The Stockings Were Hung by the Chimney with Care…but not These!

Silk stockings from Bouvier Frères, Les Modes July 1922. Photo by Henri Manuel.

Silk stockings from Bouvier Frères, Les Modes July 1922. Photo by Henri Manuel.

One aspect of historic clothing that I “miss” is the practice of wearing lovely things even if they aren’t routinely seen by the public. Yes, we have Victoria and all of her secrets, but it’s not the same…whipping on a pair of panties and a bra doesn’t take much effort when it comes to selection. But when you’re living in a society and culture that ascribes meaning to the smallest detail, everything changes. And one of those details I absolutely love is the variety in (and care put into) the stockings that women used to wear when the flash of an ankle was considered revealing or provocative.

These are some of my favorite attention-getters (hubba-hubba):

But my absolute favorites are these. I would love to meet the woman who wore these – she must have had quite the personality!

Ca. 1900 – Paris. “Pair of black silk knitted stockings embroidered with green sequins and green and gold beads. Decorated with a winding silver snake that curls twice around the lower leg and whose head rests on the forepart of foot.” Given by The Dowager Lady Swaythling to Victoria and Albert Museum.


Vintage Halloween Cards

DIY Halloween idea - chicken wire in the yard + glow in the dark paint make  ghosts in the front yard.

Chicken wire formed into gowns and sprayed with glow-in-the-dark paint.

These days, it seems Halloween is all about parties and/or seeing how much candy you can accumulate in one night (and it’s corollary – how sick you can be the following morning…if you make it that long). I liked it better when it was still a bit creepier.

I love Vintage Halloween cards. They’re a bit edgier with the superstitions. Some of them would scare the bejeezus out of young children today. A few of them even raise the hair on the back on my neck. Pumpkin Heads seeking salvation! Witches at the window choosing which child to eat! Smelly black elves and devils galore!


There was a line of Halloween cards that pictured the old wives’ tale that if you look in a mirror on Halloween you’ll see your true beloved and/or future spouse. (I am so glad Mr. Collins is fictional!)


Men, of course, would never be caught fondly gazing into a mirror. They gazed into the fire, although why a sweetheart in flames would be appealing I’ll never know. Old wives’ tales are like that.

halloween mirror for men

“Look into the flames on hallowe’en Night.

Perhaps the face of an old hag you may see in the Light.

But let love shine in your eyes then surely you will see

The face of your sweetheart and your bride to be.”


Fortune telling at Halloween seems to have been popular, with messages in reverse so one had to hold the card up to the mirror to read the fortune.


And I think we may have documentation of the first emoticons:

the first emoticons?


(News flash: for the first time in many weeks I woke up without any elbow pain. It’s a bit achy again now, but I think the rest and aspirin have the worst part of it done. Still going to baby it for a while longer, then it’s back to sewing. YAY!)

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

The Right White

I have long rebelled against making an all white Regency dress. One of my primary objections to making an all white Regency dress is that’s what I see over and over again. I don’t want to stick out like a sore thumb, neither do I want to disappear in a sea of sameness. So I’ve decided to stick with making the Morning Dress in white and use colors as accents.

One of the things that makes this comfortably do-able for me is I found a white fabric I really like. It’s a 100% soft cotton weave and drapes beautifully.

Just what I was looking for!

Just what I was looking for!

The pattern is woven in – it truly looks like drawn-thread work – and it conforms to the notion that morning gowns were made of a slightly heavier material than standard day or afternoon dresses.

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I bought 5 yards before I realized I need a petticoat and a 3/4 pelisse. Fortunately I can get more online and I have a 40% off coupon, to boot.

I also found a nice pink grosgrain ribbon to use around the waist and on the cap, but I’ve changed my mind about doing the Van Dyke points in the same color. If I can find the right tone and shade I want to make them in a complementary soft green. I like the pink and green color combination and think it will work well – especially with “variegated carnations” on my head.

And now it’s ready, set, sew! The petticoat is basically a tube with two shoulder straps, and I believe I can handle that without a pattern (she says). I do need to find a pattern for the 3/4 pelisse and once I do, the serious work begins.

The Regency Long Stays are Done!

copyright Daisuke Tomiasu 2003

copyright Daisuke Tomiasu 2003

My oh my, what an adventure this has been! Here’s a shot of the little darling(s).

Don't the straps look like exclamation points? I think they're as surprised as I am that it's finally finished.

Don’t the straps look like exclamation points? I think they’re as surprised as I am that it’s finally finished.

I made some changes along the way to better suit my figure: added an inch to the circumference (1/4 inch to each side seam), used extra boning, added extra stitching on the gussets, and lengthened the hip gussets. I also spaced the upper three grommets close together to help with bust support – it’s an experiment, so I’ll see if it makes a difference in the long run.

