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.


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.


HSM #12 – A Chance to Make Up for HSMs #1 and #4.


I can’t believe it – it’s time for HSM #12, the last of the year. Being her Wise Self, The Dreamstress recognizes that we all hit tough spots and struggle here and there along the way. And so she kindly has offered HSM #12 as a chance to catch up for lost time or amend errors made along the way.

HSM #12 is Re-DoIt’s the last challenge of the year, so let’s keep things simple by re-doing any of the previous 11 challenges.

I did not complete HSM #1 (Foundations: make something that is the foundation of a period outfit.) or HSM #4 (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.), so I’m hoping to rectify both of those in a single month. Wouldn’t that be great? Twelve months and twelve challenges met – what a nice way to close out this sewing year.

My Re-Do for HSM #1 is a Regency cap of white cotton organdy. The pattern is from Miller’s Millinery, #2012-2.

It features a lining, and is intended for use in cold weather and drafty old houses. Rather than line mine in flannel, like the original, mine will be self-lined. And it will be sewn entirely by hand, in keeping with the time period. The organdy is stiff enough to hold some shape without being too rigid. I chose the shape because it mirrors the shape of the bonnet I’ll be making:

My Re-Do for HSM #4 is still in the planning stages, but the cap will keep my fingers and my brain well engaged for the time being.

HSM #10 – Sewing Secrets: The Forgotten Challenge (Oops!)

For reasons not well understood, I completed the October’s HSM Challenge #10 but never posted it. I think I got lost in all the changes that took place and was so relieved when I’d finished it that I considered it “done” and that was that.

Originally, I was going to make a hidden pocket in a Regency cloak, but that project flagged when I discovered that the yards of what I thought was wool turned out to be polyester. (I’m still doing a slow simmer over than one.) Then I planned to sew a hidden message in support of women’s suffrage into the bodice of my blue bustle dress, but never got to the bodice before my interest faded.

And then I thought about the traveler’s pocket I’d just made for HSM #9. The historical instructions suggested options, including permanently sewing it into a skirt, as opposed to suspending it from a removable belt. I had the blue bustle skirt on the mannequin and I needed a pocket, so I thought “why not?” and added a modified traveler’s pocket to the left back side opening.

I used the same traveler’s pocket pattern, but this time sewed the correct seam allowances. That made the pocket slightly smaller and it fit the curve of the waistband perfectly. I pieced the front of the pocket so the main dress fabric would show when the pocket is accessed, and lined the entire pocket in muslin.

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I sewed the waist tab to the bustle skirt’s waistband at the back edge and utilized a giant snap to secure the other tab at the front. This would allow me to adjust the pocket’s position if/when I change sizes (at my age, I chronically fluctuate by about 15 pounds, which is enough to change the waist measurement quite a lot).

Here is how it looks as the skirt is normally worn. It really is well concealed.


Here is the pocket in place, with the waistband of the skirt opened.


And here is how it looks when I access the pocket while the skirt is being worn (in this case, by the mannequin).

Hidden bustle skirt pocket

Hidden bustle skirt pocket

The Challenge: 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).

Fabric: 100% cotton print, 100% cotton muslin.

Pattern: 1868 Safety Pocket for Traveling (from Ageless Patterns)

Year: 1868

Notions: 100% cotton thread, large metal snap, cotton cord elastic

How historically accurate is it? Very. Pattern is a reproduction of a pattern published in 1868. Only the metal snap is not historically accurate – I added it convenience for a fluctuating waistline.

Hours to complete: About four hours.

First worn: Not yet worn.

Total cost: $0! Everything was already in my stash.

HSM #11 – The Regency Reticule is Finished!

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I finished my Regency reticule last night and I’m delighted with it. It’s large enough to carry what I need and want, without being oversized. It adds a bit of sparkle without being obnoxious. And it’s completely hand-sewn, but it went much faster than I thought it would. I am tickled pinkish-apricoty-orange. If the sun ever comes out I will add a photo that shows the true colors – it’s really not this orange at all.

