HSM #8: The Edwardian Summer Dress. And They’re Off…!

racehorse toys on Pinterest

Needless to say, after losing two days to silly upsets and disruptions I have a lot to get done in a relatively short time. Today is the 4th – the event is on the 8th. Gulp. Today calls for serious effort and no fiddling around.

Since the new pattern has both of the bodice pieces, and some others I hadn’t realized were missing, cutting the gown out went relatively quickly. I don’t have time to make a muslin, and that’s a concern. My guess is the pattern itself is forgiving enough to allow tweaks on the fly. At least it’s in my size and, given the contemporary fit, if anything I should need to take it in somewhat here and there. (She says with hope in her heart.)

The pattern I’m using has the skirt shortened in the front and falling to a mild train in the back. NO TRAIN! Not for a picnic with a fashion promenade around the gardens in the midst of it. So that was the first alter-as-you-go change. I had to choose between the hemline finishes of the two extant gowns I’m using for inspiration:

As much as I like the layered overskirt with the pleated hem underskirt, I don’t think time warrants that kind of detail at the moment. So I’m going with a plain skirt. I can always shorten the hemline and add a pleated hem underskirt later. Like on Sunday. One decision down, who knows how many to go.


It’s nearing 3:00 in the afternoon and I need time to take a break, do some hand work and read so my unhappy back can un-knot itself a bit (it does not like production sewing mode, not at all). I started this morning by layering up my dress form with all of the undergarments I’ll be wearing, then padding here and there to my dimensions. Most of the dress pieces have been cut and are ready to go. A few are awaiting final decisions.

The basic core of the bodice is done. I lined it, which isn’t part of the original pattern but made it look much nicer.

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I cut the lining so that the center back edge aligned with the back fold where the pieces overlap and, eventually, the hooks and eyes will be sewn. That hides the edge of the lining under the fabric and will also give some additional support and stability to the stress points of the hook and eye closures.

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I want the stripes oriented horizontally on center of the bodice, but I don’t have the time to start piecing. So I just made a drop panel, lined it, and sewed it to the bodice at the bottom edge. The goal here was two-fold: add a bit of support for the wide waistband that will be tacked in a peak at the center and, considering the lack of period-correct supportive undergarments available for “the girls”, give the bust an extra bit of concealment. The most vigorous sport I plan on playing is croquet, but why tempt fate (and flop)?

This leaves the upped edge of the bodice looking a bit too low, but a band of solid pink along the top will raise it to a more 1912-appropriate height.

I’m not being overly careful with matching stripes – the top shoulders aren’t even close – but serendipity smiled when it came to the center back closure. The edges overlap so that the stripe pattern is unbroken.

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And that’s where I am for now. I need to figure out how to cut the pieces that run over the shoulders to form a V in the front, which I don’t expect to be too problematic. The gathered waistband in the pattern only goes around the front half of the bodice and I’m pretty sure that’s not authentic styling, so I’m going to extend it to wrap completely around the high waist. The sleeves will get a cuff. Once those are in finished and attached to the bodice the bulk of the work is done.

Maybe I’ll have time for an underskirt with a pleated hem after all. 😉


A Bit of This and That: updates on HSM #6 and HSM #4

HSM #6 – The Pink Stripe Edwardian Dress

Thanks to feedback I received, I’ve decided to change the dress. Isabella (extantgowns.com) sent me this image. One look and I was a goner.

1912 (Augusta Auctions)

1912 (Augusta Auctions)

Sleeve detail

Sleeve detail

I love the treatment on the skirt – not really hobbled, although I’d be loath to attempt running (as if) – but softer looking, and a lot more interesting, than a circle of pleats. Not to mention less time-consuming. However, instead of cutting the bands with the stripes running parallel with the vertical stripes of the skirt, I’m planning to cut them so the stripes run horizontal. Or I might do them in solid pink. We’ll have to see.