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And the stays ended up with the right amount of curves in all the right places. (Please excuse the piece of fluff on the floor, last night was doggy haircut night.)

2014-08-31 11.07.09

I still have trouble with the shoulder straps falling off. After mulling it over I decided that, since the stays aren’t what you’d call 100% historically accurate, I’ll ditch the ties and see what else would work. And the answer is…..3/8-inch non-roll elastic. It keeps the straps snugly on my shoulders and lets blood circulate freely to my arms and back. Very  important, that.

I was going to put it all on today and take a photo with the magic elastic in place and the petticoat on, but I’ve strained my shoulder a bit and don’t want to do the wriggling it takes to put it on. So look for more photos in a couple of days.

All in all, I achieved my goal – a functional set of stays that fit. They’re far from being a disaster, however there is room for improvement, both technically and esthetically.

Things I will do differently next time, in no particular order:

  1. Buy grommets from a vendor that specializes in corset supplies. I somehow managed to order commercial grommets and getting the inside edge smooth was a bit tricky.
  2. Use a fashion fabric that doesn’t fray the moment you even think about touching it.
  3. Add another layer by using garment-weight cotton for the innermost lining. The heavy cotton twill I used is not as immediately absorbent – a factor that is important to me.
  4. Sew the bias binding on the top edge before putting in the bones and the busk. It was about as hard as I thought it would be and made getting a smooth line in the bias edging really tricky. So much for that experiment. Top bias, bones and busk, then bottom bias – that is definitely the way to go.
  5. Hand sew the bias edging down on the inside my hand, instead of on the outside by machine.
  6. Get 6-foot corset lacing, instead of 5-ft.
  7. Use colored thread and decorative stitching on solid white fashion fabric.
  8. Have more fun!

And now it’s time to address the dress. More on that in a bit.

Q and A – a follow-up on “The Victorian in Mourning” post

In “The Victorian  in Mourning” post I mentioned that girls wore white instead of black and a reader asked about the custom. I didn’t keep track of my text resources (nuts!) but there are images and extant garments that document the practice.

The custom of girls wearing white instead of black varied through time and by region. I apologize if I led anyone to believe that it was a universal and/or mandatory practice.

Here are images of children and photos of extant garments that document the wearing of both black and white for mourning: (images removed due to possible, unintended copyright infringement)

The Victorian in Mourning – who wore what, and for how long?

(For reasons which elude me completely, the text formatting has fallen apart toward the end of this article. I’ve lost the ability to control spacing between paragraphs and I’ve been unable to resolve the problem. So I’m posting anyway and will keep trying to straighten it out. Thanks for your understanding.)

Mourning pins

Mourning pins

Just because I haven’t been sewing doesn’t mean that I’ve been out of the historical dress world completely. I ran across this photo of mourning pins on another blog (sorry! can’t remember which – but this is their photo). I knew mourning was rigidly structured, but it never occurred to me that wearing nothing shiny included the pins. That is strict.

This got me thinking…just how complicated were these social rules? So, I dug around a bit and found although the rules varied a bit from place to place and through the Victorian era, the essentials changed little.

In Victorian society women were the social representatives of their husbands. They showed the world the depth of the family’s grieving by wearing appropriate clothing and following the prescribed rules that reflected this. They were the ones who gave structure and social propriety to the household’s mourning dress and rituals.

And social propriety was a big dealThe different periods of mourning were expected to reflect one’s natural period of grief. Which is not a bad idea, since it allows a person to mourn and grieve publicly, not withhold their emotions and stoically “get a grip” as our current society expects.

The period of time mourning clothes were worn, and what was worn, varied by how one was related to or associated with the deceased. It was a labyrinthine tangle of rules to the extent that advice on what mourning clothes to wear and what mourning etiquette to follow abounded in magazines for women.

So how long was long enough? And who had to wear what when?

How Long Mourning Clothes Should be Worn

“The Workwoman’s Guide” of 1840 provided these guidelines: “Mourning for a parent was six months or a year. For children, if above ten years old, from six months to a year; below that age, from three to six months; for an infant, six weeks and upwards. For bothers and sisters, six to eight months. For uncles and aunts, three to six months. For cousins, or uncles and aunts, related by marriage, from six weeks to three months. For more distant relations or friends, from three weeks and upwards.”

Another suggests: “Friends, acquaintances, and employees wore mourning to a greater or lesser degree depending on their relationship to the deceased. Mourning was worn for six months for a sibling. Parents would wear mourning for a child for “as long as they feel so disposed”. A widow was supposed to wear mourning for two years…”

The standard mourning time for a widower was two years, but it was up to his discretion when to end his single status. Men could go about their daily lives and continue to work. Typically young unmarried men stayed in mourning for as long as the women in the household did.