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The Challenge: 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. I based the decision to make a reticule on somewhat perverse logic: they were a foundation piece, historically speaking, of everyday dress. Yet they are rarely seen in films. Women gambol across fields and prance at balls with great regularity. But they spend a good part of their time empty-handed in terms of reticules, with rare exceptions.

It’s understandable. If our heroine is trouble-free it would be visually distracting to have a hand bag swinging about. If she is burdened by great sorrows it would seem cruel to burden her further with something to lug around. I do get it, from the artistic standpoint. But I still notice it. So my tribute to the Silver Screen is to put a reticule in hand, where it belongs.

Fabric: 100% shot cotton from the French General line (Moda) in pattern/color #13529, lined in natural, unbleached muslin.

Pattern: My own design, based on extant examples. In the end, I decided the spangles were enough and so didn’t add the planned embroidery. Finished dimensions (without tassels): 12 inches long x 9 inches wide at the widest part.

Year: around 1800

Notions: 100% cotton thread, antique spangles from the early 1880’s, tassels, ribbon, 100% cotton muslin for lining

How historically accurate is it? The design was derived from two extant reticules:

Hours to complete: Completely hand sewn, including individual application of spangles = one viewing each of Sense and Sensibility (2008), Miss Austen Regrets, Lost in Austen, and Pride and Prejudice (BBC 1995). OK, two viewings of P&P…I confess the sport of Darcy-spotting slowed me down somewhat.

First worn: Not yet worn.

Total cost: One half yard of shot cotton $5.50, heavy cotton thread $3, antique chocolate-brown spangles $2, 4 tassels $6, ribbon for drawstring $3. Muslin for lining already in stash. Therefore, total cost = $19.50 USD.

HSM#11: Making Progress on the Spangles

After my first session of work with the spangles I was concerned that I might have set myself up for days or even weeks hunched over the embroidery frame. A reader thoughtfully suggested that using a tambour work approach might make applying the spangles go a bit faster. It’s an excellent idea and I’d never have thought of it myself, since I never do tambour work, so I experimented with an incredibly small hook.

I ran into two problems. First, the hook wasn’t latched and so I kept losing the thread. Second, the fabric weave isn’t loose enough and working in between the threads proved tricky. So I went back to the stab-and-stitch approach.

To my surprise, it didn’t take long before my eye got pretty good at estimating the radius of the spangles and I built up a reasonable head of steam. There wasn’t a lot of good light to work with yesterday but I made great progress before I finally had to call it a day…more than half way done.

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HSM #11 – A Regency Reticule, Part One

Antique Scissors

I am happy to report that production “chez moi” is up and running once again. We’ve had a series of severe windstorms blow through in the past three days, severe as in half a hurricane or so, so I’ve pretty much stayed away from the computer. But the skies are calm today so I want to catch you up on the action.

I decided to go with a Regency Reticule for HSM #11. As you may recall, the Challenge is 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.” I based the decision to make a reticule on somewhat perverse logic: they were a foundation piece, historically speaking, of everyday dress. Yet they are rarely seen in films. Women gambol across fields and prance at balls with great regularity. But they spend a good part of their time empty-handed in terms of reticules, with rare exceptions. Here are a few “caught on screen” examples from the BBC’s 1995 production of Pride and Prejudice.

A phantom reticule dangling from Lydia's arm. BBC's Pride and Prejudice, 1995.

A phantom reticule dangles from Lydia’s arm (far left).


Charlotte, Lizzy, Maria Lucas, and Sir William Lucas. BBC's Pride and Prejudice, 1995.

Maria Lucas carries a green reticule (center back).


Kitty's reticule. BBC's Pride and Prejudice, 1995.

Kitty carries a patterned maroon reticule (center).


Lady Catherine sports a reticule. BBC's Pride and Prejudice, 1995.

