Saturday, September 02, 2006

A 1909 Edwardian Fitted Corset Cover Dress Diary, Part 2: Cutting, Basting, Stitching

Here is the second set of steps I followed in making up a 1909-era fitted corset cover from Frances' Grimbles' The Edwardian Modiste. All the pattern pieces being drafted in pencil on heavy Kraft paper, I next cut them out. I marked each in pencil with all the pattern markings from the originals in the book. I also noted on each piece where the shoulder and side seams are, where hems and finished edged are. I marked how many pieces of fabric to cut from each pattern piece, and marked the grainlines (following Frances' instructions, p.8). Cutting the Pieces from the Fashion Fabric For this project I used 100% cotton fine white batiste fabric. After ironing it, I laid it doubled on the work table, since I'd need to cut two fabric pieces from each pattern piece. Each pattern piece was carefully pinned to both fabric layers, and outlined entirely around with blue tailor's chalk. Then I cut out all the pieces. After that came something that proved critical: when sewing books tell you to transfer all pattern marks to the fabric, they mean it. With a garment as fitted as this, it's a major pain if you forget to copy a mark and thus can't line up a piece with its mate properly or can't figure out where a hole goes. When transferring marks such as seamlines, make the with full lines, not a series of dots. I used both pencil and tailor's chalk. It's SO much easier to follow a full line when pinning and basting pattern pieces together than to try to reconstruct the seamline in your head from a couple of wide-apart dots. Just try to follow a few dots when pinning prcisely curved bodice seams, for example! Pinning the Corset Cover Pieces Next I pinned the fabric pieces together. I pinned them on the mannequin, because that was was able to see the fabric drape on teh body and know with more surety which piece was to go where. All the pieces ended matching up pretty surprisingly well when I took into account easing curved pieces one to another...when I pinned them straight with no ease the pieces didn't match up at their ends. Another reason to pin on the mannequin and not flat! Only pieces that didn't match perfectly was the side underarm to side front piece. Still don't know why but it didn't end up affecting the fit. Also found that following Frances' suggestion and pinning from the bottom of the pieces up to the neckline, with the pin points facing up, worked better for some reason. Basting the Corset Cover Together Being rather persnickety, I follow old sewing book guidelines and baste everything before I sew it. Following Frances' suggestion, I basted pieces together from the waistline upwards. Again following suggestion, I basted in this order:
  • the front pieces together,
  • then the side front pieces to the front pieces,
  • then the underarm pieces to the side front pieces,
  • finally the back pieces to the underarm pieces and the top of the back pieces to the side front pieces at the shoulders.

If alterations were needed, I was told to make them at the underarm seams and the shoulders, but none were needed really as far as fit to the body. The fit was pretty close.

What didn't fit was the lengths of the pieces. Some were too long, so I marked the spot where they should be cut on the original Kraft pattern pieces.

Stitching the Corset Cover Together

I could have used felled seams, but chose to use French seams. Both seams leave no edges needing some sort of finishing...all raw edges are enclosed by fabric.

Here's where I made a silly mistake! A French seam is sewn in two parts.

First you stitch 3/8 (or 1/4) inch OUTSIDE the seam line, in the seam allowance area. Then you flip the pieces inwards and sew ON TOP of the seam line to enclose the fabric pieces' raw edges.

Note that means marking the seam line carefully on your not guess on this one unless you're really skilled, which obviously I am not.

What I did by mistake was to start by sewing on the actual seam line. That meant that when I flipped the pieces over and sewing about 3/8" in from the edge, I was taking up 3/8" or so of fabric on each side. All in all I lost an inch and 3/4, at least, so when I put the corset cover on the mannequin and then tried it on me, the poor corset cover was WAY too tight. Had to take out all the seams and start over.

Yet at that point I had trimmed the seams! So this second round I couldn't do French seams because I didn't have the needed amount of fabric. Instead I did straight seams, and then carefully rolled and closely overhand stitched the raw edges by hand (with both raw edges of each seam held together and treated as one). The effect is quite dainty actually, and probably better in terms of less bulk than all but the finest French seam would be, although the seams are not as strong.

Cutting the Neckline and Armscyes

What, you say, this hasn't been determined by the pattern?

Nope, it hasn't, really. You could go with the original neckline, but the general directions written in The Edwardian Modiste allow, nay almost expect, you to play with the results and get them to what you want, not what the pattern thinks you may want.

