Friday, June 15, 2018

A Decade of Headwear

I don't usually show off my millinery, but I've been working with a wide range of time with my headwear and thought I could show a little 'time lapse' of bonnets.   Also, headwear is an important part of any impression.

So, the three bonnets I had finished are an 1853/1854 bonnet, an 1859/1860 bonnet, and an 1864/1865 bonnet, so roughly ten years of time.  I made them all to go with particular dresses, but since bonnets were generally multipurpose (they didn't have to be matchy matchy with the dress), I can wear them with other dresses as my wardrobe expands.

The first bonnet I made using Timely Tresses' Lavina Ruth bonnet.  I used the round 1840's/1850's shape, since this was supposed to be early in the decade.  I recently bought a lovely dress length of yellow and white plaid silk taffeta that I want to make into an 1853/1854 dress (Liendo Plantation was built in 1853 and I would LOVE to demonstrate how fashion changed during the time the Groce family lived there (through 1868 or so).  Terri usually wears late 1850's dress, Paula early 1860's, and Billie's dress is about 1864/1865 but no one wears anything pre-hoop.  I thought it might be good to demonstrate earlier fashions of the time when the Groce's built the plantation.

I chose to cover it in some gray silk voile I had bought from Fabric Marts a few months prior.  The rest of the fabric will be made into a gown (eventually) but I figured I had enough to spare for a bonnet.  I chose gray because 1) I had it in my stash and 2) I wanted this bonnet to be fairly neutral just in case I get the bug to do another early dress again.  Gray goes with anything and it can also be converted into a 2nd mourning bonnet if I chose to do such an impression.  I trimmed it in blue and pink flowers from the Timely Tresses website.  I also got the blue moire ribbon from Timely Tresses.  As with most 1850's bonnets, most of the decorations are concentrated at the ears.

The next bonnet is the first bonnet I ever had made for me. Well, the straw part was done by one of the lovely ladies at Timely Tresses-it is their Ruby Victoria.  But I never have things done for me so it was a real treat.  I took some ivory silk I had in my stash and followed the pattern to make a drawn bonnet.  So, I had the bonnet partially done for me.  I just finished it.

I bought most of the flowers from Timely Tresses at the same time as the bonnet.  The ribbon I got from Ebay.  It was only 1.5" wide so I zig-zag stitched two pieces together to make a ribbon 3" wide.  A little thin for period ribbons, but it matches my trimming and I couldn't find something else that I liked.  All my other ribbons on my bonnets are rayon moire and I wanted something different.

I box pleated two layers of fine cotton netting inside the brim.  It wasn't quite enough, so after I put in the flowers, I added another layer to make it poof out a little more.  I made this bonnet to go with the Greek Key dress, but with the way it is trimmed, it could be worn with many of my 1859-1861 dresses: the rosette dress, peacock dress, etc. and it would look great with any of them.

The 3rd bonnet was also created with a Timely Tresses pattern-the Clara Christine.  I made this bonnet specifically to go with the red shot black gown that I wore at the TLHA conference.  I wore this bonnet (along with the red shot black day bodice) at Liendo in March.  I also got to wear the 1853 bonnet in April.

I had a hard time trimming this bonnet.  I needed something that would go with red, but that wasn't blue or white (I didn't want the red/white/blue effect with this particular gown).  I covered it in some black silk taffeta from PureSilks that was in my stash (it is due to become a fashionable silk jacket one day).  I didn't want it to match the dress so I didn't want to trim it in red.  I ended up trimming it in cream and yellow.  I think it is rather striking with the black bonnet.

All in all, I'm glad I got to work with such a wide range of bonnets.  I hardly ever venture outside my little 1858-1862 window, that it was an adventure to do something else.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Seeing Red: A Late War Ensemble

Admittedly, while I admire the elegant beauty of the high-waisted trained look of the late to post war period, I don't have any dresses from that period.  I suppose it was too much of a bother to change up what I already do.  Shapes changed quite a bit during this time period and the dresses look quite different than they did in the early war.  I knew that I would eventually need some late war dresses for Welbourne, but that was several years off (2018 should be 1862 so we should be doing 1865 in 2021) so I really did not need to worry about it.