It also has sleeves that are very close to what I’d imagined for my dress. I like the solid band of color, which I think I’ll also borrow, plus the fabric rosettes on the sleeves and the skirt. The gridded lace looks a bit harsh, though, so I think I’ll play around with some antique lace from my stash and see if one of them grabs my fancy.

So the stars aligned and – bingo! – I have a final plan for the dress (which will still go through a number of iterations before it’s done because that’s how I work).

A+B=C, right? Using visual math done (I love visual math) I end up with the bodice of the red dress and the sleeves and skirt of the blue dress…

…which will end up looking something like this:

Scan0003 (2)

However, considering we’re talking Edwardian here, the bodice is woefully lacking in decoration. The extant blue dress has a fabric rosette on the left shoulder. I could do that. Or I could put a rosette on the center of the bodice at the bottom of the V. Or…

A long time ago I found an antique Edwardian, hand painted, ceramic brooch in pristine condition and snapped it up on the spot. It’s a pretty good size and it features roses, which fits the theme perfectly. It looks good on the fabric. Fingers crossed, it will work with the dress and I’ll finally be able to wear it.

(photo copyright 2015 Susan Quenon)

(photo copyright 2015 Susan Quenon)

(photo copyright 2015 Susan Quenon)

(photo copyright 2015 Susan Quenon)

Now it’s time to start playing with pattern pieces-parts. Good thing I buy muslin by the bolt!


HSM #4 – The 1856 Cage Crinoline, or WT&%#*@!

As you may recall, in my previous post about the HSM #6 Pink Striped dress, I’d causally mentioned that my dress form was too short. Apparently, sometime after the move, the tightening nut loosened and it slipped down the support rod. Quite a lot, as it turns out. One would think I’d have noticed a six- or seven-inch drop. Sadly, one would be wrong.

As I was working on the crinoline, while it was on the dress form, I was concerned that it seemed a bit short, as in too far from the ground. But I’d measured carefully, marked everything, checked the markings when I made them, and checked again before I started putting it together. (Engineer’s daughter – it’s genetic.) And still it looked short. But I this is new territory for me, fashion era-wise, so I kept plugging away and ignored the unsettled whispering in the back of my mind (faulty genetics, that is).

Enter the draping for the pink striped dress and the noticing of the too short dress form.

(3 seconds pass, during which the unsettled whispering is laughing maniacally.)

Wait a minute! If the crinoline looked too short on the too-short dress form…NOOOOOO!!!

(5 seconds of hyperventilation. Maybe more. Can’t recall.)

For the first time, I put the crinoline on and *brain freeze* – the last hoop rides just a few inches below my stupid knee. (Sorry, knee – it’s not your fault.)

Don’t ask, just don’t ask. Because the answer is so far away from “I don’t know” that I can’t tell where to start.**

I want to speak with Heather at Truly Victorian patterns. The materials are kinda pricey and I want to understand what happened before I attempt to fix it. Hundreds of these have been successfully made, so I’m pretty sure it’s me and not the pattern. Needless to say, HSM #4 is in limbo and may be so for some time.

**Note to self – breathe deeply and repeat: Sewing is fun, sewing is relaxing, I love to sew. Sewing is fun, sewing is relaxing, I love to sew. Sewing is fun, sewing is relaxing…

HSM #6 – Will the Stripes Make Me (and Everyone Else) Dizzy?

My lovely rose-striped fabric

My lovely rose-striped fabric

Now that I’ve decided to reproduce this dress, I’m pretty excited about how well this goes. The stripes were still nagging at my mind, though. There are only four colors. Were they going to be too much? Was it going to look ridiculous? Would I end up hating it? Only one way for me to find out – I am strongly visual and have to see it to know. So this morning I hauled out the (as of yet unpressed) fabric, unfurled the length and started playing.