I decided where I wanted the neckline to be based on the cut of a chemise I have. I actually put on the chemise and then the corset cover over it.

To make an even curve that matched on both left and right sides of the neckline, I then marked the curve of the neckline, following the curve of the chemise but just a little higher up on the chest, marking on ONE SIDE of the neckline ONLY, in my case the left side. Then I took off the corset cover, folded it along the front seam, and then copied the neckline curve to the right side of the neckline. To copy the chalkline more easily I held up the doubled fabric against a windowpane so I could see through the fabric and trace the marking.

The back of this corset cover is made in a V surplice, so there is no back neckline to speak of. All I had to do was blend the neckline with upper hemline of the back pieces. Mine matched without much blending neccessary.

Now I needed to set the hem allowance OUT from the actual neckline. Did this by measuring 1 inch out from the neckline and marking a second line.

Now I put the cover back on the mannequin inside out and turned in the neckline, clipping little Vs as needed so the fabric would turn in neatly. I avoided clipping seams as much as possible but when I had to, dotted the seam edge with Fray Chek.

For the armscyes (armholds), I did basically the same thing. This time I based the armholes on a semi-loose, semit-fitted armholes of a sleeveless princess-cut chemise dress that I wear a lot and whose armholes are very comfortable.

Monday, August 21, 2006

A 1909 Edwardian Fitted Corset Cover Dress Diary, Part 1: Drafting

A more form-fitting corset cover being needed for an ensemble nearly completed, I decided to construct a fitted sleeveless corset cover from the January 1909 issue of The American Modiste. The pattern is reprinted in full in Frances Grimble's The Edwardian Modiste. So far, the project has gone amazingly well, excepting one silly mistake on my part. This Part 1 of the dress diary covers drafting and cutting the pattern. Left: The corset cover diagram and its pattern pieces. The cover fits snugly in front, and has no front closing. Instead, the two back pieces end in long ties; the back pieces cross over one another and the ties come around front and are tied. This means that the cover can be eased or fitted as needed. I liked that simplicity. Using the American Modiste Pattern The American Modiste patterns were designed to be used with a set of special proportionally scaled rulers. They are marked in proprietary units made of numbers and letters. Frances Grimble's book supplies you with printed copies of the scales in the back of the book. You pick the particular rulers that fit your measurements, and then use them to draft copies of the pattern up to your size. Since Frances didn't have access to the curved ruler, she suggests using a French curve to make up the curved parts of the pattern. Drafting the pattern proved to be much, much, much easier than I thought. Certainly easier than trying to size up the pattern on the computer and then printing out and matching bits of paper to one another. I don't have a big projector and so couldn't project the pieces up on a wall. Creating Scaled Rulers This pattern required a bust measurement ruler, called a "scale", and a "length of waist" (neckbone to waist) measurement scale. Mine are 36" and 18". Left: The corset cover diagram and the two scaled rulers. Therefore, I needed the 36" scale ruler for the bust. According to instructions, I doubled the length of waist measurement and came out with 36" again for that scale. I traced the 36" scale onto a sheet of paper. I pasted that to a piece of cardboard, and then cut it out carefully, and taped to a housepaint stirrer. Voila: scale ruler! Drafting the Pattern Pieces You need a big sheet of nice, stiff Kraft paper, a pencil and eraser, a French curve, that special scale ruler, and an L-square marked in inches. Each pattern piece is marked onto a sort of grid, with a "baseline" across the top, the 0 point at top right, and a vertical axis running straight downwards from 0. The result looks like a backwards, upside-down L. Each pattern piece is laid so that the straight of grain runs straight up and down. At key points in the pattern piece, such as a left edge or the top of a curve, horizontal lines are measured out from the vertical axis. For example, if you're looking at the pattern piece for the back, there is a horizontal line drawn at 11 units+D sub-units down from 0. It is drawn out to the left 15 units+C sub-units. It marks the extreme left edge of the pattern piece at the waistline. Above: Drafting horizontal crossline points on the Kraft pattern paper with the special ruler. What you do for each pattern piece is to:
  • draw the baseline and vertical axis with the L square.
  • Then you use the scale ruler, and working from the copy of the pattern piece in Frances' book, measure where each of the horizontal grid lines meets the vertical axis.
  • Then you use the scale again and draw out each horizontal grid line to the length marked on the book's copy of the pattern piece.
  • Then you connect each end of each horizontal line like you would dots, following the outline of the pattern piece in the book. You use a French curve to help you with curved sections.