Lady Catherine sports a dark brown reticule. (You know which one she is.)

It’s understandable. If our heroine is trouble-free it would be visually distracting to have a hand bag swinging about. If she is burdened by great sorrows it would seem cruel to burden her further with something to lug around. I do get it, from the artistic standpoint. But I still notice it. So my tribute to the Silver Screen is to put a reticule in hand, where it belongs.

In order to decide what type of reticule to make I did some visual research at my favorite “what it really looked like” site – Pinterest. On the plus side, reticules came in a plethora of shapes and sizes. On the down side, that meant the field was pretty much wide open for interpretation. I already knew I tended to like the more angular shapes and all of those with tassels, so I focused primarily on those.

In the end I decided to merge shapes and decorations into a manageable size that would hold the essentials and be just slightly better-than-average with embellishments. I want to emulate the shape of the reticule on the left and incorporate the swirling spangles of the one on the right.


I fooled around with the shape and the swirl pattern. I knew I wanted the pattern to be symmetrical. I also know I wanted a little area for some embroidery – an initial or a little flower. The pointed reticule above is nearly 24 inches long. That may be OK for someone six feet tall, but a bit much for me. I ended up with this:

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I used a fine point Sharpie (indelible ink) on cheap printer paper. The cheap part is important because of what happened later.


The vast majority of surviving reticules are made of silk. That’s all well and good, but I am allergic to silk so I rarely use the stuff and certainly don’t keep it in my stash. I found a fairly local fabric store that carries a large selection of reproduction fabrics and they had a line of shot cotton solids. I’d heard of shot silk, but shot cotton was new to me and I immediately loved the look of it.

What does “shot” mean? When looking at extant garments, one sees a lot of shot silk. Wikipedia gives a nice definition:

Shot silk (also called changeant, changeable silk and changeable taffeta) is a fabric which is made up of silk woven from warp and weft yarns of two or more colours producing an iridescent appearance.

This shot cotton is the same. The warp and weft threads are two different colors: one is orangey, the other is beige. They read as a solid, but the color changes depending on the light and the fabric’s position in relation to it. In the fabric store it looked a medium apricot-rose. In outdoor light it looked more salmon. At one extreme it looks almost pumpkin orange, at the other it appears a medium-light apricot pink or looks like an electric carrot. The camera picks it up through its full range. (You’ll notice it looks as if I’m changing fabric, but it’s all the same single piece.)

This is an unlikely color choice for me. I look deathly ill in orange and any of the yellow-based colors. But this one is a bit of a chameleon – I spent a very long time walking around the store holding the bolt up next to a wide variety of other colors and prints and, much to my surprise, it looked good with almost all of them…a very unlikely neutral indeed. So not only would it work with all of the fabrics in my stash destined to become Regency wear, it would perk the wardrobe up a bit without getting the dreaded orange too close to my face.

A winner all around and still in keeping with a historically accurate color palette. I promise – it’s not nearly as harsh a color as it appears in the photos. It is more tempered; richer and softer by far. And one can find all manner of oranges in Regency fashion plates.

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Embellishment: Paillettes versus Spangles versus Sequins

I spent some time studying what we call sequins and how they were used on reticules.

My first query was terminology – what were they called? Paillette is defined a number of ways:

  • a small shiny object (as a spangle) applied in clusters as a decorative trimming (as on women’s clothing) [Merriam-Webster]

  • a spangle for ornamenting a costume [Free Dictionary]

  • sequin, spangle [Oxford Dictionaries]

Paillette is French for spangle or sequin. Spangle appears to be a British term: a small thin piece of glittering material, typically used in quantity to ornament a dress; a sequin. (It was also a type of British sweet, first made in the 1940’s; eaten, not applied to clothing.)

So sequins, spangles and paillettes are all the same thing. I thought that was the case, but now I know for sure.