Now, I know zip doodle about draping. I understand the concept but have no experience doing it. That’s why I’m calling this playing, not draping. But I figured it would at least let me see if I was truly headed for disaster. Remember, the goal is this:

I divested my dress form of the pinner apron and left it with a chemise, corset and two petticoats. Then I started wrapping. Vertical for the skirt, horizontal for the under bodice inset (is there a technical term for this part?), up and over each shoulder at a slight angle, then horizontally around the waist with the center pulled up into a point as it is in the original. I ignored the pleated underskirt for now. I just wanted “the big picture.” And here is what I ended up with:

Fabric Wrapapalooza!

Fabric Wrapapalooza!

Hooray! It’s not too busy and it’s not too dizzy. It’s just as I imagined it would look, only better. The dress form is too short, more about that later, so mentally add another 4 or 5 inches to the length of the skirt – that improves the proportions immensely.

Next, since I want to replace the lace on the original with a rose-pink that matches the darker rose in the fabric, I took the sample I had handy and draped it over the neck and down the front bodice. The final piece won’t be this wide, but it gave me a sense of whether or not it would work.

I’ll be using the solid pink around the bottom of the sleeves, which I’ll be making a bit longer, on the bodice fronts, as demonstrated, and for the pleated underskirt. Even though I like pink I hardly ever wear it. But I think the stripe and the solid are going to work well together and I’m really rather pleased. Now I just need an enormous white hat piled high with roses.

What do you think – does it look promising?

HSM #5 – Practicality: “Stuck on You” – is Finished!

"Stuck on You" - pinner apron for HSM #5

“Stuck on You” – pinner apron for HSM #5

HSM #5 – The Challenge: Practicality. Fancy party frocks are all very well, but everyone, even princesses, sometimes needs a practical garment that you can DO things in.  Create the jeans-and-T-Shirt-get-the-house-clean-and-garden-sorted outfit of your chosen period.

The Project: Pinner Apron

The Title: “Stuck on You”

Fabric: 100% cotton homespun (machine-made)

Pattern: Adapted from World Turn’d Upside Down – Civil War Era Apron Pattern

Year: I intend to this for 1850’s and 1860’s events. The style is appropriate for a wide range – pinner aprons were worn in the 18th century and well into the 19th century.

Notions: cotton thread, heavy Pellon

How historically accurate is it? Very, but not 100% – mostly hand sewn (about 95% – I did the waistband by machine) and based on research of images and notes from the era.  I have historically accurate fibula pins for the bib. However…I did use a heavy, sew-in Pellon for the waistband, instead of historically accurate buckram or stiff muslin, because it’s what I had on hand.

Hours to complete: About ten

First worn: Not yet worn

Total cost: $12.48 USD for the fabric, all notions came from the stash

Notes and photos:

I have absolutely loved working with this homespun. It is compliant, doesn’t fuss or fight, needles easily and presses like a dream. I see more of it in my future. The indigo homespun has woven-in flaws that add to the look (probably the only time I’ve been delighted to have bought flawed fabric) so I didn’t cut around them or try to hide them. This first photo shows the true color of the fabric.

Weaving error - the third stripe at the bottom is missing.

Weaving error – the third stripe at the bottom is missing.

A blob in the spun thread disrupts the woven plaid.

A blob in the spun thread disrupts the woven plaid.

It is a simple and straightforward project so it came together easily. I had planned on using the selvage for the edges of the apron, but it was distractingly colorful so off it went.

I had planned on using the selvage for the edges of the apron, but it was distractingly colorful so off it went.

The finished bib is self-lined and gathered into a band at the top.

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Then the bib is gathered at the bottom and the waistband is applied and turned.

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The apron is hemmed on three sides…

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then gathered, set into the waistband and the inside waistband finished.

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Et voilĂ ! Here it is, shown over a chemise, corset and two petticoats. It fits perfectly and I love it.