Above: drafting a curved section of the pattern. Not having my own French curve, I copied one on paper and cut it out.

The pattern pieces have a certain amount of ease built in, but not much. Some hems are built in and some aren't, and some seam allowances are marked, and some aren't. Frances Grimbles' directions tell you to add extra for seam allowances and ease, and so I did...ended up having plenty and to spare, and was able after fitting the cut pieces, to re-mark the pattern pieces with adjustments so next time I have a good fit for me right off the bat.

Left: The pattern pieces drafted.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Vintage Dress in Motion

Ever wondered what attending a Civil War ball or an Edwardian soiree might be like for most of us, that is, those of us not priveleged to be either Keira Knightley or a movie extra?

These days ordinary people are filming events like this and posting them on sites such as YouTube.

Take a Civil War-era ball, for instance. You can hear the strains from a live band playing country dance and ball dance tunes, and watch rows of happy dancers from Maine perhaps, or Maryland, or wherever it is, rustle and turn and step to the music. The sounds of colorful skirts swishing mix with laughter and chatter. It's neat. See

The Edwardian soiree is a smaller affair, but still fun to watch. See

Then there's some plain fun. A band out of Europe -- Cibelle and her man have such lovely accents -- reinterpret a luminous, funny song while promenading their way through London, dressed in late Victorian garb.

For more videos and to see what one costume maven has bookmarked, see jenniloves2sew's YouTube page at

Friday, July 14, 2006

An Edwardian Ruche-Trimmed Hat dress Diary, Part 1

Next weekend is our annual Ladies' Tea Guild annual retreat, and I am in a hurry to finish a big-brimmed Edwardian hat for the occasion. In usual fashion, I procrastinated on completing what I thought would be the difficult part of the hat preparation: steaming a plain hat into the required shape. What a surprise, then, when the steaming and shaping process took less than 10 minutes, and was completed with burns or tears.

The Effect for Which This Hat Aims

One of the prominent antique clothing dealers offered a mousquetaire-style hat recently. Oh, for a glimpse of D'Artagnan! One side of the wide brim is turned up raffishly, while the rest of the brim turns down to frame the face. The requisite plume fluffs out the back, too (although if you look closely, the plume is actually an entire, and I hope artificial, bird). After the reference to dashing young bloods, the milliner turned from 17th century France to tastes entirely feminine, for she, and I am quite sure it was a she who added this extra bit of drama, ruched the entire underside of the hat in iridescent peacock-blue shot silk that goes copper in some lights. To balance things out, a row of ruching adorns the top of the hat as well. Voila...a marvel.

Above: ruched Edwardian wide-brimmed hat. Image from Vintage Textile

The Hat Base, Pre-Steaming

For the hat base I am using the High Crown Straw Hat (SH-955) sold by Jas. Townsend and Co. It has a 6-inch brim. The hat is quite well made, as advertised, although one should be aware that it's still a country hat...the straws are coarse-ish. This not your couture hat with straws as thin as buttonhole thread.

Steaming the Hat

To steam the hat I followed suggestions made by kind members of the Sense and Sensibility Patterns Forum.

At left: steaming hat brim to soften straw fibers so they will bend. The steam is escaping from a small hole in a pasta pot. Click picture to see larger shows amount of steam coming out.

Here's what I did:

Not having a teapot to create steam with, I found a large pasta pot with a tight lid but a closable hole cut in it to let excess steam escape.
  • Filled it 1/3 full with water, and heat it until it was at a fast boil, and steam was merrily purring out of the hole.
  • Held one small section of the hat brim up very close to the escaping steam to soften the straw.
  • About 10-15 seconds later, pulled the hat away and tested the straw's ability to be shaped by gently forming an inward curve. What do you know? The straw obeyed.
  • Bit by bit, held more sections of the hat brim to the steam and shaped them.
  • Every so often, ran my hand around sections already bent, and bent them again just to make sure the bend would stay.
  • Note: it's good to wear an oven mitt if you keep your hands near the steam long. You could get an awful burn quickly if you're not careful.
  • As the straw cooled, the shape remained.
  • For the upward tilt on one side, I held the hat brim over the steam again and bent the straw up instead of down. Had to hold the tilt in place for several minutes while the straw cooled.
  • Re steamed and inward-bent the sections of the brim closest to the upward tilted part so they'd not start to tilt up too.
  • Let the hat cool completely, upside down, so as not to stress the new curves on the brim. Will not start trimming it for a day or two.