Today one can buy sequins that are curved, faceted, laser etched, iridescent, glow in the dark…you name it, it’s out there. Historically, spangles (my favorite term) were shiny, flat discs of a single color – originally metal, later made of processed vegetable matter, colored resins or synthetic material.

In the Late Georgian and Regency periods, I found examples of spangles sewn on with two different methods: either sewn with thread through the central opening on opposing sides or with a bead sewn over the center opening. It looks like they were generally placed edge-to-edge to form patterns, not densely overlapping to create a sparkling mass.

I feared that metal spangles on cotton would look out of place, so I hunted for other options. To my delight, I found a local bead supplier who frequents the Paris flea markets and buys antique spangles in different colors. She told me they are becoming harder and harder to find, so she buys whatever she can find. She happened to have two containers of chocolate-brown spangles from the early 1880’s – flat, shiny discs. Not exactly Regency, but as close as I was going to get without having to sell off a kidney so I snapped them up at a bargain price of $2 each for hundreds, if not thousands, of the little buggers. They feel like some kind of vegetable material, but they may well be synthetic. There’s not much bend to them, but they don’t snap easily. And, having been poured into their containers, they harbor a fierce static cling so it’s a real challenge to separate them.

Design Transfer

First step was to transfer the design onto the fabric. I used to have a nice light box which I used a lot during my quilting days for my appliqué work. (I was into appliqué Big Time.) But it’s long gone, so I tried using Mother Nature’s light box. As it turned out, there was a big storm blowing in and I was losing light almost as fast as I could get everything taped on the window.

The fabric is made of mercerized cotton, so the warp and weft threads are strong. But they are not tightly woven. This made transferring the design by tracing over it with pencil not only difficult, but tiny separations in the threads started to appear. You can just barely see it in the photo. Not good.

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Time to consider the options.

Thinking back to my quilting days, I recalled a technique for appliqué where the design area is outlined with thread using a simple running stitch. This way, there is no direct marking on the face of the fabric. The thread can either be covered with the appliqué or removed as you go. Looking at my swirls, it looked reasonable. So I pinned the paper design to the fabric, being careful to keep it flat and straight, and started stitching. It worked a charm.

If you ever use this method, an important thing to remember is once you’re done you only have your thread to guide you. Big stitches are fine for straight lines like parallel runs or boxed grids. But curves require smaller stitches: the tighter the curve, the smaller the stitches or you lose definition. Here’s what I mean.

This is one of the larger curves, marked with long stitches:

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Here is the same curve, marked with short stitches:

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See the difference? The long stitches don’t give you enough guidance to keep the curve smooth. If everything was marked with long stitches it would end up an indecipherable hodge-podge. (Ask me how I know.)

It took a while to get the entire design transferred. I kept my pace deliberate to make sure the paper stayed flat against the fabric and that nothing slipped or twisted. But soon enough it was done.

Back side view, all stitched up.

Back side view, all stitched up.

From there, I traced the final cutting lines and trimmed away some of the excess fabric to make it easier to work with.

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The next step is to remove the paper. There are products which allow you to transfer your design as I did, then all you do is wet the product and it dissolves completely. I couldn’t get my hands on one, so I’d gone old school with the printer paper. I dampened a sponge with warm water and pressed it to the paper. I’d used indelible ink, so I wasn’t worried about transfer or bleeding. This is where using the cheap stuff became a bonus, because it turned mushy in no time at all.

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I lifted it away carefully, getting as many of the little stray bits as I could. Once they dry, they are like teeny, rock-hard spit balls and a needle won’t go through them easily. It takes a little time, but not much and the extra effort is well worth it. And because I didn’t have to soak the paper, the fabric air-dried fairly quickly.