But wait, you ask…what about HSM #4 – The Case of the Contraband Crinoline? Last Monday I went to Seattle, tripped on some massively uneven sidewalk and fell. Nothing serious – however, amongst other bruises and scrapes, I had to dig a chunk of sidewalk out of the palm of my hand. It left a bit of a divot and when I apply much pressure to it, such as that which results from squeezing wire cutters into hoop wire, it hurts. Not as much as it did last week, but it hurts. The good news is it’s itching like crazy, which means it’s healing up just fine. So I went ahead and did this month’s challenge while my hand finishes putting itself back together. Never a dull moment!

Reflect, Reconsider and Revise

(Image found on Pinterest)

(Image found on Pinterest)

This past weekend was our town’s annual Victorian Heritage Festival. It was windy, rainy and cold. But that’s not why I missed it. I missed it because, once again, I hadn’t finished my Victorian clothing. And, once again, that irritates me.

In addition, March is almost at an end and I’ve only completed one of the twelve HSM 2015 challenges. I didn’t make it past April last year and I want to see the finish line in December this year.

sherlockI decided it was time for a good course of forensic retrospection to determine the cause and change where I’m getting off course. Identifying the underlying issues wasn’t too tough. It boils down to six areas of consistent error:

  1. I love recreating period dress. I love a wide range of eras and styles. I want to try it all. And I want to do it now. Think Historic Costuming meets ADHD, then add sugar.
  2. I sew more slowly than I used to. On one hand I’m more cautious about doing things correctly. On the other hand, I’m just slower and can’t stand to rush. I used to get into production mode when I was sewing and could go for hours without stopping (15 hours is my personal best). But not any more.
  3. I like challenges and tend to sign on to whatever looks enticing – regardless of whether I have even the faintest idea of what’s involved or not. And I choose the project for each challenge randomly.
  4. Because of #2 and #3 I consistently and chronically underestimate how long it will take to get anything done. I used to whip out a skirt in an hour, easily. But it didn’t involve yards of fabric, flatlining, plackets, hidden pockets, and all sorts of ruffles and other hemline treatments. I tend to forget that.
  5. Events pop up throughout the year and I think “Ooh – I want to do that one, too.” So I stop what I’d started, start something new, can’t get it done in time and find myself with two unfinished projects, instead of one.
  6. The corollary to #5 is that since my historically-correct underwear collection is, shall we say, sparse, heading into a new style means sewing everything from the inside out. An Edwardian tea coming up? I can’t just make a dress. I need corset, princess slip and petticoats, stockings, gloves, shoes. The same goes for Regency, Romantic Era, all the Bustle Eras and on and on.

The problem is glaringly obvious: I don’t really have a plan with/for any of this.

white lotusSo I let that thought percolate a while, after which I changed my perspective and the way I make decisions about my sewing. Instead of “What do I want to make?” I asked myself “What do I want to do in my period dress?” and “What do I need to do to make it happen?” Then things started falling into place.

First, I’m letting go of the 17th Century Challenge. It’s just too much and requires techniques I know nothing about – I can’t even correctly name all the pieces of clothing. That’s a clue. But I’ll follow what the rest of the folks are doing this year and learn from them so maybe I can hop back in next year.

Second, I’d like to complete three sets of period dress this year: Regency, 1855 and 1888. Here’s what involved with each –

Regency: a dress, cap, stockings, reticule and a spencer/cape/redingote. I’ll buy the stockings (silk). I have patterns and fabric for the rest.

1855: a dress, corded petticoat and a few regular petticoats, stockings, cap, bonnet, shoes, stockings and a mantle/pardessus/cloak. Have patterns and fabrics for everything but the bonnet. Will buy shoes and stockings (wool for winter). Should make a period-correct corset, but will cheat this year with the Victorian corset I already have and put a period-correct corset on next year’s list.

1888: a wintertime dress, two more petticoats, bonnet, boots, warm coat, muff. Have patterns. Have fabric for petticoats. Have antique Victorian coat buttons. Have lining for coat. Need fabric for dress, coat and muff. Will buy boots.