Appropriate Mourning Attire

People wore black all the time, the difference for mourning was the plain styling and dull fabrics used, and black trim applied to any white article of clothing.

Men had it easy – they simply wore their usual dark suits along with black gloves, hatbands and cravats. Children were not required to wear mourning clothes, though girls sometimes wore white dresses.

A particular kind of ribbon, collectively referred to as love ribbons, was worn in mourning and could be either black or white. This was a plain gauze ribbon, without any pattern on it but stripes. Children who were in mourning for other children frequently wore a great deal of white, such as white ribbons applied to hats, hair, button holes, etc., and white handkerchiefs, gloves sewed with black and, for very young children, white frocks with black ribbons.

Baby dressed in white with mourning ribbons.

Baby dressed in white with mourning ribbons.

Even infants did not escape – they often had ribbons of black or deep purple affixed to their dresses.

“Attire” included all accessories and accoutrements, not just clothing. Prayer books and bibles had to be bound in Black morocco leather. Handkerchiefs were edged in black. The lists were extensive, but all touches were intended to convey, through a series of signs and symbols, visual messages the depth of feelings and sadness the wearer felt at the loss.

Widows were expected to wear special clothes to indicate that they were in mourning for up to four years after the death of her husband, but the customary cycle of mourning lasted two to three years and widow could choose to wear such attire for the rest of her life. They were slowly allowed to re-introduce conventional clothing at specific time periods generally known as “full mourning”, “second mourning”, and “half mourning”.

To change the costume earlier was considered disrespectful to the decedent and, if the widow was still young and attractive, suggestive of potential sexual promiscuity. (wikipedia)

Full Mourning

Full mourning, a period of a year and one day, was represented with dull black clothing without ornament. The clothing was frequently made of crape (with an “a”) – silk that had been chemically treated to give it a roughened, crimped and dull surface. Other fabrics, such as bombazine, were also used as long as they had no shine.

In 1865, a social historian noted “… Women, … had to put aside all their ordinary clothes and wear nothing but black, in the appropriate materials and with particular accessories, for the first stages of mourning.”

The most recognizable item of full mourning was the weeping veil of black crape.

If a women had no means of income and small children to support, marriage was allowed after this period. I found a reference to cases of women returning to black clothing on the day after marrying again.

While in full mourning, a woman was sequestered in her home for the full year and one day, and not allowed to go out unless it was to attend church. Allowances were made if an individual’s nature (anxiety, agitation and such) was not able to bear the isolation.

Second Mourning

Second mourning, a period of nine months, allowed for minor ornamentation by implementing fabric trim and mourning jewelry.

The main dress was still made from a lusterless fabric, but trims with some luster were permitted. Subdued decoration with jet jewelry or beads was allowed. The weeping veil was lifted and worn back over the head. Elderly widows frequently remained in this stage of mourning for the rest of their lives.
During second mourning, a woman could leave the house for minor social engagements. However attendance at large social gatherings and events, such as balls and theater was not permitted as such gaiety would distract the mourning widow from her duty to grieve and, in general, be a “downer” to everyone else.
Half Mourning
Half mourning lasted from three to six months and was represented by more elaborate fabrics used as trim. Wearing half-mourning attire signified the beginning of a gradual return to active life.
Gradually easing back into color was expected coming out of half mourning. Grey, lavender, and other very subdued colors, such as violet, pansy, purple, heliotrope, and soft mauves, could be introduced. White collars and gloves could be worn again. Fabrics with some luster could be used again. Each transition was to be done gradually. There was no restriction on jewelry.
So, you may ask, where did all this clothing come from? Dressing a large family in mourning was neither easy nor inexpensive. it was considered bad luck to keep mourning clothes – particularly crape – in the house after mourning ended. That meant buying clothes all over again when the next loved one passed.
Someone had to provide the clothes quickly to mourners and mourning became a very lucrative business. Having the money to afford proper mourning dress and accoutrements became a status symbol, with tailors and entire warehouses devoted to the fashion by the late 1840s, where a shopper would go to the “Mitigated Affliction Department” for half-mourning.
The largest and best known of them in London was Jay’s of Regent Street, which opened in 1841. Jay’s served as a kind of warehouse for mourners: it provided every conceivable item of clothing you and your family could need. And you were bound to be repeat customers.


Victorian Funereal Trivia: Victorians were terrified of being interred alive which, given the state of the medical arts at the time, was not as impossible as one might think. Coffins were created with a pulley system that would allow the entrapped person to ring a bell, that was above ground, to alert passersby to their dire circumstance. Since the chance of someone being in the cemetery when a bell was rung was fairly low, many cemeteries hired guards to patrol the grounds, specifically listening for the ringing of a bell.