I had plans for a 1867 dress for the TLHA conference (that, of course, never got finished. Actually the dress never really got started), so I had started to make a late war crinoline.  I used Simplicity 7216 and it didn't work worked.  I took off the last 2 rows (because the picture shows it being WAY too long for a crinoline) but apparently, the picture was wrong because mine ended up much too short.  The shape did not look right, either.  I never bothered to finish it.

Well, I've been on quite the silk shopping spree (mostly thanks to Fabric Mart and their FANTASTIC silk sales ($6/yard for 2 dress lengths, then, a few days later, $4.99/yard for 2 more dress lengths).  Before all this, I bought a length of silk from Pure Silks when I bought a few yards of black silk to make a fashionable jacket.  The dress length was a ruby red shot black Mary Ann silk and came in so beautifully rich.  I did not know what I was going to do when I bought the silk, but as soon as it came in, I knew.  It wanted to be a late war dress.  It just screamed high waist, narrow sleeves, and trained skirt.  Really, it did.  Fabric does talk, you know.  It always knows what it is destined to be.  And it is never wrong.

For some reason, I decided (two weeks before the conference) to make the fabric up into an evening gown for the TLHA conference.  Well, really, I was contemplating what to where to the conference's dinner and my mind kept going back to the gorgeous black and red shot fabric and my late war plans.  So, I started the research.  It did not take long before I found a ruby red dress circa 1865.  It was perfect.

More pictures are available on the MET.  Now, I did want to make the day bodice as well, however, I was mostly focused on something to wear to dinner.  Of course, the next step was to start from the bottom up.

I have a pair of American Duchess Renoirs that I have worn with my 1870's ensemble.  And, of course, I have stockings and a corset that is workable for the era.  I planned on wearing the same chemise and drawers as my 1870's outfit (the chemise has shorter sleeves than most of my pre to mid war chemises so it would work better under the tiny, delicate puff of the late war inspiration.  Petticoats changed very little throughout the era so I did not have to worry on that, either.  The only pieces of underpinnings that needed to be made new were a new crinoline as well as an underskirt.

I pulled out the old Simplicity hoop with intents on trying to make it work.  I spent 2 minutes looking at it before I decided I would just rather start anew.  I bought Truly Victorian's 1865 Cage epattern and printed it off that night.  Since I already had the boning, everything else was not hard to get.  I made a late night trip to the Walmart less than a mile of my house and bought 2 yards of RED cotton as well as some red bias tape for the bone casing (mostly because I did not want to have to make my own bias).  Why red?  Well, a couple of reasons.  1. Walmart was out of white bias and I really did not feel like making my own.  But they had the EXACT amount of bias packages I needed in the red color.  2. I wanted something different than my other hoops.  I would love to have a blue hoop but I can't find evidence of it.  3. Red crinolines did exist in the period and they sort of fascinate me.  So, I went with it.


The first two originals are 1860's hoops from the V&A and the last one is from the National Trust, probably 1850's (based on the more rounded shape).  This was not my first time using TV patterns, but it was my first time actually using the directions that went with their patterns.  Maybe I'm not used to following pattern directions, but I struggled with them.  Had I known what I was doing, I would have ditched them.  Anyway, I learned that you need to read the directions all the way through BEFORE you start anything.  That would have eliminated most of my confusion and wasted time.  This is why I do not use patterns.

On the plus side, I had LOTS of cute helpers helping me with my crinoline!


It took a while, but it got finished.

The crinoline is way heavier than my others, but I think that's because of the yards of fabric at the bottom.  After making it, I had to make a new bustle pad to hold out the heaviness of the elliptical shape.  My usual one was mushed under the weight.

I bought Truly Victorian's 1865 skirt pattern that was used for both the petticoat and the skirt of the ensemble.  Again, I bought the epattern and printed it at home.  Note to self: buy better tape to hold the pieces together.

