Thursday, May 23, 2024

A Construction Tour of Four Antique Edwardian Skirts in My Collection


Early Edwardian antique pink cotton skirt, worn over an antique petticoat with tall flounce and an antique shirtwaist. A teaser of what's to come.

Heads Up! Long and image-heavy

I have been collecting antique clothes in a small way for decades, starting in the 1990s. Most pieces have been Edwardian, partly because these sometimes are more reasonably priced, but mostly because the era is fascinating in its complexity and in the obvious impacts of a modernizing world on the fashion industry and the women who wore the fashions. 

For the last several years the collecting focus largely has been on the early Edwardian years -- which actually covered the end of Queen Victoria's reign -- of approximately 1900-1905. Read about them in some detail on the Fashion Institute of Technology's Fashion History Timeline 1900-1909 article

I've long wanted to share some of these garments with the historical costuming community, focusing on construction details that aren't often easily available in photographs, and with brief commentary on how they may have looked when worn. So, one sunny afternoon in early May I spent 3-4 hours photographing petticoats, shirtwaists, and skirts -- a portion of the collection.

Here below are a series of skirts. Each is shown paired with a shirtwaist* over a corset cover, and with one of several extant petticoats underneath to help fill out the garment. 

*The shirtwaist is "bloused", a in-period term for the pigeon-breast effect, and set in a dip, not a straight line, with the blousing held in place by a handy peplum for tucking into the skirt. The sleeves have been shortened: I believe it originally had long, probably narrow cuffs. The alteration could have been back then, for elbow sleeves came in pretty quickly for daytime -- I recall a 1902 magazine saying that they were now permissible for daywear. The lace is a composite of several types, all machine-made, and the flowery 3-D effect lace mimics Irish crochet lace. High-necked, bloused shirtwaists had a long vogue in the 1900s and 1910s, but this one, with its decently long back, feels in the cut and the lace types and placement more like before 1907 than some of my clearly later examples. However, I am not certain.

A plain swishy skirt, in linen

This skirt feels mid-Edwardian, based on its fullness and ground-grazing length, but it's so plain it could span most of the period. It would have been an easy everyday summer skirt.

The linen is strong, fairly closely woven, but lightweight. You could estimate the yarn count using some of the detailed photographs.

The applied blossoms are tacked on. This is a sturdy skirt and I 
have it ready to wear for a few hours at a summertime Edwardian-inspired afternoon tea.

Here it is worn over a shoe-tip- length petticoat with a tall added flounce for body.

Here's that petticoat.

The skirt, when laid flat, could be thought of as a wedge shape of about 35% of a circle, with the top cut off. The back of the waist is a bit higher than the front to account for the probably straight-front corset worn underneath, and so the front waistline is dipped a little.

The skirt closes center back. A view of the waistband at the underside of the placket closest to the body, at the closure, shows that the skirt may have been resized some. Look at the strong eye closure at waist, with another buried in the edge. Bar closures are set down the placket. Notice the interior pleat below the hook in the center of the photo...that's actually a deep pleat.

Here's a view of the part of the closure on the outside of the placket, that's farthest away from the body. Do you see that the edge of the fabric has been turned in, once, and a placket has been applied to the inside, but then goes very far inside to create a very deep-set placket that has been reinforced.

A look at the inside of the skirt shows that deep pleat on the underside of the placket, plus the top placket. Those are strong hooks down the placket.

Did you notice that the insides of the skirt are not finished, as revealed by the frayed edges?

Another placket view.

The inside bottom of the skirt is faced to a couple of inches with self fabric. This helps the hem hang well. The skirt came with a large rent in the bottom...someone must have caught the fabric on something very stiff and sharp indeed, because the linen is still very strong, as is common for that bast fiber. You can see where I applied a patch using vintage fabric as close as I could get to the original.

The folded over waistband, about an inch wide, and more of the skirt interior.

Gauzy ruffled, trained and flaring skirt

This skirt is very long in front and sides, and even longer in back, and no, I don't believe it was made for a very tall person. Instead, it's likely an early Edwardian skirt meant to puddle on the ground when the wearer stood, and train in back. Trains could be of various lengths, with longer trains often worn for dressier occasions, but trains were indeed worn on the street, to the distress and disgust of many. More on that momentarily.