At this point, given the loose-ish weave of the main fabric, I decided to back it with muslin to provide extra support for all those spangles and basted the two layers together. I went around the inner and outer edges of the design and used a different color thread (because I know myself all too well). I also basted a center line through the bottom of the design for extra stability. Then I mounted it on an embroidery frame I bought from the Royal School of Needlework in England when I took a course there a few years ago. Of all the frames I’ve ever used, it is my favorite. (If the house ever catches fire, Sophie will be in one arm and this frame and my handbag will be in the other.) Here are two photo color variations of the fully marked design: electric carrot and mellow pumpkin.

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Finally – time to start playing with spangles. Whew!

I decided to start at the center bottom and work my way out and up. This way, if there are areas of overlap, the outer spangles will cover the inner spangles and the spangles toward the top will cover the spangles toward the bottom. I think this will make them less likely to snag on things, so I’m curious to see if I thought it through correctly.

I went with a straight up and down stab stitch: up through the center of the spangle and down at one edge, then up at an opposite edge in a line that follows the design and back down through the center again, then repeat for each one.

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Once in a while I snag a knot from the back side and pull it through to the front. No problem. I just carefully snip it in half and keep stitching. The design stays in place.

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Here’s a shot of the first spiral, front and back.

My original plan was to snip out the marking thread from underneath as I went, but I outsmarted myself. (If you’re surprised, I refer you to previous blog entries…you’ll notice the trend.) The spangles completely cover the marking thread on top – no surprise there. But by deciding to add a support layer underneath, I cut off all access to the marking thread. So I’ve ended up stitching just to the side of the marking thread so it doesn’t show through. For the most part, that is.

I knew this wouldn’t be a slap-dash project, but I’ve discovered just how tedious the going is. This is going to take some time. I could use a tiny dot of fabric glue to pre-place each spangle and then just stitch them on. It would be a whole lot faster. But for now I’m doing them one at a time. That feels like a more historically authentic procedure, although I don’t know it for a fact and I’m not sure how important a detail it is. We’ll see how I feel about it a thousand or so spangles from now and whether or not I can still feel my fingers.

In the mean time, if anyone out there knows for sure that Regency reticule makers used glue to secure their spangles/sequins/paillettes before sewing them in place (after all, glue was well-known and used in other applications) don’t be shy – please share! My fingers will thank you.

Back Into the Fray



I’m sure you’ve noticed I’ve been silent for a while on the subject of actual projects. The reason is, besides fighting off a mystery bug for more than a week, I’ve been suffering from Total Bustle Burnout. I am sick to death of fiddling with what seems like miles of pleated organdy, making innumerable adjustments to the overskirt sides so they hang the way I want them to, and looking at the same blue cotton fabric for days on end (although I still love it – I’m just tired of seeing it).

I’ve been so temporarily Over It that I forgot to post my HSM #10 project, even though I finished it weeks ago. I forgot Your Weekend Wow, for which I apologize profusely. Such a mental muddle tells me it’s time to set this beastie aside and move on for a while until I’m ready to love the process all over again. (Although if I’d actually been sewing, instead of moaning about it, I’d probably have been done by now. Oh, well.)

So. Onward. There are only two HSM Challenges left in the year. Considering that last year (my first attempt at what was the HSF – “F” for Fortnightly) I only made it to March, this year I’ll make it to the end of the challenges. Fortunately, December is a “re-do” month so I can make up for the two that didn’t go so well – January’s “Foundations” and April’s “War and Peace.” And because I’m loathe to start any clothing, at least for now, I’m going to focus on accessories – smaller, though not necessarily simple, projects yet still things I need to complete my period wardrobes.

The HSM Challenge for November is 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.” Well, I’m not feeling up to doing an entire costume. I had planned to make a Regency cloak. I’ve had the wool and quilted lining piled up in the sewing room for months and was looking forward to finally getting it together and off the table. However, I ran into a small problem.

I’d ordered the wool online. It was a nice, dark. inky blue that would span quite a few decades rather well. But when I picked it up to lay it out for cutting my fingers said “wait a minute…” and I noticed that it didn’t feel right. The online description said it was a tightly woven 100% wool. My brain said it felt like tightly woven 100% polyester. So I did a burn test. Under the match it turned into a tightly globbed 100% ball of plastic. Grrrrrrr.