I made the petticoat first, of course.  I made the petticoat gored because of a quote in Peterson's 1863 that stated that if a skirt was gored, then the petticoats were also gored.  Now, I know nothing of mid-century gored skirts and had no originals to view so I trusted TV to have done their research.  I did read on the Sewing Academy that mid century gored skirts usually had one straight side and one gored side to each piece.  The TV pattern does look like that and has an appropriate amount of pieces (nine, but I cut the back piece as one so I had eight).  I didn't use the directions at all for either the petticoat or the skirt, and made a few changes.  For the petticoat, I didn't use the waistband pattern piece at all and made up where my own pleats went.  I also took only a .75" hem (I believe the pattern called for 1.5".  I used 200 thread count white cotton for the project and hand stitched it in poly-cotton thread (I couldn't find my white cotton thread).

I made some changes to the TV pattern for the skirt.  I added 1.5 inches onto the waist to make the skirt go up higher (the petticoat sit at my natural waist and I wanted it to go up a little like 1865 dresses).  I also added some length onto the bottom of the skirt.  I added 1" to the front piece. 1-2" on the side front pieces, 2-3" on the side pieces, 3-5" on the side back, and 5" all around the back piece.  the skirt is pretty well balanced (if you are using TV's elliptical cage pattern) to have an even hem all around, but I wanted a slight train.  I also put the skirt closure where the side front piece meets the side (instead of in the center back) and then added a pocket on the other side.

The skirt was a little more difficult to sew than the petti.  The mary ann silk was a little on the limp side so I felt the need to line it.  I chose silk organza because 1) it has lots of body 2) it is an appropriate skirt lining fabric of the period 3) I had exactly the amount I needed to make a gored skirt out of it.  I ended having to piece the two side front pieces a little, but it worked nicely.

Elizabeth Clark was kind enough to do a 'translation' of Mrs. Pullen's skirt linings on The Sewing Academy.  I followed these directions for the first two seams, then realized there was an easier way to do this exact thing with 1 seam rather than 3.

So Mrs. Pullen has you sewing the dress fabric pieces together and then the lining pieces separately (think bag lining almost) then whip stitching them together at the seams. I figured out if you put the linings and the dress fabric pieces all together, you could sew right through them all and get the same result.  Basically, my layers looked like this:

Lining piece 1
Lining piece 2
Skirt piece 2
Skirt piece 1

Same result, less work.  When you hand stitch all your dresses, you figure out short cuts really fast :).

I bought some nice wool braid with the intent of using it on the hem after I had faced it, but when I zoomed in on the MET dress photo, I realized that the little line around the hem was more velvet trim, so I did the same.  I used the same velvet trim as I did with the Greek Key dress and just tacked it along the hem.

I made the pleats just like I did on the petti: one wide box pleat in the front then direction pleats that met in the back.  The original looks all box pleated, but the knife pleats looked better in my silk so I left them.  I added a waistband of grosgrain ribbon (because I was running low on the dress fabric and still wanted a belt) then I was set with the skirt.

The bodices both went together fairly easily.  I used a 35%/65% silk/cotton blend for lining.  Man, could that stuff ravel.  I overcast every edge super closely so that it wouldn't ravel right out.  The sleeves are puffed and the bodice closes up the front as in the original.  I used hook and eye tape to close both bodices.  Both bodices also have piping at the armscyes, neckline, and waistline.  I couldn't find the exact lace for the bertha and undersleeves on the evening bodice, however, I managed to find two lengths of Maltese lace (that was used on evening gowns in the 1860's) that fit perfectly.

Both bodices (as well as the belt) have these little flower type things on them.  I used Simplicity 2881's petal pattern then a button covered in cotton velveteen fabric.

Day bodice has funnel type sleeves.  The original had coat, but I didn't notice it in the close up until I had the sleeves cut.

I also copied the belt from the original, only I lengthened the extension parts.  I mostly used Simplicity 2881 for belt extensions, but I added extra length for the back two.  They are all bag lined in the same cotton/silk blend that I lined both bodices in and trimmed with black velvet and rosettes.  I wore a belt buckle from Ensembles of the Past to complete the look.