If you look carefully you will see that the fabric has been tucked with groups of tiny vertical pintucks most, but not all the way to the floor. When the fabric is released from the tucks, it gives the skirt flare at the base. This is another way of obtaining flare in very early Edwardian skirts without using a trumpet cut.

Here is the back: a moderate train. At the center back there is excess fabric drawn up into a narrow section of tiny stroked gathers just to either side of the closure. No obvious pleats or large gathers here.

The effect on the skirt when the tucks are released around shin height: extra flare! There are no curved side seams.

The skirt's only applied trim is at the bottom, in the form of two scantly gathered Valenciennes lace trimmed ruffles applied to the outside of the skirt. The construction of the upper ruffle is straightforward. Cut the ruffle -- likely straight, but a popular way to do it was to cut a circular ruffle if you wanted a more wavy, 3-D effect. Finish the top with a hem in back...this hem will show when mounted to the skirt. Finish the bottom of the strip ditto, and stitch the Val lace over the top of the bottom hem. Then find the spot on the skirt where the ruffle is wanted, say, 10 inches above the hem, and stitch the ruffle on, *very* scantly gathered, leaving a little header at the top. Press the header down over the ruffle so that it becomes a secondary ruffle. 

The bottom-most ruffle is similar except that the skirt hem is finished, then the ruffle is stitched to the hem, but on the backside, with a similar, inward facing header, for a wee bit of fluff support. The skirt hem on top reads to the viewer as a nice opaque line...narrow lines, whether self fabric or applied, were very popular looks in trims and tucks.

The ruffles from the front.

Closeup of top ruffle from outside -- see the hem showing on the exterior?

Top ruffle hem detail; the hem is on the outside of the skirt.

Ruffle header flipped up so you can see the stitching.

Back side of the skirt shows stitching.

Did you notice? Both ruffles are sewn and applied with hand-stitching, not machine. So is the waistband. The long skirt panels, all with narrow French seams, are machine sewn with very fine thread and fine stitch length. The tucks are also machine sewn. The fabric could possible have come pre-tucked.

Just showing how sheer the fabric is. The skirt weighs 4 ounces on my food scale.

Here is how such a skirt might look when worn, as shown on The Delineator June 1901 cover. The skirt is pooling out at the front and sides, and trained in the back. The wearer is holding her skirt to emphasize what may well be a drop skirt attached to -- or separate from -- the outer skirt, that functioned as a sometimes-visible lining. It would clear the ground and might include a finely tucked or ruffled tall flounce. The wearer would hold up the outer skirt with one hand in the back to draw it up, revealing the underskirt but maintaining modesty. A petticoat was often worn underneath, although in 1900 and 1901 there was a fad for abandoning the petticoat or even wearing little "garter petticoats" around each leg, so that the skirt could cling very tightly to the person.

Source: Internet Archive

That's what is happening here, I believe. This is a screenshot, c1902, of women walking in Paris' Bois de Boulogne, just at the Port Dauphine entrance. Source is A Walk in a Paris Park - c.1900 Footage Restored to Life [V.2.0], by Glamourdaze.

Another, rather well-known photo from a 1901 edition of Les Modes, a Parisienne fashion magazine known for its high fashion, world-weary attitudes, and attention to royalty and nobility. The leftmost figure's gown just barely puddles in front.

Source: Mark Hartley, Pinterest

Commentary on trailing skirts appeared in a New Zealand paper in January 1901. It was called “The Trail of the Skirt: Expert Opinions in Favor of Trailing Fashions”. Here is a portion, showing that some trailing skirts were designed to be held when walking.

Source: Wanganui Chronicle (New Zealand),January 7, 1901, p.1

Here is just a sample of public disgust with the fashion for trained skirts worn on the street:

Pink sturdy trained cotton skirt with applied tucked ruffles

The last skirt in this post is the light clear rose pink one. The cut uses a large amount of fabric, and so, I estimate it at 1904 or 1905, when such cuts were common.

The skirt is very small waisted, under 24 inches, and so wouldn't fit my dress form. That makes it feel even fuller than it really is. The ruffles, cut of straight lengths of fabric, tucked and hemmed and "gathered" with what are actually minute pleats, give lots of body to the skirt base.