The whole process took 10 minutes.

Here's the result! Next step: trimming. That's for another post.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Anatomy of an Edwardian 1900-1911 vintage white heavy cotton skirt

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to purchase a truly nifty circa, I am guessing, 1900-1911 day skirt. It's made of heavy white cotton or cotton-linen blend (for a linen drape and wrinkle, but without the linen sheen), and is cut with 9 wide-flaring gores. It fits very smoothly across the waist and hips, and then flares gently and evenly to almost the floor to create an elegant line. 

In the pictures here it's worn over a double-flounced petticoat drafted from a 1911 textbook (see previous blog entries). The design is sophisticated: the seams are felled, but instead of the double stitching showing on the exterior, the single stitching does, and the raised effect of the seams accentuates the vertical lines and even creates attractive shadow lines.

In addition, the front gore is very narrow, and barely seems to narrow towards the top. This creates what appears to be a straight narrow panel right in front, that again subtly elongates the figure. 

Dating the Skirt

Dating is a puzzle, but I argue for a date after 1900 but before 1912. Why?
  • The narrow front panel was popular after 1905 or so.
  • The elongated lines and emphasis on decorative seaming also date to this period.
  • So does the smoothness of the habit-style back: there is no pleating or gathering in back, as was common in the 1890s.
  • Habit-style day skirts often had back-closing skirts and this skirt is back-closing; the side closing wasn't the only popular closing during the Edwardian period.
  • The waist falls at the natural waistline, as it might on a plain skirt after 1905 but before 1912-1913; it is neither raised nor cut so that the back waistline is higher than the front to fit a straight-front, S-bend corset. At 37 inches long in the front, it would fall to the shoe tops. In back it falls to 39", but when worn the hips and derriere cause the back to raise a bit so that all around the skirt falls to the same 37-inch length all the way around. After 1905 this length and hemming style was favored for day wear.
  • On the other hand, the skirt has approximately 3.5 yard (125 inches) sweep. I will have to research closely to see how the recommended sweep varied during 1900-1911, but there were periods when it was narrower. I do know that wider sweeps were prevalent in the 1890s.
  • The skirt almost surely doesn't date before the 1890s. There is no room for a bustle or other skirt enhancer or any sort, and the heavy goring and butter-smooth fit around the hips came in the with Edwardians.

What Was This Skirt Worn For?

My suspicion is that this was some sort of plain day skirt or traveling skirt. The sturdy fabric would wear well and wash easily...and this skirt certainly was worn; there are wear marks on some seams and one tiny wear pinhole at the bottom. Or perhaps this was a sporting skirt used for golf or long walks, although it is full length, and some pictures of the period have women wearing slightly shorter skirts for these activities. The cut is too neat and attractive, in my mind, to be just a utility or house-work skirt. 

Further, the inside is fully finished. Homemade skirt seams were often just overcast: these are strongly felled to prevent fraying. 

The skirt is a delight to wear. I tried it over a double-flounced petticoat I made following the directions from a 1991 textbook and it fits beautifully. The fabric slides over the petticoat to create a clean line, the vertical panels and shadow lines from the seams give the fabric a strong vertical, architectural, sporty, natty look, and the fabric is stiff enough and the hem heavy enough to give it body so that it does not cling to the feet or get in the way when one walks or leans. It's easy to see the value of a good wide hem in performing this function. The double flounce of the petticoat helps hold the skirt away from the feet too. 


Nine gores. The front nearly straight and forming a subtle vertical panel, as mentioned, then two side front gores, wide-ish side gores, wide-ish side back gores, and two quite wide back gores with a seam at center back, habit style. 

The two back side gores just a teeny-tiny scant gathering in them, so slight as to be barely discernable; all other gores are eased flat into the 1/2-inch plain waistband. The placket stitching continues the line of stitching of the back seam in standard hidden-back placket style. However, the invisible effect is spoiled because there's another row of stitching about quarter inch away that betrays the rest of the placket. 

