Sunday, October 13, 2019

1895 Outfit: A First Wearing To Test the Look

This past weekend I had the opportunity to wear the core of the 1895 outfit to afternoon tea, so the ensemble had its first cruise. The plastron, hat, and final touches have yet to be made, so as a shirtwaist and skirt combination with a few accessories to accent it, it's an everyday sort of outfit worn by millions of women through the 1890s. It proved comfortable to wear, and in my eyes, anyway, it's attractive, but it needs some fine-tuning before I take it out again in any of its forms.

Alas, I have no photos from the event -- and oh, it was good fun! -- so what you have here is photos afterwards, mostly in front of one of our only large mirrors. No one was home, so I had to set the camera on an improvised surface and take timed shots or the classic in-the-mirror shots. Dullsville, I know.

Comparing the Effect With 1890s Photos

Below you see the outfit with the elements that I have made during this project: skirt, shirtwaist, collar, and collapsible sleeve plumpers, the little bantam-weight bums: we'll hear about those later in the post. The belt is missing in some photos -- again, the why of that is later in this post.

It was all supported underneath with the usual underthings, including an 1879-style corset from Kay Gnagey, and a petticoat I made several years ago with the practically-regulation-for-the-period outer flounce in broderie anglaise. Yes, I should have worn two, but it was so hot already!

The photo has been made black and white in an attempt to see how the outfit compares to photos of the time: is the silhouette right? Do the details evoke the period?

Unfussy hair, side part acceptable, contrasting collar and pleated and puffed shirtwaist: check!
Young woman. Flickr: 912greens
Narrow-fronted skirt with distinct waist and especially sudden hip spring: check!

Pinterest: Brandy Auset
Collar with bow in the back, cute as a bug's ear, and belt harmonizing, if not actually matching. In this case, matching: check!

The bow in the back of the collar just shows beyond my neck.

Mabel Payson. Flickr. Uploaded by Rob van den Berg.
Originally from Library of Congress.
I also wore a rolled gold bangle from the Edwardian-teens period just following, but in the style of the period; I had taken it off by that point. Oh, and small timeless pearl earrings: check.

Flickr. Uploaded by Curt W.

Those Sleeve Plumpers Played Me False...

Look at the two pictures below.

Why, the sleeves are puffier and rounder in the picture at the bottom. In fact, the silhouette has changed. The fact that the belt is missing is also at play, but my waist looks smaller in relation to the wide sleeves and wide hips, just as it should.

So what happened? Well, when I made the prototype plumper, it was of wire. Not particularly heavy wire, and very springy, but heavier than I liked. The plumper, which is made of multiple hoops connected with cotton tape, is made to collapse flat, but its weight assures that it opens up when worn. All I have to do is to tack the cotton tape at the top of the first hoop of the plumper to the seam allowance in the shoulder seam in order to set it into place.

Here's a picture of the wire plumper doing its work -- it's under the right sleeve in the photo below. The left sleeve has nothing supporting it, and looks limp.

The next pair of plumpers, the ones worn inside the sleeves during the afternoon tea, are made of cane. They weigh next to nothing. They are, however, nice and springy. On a tip from Mrs. C. in New Zealand, I soaked the plumpers, which had been brittle, in water for 10-20 minutes, I guess, and when they dried, they had regained their pliancy and were less likely to break if I bumped into a doorframe or something else silly.

Cane sleeve plumper extended open.

The cane sleeve plumpers were so lightweight, though, that they would not remain extended when worn -- the hardly-there force of the sleeves and my movements were enough to keep them collapsing flatwards, so to speak, up towards my shoulder, so that the resulting puff was conservative.

To make them work better, I had to remove the shirtwaist, and not only ensure the top of the plumper was still attached by its tape to the shirtwaist shoulder seam, but also safety-pin the bottom of the first hoop of the plumper to the bottom of the armscye. Then the rest of the plumper hoops extended fairly well, if not perfectly.

