”

This afternoon, while searching for something completely different, I ran across a blog post chocked full of information about the history of the sewing machine. Sure there was mention of the generally known story of the sewing machine’s development but, for the most part, it was full of stories and details of which I was unaware. Of course, I just have to share it with you.

The following are excerpts from a series of blog entries written by Adam Mossoff in May of 2009, as a guest blogger for “The Volokh Conspiracy.” A very odd place for the history of the sewing machine, but it involves discussion of “patent thickets” and other legal issues related to inventions so there it is.

I’m not exactly riveted by pithy discussion of the implications of patent thickets, however relevant they may be to today’s patent laws. But if you are a kinda geeky-nerdy history buff, like me, the full story of the development of the sewing machine is great. If not, my apologies for any disappointment/boredom/loss of consciousness. Just remember – Your Weekend Wow arrives tomorrow. (And forgiveness wins extra brownie points.)

What follows is not my work, but a condensation and “rearranging” of the text as written by Mr. Mossoff to focus on the story behind the sewing machine as it pertains to Elias Howe and Isaac Singer. While they are the two gentlemen most often associated with the invention of the sewing machine, they are far from being the only inventors who played a role.  The original complete series is rather long – the full text can be found here.


Given the basic human need for clothing, sewing has long been a skill valued by modern humans. Unfortunately, hand-sewing for long hours is extremely tedious and physically taxing, especially when clothing is demanded in mass quantities, as it was by the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In Das Kapital, Karl Marx recounted the story of a milliner who literally worked herself to death as an illustration of the vampire-like nature of capitalists. In 1853, the New York Herald opined about the working conditions of seamstresses: “We know of no class of workwomen who are more poorly paid for their work or who suffer more privation and hardship.”

In antebellum America [meaning before the American Civil War], Thomas Hood’s ditty, Song of the Shirt, was popular because it lamented the well-known working conditions of seamstresses:

With fingers weary and worn,
With eyelids heavy and red,
A woman sat, in unwomanly rags,
Plying her needle and thread,
Stitch! Stitch! Stitch!
In poverty, hunger and dirt;
And still with a voice of dolorous pitch —
Would that its tone could reach the rich! —
She sang this Song of the Shirt!

Impoverished and suffering ill health for much of his life, [Elias] Howe was working as an apprentice of little consequence in a machine shop in Boston in 1839 when he overheard an inventor and a businessman talking about how a sewing machine could not be made. As later recounted by Howe, the inventor asked, “‘Why don’t you make a sewing machine?’ ‘I wish I could,’ said the capitalist; “But it can’t be done.'” The “capitalist” then told the inventor that, if he could invent a sewing machine, “I’ll insure you an independent fortune.” Although having received no formal schooling in natural philosophy or mechanics (a common trait of most American inventors of the day), Howe was impressed by this remark and he began thinking of the problems entailed in creating a sewing machine.

With respect to the mechanical issue, the invention of a practical and commercially successful sewing machine comprised ten complementary elements. These ten elements were first explicitly identified by Andrew Jack in an oft-cited 1958 article: (1) the sewing of a lockstitch, (2) the use of an eye-pointed needle, (3) a shuttle carrying a second thread, (4) a continuous source of thread (spools), (5) a horizontal table, (6) an arm overhanging the table that contained a vertically positioned eye-pointed needle, (7) a continuous feed of the clothe (synchronized with the needle motion), (8) tension controls for the thread that give slack as needed, (9) a presser foot to hold the clothe in place with each stitch, and (10) the ability to sew in either straight or curved lines. The first sewing machine to incorporate all ten of these elements was the famous “Singer Sewing Machine,” which was first sold to the public in the fall of 1850. But Singer was neither the first person to invent all ten elements nor was he the first to patent them.

It is difficult to understand in the abstract how a sewing machine makes a lockstitch, especially if one has never operated a sewing machine. The Wikimedia Commons has an animated gif that shows how a lockstitch is made, click here. The diagram below also details step-by-step how a lockstitch is made with an eye-pointed needle and a shuttle carrying a second thread:

How a lockstitch is made by machine. Original source unknown.

How a lockstitch is made by machine. Original source unknown.