The skirt closes with three hooks and eyes; the bottom two have the flat bar-shaped eye, while the top eye is circular- or hoop-shaped for a secure closure. This hook-and-eye treatment is in approved fashion for this period. 

The skirt has a two-inch faced hem; the facing is the same material but it has been pieced in places, so we know the skirt is homemade. Other homemade touches include some less-than-perfect seaming: the hem varies a bit in width and bits of the stitching are not quite in a perfect line. 

The fabric is a heavy straight-weave cotton. It may have been dead white when new; it's the color of fresh heavy cream now. 

The front gore is cut on the straight grain. All other gores are cut so that the straight edge is on the straight of the goods, while the gored edge is on the bias. This means the back two gores meet on a fully bias seam, which produces an attractive, subtle drape, again in the approved fashion for this period, according to several contemporaneous texts of I have read. (See the texts referred to in previous blog entries.) 


All measurements are approximate, having been taken when the garment was laid flat. 
  • waist: 27" 
  • waistband: 1/2" 
  • wide front gore: 37" long 6" wide at bottom 3 3/4" wide at top 
  • side front gores: 37 1/2" long 14" wide at bottom 3" wide at top 
  • side gores: 38 1/2" long 15" wide at bottom 2/12" wide at top 
  • back side gores: 38 1/2" 12 1/2" wide at bottom 2 1/4" wide at top 
  • back gores (2): 39" long 18" wide at bottom 4 1/2" wide at top barely discernable gathers only in these two gores. 
  • Back center seam is between these two gores; it's 39" long 
  • Sweep: approximately 125 inches (about 3.5 yards) 
  • Placket: 8 1/2" deep 
  • Hem: 2" deep, faced with same fabric as exterior.
  • Seams: felled, with single-stitch side on exterior of skirt for nice raised effect, and double-stitched side on interior for full finish (no fraying) 

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Derby Day Henhouse Hat Dress Diary

Yesterday we Kentuckians celebrated Kentucky's greatest day of the year, the Derby Day, when all the world visits Churchhill Downs to watch the Run for the Roses.

As we all know by now, Barbaro, a Kentucky born and bred horse, won handily, with another Kentucky horse, Bluegrass Cat, taking second.

And, as every year, most of us spent a goodly time considering our Derby Day sartorial situation, most especially The Hat.

This year I attended our Ladies' Tea Guild Derby Tea, and as instructed, constructed a hat worthy of the august event. It must be springlike, large, and just slightly over the top. The creation at left takes a bow to the Edwardian love of feathers, and is christened the Henhouse Hat. Why should be clear to you, as an awful lot of chickens contributed plumage.

Hat Construction

I requisitioned a favorite hat for this effort, and so constructed it that I can remove all the new trimmings without harming the original. All trims are attached with white thread using the Tie Stitch, a traditional millinery stitch...easy as pie to do, harmless to the straw hat base, and less messy than glue.

The hat itself has a four-inch brim steamed to turn inwards at the edge to frame the face.

About 2-3 inches in from the edge I applied a chicken feather boa about 4 feet long. The feathers in the boa are inserted into a loosely twisted soft cotton string core. I wound the boa around the hat in a spiral pattern. I threaded a beading needle, long and very slim, with white thread and knotted the end. Every 4-5 inches I ran this thread through the boa's core, then slipped the beading needle under a single straw -- never through a straw so as not to weaken it -- and then pulled the thread back up. I wound it once around the boa again, then tied off the thread, making sure the boa sat close to the straw. The boa managed to cover the entire top of the hat.

At the hat brim I attached a maribou boa in the same fashion, wrapping it around the entire brim and then working the remainder into the brim closer to the crown. The maribou softened and lightened the chicken feathers.

For a final touch I used Chic Boutique black rose trim...individual fabric open roses strung on a black ribbon. I sewed the strip just on the inside of the brim, taking overcast stitches at every rose and trying to ensure that the thread followed the line of the ribbon so it wouldn't be too visible. The roses anchor the feathers somehow so that the hat ends on a crisp note. Naturally the roses are a play on the roses that drape the Derby's winning horse. Hancock Fabrics carries the Chic Boutique trim line, and also the chicken feather and maribou boas.

Overflying Bird Does on My Hat: What Are the Odds?