Today's lesson: Natural fibers do not glob up into a shiny ball when burned.

Today’s lesson: Natural fibers do not melt into a shiny blob when burned.

Now, I can give myself permission of fudge on some things with my historical sewing. Using the machine for hidden seams. Modern elastic. Snaps. Knee socks instead of over-the-knee stockings. But I draw a solid line at using polyester in an age when it didn’t exist. Sadly, I’d ordered the fabric eons ago and no longer have the receipt. I can’t even remember the seller. So I set the whole thing aside to wait until I find some wool I love and start from there.

As for the polyester, I do like the color and it has a nice weave. So there might be a 1950’s or 60’s swing coat in my future. Maybe there’ll be a HSM 2016 retro challenge. I can only hope The Dreamstress reads minds.

What to do for November and HSM #11?

I have all the makings for a Late Georgian/Early Regency bonnet, a pair of embroidered mitts, a Victorian lady’s pocket watch and chain, and a Late Georgian/Early Regency embroidered (or not) reticule. I also have everything I need for a corded petticoat, but that might prove a bit much at the moment and is tricky to work into the “Silver Screen” theme unless the heroine is falling down a lot or takes a tumble down the stairs. (Although Jane Eyre seems to run down the stairs quite a few times, revealing her petticoats. Hmmm…)

The only thing left to do now is choose a project and dig in.

Reviving the 1870 Bustle Dress and Sneaking in HSM #10: Secret Sewing

vintage-image-of-woman-wearing-eyeglasses-240bes092010Normally, posting in the wee hours of the morning like I did earlier today would leave me a bit fuzzy-eyed. This morning it’s allergies that have me blinking twice at everything. Probably not the ideal situation for cutting and sewing, but I’m armed with drops and sprays and have no intention of letting a little pollen (OK, a LOT of pollen) slow me down while I’m on a roll.

When I discovered the old beginnings of the bustle dress late last night I just had to haul out the undies and start dressing my mannequin. Fortunately, she’s a trooper and didn’t utter a single complaint. So out came the split drawers, the chemise and the corset. Once I had the important parts padded to my shape I started adding petticoats. I have the old TV101 petticoat with incorporated bustle and ruffled over drape. I was one of the first historical costuming things I made, if not the first, and I still love its all-in-one convenience. Plus, unless you’re driving or sitting in a car, it is very easy to sit in and relax.

Once that was in place and the inside ties adjusted to the correct shape for the era, I threw on an additional antique petticoat that I’d mended for HSM #1 in 2014. Doing that softened the edges of the ruffled bustle petticoat and gave everything a smooth line. A third petticoat would not be out of the question, but I’m going to wait and see how the underskirt shapes up before adding yet another layer beneath it. I’m leaving the corset cover off for now because I’ve found it gets in the way while I’m working with waistline details. I’ll pop one on when it’s time for the waist itself.

So here’s how it looks with the underskirt and two petticoats, including the bustle. I still need to put the ruffle around the bottom of the skirt. In addition, the mannequin is too short (and is not holding any height adjustments very well) so the petticoat is dragging a bit.

I love this blue print fabric.

I love this blue print fabric.

The only issue is my waistline which, as I mentioned, has grown a bit since early last year. So I have a bit of gap-osis to deal with.

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Having that gap throws off the symmetry of the underskirt entirely. My plan is two-fold. First I’m going to remove and lengthen the waistband in order to re-distribute the back gathers evenly. Doing that will also get the side seams back where they belong – at the sides.

Then, as I re-construct the left side waistband, I’m going to incorporate a Safety Pocket for Travelers (like the one I just made) in the same fabric as the dress. The opening will be hidden beneath the overskirt and will allow me to carry the things I want and need without hauling around a handbag. I’ll probably have a parasol with me in case it rains and that’s enough for me to keep track of all day long.