Like many Edwardian skirts, it is finely stroke gathered at center back. Notice that there is less gathering on the left, underpart of the placket, than on the right placket which sits over it. The result is a more narrow band of gathering, but added together, really full. It's shown inside out, so you can see the basic placket. This wasn't a finely finished skirt. The buttonhole is closely hand-stitched, but in white thread.

More placket fun. Both plackets are applied strips, and the bottoms are laid one atop the other, then stitched horizontally, and that's it. Compare that to other closures we have seen in this post.

Just emphasizing that placket construction.

Plain stitching on the placket to set it to the skirt back pieces.

The skirt is very, very full, by far the fullest in this post.

Now compare that to an equally small-waisted skirt, this one in linen. It still has a train, oh, yes, but employs far less fabric and, as we will see when we examine in sometime in the future, has a front side closure, but a tightly gathered back.

Let's look at the ruffles. They are applied to the main skirt, and appear to be straight cuts of fabric, with significant machine ruffling. My Singer 27 and Willcox and Gibbs, both Edwardian period, both have an attachment called a ruffler that actually very finely pleat the fabric, resulting in a gathered effect unless you look close up. Each strip of fabric for the ruffle would have been tucked and hemmed at bottom first. Then the top would have been turned over and the machine ruffling done. Then the ruffle was attached to the skirt with a second line of stitching, right across the top of the ruffle.

Pulling up the underside of the top ruffle gives you more construction information. Note how sturdy the thread is.

Here is a view of the bottom of the skirt, under the ruffles, from the inside. It has a facing applied. You can see the signs of wear, but this skirt didn't undergo the trials that the delicate gauzy skirts did. There is a large very dirty spot in one section, and some worn threads, but overall, the skirt is in good condition. I am thinking it was a home or small dressmaker product given the relatively inexpensive, sturdy but colorful materials. There is no evidence of any tag that I recall.

There ends this evening's tour. I am hopeful that it will be useful to those of you curious as to the different ways skirts could be constructed.

Whenever I get around to it, there are more skirts, a shirtwaist suit, petticoats with different styles and characteristics, and shirtwaists of different types, to be posted about. I've posted about some others in the past. I gave quite a number to Cassidy Percoco of A Most Beguiling Accomplishment some years ago, when I was quite ill for a few years, and thought at one point I'd have to give up costuming, and alas, never took pictures of most of them.

Wednesday, April 03, 2024

Springtime Spinning and Winding Wool

It's sheep-shearing time here in the Bluegrass, and I am helping my friend Sarah to shear sheep, including our Shetlands, Lana and Nina.

Lana, Nina, and Liam at the hay rack,
late winter. Lana and Nina live with Liam
on my friend Sarah's farm and she took this photo.
The sheep in the background are her Soays. Liam is 
hers, too...and Lana and Liam are always together.

That put me into the wool spinning mood, so I've been using the old Eastern European supported spindle to spin more yarn for the years-long project to make blankets for the twins.

The Eastern European spindle,
which was hand-turned on a 
lathe who knows how long ago.

Given that to date the project has involved shearing the sheep, picking the fleece, scouring the fleece in warm soapy water, drum-carding the wool, and spinning the wool, I measure progress in years. A few years ago I sent several fleeces to two mills to be made into roving, so I could skip the cleaning process, but haven't spun more than a few yards of that.

Now I have several thousand yards, enough to weave a small blanket, and need that much again for the second one.

Here is the spindle-spun wool.

114 yards of hand-spun wool from the spindle

Here is a 185-yard skein spun on the Polish Kromski wheel. The wheel-spun wool is a little more consistent in feel, but not by much.

Comparison with my wheel-spun wool

Given that progress is in fits and starts, we have years ahead. :)

Here I am winding a spindle full of yarn onto the yarn swift my dad and I made years ago. One full revolution is 1 yard of yarn. 

Yarn swift from the top...

...and the side.

The swift comes apart into pieces to make storage easier.

Yarn swift in pieces.

Happy springtime, everyone!

I have a post about some transition stays almost ready...