That’s a lot, but I have the HSM monthly challenges and I can revise them to do double duty: meet a challenge and finish my goals. Like this –


  • Foundations: make something that is the foundation of a period outfit.
  • Project: 1855 petticoat.
  • Title: A Pert and Pretty Petticoat


  • Colour Challenge Blue: Make an item that features blue, in any shade from azure to zaffre.
  • Project: A Civil War era houswife (hussif, husif).
  • Title: The Blue Housewife


  • Stashbusting: Make something using only fabric, patterns, trims & notions that you already have in stash.
  • Project: An 1888 petticoat.
  • Title: I Can See For Miles and Miles


  • War & Peace: the extremes of conflict and long periods of peacetime both influence what people wear.  Make something that shows the effects of war, or of extended peace.
  • Project: 1855 corded petticoat.
  • Title: The Ties That Bind


  • Practicality:  Fancy party frocks are all very well, but everyone, even princesses, sometimes needs a practical garment that you can DO things in.  Create the jeans-and-T-Shirt-get-the-house-clean-and-garden-sorted outfit of your chosen period.
  • Project: 1855 wrapper.
  • Title: That’s a Wrap!


  • Out of Your Comfort Zone: Create a garment from a time period you haven’t done before, or that uses a new skill or technique that you’ve never tried before.
  • Project: 1855 mantle/pardesus from a period pattern.
  • Title: Oops, I Did It Again.


  • Accessorize: The final touch of the right accessory creates the perfect period look.  Bring an outfit together by creating an accessory to go with your historical wardrobe.
  • Project: Knitted 1860’s sontag (“bosom buddy”).
  • Title: Sing a Song for the Sontag


  • Heirlooms & Heritage: Re-create a garment one of your ancestors wore or would have worn, or use an heirloom sewing supply to create a new heirloom to pass down to the next generations.
  • Project: Late Bustle Era petticoat with antique lace and trim.
  • Title: Ruffles and Laces and Bows…Oh, My!


  • Colour Challenge Brown: it’s not the most exciting colour by modern standards, but brown has been one of the most common, and popular, colours throughout history. Make something brown.
  • Project: Hand-sewn 1855 bonnet.
  • Title: Bippity, Boppity, Boo!


  • Sewing Secrets: Hide something in your sewing, whether it is an almost invisible mend, a secret pocket, a false fastening or front, or a concealed message (such as a political or moral allegiance).
  • Project: Hidden Traveller’s Pocket.
  • Title: My Pockets are Empty, See?


  • Silver Screen: Be inspired by period fashions as shown onscreen (film or TV), and recreate your favourite historical costume as a historically accurate period piece.
  • Project: Regency dress and cloak.
  • Title: Hiding from Mr. Collins


  • Re-Do:  It’s the last challenge of the year, so let’s keep things simple by re-doing any of the previous 11 challenges.
  • Color Challenge Brown
  • Project: 1888 dress.
  • Title: Hot Chocolate!

This gives me most of what I need to end up with three complete wardrobes by the end of the year. I feel less mentally scattered and more focused on specific end points. I’ll be ready for this year’s upcoming winter events and won’t get caught short for next year’s Festival.

If all goes according to plan. *wink*

Home for Good – at last!


The last few weeks have been exhausting. The good news is I’m now completely moved out of the house and the owner has it on the market. The not so good news is I tore the muscle in my leg again yesterday and am now hobbling around with my dad’s old cane. As a result, I can’t unpack as quickly as I’d like. On the other hand, it means giving the leg a rest and that translates into lots of reading and sewing time.

And I can’t wait to get back to sewing.

But, before I can do that, there is a small matter to deal with – the sewing space itself. At the moment it has a semi post-apocolyptic je ne sais quoi about it…

It’s easy for me feel a bit overwhelmed when facing things like this. But I know how I want to set it up and today is Step One: organize and catalog all of my historical sewing patterns. Most of them are in two bins, but some are in the storage drawers along with their intended fabric, trims and other notions. They were in order once, but they aren’t any more.