Not only that, but adding the pocket will allow me to meet HSM Challenge #10 – Sewing SecretsHide 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). Two birds, one stone, one happy me.

And, because I have nothing better to do with my sewing time, I’m thinking of making a different overskirt – one with more body and ruffles all around the edges. I think it’s more in keeping with the look and feel of Impressionist paintings so I hope I have enough extra fabric. If not, the first choice will be fine.

TV301 overskirt

So that’s the plan. The exhibit is one month from today and the clock starts…NOW!

HSM #9: Colour Challenge Brown

Because I finished my project for the HSM August challenge so early, on account of an urgent deadline, I’ve been able to start on HSM #9. And because I have so much time until the end of the month, I’ve upped the ante for myself by throwing in a lot of handwork that doesn’t have to happen. But I want it the way I want it, so what can I say?

The Challenge for September is to use the color brown, an unsung hero of the neutral palette. Luck for me, I happen to like brown so I won’t be adding frown lines as I sew.

For this Challenge I’m making a Traveler’s Safety Pocket using Ageless Patterns #1572 – 1868 Safety Pocket for Traveling.

1868 Safety Pocket for Traveling (image by Ageless Patterns)

1868 Safety Pocket for Traveling (image by Ageless Patterns)

The best description of how it is intended to work comes from the pattern itself: “This pocket will be found very convenient by ladies for the safe-keeping of money or jewels in traveling. The under part of the pocket is confined by an elastic band, thus forming a receptacle for valuables into which it would be impossible for a pickpocket to pass his hand without attracting the attention of the wearer.”

The author of this period text had obviously never tangled with hoards of gypsy children in Rome, let alone rush hour on the Paris Metro, however the concept is sound. The pocket is suspended from a belt so it can be worn with any number of period skirts or dresses. In addition, the elastic forms a good-sized pouch at the bottom so it’s ideal for keeping such period-incorrect items as cell phones and car keys secure. And, since it’s hidden when worn, I don’t have to mess about with making one in different fabrics to match different eras. This is going to be a “one-pocket-fits-all” kind of project.

However, even though the pattern is ridiculously simple and extremely straightforward, I don’t want a plain pocket. Neither, though, do I want to spend time with embroidery as is found on 18th century pockets. Beautiful as they are, I’m saving my embroidery time for something that’s going to be seen.

My compromise is to fancy up the pocket front with some English paper piecing. Normally used in quilting, it has also been used to make clothing and other household things. The basic hexagonal pattern for paper piecing was published in women’s magazines as early as the 1840’s, so historically it’s spot on.

Hand Stitched Quilt from 1840 (eBay seller tgkgardner)

Hand Stitched Quilt from 1840 (eBay seller tgkgardner)

A lot of people are familiar with historic quilts made in this method, particularly Mosaic Star pattern quilts and Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilts.

Mosaic Star quilt, detail from quiltindex.org

Antique Mosaic Star quilt, detail from quiltindex.org

Vintage quilt from eBay using hexagon shaped piecing

Vintage quilt from eBay using hexagon shaped piecing

For those unfamiliar with this most Zen of piecing methods, here’s how it works. You start with a template. Traditionally, women these templates by hand from any paper available, often pages from newspapers or magazines. In my case, I’m using 1-inch hexagons cut from heavy paper and I’m using commercially made templates because 1) I want them to all be the same size, and 2) I’m lazy.

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Then you cut a piece of fabric, fold the edges down around the edges of the template and sew around the edges, stitching the fabric through the template.

english paper piecing (from thezenofmaking.com)

english paper piecing (from thezenofmaking.com)

And when you have a kazillion, or so, fabric-covered templates you stitch them together one by one along the edge – invisibly – either randomly or, more commonly, in patterns.

Newspaper clipping from The Kansas City Star with The French Bouquet pattern.