Thursday, January 11, 2024

10 Years to Finish a Regency Reticule? Well, Yes

A Christmas gift? No, a Christmastime project.

Sometime in 2014, during the lilac-colored silk phase in which I made an embroidered 1790s sleeveless spencer, matching outer petticoat, and pearled headband after an original, I started a beaded reticule project. It stalled and was picked up and dropped again during the following decade, and only now have I finished it. During that time I went through several phones and it appears photos documenting the project's early days have gone missing, so the following is a somewhat truncated history of its making.

First, Why the Lack of Posts for So Long?

It's not for lack of making things, for I did manage a pair of 1790s stays, a velveteen spencer, and a pretty apron-front dress. Those projects, though, happened in short spurts that felt like shelter from repeated storms. There was another health situation, one in the long series that have punctuated the last 30 years, and then, the illness and passing of my darling and beloved father, followed months later by my sweet aunt. Last spring saw my sisters and I sharing taking 24-hour care of our daddy during his time in hospice and helping our stepmother/mother through, and then, the loss, the mourning... Losing a parent is a loss apart; it shakes the foundations. It's still too close for elegy, except to say that his community lost a dedicated volunteer and leader and we lost a mentor, a guide, a loving father and friend. Even now I can hear his voice.

The Finished Reticule

Nuts, I don't want to write again, but, he thought hobbies were key to mind and soul, so, let's go. Here is the completed reticule. It measures 9 inches at its widest by 9 inches tall and a measly 1.25 inches deep. It's deep enough to hold a small fan, a handkerchief, smelling salts and a phone. I suppose it's possible that you'd find lip gloss and some cash, too, were you to snoop. I wanted it big enough to be useful, but not big enough to become lumpy with the thinggummies that naturally accumulate in my own purse, for practicality and so I have the satisfaction of pulling out whatever's needed like a rabbit out of a hat when my sons or husband ask. Package of band aids, mini containers of sunscreen, lotion, and hand sanitizer, a pen, sunglasses, a scrap of paper for writing, a tiny measuring tape, lactose pills for the lactose-intolerant son, emergency migraine tablet, tissues, keys...all in the smallest package I can manage. Query: did Regency women do similarly? Were smelling salts part of a reticule's community of objects?

The front, natch

The back and the compound strap

The narrower-than-wanted interior

The reticule has stiff sides, courtesy interior cardboard on back and front, softened with millinery domette so that the surface doesn't feel harsh.

Intermission for Kitty Cuteness

"Why are you putting that thing on top of me?" asked Nutmeg,
who was on my lap.

How It Was Made

The shape is fairly common for the Regency period, interesting visually because most sides are at oblique angles. I saw an example in 2014 with similar beading and loved it. The photo once lost, I never found it or was able to track it down online again. Then, a year or so ago, one so like the original turned up in a favorite Etsy shop (GraceofTime) that it was quick like a bunny -- save the photo! Here it is.

Reticule from Graceof Time on Etsy: their photo

This reticule I think is padded, and soft-sided, and seems mostly to be beaded in white and silver, and the fabric may be a satin. Still, you see the resemblance.

I wanted flat sides as my other reticule gets so shapeless and lumpy when anything is put inside, plus the tailored look is attractive. Dangling beads were not to be thought of; a klutz, I'd catch a loop on something for sure and beads would fly.

The construction is invented because I'd no access to originals. It uses stitches common in the Regency period: back-stitching for strength, whipping of seams, hemming.


  • Exterior fabric: home-dyed silk shantung from Dharma Trading
  • Interior fabric: undyed silk shantung, ditto
  • Stiffener: cardboard from a discarded cereal box
  • Soft interlining: domette, I think from Judith M millinery in Shelbyville, KY
  • Beads: pearl seed beads, gold-interior clear sead beads: the color isn't warm
  • Embroidery silk: Au Ver a Soie silk ovale, a flat, untwisted filament silk (not spun and a joy to use)
  • Sewing thread: vintage British sewing silk in Heliotrope
  • Strap: tawny silk cord and silk tassels from a deconstructed remnant of antique passementerie whose connecting threads had shattered, from DuchessTrading on Etsy. The passementerie was too far gone to edge a gorgeous pillow, so...creative reuse.