The hat took about an hour and a half steady work. I trimmed it outside in the sunshine. What are the chances, I ask you, that while I was working a bird flying over would do on the hat in progress? But somebody did...perhaps in protest, perhaps in fear, perhaps to add its own touch. I had to cut out the offending poop with scissors and scrub my hands several times.

Wearing the Hat

When wearing a hat in the Edwardian manner, it should sit straight on the head, or be tipped to the side, and even be pulled a bit low over the eyes. The hat should never sit back on the head like a halo ready to slip off. This mode is also appropriate for wearing modern hats. Wearing it so requires you to stand straight, pull up your chin, and walk tall, which is good carriage anyhow.

Our Tea Guild members all made such pretty, dramatic, face-framing hats. If I can persuade them, I'll post a group portrait here.

A bit about the dress. The pattern is a Butterick reissue number 6582, View E (full-skirted version). Dress features crossover bodice, gathered skirt, self belt (yesterday I wore a contrasting belt to match my hat and shoes). Fabric is a feather-light Indian cotton lame in shot salmon, from Hancock's. Dress is worn with double-layered net petticoat. The inner layer is slightly shorter and features full hem. Outer layer is finished with a wide lace border sewn in binding edge had to be sewn down too to keep it from flapping, and bottom was folded down to create scalloped edge. Pattern: Simplicity 5006, view E. Note I made drawstring waist instead of elastic, which I don't care for.

The dress is a bit loose on me this spring: the bodice should be fitted. Had I had a dress form last summer when I made it, I'd have known to alter the bodice so that the neckline was a little less high as well, perhaps by an inch or so. That way necklaces worn with it would sit better.

Instruction in Millinery

How many times have I pointed you to Nevertheless I'll do it again. That site offers several millinery texts online in full, illustrated. Hat design, blocking, and trimming are all covered. Texts date from the 1920s to the 1950s.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Narrow-Hemming the Bottoms of Seamed Garments: Advice from TreadleOnions

In the Corset Cover Dress Diary posts I wrote about having trouble creating fine machine hems around the bottom of the corset cover. The seams connecting the fronts and backs of the garment kept clogging the hemmer because the amount of fabric was too much. I wrote,

"It's impossible to do around the seams, though, so you have to stop near these eges and hand hem them afterwards. Not terribly efficient. Once you have a well-fitting pattern, might as well hem each piece BEFORE you seam the pieces."

So I asked the folks on TreadleOn, a super-duper online community for those who use treadle machines. Always warm and helpful, several Onions gave me tips on how they deal with the issue. I've reproduced several of them here, with a few edits for context.
  • The way my grandmother taught me to do this is to clip a triangle off the seams with the widest point being at the seam itself, and the point being about 1/4" up into the seam. That leaves less fabric for the hemmer to have to turn and stitch, and works about 99% of the time. On lightweight fabrics, batise or light cotton, it works 100% of the time because there isn't that much bulk there in the first place. By just snipping 1/4", almost the entire snipped area is inside the hem, and if you press the seam open before running it through the hemmer, it's even less bulk.

    If you're doing heavier than light fabric, you should hand-crease the narrow hem at the seam so it will feed through the attachment properly.
    Marilyn S.SE TX
  • I'm not sure how they did it in the bad old days, but when I cross seams with my narrow hemmer, I first make sure those seams are trimmed to reduce bulk. I usually cut a triangle from each one, such that it tapers from regular width to nothing at the raw edge. Then when I am sewing along and get close, I stop and remove the hem from the "curl" of the foot. Using my fingers, I fold the hem as narrow and as flat as I can over the seam, then stitch across it as neatly as I possible, with the foot riding totally on top of the hem. Once past the seam, I stop and re-insert the fold into the "curl" and proceed to the next obstruction.
    Jennifer, Calgary, AB
  • I usually [do] the tuck[ing] or hem[ming] before sewing the seams. Recently I tried it the other way on a petticoat and it just didn't work. I usually finish my seams by pressing the seam open and then turning each seam allowance under and stitching down the folded edge. Not period authentic, but it looks nice and wears well.
    Annie, Pennsylvania
Thank you, Onions!

From the Rag Bag: a Scrap Quilt for a Baby

My sister Julie and her husband are expecting a baby boy, so I thought they might need a quilt for June Bug, as they're calling him.

Not a fancy quilt for display, but a hard-working utility quilt that he can play on and drag around, and that can be tossed in the wash. So, taking a page out of the past, I resorted to the rag bag and have assembled the simplest of quilt tops.