The other thing I am not fully keen on is that the hoops show a bit. Like many circa 1894-1895 "balloon" elbow-length sleeves, the sleeves are supposed to have dents and ins and outs, rather than be smooth like grapes. Mine do have dents, but I think that the hoops are a bit more obvious than they might be.

I chose hooped sleeve plumpers because I didn't want to line the sleeves with book muslin or interfacing that might not wash and still retain crispness, or press easily, and that might be hot to wear in the summertime. So, what to do?

I might build a last set of plumpers out of a thinner wire than the first prototype, and see if the effect is almost invisible. We shall see. The likelihood is rather low.

The "Crush" Belt

I made the belt in 45 minutes or less, and it rather shows. The belt itself is made exactly like the crush collar, including featuring a bow at the back, except that I added far fewer folds to the face of the belt, because the belt was so narrow. Time was short. The bow is nothing more than a bit of voile with each long side folded under and a few rapid stitches taken through the middle. It lacks tails, which are common in belt bows. I frankly forgot about them. It's pinned on -- I ran out of time to add hooks and eyes to the front.

1890s belt with crush effect and back bow.

The full belt with its crush effect. That's the bottom of my
petticoat in the picture.

I think the belt made my waist look wider, counteracting the large sleeves. That's especially so from the side, for which I don't have photos. A corset always makes your waist look thicker than it does normally, but the white of the belt emphasizes that.

Changes For the Next Wearing

First, I want to run up a plastron in voile, and try that with the shirtwaist. It will be a more formal look. Oh, and show you the rosette option!

Second, The belt is to be renovated. I will try making my belt less bulky, and/or make a self belt from the skirt fabric, and copy the neck bow, but size it just barely larger, and add short tails.

Third, I am going to work on the skirt's hem diameter. The front looks well, but the back does not extend out the back very much: the interfacing was too light to encourage the bottom to stand out, and my petticoat situation was under-powered.

The petticoat issue can be fixed. I can wear two very sturdy antique petticoats I have that run on drawstrings, starching them well, and nudging most of the gathers to the back to create fullness there.

Yet, there's more I can do to make the back of the skirt more expansive, and it's not terribly time-consuming, and may be fun to do. Through reading all of those women's magazines of the era, I have discovered that editors and readers and modistes alike worried about the hem issue, and promulgated all sorts of ways of holding out the skirt in the "regulation" manner. Some of the commentary about hem diameter woes is a gas. Wires, stays, candlewicking, stuffing: let's test some out and see what we get!

Lastly, hat and hair. I want to try out the bun-atop-the-head look with soft curls around the face; and hat? Well, I have hat and trimmings but haven't married them yet. I've been too engaged :)

Today I'll leave you with a view out over Lake Cumberland, taken from a trail our family took that winds partially along the cliffs some two hundred feet up. The flash drought, we found, dried leaves on the trees, shriveled undergrowth, and lowered the lake level, yet it's still an inspiring sight. Praying for rain, and climate action...

The boys and daddy stop to rest.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

1895 Outfit Tutorial: A Crush Collar, With Neck Bow and Plastron, Part One

Yum, a lovely, fluffy bow on the back of the neck.
I'm still on 1890s collars! It's time to get over it already, don't you think? So this post and the next will lead you through the sources I used to come up with my design, and then offer a tutorial on how the actual collar was made.

Just joining this journey? Here are the two posts about collars that came before this one:
I set my heart on what may be the iconic collar of the era, the one with the bow in the back, so that the wearer's head and neck appear to have been made ready as a gift. That's the kind of collar that will be made here. There's more, though -- isn't there always?

I've also wanted what was known as a plastron -- an additional trim that looks like part of a blouse peeking out of the front of the dress -- to lay down the front of the shirtwaist when I want the outfit to look a bit more formal. A plastron can be built in to the bodice. Gentle reminder: a bodice was usually called a "waist". Yet a plastron can also be a removable accessory, known then as a "garniture", or trim. The plastron in the photo below is very wide and might be integral rather than a garniture. We'll be building one of those, too.