And that is the origin of the term “saved by the bell.”

Late Entry – CORRECTION: “Saved by the bell” comes from boxing, where the sounding of the bell to indicate the end of a round could save one from being knocked out and losing the match. (My apologies for the sharing of incorrect information…I’d fire the fact-checker, but it’s me.)

Regency Pantalettes

1800-1830 Pantalettes pattern from The Mantua Maker

1800-1830 Pantalettes pattern from The Mantua Maker

The Victorian Undergarments class is working on Victorian drawers this week. I decided to pass, since I already have one pair of Victorian drawers I made, 2 pair of antique drawers that I wear, 1 pair of antique drawers I just bought for $5 (they have 2 holes that need mending, otherwise perfect) and the pair of Edwardian drawers I just finished for the Historical Sew Fortnightly.

However, HSF Challenge #4 is Under It All:

  • Make the foundations of your outfit: the things that go under it to provide the right shape and support, and to protect your fancy outer garments from sweat and grime

I don’t have my Regency wardrobe together yet, but when I do I will indeed be wanting something under it all, so I’m whipping up a pair of Regency pantalettes.

I’m using The Mantua Maker’s pattern – easy to make and excellent instructions. For fabric I went into my embroidered sheet stash and chose a high-quality 100% cotton sheet with a wide, pre-applied band of cotton-thread eyelet embroidery that – if you squint – could almost plausibly pass for crude broiderie-anglaise. Not 100% accurate, but for a whopping $3 from Goodwill the price can’t be beat. Plus, I’m dog- and house-sitting for a friend, which leaves me relegated to hand sewing for the weekend and that’s what I had on hand for a quick grab-and-go project.

The pattern is a historically-accurate two-leg pair of pantalettes. Each leg is independent of the other. A ribbon threads through the top and the legs tie on at the waist separately.

The finished pantalettes, as made and sold on Etsy by Historika.

Finished Mantua Maker pattern pantalettes, as made and sold on Etsy by Historika.

This is what made it possible for a lady to loose one leg – if the tie came undone the leg would simply slip to the ground. The poor, unhappy wearer would then be faced with one of two humiliating options: stop and bend over to retrieve the fallen leg (no true gentleman would ever touch a woman’s undergarments) or keep on walking and simply leave the fallen leg behind.

You can also see a seam at the upper portion of each leg. This piecing allows the “business” upper par of the leg to be made of a sturdy fabric, while the lower part of the leg can be of a more delicate fabric, such as lace or dimity.

I don’t want to sit on a seam or have a seam running around my thigh  – no added bulk needed there, thank you very much – so I cut each leg as a single piece.

And I don’t want two pieces of ribbon tied around my waist, so I’ve decided to place the legs on a single length of grosgrain ribbon and let the chips – or pantalettes – fall where they may.

HSF #3 Challenge Teaser – Anachronistic Knickers

(click picture for link)

The third Historical Sew Fortnightly Challenge is Pink.

However, for reasons unknown to me, it has tweaked my rebellious side. I am making open, French drawers from a historically accurate pattern.

1904 Ladies' Elegant Open Longer Drawers. Pattern # 1904-A-002. Copyright Edwardian Rose 2008 / Copyright The Fashion Archaeologist 2008

1904 Ladies’ Elegant Open Longer Drawers. Pattern # 1904-A-002. Copyright Edwardian Rose 2008 / Copyright The Fashion Archaeologist 2008

They will most definitely be pink. With soft, lacy ruffles trimming the hems. But as I was roaming through my fabric stash and dithering something hit a nerve and my decision was instantaneous.

I don’t want to conform with this project.

Oh sure, the pattern is period-correct. It’s beautiful, looks quite comfy and is just what I want. However, I am expecting a lot of people will less than pleased with my fabric choice: a very modern print honoring a very old weave. And done in shades of pink that will…uh…surprise and amaze. Or repulse and disgust. We shall see.

Happy Hanukkah! And Channukah!

A painting from the 1700s of a Channukah celebration. Artist unknown.

A painting from the 1700s of a Channukah celebration. Artist unknown.

Today is only the second time the first full day of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving have fallen on the same day. And, if you can believe what the calendar geeks say, it won’t happen again for 70,000 years.

Yesterday, CBS News interviewed some Brooklyn residents to see how they planned to celebrate. It seems some are making the most of this special convergence of celebrations with some special convergences of their own.

Want to give those latkes a sweet potato twist? Or brine the turkey in Manischewitz wine? How about challah chestnut apple stuffing instead of the usual cornbread? Yum, yum, yummy! (I’m not Jewish, but I would die for a taste of that stuffing!! Who doesn’t like challah?)

As always, here’s wishing everyone who’s celebrating today safe travel and time spent with people you care about and who care about you.