It’s getting to the point where I’ll be thinking about what I want to make and when I try to mentally run through my inventory, I can’t always remember which ones I have versus which ones I want. I’ve already accidentally purchased a duplicate and I don’t want to do that again.

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So today they will be physically sorted according to timeline (the current range is from the 17th Century to the 1930’s) and entered into a table so I can see exactly what’s on hand without having to paw through the lot. I’ve been meaning to do this for a long time and this is the perfect opportunity.

I already have the fabric and pattern for HSM #4 (War and Peace)…now actually I’ll be able to find them.

I’ve also been spending time in the evenings knitting the sontag for the HSM Challenge #3. After trials of different yarn weights and needle sizes I found the combination that will give me one size larger and keep the proportions correct. The wool is knitting up with just a bit of sheen, which I didn’t expect, but it’s not shiny and so should work out well.

One thing I regret is that the move threw my timing off for this year’s Victorian Heritage Festival, which is rapidly approaching. There is a very slim chance I might have my waist done in time (it’s not very complicated) but, as much as I want to be able to wear the new dress, I’m not going to pressure myself. There’s been enough stress around here lately – why add more?

So today the patterns get cataloged and tomorrow I’ll play with the waist and see how far I get. It’s good to be back.

Info on the Ageless Patternsℱ Dress Mentioned in the Previous Post

Harper's Bazar, 1877

Harper’s Bazar, 1877

I neglected to give any information about my Ageless Patterns purchase, made whilst in the grip of quasi-delusional determination to give it a try. The front is a bit odd – what’s up with those pleated pocket-looking things over the boobs? – but I fell for the back with its draping, ruffles and pleats. It may well be the most complicated gown I tackle, but abject fear (and lack of common sense) has never stopped me before. No good reason to change that now.

The pattern, copyrighted and sold as Ageless Patternsℱ # 1614, is described thusly: This dress or polonaise was made of plain pale pink zephyr wool, pink and dark gray striped zephyr wool and trimmed with side pleated ruffles. I love how those six little words “and trimmed with side pleated ruffles” skim over the hours and hours of work behind them.

Note: Zephyr cloth, also referred to as zephyr wool, is a thin kind of cashmere made in Belgium. Cashmere was historically known as “cassimere” and “kerseymere.” There are a number of definitions for this fabric – here are a few:

  1. a thin, lightweight, twilled woolen fabric,
  2. a heavily fulled, twill-weave woolen cloth finished with a fine nap,
  3. a fine soft woollen cloth of twill weave,
  4. an inexpensive version of this fabric, made with a cotton warp and a wool weft.

As is the case with most Ageless Patterns, it comes in only one size: 34-inch bust and 20-inch waist. Needless to say, there will be a considerable amount of re-sizing and many, many muslins until I get the fit right.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the brand, Ageless Patterns come with a reproduction of the original pattern and a copy of the original sewing instructions. These instructions were written for experienced dressmakers of the time who already knew the basics of Natural Form construction and didn’t need step-by-step instructions. (Fortunately, the pattern pieces have 5/8-inch seam allowances added, avoiding at least one potential error from the start.)

There is no hand-holding and the patterns are not for the beginner or the faint of heart. Yet there is sits in my pattern box, awaiting its chance for fame and glory unenviable notoriety. Optimism or insanity? We’ll find out eventually.

Some Thoughts onThe Natural Form Era: 1887-1882

"La Mode Ilustree", 1879

“La Mode Ilustree”, 1879

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

Carolyn Jones as Morticia Addams.

Carolyn Jones

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

One giant leap for...no one.

One giant leap for…no one.

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

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

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

Harper's Bazar, 1877

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

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

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

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

1827 portrait of Henriette Sonntag by Franz Xaver Stöber

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

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

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

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

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

Then, a while back, I stumbled upon this.

1860 pattern for knitted sontag

1860 pattern for knitted sontag

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Need to Re-Think My 2015 Plans. Or Not.