My Collar and Plastron Plan: A Conglomeration of Sources

Illustrierte Frauen-Zeitung came through with a collar plus neck bow with instructions, below. Not a difficult accessory to construct, I would think. By the way, the grosgrain bow goes to the back of the collar, and the "coxcomb" frill in front is a common element, as we shall see.

Be-bowed collar. Illustrierte Frauen-Zeitung. August 1, 1895, p. 175

Now for the instructions. Because the text appeared in two different parts of the magazine's page, I have it broken into two pieces.

Be-bowed collar text, first part. Illustrierte Frauen-Zeitung. August 1, 1895, p. 175

Be-bowed collar text, second part. Illustrierte Frauen-Zeitung. August 1, 1895, p. 175

I am going to bore you again with my translation. Some magazines I can get through without much issue, but Illustrierte Frauen-Zeitung is not one of them. Its text is dense, and even its version of the Fractur typeface is a little harder to read than some. In any case, here is my best go at it:

Stand-collar with Folds. -- One can gladly vary single-colored ensembles by using a stand collar, which is made in the fashion of the well-known folded [crush style] belt, constructed of a bias-cut satin- or striped silk. Without a lining the collar nestles densely around the smooth stand-up collar of the dress, or if lined with a small cut-out piece, is [placed] directly around the neck and closes in the back or middle of the front with hooks and eyes. A bias-cut striped satin 15 centimeters in width and 58 centimeters long is the template in Illustration number 50; both edges of each 5 centimeter width are turned up like a cock's comb and stiffened through fine fish-scale stitches. For a collar trim made of lightweight silk, as illustrated in number 51, the fabric is best taken on the straight [of grain]; invisibly sewn, 1 centimeter wide seams close the borders. The middle of the front is highlighted/marked by a 4 centimeter fabric made in ranked double puffs; the hook closure is covered by the full bow made of grosgrain ribbon.

I went searching for more collars with bows that I could use as sources. 

Neck bow. Illustrierte Frauen-Zeitung, February 1, 1895, p. 28.

This neck bow is compound: the collar and the coxcomb frill in the center are of one fabric, while the bow ends are of lace.

Illustrierte Frauen-Zeitung, August 1, 1894, color plate. Note that the bow is quite stiff, and matches the bow with tails on the belt.

Illustrierte Frauen-Zeitung, March 11, 1894, front cover. That coxcomb effect of the back closure harmonizes with the folds of the crush collar.

The fluffy neck bow I was looking for finally presented itself:

Illustrierte Frauen-Zeitung, September 9, 1894

The bow on this lovely faille dress overlaid with silk gauze is also made of silk gauze. It's extra fluffy. More fluffy than I need, really, because this dress is for a formal occasion, but it's on the right track.

What about the plastron? The Delineator magazine for February, 1895 (pp. 214-215) came to the rescue. Here below is a composite image not only of the plastron itself, but also of the text about it. The plastron garniture is but one of several that the magazine offered patterns for. Like Ladies Home Journal, The Delineator recommended the practice of saving scraps to make trims that would "transform many a worn and passe gown beyond recognition". Whoo, how's that for an enticing promise?

Making the Crush Collar

Here's how I made the actual crush collar. The collar closes in the front with that coxcomb effect.

I started with a medium-weight interfacing lining to match the cut of the collar, but a little wider.

I cut striped white voile, as long as the interfacing lining plus a bit on each end, and double the width of the front so I could introduce folds, plus a bit to cover the back smoothly with a small seam.

Here is the strip of interfacing.

I pinned the interfacing to the voile a bit from the top of the interfacing. This would become the back side of the collar. A few big stitches were placed across the back of the collar to fix the voile securely in place.