I wore the evening gown to the Texas Living History Association's 2018 conference and wore the day bodice to Liendo in March.  I meant to get it done for February, but didn't so I just wore the fleur de lis green silk instead.

For the day bodice, I tried to copy the original again.  I haven't yet found a good wide silk Chantilly to trim the sleeves with, but that's the only thing that isn't complete yet.  I put the rosettes where the original had them.  I wore a black velvet belt instead of the fancy one.

I made a stand up collar out of cotton voile and used the same voile to make open undersleeves.  I trimmed these undersleeves in two layers of Swiss edging from Farmhouse Fabrics.  I then made a matching handkerchief to complete the set.

I am so happy with how this dress turned out.  I should copy originals more often-I tend to be more pleased with the results then when I take bits and pieces from various pieces.


Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Pre-War Greek Key Dress

Usually, my dress plans start out quite elaborate and I end up getting the basic dress done and think, "I'll just do the trim after I wear it this one time.".  News flash: once a dress has been worn, there is not fixing/trimming/modifying it in any way.  The sewing gods have blessed it and it is deemed as complete as it will ever be.  Occasionally, I actually manage to recreate the exact image that was in my brain when I started the gown.  But that only happens when I don't go completely crazy with trim ideas.  Rarely, I start out with a plain design and it morphs into something Quite Elaborate.  Such is the story of my Greek gown, formerly known as the ice blue stripe gown.  What started out as a fairly simple 1859-1860 dress with a double skirt and a pelerine has evolved into an elaborately trimmed gown with two bodices and multiple different looks.

Let's start with research, as it should always be.  The fabric is a striped silk taffeta.  It's a silvery/gray/ice color with a light blue stripe.  Here's the fabric followed by some period examples of similar fabrics:

Ebay dress, circa 1860's
Ebay Dress, circa 1860's

Musée de la Mode et de la Dentelle, ca. 1865-1867
                                       Minnesota Historical Society, 1856-1859                                        

I wanted a double tiered skirt, and since most stripes go horizontal on those types of gowns, that is what I did.  The only times I saw vertical stripes were on 1860's dresses with ruffles, not tiers.  1850's were all decidedly horizontal.  These were the two gowns that initially compelled me to do the double skirt with this particular fabric.

Godey's Lady's Book, April 1859 (Figure on the right)

Le Bon Ton, September 1858 (Figure on the right)
I have not yet successfully made a tiered skirt prior to this gown.  The 1850's 3 tier turned out lopsided and I have not attempted (nor fixed that gown) one since, so I was a little nervous doing this gown.  I did a lot of measuring prior to cutting this dress.  I ended up using my black wool with all the blue fringe as a guide (my top tier for this gown ends where the fringe on that gown begins) and that turned out nicely.  I believe my top tier ended up being 25" long and the bottom was 27".  The skirt is not lined but it is faced with Joann's cotton sateen in the tan shade.  I believe both skirts are faced with 8" of the sateen.  The sateen also adds a nice weight so that the skirts don't get all jumbled up.  Since the bottom tier was only 27" and my normal skirts are 41" in the front, I added the rest of the cotton sateen to save on the silk.  It is, of course, covered in the top tier of silk.  I worked on most of the skirt during Civil War Weekend at Liendo and got it mostly completed, save for the top skirt treatment.  I started pleating it, then stopped and undid it once it clicked in my brain that I was supposed to be doing a late 1850's/early 1860's dress.  I put it away until I could do more research on gauged vs. pleated dresses during that time period.  I looked for a couple of hours at my notes/saved images before going to the Sewing Academy where my suspicions were confirmed with this post.  Definitely gauged during this time period.  I used three threads, as reported on the Sewing Academy as well (I have very few images of gauged close ups so that was nice that someone else had thought of it and looked).  Here is the completed (but not yet trimmed) dress.