In 1843, he [Howe] began working on the invention in earnest, hoping to become as wealthy as the capitalist had promised. By the fall of that year, he at last invented a sewing machine, although it would take a few more years of tinkering to improve its performance and to confirm its functionality. A few years later, he filed for a patent, which issued on September 10, 1846, claiming the use of an eye-pointed needle in combination with a second thread carried by shuttle to create a lockstitch. The Scientific American promptly published the patent claims on September 26, 1846, under the heading “New Inventions.”

It sewed 250 stitches per minute — seven times faster than sewing by hand. Yet firms and the buying public had been disappointed too often by earlier inventors claiming to have solved the sewing machine problem; thus Howe’s attempts at commercializing his invention were met with a resounding defeat by a skeptical business world and wary consumers.

They were not entirely wrongheaded in rejecting Howe’s sewing machine, as it did have some faults, some of which were described in a subsequent patent issued to John Bradshaw in 1848. For instance, Howe’s sewing machine used a vertical surface, which did not permit easy passage of the clothe past the curved eye-pointed needle. Also, the curved eye-pointed needle, which moved horizontally against a vertical surface, was brittle and often broke. Lastly, the mechanism for feeding the clothe through the vertical sewing machine, called a “baster plate,” made it impossible to either sew in a single continuous motion or to sew curved seams. Howe’s invention was pivotal in terms of his combination of three elements — an eye-pointed needle, a shuttle, and the creation of a lockstitch — but it was not yet a fully practical sewing machine. In October 1846, Howe set off for England to try to convince British tailors of the importance of his invention, and he would not return to the United States until 1849, having failed miserably in his efforts and even poorer than he was when he left.

The American inventor who at last completed the development of the sewing machine was Isaac Merritt Singer. Singer was an irascible fellow who lived a very colorful life; he was a polygamist who married at least five women over his lifetime, lived at times under false names, fathered at least eighteen children out of wedlock, and whose violent temper often terrorized his family members, business partners and professional associates. Yet Singer was also a brilliant businessman with an innate sense of mechanics and a strong financial motivation. As he liked to quip, he was interested only in “the dimes, not the invention.”

Among the various defects in the preceding sewing machines, including the curved eye-pointed needle that was brittle and easily breakable, the Lerow & Blodgett machine’s rotating shuttle also caused the thread to unravel, making the thread more prone to break as well.

Singer corrected these problems by replacing the curved needle with a straight needle that was positioned vertically rather than horizontally. He also replaced the rotating shuttle with a reciprocating shuttle. Unfortunately, at that point, the sewing machine would still not sew what Singer referred to as “tight stitches.” With the assistance of Zieber, he struggled with this last-remaining issue, and, in his words, then “it flashed upon me” what he needed to do to make the sewing machine work. At this point, the problem was simply one of tension in the thread as it was fed by the spool to the eye-pointed needle. After fixing this last problem, he then produced “five stitches perfectly,” after which, he testified, he “took it to New York and employed Mr. Charles M. Keller to patent it.”

Singer’s sewing machine was invented in September 1850, and his patent ultimately issued on August 12, 1851. Singer never pretended that he invented the sewing machine ex nihilo [meaning from nothing, i.e., from scratch], and his patent confirms this. His invention was an improvement on pre-existing sewing machines, such as the Lerow & Blodgett machine on which he worked in Phelps’s workshop.

Specifically, Singer claimed and described a sewing machine in which the clothe rested on a horizontal table underneath an overhanging arm containing a vertical, reciprocating, straight eye-pointed needle. The eye-pointed needle was synchronized with a reciprocating shuttle carrying a second thread to make a lockstitch in the clothe, which was held in place by a presser foot as it was stitched. A pedal provided continuous motion to the sewing machine through a series of drive belts, which now made it possible for a sewing machine operator to exert seamless control over the continuous movement of the clothe. Moreover, with the synchronization of the shuttle and needle, which produced the necessary tension in the thread for continuous sewing in straight and curved lines, the invention now contained all ten elements necessary for a practical and commercially successful sewing machine. The ultimate utility of Singer’s final improvements was irrefutable: A trained seamstress could sew by hand 40 stitches per minute, and whereas Howe’s machine could sew up to 250 stitches per minute, Singer’s machine could produce 900 stitches per minute. [The bolded italics are mine.]