The Beading

I drew the design on paper, then copied it on the home-dyed silk shantung. The fabric was tightened in an embroidery hoop: this sort of work cannot be easily done on fabric that isn't taut. Then I sewed the stems in elongated chain stitch.

Each beaded twig or frond was made in one go, by pulling the thread up through the fabric, loading the thread with the requisite number of beads, laying it flat, and running the needle back into the fabric. Then, with a second needle, couching down the longer threads every few beads as invisibly as possible. Otherwise, they became droopy and at risk of being pulled off.

The Assembly and Sewing

After beading the fabric, I sketched and cut out pattern shapes for the back, which included the foldover flap, and the front, which included an extra piece at the bottom to make the bottom a little deep, front to back. You know, for stuffing stuff into the purse. It's likely I cut out more than one pattern, to see which size felt most natural and useful.

Once happy with the pattern, the fashion fabric and lining were cut out, using generous 1-inch seam allowances.

I used a leftover breakfast cereal box, which is a single layer of cardboard, not terribly heavy, to cut a back (minus the foldover flap) and a front.

Lastly, I cut millinery domette according to the pattern pieces as a nice soft interlining to make the purse feel good to hold.

The lining for front and back were laid flat, the carboard laid atop, then the domette went on that, and the fashion fabric over all. The layers were pinned and basted securely in red thread so that I could easily see it to pull it out later.

You can see the three layers in the flap: fashion fabric, domette, lining. 

At this point there was a great deal of dithering and it's likely that the dithering precipitated one of the laying-aside periods. I had thought I was going to simply sew the front and back together. However, alert readers will envision me trying to reach into the reticule and finding it hard to insert more than a slip of paper, even with that excess bit at the bottom that was supposed to offer some room. Those hard sides didn't give. No room, no room at all! I'd need to add sides...

Eventually I determined to cut probably 2-inch wide pieces (1/2-inch seam allowance) to insert between front and back. At this remove I can't figure out what made me cut separate pieces for the long sides and the short sides, but that's what happened.

To seam the sides to the front and back, I chose to turn the seam allowances inward of all fabric pieces and whip them together with very close stitches, about 1/8 inch apart. This makes the seam stand in a little ridge, with little fabric bumps between each stitch that echo the beading. It's also good and strong. It does mean, however, that the interior lining has raw edges. The silk doesn't fray much at all, so am not concerned about that. I probably should have seamed up the lining separately and slipped it in, though...

Seaming together front and back. You can see the
side pieces have been whipped on to the front.

The fashion fabric, domette, and lining for the flap were laid together, then the fashion fabric seam allowance was turned in over the domette and basted. 

The strap, which is made up one long piece of cord folded into the three, was laid across the flap at the spot where it folds over from the back piece, and on top of the domette. The lining seam allowances were turned in, just a hair inside the fashion fabric so that it wouldn't show on the outside and laid atop. More basting to hold everything smooth. Puckering would have been fatal. That's too dramatic, of course, but by now it was at the end of 2023 and I didn't want to end on a whimper. The lining was carefully hemmed to the fashion fabric.

All that was left was to turn in the edges of the sides at the reticule's opening and hem them, though I did have to do a bit more seam whipping at the opening, since I winged (wung? Oh, those irregular verbs) the strap at the last minute. It had taken a year or two to find, hunting on and off, the right strap. I couldn't find any thick silk cord that was remotely affordable in the right color, found the artificial silk cords too bright and slick and shiny to work with the nearly matte shantung, and just didn't want ribbon.

Is a tasseled strap appropriate? Yes, but I've never seen a reticule strap so loaded with them. But, they're in the spirit of the 1790s: out-and-out luxury, outre attitudes, and caution to the winds.

So there it is. My only concern? The cardboard interior is just cereal box. If that's made of wood cellulose, which is likely, it may break down over time. With care, the rest is good for ages and ages.

All in all, this was a good project. Contained, full of challenges and design puzzles. I'd should have made the sides a little wider, and that cardboard should have been archival pasteboard, but that's small stuff. Here's to having a fun, fluffy, shiny reticule to carry.

Today I leave you with a little cat TV. Ciao until next we meet!