The voile pinned down to become the back of the collar.

Then I folded the rest of the voile over the long edge of the strip of interfacing, so I would be ready to start creating the front side of the collar with its folds of voile to make a crushed effect.

The first thing to do on the front of the collar was to pin the upper edge so that the fold over the top of the interfacing would be nice and tight. You can see those pins right up at the edge of the collar in the photo below.

The next thing was to start the first fold. I made this fold go all the way across the front of the collar. To make the fold, I would pinch a bit of voile from the mass hanging down in front, and pin it in place, then move to the right, pinch a bit more, and pin it...repeating until I had the fold set across the front of the collar. Then I took a fresh piece of white thread in my needle, brought the needle up from the back of the collar near the left end, and made a tiny -- just a few voile threads wide -- prick stitch near the lower edge of the first fold to start fixing the fold in place.

Once that first stitch was made, I made more of these prick stitches all the way across the front, at about an inch distance apart, trying to keep them as tiny as possible so they wouldn't be obvious when looking at the collar. On the back side of the collar, the stitches look long and messy, but as I know from antique pieces I own, messiness is common. No one is seeing the stitches.

The first collar fold being created and pinned into place.

After the first fold was in place, I created additional rows of folds, one by one. To get a crushed effect rather than straight lines of neat folds, I would pinch the voile at an angle and pin that down, and/or make a tiny box pleat of a fold and turn up one corner of it to create a little odd spot, and pin that tiny spot in place. After pinning a section, then I'd prick-stitch them in place. The photo below shows rows in process of being made.

As you can see, I was working casually on the sofa, accompanied only by the little housewife that holds enough pins and needles wax and etc. to work. I store the collar, the shirtwaist, spools of thread and scissors and housewife in a little workbag. It makes sewing an impromptu, sew-where-you-are experience no different to what people have been doing since time immemorial. Continuity is grand and comforting.

The first few layers of folds in place.

Here is the front of the collar completed. The crush effect is extensive: how crushed the collar looks varies in magazines and in photos, and I wanted the effect to be really crushed so it wouldn't merely look wrinkled and ill-fitting. The process took longer than I thought, not minutes, but perhaps a little over an hour. Most of the time was spent attempting to make the folds look naturally crushed, not like little soldiers in a row. Isn't it funny how painstaking a careless look can be?

The completed front of the crush collar

The next step was to turn the remaining bit of voile to the back side of the collar, turn down the raw edge, and hem it in place. In so doing I covered up most of the chaotic stitches that had accumulated over the back side.

The back side of the collar, neatened.

The ends of the collar needed finishing with their coxcomb effect.

Now, I had planned to simply use the voile extending beyond the ends of the collar interfacing, manipulating it into little swirls and puffs. That plan failed, for two reasons. First, I hadn't allowed enough fabric. D'oh! Second, when I did attempt to create puffs, they didn't look right, not at all like the illustrations at the top of this post. They just looked like bumps sticking out of the ends of the collar.

What to do? Well, follow the German collar a few posts ago, in which little ruches are made separately out of a bit of fabric and stitched on -- yes, it's snickety work.

Here's a reminder, from that collar, of the effect. Look at the ruching just at each side of the model's neck, before the bow ends.

Illustrierte Frauen-Zeitung, 1894, Heft 14 p. 157, illustration 3.

And from another collar: 

Neck bow. Illustrierte Frauen-Zeitung, February 1, 1895, p. 28.

To get the frilly effect I decided to do the following. First, a small square of voile a bit larger than the collar is wide was cut. Then I turned in a wee allowance on one side, and gathered it with small stitches, immediately pulling up the stitches until the side was about the width of the collar, and fixing the gathers into place with a backstitch and half knot. The same procedure was made for each of the three other sides, till I had a pretty little puffy square.

Creating the coxcomb ends: puffing a fabric square.

I sewed the little puffy square to the very end of the collar with as invisible stitches as I could.