Yet, after I.M. Singer & Co. began selling the Singer Sewing Machine in late 1850, Blodgett reportedly told Singer that he was an idiot for trying to manufacture and sell sewing machines. Sewing machines simply would not work, Blodgett told him, and the only profit a sewing machine patentee could make was in selling territorial licenses in the patent itself.

Singer’s early sales experiences confirmed Blodgett’s pessimism, as he would later write: “I met with continual objections to the introduction of my machine from persons who had bought those of prior inventors and had thrown them aside as useless, and in some cases was showed out of the stores where I called as soon as my business was made known by me.”

Second, in addition to the well-grounded skepticism of the buying public about the practicality of a sewing machine, there were cultural forces at work in nineteenth-century America that created roadblocks to the efficient adoption of sewing machines throughout the sewing trade. Thimonnier’s story [French tailor, Barthelemy Thimonnier, widely recognized as the first person to use a sewing machine for commercial profit; by 1841, he had eighty machines operating in his Paris shop stitching French army uniforms.] was well known to Americans, and the spirit of the French luddites who had destroyed Thimonnier’s Paris workshop and had hounded him out of the country was appearing in pockets of American resistance to the sewing machine. One nineteenth-century article observed how tailors opposed the sewing machine, because they “thought it would beggar all hand sewers, and refrained from using it on principle”

Moreover, there was a strong cultural bias against the use of machines by women — the principal source of hand-sewing labor in the nineteenth century. For instance, Singer at first dismissed the entreaties of his business partners in 1850 to tinker with the Lerow& Blodgett sewing machine, responding in his usual hotheaded manner, “What a devilish machine! You want to do away with the only thing that keeps women quiet, their sewing!”

Although Singer eventually acted against his chauvinism, he was not alone in thinking such things, and the luddites who were agitating the sewing unions used these widespread prejudices to reinforce their arguments. An address to the Shirt Sewers’ and Seamstresses’ Union warned of the “disastrous consequences” to the hand-sewing female laborers resulting from the mass adoption of the sewing machine in the sewing trade, arguing “that peculiar branch of industry which exclusively belonged to women — that industry which developed itself in the facile and pliant use of the fingers — would be totally extinguished.” In sum, in the early 1850s, the financial success of the sewing machine was still an abstraction, but the prior failures, the skeptical public, and existing cultural prejudices were a concrete reality.

First, Singer recognized very early on that the success of the sewing machine was predicated on his convincing the public that his new sewing machine was not merely a repeat of the past failures of prior inventors. He thus pioneered mass marketing and advertising; in essence, he was the nineteenth-century equivalent of Billy Mays and the “as seen on TV” approach to advertising. One historian has noted that, at that time, Singer’s mass marketing techniques represented an entirely “new concept of selling.” This entailed a concerted and sustained marketing campaign directed to bringing his sewing machine to the public’s attention and to convincing them of its practical virtues. He traveled the country, giving free demonstrations at fairs, carnivals, and in rented halls. In addition to these free demonstrations, he performed renditions of Thomas Hood’s Song of the Shirt, reminding his audiences of the toils from which seamstresses would be freed by his new invention.

But Singer also recognized that he had to do more than just sell the public on the practicality of his sewing machine, he also had to address the prejudice that women were incapable of working machinery, or, if they could, that it was improper and unwomanly for them to do so. Driven by his own pursuit of fortune, and thus setting aside his own personal bigotry, Singer hired women to demonstrate his sewing machine, as well as teach other women how to use it. One of I.M. Singer & Co.’s first employees was Augusta Eliza Brown, who was hired in 1852 for solely these purposes.

Demonstrations of the sewing machine by Ms. Eliza and other women not only disproved the widespread belief that women could not work machines, they also played an important role in Singer’s new concept of splashy, eye-catching marketing. In 1852, Edward Clark wrote to a company agent that “we have got possession of a front window under our office [in Boston] at the moderate rent of one thousand dollars a year, and a nice little girl is operating a machine in it, to the great entertainment of the crowd.”