Newspaper clipping from The Kansas City Star with The French Bouquet pattern.

Fortunately, the pocket is large enough to be useful but not so large that paper piecing the front is a pain. In fact, I’m really enjoying it. I decided to raid my stash of reproduction fabric fat quarters and half yards for a little variety. In that stash are some patterns which, while historically correct, I absolutely despise. This is a great way to use them without having to look at them, at least not very often.

This is the fabric I’m using as backing for the pocket front. I hate dislike despise absolutely loathe it. I thought it would be a nice pink on a rich brown background. Instead it’s kinda salmon-y-ish on a khaki-green-brown background. The photograph does not do it justice – it is hideous (in my eyes, at least). Good thing I only ordered a fat quarter.

Yukcy, but hidden so OK.

Yucky, but hidden so OK to use for this.

Here it is as the backing to the full size pocket front.

A whole lotta yucky.

A whole lotta yucky.

I began by basting a strip of fabric down the center of the pocket front. From there I’ll add stripes of paper-pieced hexagons running the length of the pocket from top to bottom. I finished the right hand side last night. I haven’t stitched around the edge yet and it hasn’t been pressed, so please forgive the pins and the wrinkly bits.

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Twenty years ago I would have thought this kind of piece work insane and boring-with-a-capital-B. I thought it was nuts to take the time to hand sew down all the pieces to the template, then hand sew the templates together, then go back and pick out the original stitches that held the fabric to the templates, and then hand quilt the thing. I guess I’m softening up a bit because now I find it relaxing, almost meditative. Very Zen indeed.

Tonight I’m starting the left hand side of the front. When that’s done so is the fussy handwork. But it will be fun to have something that looks nice hidden underneath the everyday clothing. I can understand the appeal of lavishly embroidered garters and pockets…special little somethings for the wearer to enjoy all to herself.

The Official Notice: HSM #8 is Finished!

This should have been a leisurely project, but doing it all last-minute in just four days using nothing but a skeleton pattern upon which to build made it a challenge indeed. And I still hate plackets with a passion.

I would have gladly swapped my hat for this wonderful 1914 Detroit Electric Priscilla Coupe

I would have gladly swapped my hat for this wonderful 1914 Detroit Electric Priscilla Coupe

The Challenge: 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 Title: Channeling Downton Abbey

Fabric: 100% cotton stripe from the 2012 RJR Fabrics “The Sweet Shop” collection by Dan Morris.

Pattern: Butterick 6190, used the bodice and skirt pieces only.

Year: 1912

Notions: Very old vintage cotton lace, cotton thread, vintage hooks and bars, snap tape.

How historically accurate is it? Very, except for the snap tape. Hook and eye tape was available in 1912, but snap tape did not come along until later.

Hours to complete: The entire dress was constructed over four days – approximately 24-28 hours.

First worn: Yesterday, August 8th, at the Seattle Dunn Gardens 100th anniversary fundraising event “A Dunnton Abbey Picnic.”

Total cost: Vintage hooks & bars plus snap tape = $1.50. Fabric from stash, approximate cost = $40. Very old vintage lace also from stash, approximate cost = $8. Pattern = $12. Total cost = approximately $62.

Additional Notes: I am a member of Somewhere In Time, Unlimited – Seattle (SITU-Seattle), a group of historic costuming enthusiasts. The Garden Director of Dunn Gardens invited us to attend the fundraiser in Edwardian dress to help “set the stage” and add color. In the spirit of the challenge, I wore the Edwardian Summer Hat I made for HSM #7 and the Edwardian petticoat I made for HSM #6 as well as the dress for HSM #8. I also used very old vintage cotton lace for my heirloom sewing supply, although I’m not sure it’s old enough to truly be considered “heirloom.”


Posing with a 1917 Cadillac Type 55 Club Roadster. (What the heck am I doing with my left hand? It looks like someone stole my parasol and I haven’t yet noticed.)