Then, the interesting part: I sewed large gathers in a zig-zag pattern across the face of the puff, the same way you would do if you were creating a kind of flat ruche. Here is the needle partway through the first "zig", if you will, in the photo below, followed by a photo showing all the stitches in place.

Creating a ruching pattern across the puffy square.

The puffy square with all its hard-to-see ruching stitches.

Now came the rather fiddly, tricky part. Anchoring the needle in a handy spot on the collar, with my fingers I found the end of the first row of gathers, and gently pulled it up. Holding it in place, I pulled up the second row, and so on, until the entire face of the puffy square was drawn up. As you can see in the photo below, it created the coxcomb effect I was looking for.

Okay, actually what happened was that at first I just pulled on the gathering thread and it all ruched up unevenly. So I flattened everything out and tried again. You can learn from my mistakes!

Then, I took up the needle and fiddled with the ruching to make it more random, pulling and prick-stitching down puffs here and swirls there, so much like whipped cream on a cake that I rather got nibblish looking at it.

One coxcomb end of the collar. It looks rather out of scale here,
leaned up against the base of a lamp.

Phew! Are you still with me? This sure is an endless post and tutorial, but...let's see it out.

The last step was to make the pretty little bow that goes on the back of the collar.

I actually made two bows. The first bow was a failure. Here's what not to do, unless you want a really heavy-looking bow. I do not recommend making a tube of voile, pinching the center and wrapping a faux knot around it. The result is a bow, but it looks like a stiff bowtie.

Here is what worked: making a real bow out of a single layer of voile. I cut a long piece of voile, long enough for a bow and longish tails. You might want to experiment with a piece of string to get the length needed. I made the voile as wide as if the bow were made of ribbon, and roll-hemmed all four edges as finely as I could.

Then I tied a real bow, but left enough of the ends that I could turn each one into a subsidiary loop and tack it behind the real loop, so that I had a four-loop bow. I tacked the bow securely to the front of the collar. Then I manipulated the back loops to stick out just below the front ones, and tacked the back loops to the collar with a single tiny stitch on each side, out of sight. Here we are at last, a fluffy bow, soft as a kitten, on the collar.

The fluffy bow on the crush collar!

The crush collar bow, up close. Bows are loveable, and associated
with good, happy moments.

The last step will be adding hooks and eyes to the ends of the collar so that I can close it in the front of my neck.

To see where to set the hooks and eyes, I threw on the shirtwaist, now quite wrinkled from being stuffed in my workbag,and closed up the collar section only -- how lazy! -- and set the collar around the shirtwaist collar, and marked where the hooks and eyes should go with pins. While its width is acceptable for the period, it looks a little wide to me. That was an easy fix. Since the collar is actually very thin and flexible, I turned up about half an inch of the bottom to the back, and hemmed it down. Done. If I want to make it wider later, it's nothing to snip the stitches and pull them out.

The crush collar, pinned on.

Don't you just love the pencil holding my hair bun in place? It worked to keep my hair off of the bow. Overall, the effect is what I am looking for, although the photo has me thoughtful. It's very clear that I am heading past 55 towards 60 years old. The skin on face has begun to spot and grow loose. Gracious. I have been costuming since 2005...that's beginning to be a significant period of time. Still, living with a kidney transplant, the passage of time is all a blessing, and achieving age something of which to be proud and grateful.

Next time, in part 2, we will make the plastron and belt, then I will starch and press the shirtwaist, the skirt, and the multiple petticoats that will sit underneath, and the completed outfit should be ready to try on.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

1895 Outfit: Collars in Photos

Mabel Payson. Flickr. Uploaded by Rob van den Berg. Originally from Library of Congress.
As you may have read, I've been going on, and on, and on about collars: collars with "rabbit ear" bows, collars with chinchilla edging (Cruella de Ville would have liked them), collars with odd protrusions, collars in tulle, and in velvet.