When I decided I wanted to trim the gown, I had a hard time figuring a) what to do and b) where to trim the skirt.  Should I trim just the bottom tier?  Just the top?  Both?  After looking at originals, I decided that the best option would be just the top tier.  Why?  My reasoning was a combination of aesthetics mixed with plain slothfulness.  I wanted the tiers to be pronounced and not just look like a single skirt, so the obvious plan was to put the (as yet to be decided) trim on the top tier.  That was a lot of work and I didn't feel like doing the bottom tier as well.  But that's okay-I have plenty of original documentation for my decision.  Here are some examples of trim (not just Greek key) on just the top tier of a two-tiered dress:

Le Bon Ton, June 1858
Godey's Lady's Book, October 1858

Le Bon Ton, January 1859
Le Bon Ton, June 1858

Le Bon Ton, June 1858
Le Bon Ton, March 1858

Le Moniteur de la Mode, 1850 (Note
the riding habit to the side!)
Les Modes Parisiennes, 1856
Petit Courrier de Dames, October 1858

I was not thinking Greek key at all (despite always loving it) until Welbourne when I saw one of the other lovely ladies with a Greek key belt.  That's when the research started.  Greek key seems to be most popular after 1862 but I did find several examples of earlier.

Journal de Modes, 1859
Journal de Demoiselles, February 1843

Le Follet, April 1861
Le Moniteur de la Mode, 1860

As a bonus, I also found two images of these British princesses wearing a double skirt with a geometric trim on the top tier!

Princess Helena of Great Britain, 1861
Princess Louise of Great Britain, 1861

Looking at originals, it is easy to see there is no one way to do a Greek key pattern.  They're all basically unique.  I wanted something that wasn't just square (such as the princesses' dresses) but that only required one length of ribbon (so that I don't have to cut and measure, etc.).  These two were my inspiration:

Godey's Lady's Book, 1863
Le Follet, April 1861

To execute my plan, I used velvet ribbon, 1.5" wide.  Hindsight, probably a bit too large.  1" would have been best.  I basically just made up measurements that 'sounded right' and then pinned the ribbon in the corners.  After that, I sewed the corners (by machine) then tacked the whole thing onto the skirt.  Then I just started pinning the ribbon then tacking it down.

The measurements I used were 10" on the bottom, then 6" up, 4" across, 4" down, 4" across, 6" up, 9" across, 10" down, and repeat.

Now for the bodice.  I couldn't decide whether to make a basque or a normal bodice, so I made both.  One is a low necked bodice with a pelerine (also trimmed with Greek key, of course) and the other a basque also trimmed.  For the regular bodice, these were my inspiration.

Minnesota Historical Society dress ca. 1856-
1859.  Inspiration for sleeves and pelerine.
Susan Green Historic Clothing Collection, ca.
1860-1865.  I'm using this as bodice inspiration.


Fairly simple.  I may eventually add some Greek key to the low bodice so it is also trimmed, but I might also leave it plain.  The pelerine edge plus the sleeves are trimmed in Greek key.  Here is my inspirations for the basque bodice.

Graham's Illustrated Magazine, June 1857
Le Bon Ton, June 1858

I liked the square neck of the Graham's basque with the puffed sleeves so that's what I did.  I did Greek key around the sleeves.  I laid the trim on the same way I did before with the skirt, except this time, I used 7/8" ribbon.  The measurements for the sleeves and bodice were 5", 3.5", 1.5", 1.5", 1.5", 3.5", 5", 5.5", repeat.

Of course, both bodices are piped at the armscyes and necklines.  The non-basque is also piped along the waist.  Both bodices hook and eye shut, and bodice have little jet glass buttons from the Button Baron.

In addition to the dress, I also made a Greek key set of linens to match this dress.  The set includes a chemisette, undersleeves, and a handkerchief.  I (mostly) used this pattern from Godey's for the embroidery:

I made the top two buttons on the chemisette the black glass buttons so that it would match the dress, and the buttons on the undersleeves are also the same.

I haven't had the chance to wear the low body yet, but I had a fantastic time wearing the basque and skirt at Liendo this February!