And the rest, as they say, is history. Hope you enjoyed the story, despite the mechanical engineering, pervasive sexism and Mr. Singer’s generally poor personal conduct. If you’d like to learn about all of the players in the history of the sewing machine’s development, settle in with a nice cup of tea and click here.

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.

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

Toile #2, Part Two: Style Confirmation and Fitting

In general, I like surprises and learning new things, which is one of the reasons I like doing research. Another benefit is finding confirmation that a change I want to make has genuine historical precedent.

Unusual Chintz Dress ca. 1770-1800

Unusual Chintz Dress ca. 1770-1800

The full description is: “An Unusual and Interesting Chintz Dress ca. 1770-1800, Indienne printed chintz, probably 1770’s remade in the late 1790’s, skirts gathered to the raised waist with fullness in the back, long sleeves with self-covered button closure and ruffled cuffs.”

It was sold by Christie’s with the following additional lot notes: “An interesting example of the value inherent in fabrics in this period; the chintz so typical of the third quarter of the 18th century here remade into a dress very typical of the very late 18th early 19th centuries.”

[FYI – The winning bid was £6,250 ($11,150) in October, 2008.]

This morning I spent even more time on Pinterest looking only at dresses from 1795-1799 (OCD? Moi?) and have a clearer picture in my head of what I’m after.

Finally, it was time to start measuring the pattern then roll out the muslin and start cutting. Only this time, I thought I’d try out fitting the pieces as I add them and see how that works.

It didn’t take long to realize that starting from scratch wasn’t necessary. I could use #1 to make #2, so I:

  • took the back bodice down a size, which consisted of merely trimming off a strip along each center back edge,
  • picked out and reversed the shoulder straps – they were indeed backwards,
  • changed the front bodice pleats to gathers, didn’t like it, so changed back to pleats…this time going the right direction on each side, and
  • discovered that I’d not turned under enough material along the neckline edge, so picked it out, measured and re-stitched.

The good news is that the front looks and fits so much better. I’m comfortable with the the neckline is now, so no changes planned, at least for now.

Everything else, however, needs work. I took photos, but the light is already fading and they didn’t come out. So the task for tomorrow morning it to re-take the photos so you can see what still needs improvement.

At this point, I think I may have to re-draw the bodice pattern to fit my body shape, at least that’s what the draping seems to imply. I’ve never done that before, but no time like the present to learn, right? I do know how to adjust individual pieces for fit, so some of the basics are there…”just” have to put them all together so they work.

And I haven’t gotten to the sleeves yet, so more adventures ahead.

Seamstress, 1890s. Probably an indication of why my poor little toile doesn't fit...not enough good measurements!

Seamstress, 1890s. Probably an indication of why my toile doesn’t fit…not enough measurements!

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.

Beads of Sweat – hand-beading and sequin work

Vintage beading and sequin work on net.

Vintage beading and sequin work on net.

I love the way heavily-beaded gowns look. The texture, the way the weight changes the way a garment moves, the sheen, the sparkle.

Every time I post an example or run across another one I always ask myself the same questions: How was it done and how many hours of labor went into it? So I decided to investigate.

Beaded net has been around for a long time…a long time. Here are some examples, from Regency to the 1930’s, although beading started much earlier and continues today.

So, how is/was it done? There’s hand-sewing with a standard needle and thread, one bead/sequin at a time. I’ve done that and can attest to the hours it took me to complete a small area.

Then there’s tambour work, where a specialized needle with a hook is used to draw the thread around a bead and through the net, which is faster.

I was able to find some photos of couture bead work in process and give me a perspective on the labor intensity of the process when applied to complete garments.

The image above of a craftsman/woman/person working with gold beads on a stretched, sheer fabric is using the tambour technique. Here’s a video showing how tambour beading is done, including sequin work.

Naturally, how long it takes to bead and/or sequin any single garment depends of a number of factors – size of area to be covered, density of the design, three-dimensional elements, etc.

I found an example of a knee-length, sleeveless shift that was covered in sequins front and back in a straightforward diamond pattern. How many hours to finish the sequins on a relatively small and not complex dress? 800! And that’s work done by an experienced, professional who’s tambour needle can fly.

Tambour lace is created with the same tool, but I think this is enough for now.

And now the critical question – would I like to learn this technique? Of course! (Oh, dear.)