All of the sources so far have been from women's magazines. What about real people? What types of collars did they wear?

Of course, the photographic record is going to have some biases:
  • not everyone was photographed;
  • photographs were often taken during special occasions or for a formal portrait;
  • not all photographs have survived
  • dating a photograph to the desired period sometimes can be difficult.
Nonetheless, here is an unscientific offering of women of the 1890s, showing the collars they wore day to day. A good point to remember is that wearing a collar was the norm and the general social expectation during the daytime; only for evening formal events might someone dispense with one.

Let's start with an lovely portrait of a young woman named Mabel Payson, at the top of this post. She is wearing what appears to be a double collar: what I think would be a plain "stock" collar, like a man's collar turned around so the opening is in the back, with lace folded over the top of it, and a handsome bow in the back.

Here is one of my favorite pictures of people from the era: this group of women is on an outing and the lady in the middle is carrying an early camera. The photo may be from the late 1890s, because the sleeves are narrow, while the jackets are of a style familiar since the earlier years in the decade, and the hats are larger and the hair fuller than at the beginning of the decade. Because they wear their jackets closed, we cannot see if the fronts of their bodices are bloused: if they are, that's a sure sign of the decade's end. The lady in the middle is sporting an extra tall collar.

Here below, Mrs. Cowman, wears a collar perhaps of velvet given its texture and lack of shine, with just a hint on the left side that there is a bow in the back. Velvet trims were very popular during the period.

Abbie and Frank Cowman. Flickr. Uploaded by Curt J.

Crush collar without a bow. The collar folds are so clear that I included the photo so you could see.

Stylish lady in Phoenix. Flickr. Uploaded by Curt J.

The girl or young woman below wears a simply cut shirtwaist with a turned-up collar. It appears she has tied a ribbon around it into a bow in back. Given the family's simplicity of dress, and especially the man's lack of a coat, which normally was worn in all except the most informal of occasions, the family likely has limited means.

Family of four. Flickr. Uploaded by Curt J.

Below, A double collar. Lace on top in the popular standing flared style, and probably velvet over it, with what appear to be folds -- thus, a crush collar.

Flickr. Uploaded by Curt J.

This person wears a crush collar with what appears to be a low bow in back. The collar is in a different fabric than the bodice and it may be, in fact, ribbon.

Circa 1898, according to Flickr uploader Tris Mast

This young woman's collar is apparently of the same fabric as her bodice, and it may be integral -- that is, there is no added collar at all.

Mrs. J. W. Bettis. Flickr. Uploaded by Curt J.

Detail of photo of Mrs. J.W. Bettis. Do you see her tiny stud earrings and twisted top-knot hairstyle with the tiny face curls and loose strands left natural?
Flickr. Uploaded by Curt W.

I find this last photo poignant. Everyone is sitting on a wooden porch with the clapboard walls and wavy-glassed windows behind them, plain ladderback chairs and rockers around them. Do I know such surroundings! They're cross-legged, scorning the seating, at their ease on the porch floor. Some of them are working on fluffy I-don't-know-whats, while the woman at right is draped in ribbon. The young woman on the left's shirtwaist has a ruffled yoke liked by the young, a ribbon pinned just at the close of her collar. The third young woman from the right, a bit hazy because it looks like she was moving when the camera shutter snapped, is wearing an unfitted dress, perhaps a "Mother Hubbard". It looks a little frowsy: was she ill? The lady on the right is wearing a waist with a small print and frilled collar, with a striped skirt. Wonder what the little boys are doing? No one, by the way, is wearing a crush collar.

Do you see what appear to be ribbons and trims in the young ladies' hands and laps, and the older lady on the far right?
"Sewing circle". Circa 1895, Ontario. Flickr. Uploaded by Jim Griffin.

That ends the little view of the variety of collars that can be found in photographs. Next time, we're actually going to make one!