(original source unknown)

(original source unknown)

DELUSION n. A belief that is unsupported by the facts. SYN. illusion, mirage, self-deception, misconception, fantasy, “pipe dream”, figment of the imagination.

Now that I know there are twice as many HSM challenges as I thought there would be, I need to take a step back and look at that project list again. Or find a better pharmacy. Or both.

Although it would be tons of fun and I’d learn a lot, the single most expensive item, by far, is Costume College 2015. Airfare. Dog sitter/ boarding kennel. Hotel room, even if I share with someone else. Food and beverages. Four complete costumes. And I won’t kid myself, I know I’ll come home with additional goodies from those fabulous vendors…they’re right there – at my fingertips.

I started the 18th century outfit and I want to finish it…there’s not much left to do and it’s all easy.

I’m going to finish a Regency/Georgian outfit, as I’ve already said, if it kills me.

I’m also doing the HSM, at least as many challenges as I can.

I also want to finish the Victorian dress. It needs a finished overskirt, which is half done, and it needs a bodice, which is a lot like the first Victorian bodice I made.

And for reasons I can’t explain, other than a mild moderate complete break from reality, I am drawn to the 17th century challenge. Totally new territory for me, which is part of the appeal (and, I can bet on it, the source of many a difficulty). But we are given an entire year to complete one costume and I’m going with a servant’s outfit, so no over-the-top mountains of silk, Cavalier sleeves, neck ruffs, heavy jewelry, exposed cleavage, metallic embroidery and eternal miles of lace.

(original source unknown)

(original source unknown)

I’m pretty sure I’m not ready for this. But I’m pretty sure I’m going to do it anyway.

Leaving out Coco and the Victorian bustle dress, here’s how the math looks:

18th century:

  • need overskirt, bedgown, apron, fichu and cap
  • only need fabric for overskirt or apron, depending on which ends up where
  • total number of items to make = 5


  • need gown, cap, fichu and spencer (or cloak)
  • already have the fabric and patterns
  • total number of items to make = 4

HSM 2015:

  • I only know what the first challenge is
  • already have the pattern and fabric for it
  • total number of items to make = 12

17th century:

  • still deciding on which painting to use for the reproduction, but going servant
  • need the lot – cap, fichu/kerchief, chemise, jacket/top, apron and 2-3 petticoats
  • have pattern and fabric for the cap, fichu/kerchief and under-petticoat
  • total number of items to make = 6 (can re-use the fichu and 2 petticoats

That’s 27 pieces of clothing, not counting Victorian (2) and CoCo (a lot). Impossible, at least for me. Fortunately, the 17th and 18th century items are neither fussy nor difficult. (Rationalization? You bet!)

Prioritizing the projects:

  • Let go of CoCo for next year. As much as I want to go, it’s just not practical financially, even if I got a college scholarship.
  • The Regency/Georgian (whatever I end up with) can wait until later in the year, but want to be done in time for Jane Austen’s birthday celebration on December 16th. (The year was 1775.)
  • Do the hand sewing (the caps, fichus and all the hemming) at night, while watching the tube.
  • Get going on HSM #1 (due January 31st).
  • Make 18th century top petticoat, bedgown and apron. Not at all difficult, so get them done NOW.
  • Work on the 17th century things throughout the year (and yes, that does mean I can expect a mad scramble at the end).
  • Keep an eye on HSM – pick my battles.
  • March is Victorian Heritage Festival time. Can I finish the dress in time? We’ll see how it shakes out.
  • Stay open-minded and flexible – change whatever as needed.

As you can see, the only thing I’ve actually removed from the list is CoCo 2015 and all of those costumes. (If I’m going, I’m going with costumes.) That still leaves way too many.

My decision: I’m going to head into this adventure expecting the obvious inability to get everything done. Then whatever I do manage to complete will be its own little celebration. So I’m just going to start and work my way through as much as I can. Piece by piece, costume by costume, era by era.