At left, the completed quilt top

Rag Bags

Rag bags used to be common: when clothes and other textiles outlived their original uses or began to look tatty, they'd be recycled. Small pieces would end up in a rag bag to be pulled out later to live again as cleaning rags or quilt block pieces.

Over time I've filled quite a fat rag bag. Any piece of clothing too ratty to be given to charity was cut up and the buttons and zippers saved for reuse. For this quilt I pulled from the bag remnants from some of my husband's old striped oxford shirts, a couple of pairs of jeans and other slacks, and bits of fabric left over from a skirted table project.

Piecing the Quilt

Each quilt block is just one piece of fabric, cut 5 inches square. Once all the pieces were cut, I laid them on the floor and played around until I got a pattern I liked.

At left, two samples of blocks sewn together into strips.

Then I sewed strips of blocks together, making the seam allowance the width between needle and edge of the presser foot, which is about a quarter of an inch. After that I sewed the strips together.

I only had to pay careful attention to a few things. I had to line up the blocks on each row when sewing the strips of blocks together. No matter how careful I was, not all blocks were exactly 5 inches square. After all, I used scissors when cutting them, not a rotary cutting wheel, and they were cut out of bits of fabric, not nice neat "fat quarters" meant for quilting. To make up for this I pinned the each strip to the next very carefully, easing each block to fit to the next, easing just like I might a curved seam on a collar. It worked pretty well! Only one row is rather too far off.

At left, the strips of blocks are sewn together on the Willcox and Gibbs chainstitch treadle machine.
  • I also had to make sure all the seams butted up to one another in the same direction throughout. Careful pressing of the seams all to the same side before sewing helped.

Now it's time to embroider "June Bug" on a block and then add a thin cotton batting and a backing of plain blue check fabric. I will bind the outside edges with a heavy-duty quilt binding.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

An Edwardian 1911 Corset Cover Dress Diary, Part 3: finished!

The corset cover is complete. Here it is at left. Compare this image to the photograph of the original in the 1911 textbook I drafted it from, which appears below. I think they are quite close, with one exception. I have a 30-inch waist, and the original was for a 24-inch waist. The cover is comfortable to wear, and fits as it should, which is a relief! I believe this is a typical schoolgirl-type corset cover, utilitarian and effective under opaque shirtwaists or bodices, but not meant for dress-up wear by any means. 

Lessons Learned...for Next Time
  • Unlike many popular corset covers of the period, on this one the shoulders are quite wide. Next round I would cut them in so that the lace and fabric didn't come out over the shoulder curve. When wearing a tight sleeve the extra fabric would tend to get in the way.
  • I would retain the front fullness in this pattern. Worn under an original sheer batiste shirtwaist of bloused cut, the cover helps to hold out the front fullness nicely. By this point some shirtwaists still had a bit of blousing, while others were smooth-fronted. Speaking of which, those shirtwaists are awfully fashionable in 2006. The lace, the sheerness -- worn with a cami (just a modern version of a corset cover) it could have been made today! CAbi in fact has a blouse in their line this spring that could have been made between 1912-1920.
  • The peplum is also useful as it helps to hold the cover in place under a skirt waistband. Practical!
  • For this trial piece I used plain, 99-cent 100% cotton muslin. Next time I would use a fine 199% cotton batiste. The muslin is too heavy, and the threads and weave too coarse to be attractive under a lawn, handkerchief linen, or batiste shirtwaist, especially a vintage one. All of these fabrics are really, really sheer. So the inferior grade of the muslin beneath is apparent. Further, it's too stiff by comparison and again, you can actually see that the two "don't go" when worn together. Above, the original corset cover, from Text-Book on Domestic Art, 1911, p. 87. Available on Cornell University HEARTH site.
  • The lace I used, while cotton, is also too stiff. Washing it a great deal might help, but in future I will use a finer, thinner lace that won't frill so aggressively under a fine lawn shirtwaist.
  • I'd wear this sort of pattern only under bloused shirtwaists. A much smoother, lower-fronted, and closer-cut version would be appropriate with a dress.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Digitized Collections of 19th and 20th Century Catalogs, Manuscripts and Ephemera

If you are interested in period advertisements, catalogs, magazines, scrapbooks, diaries, and ephemera, do see the digitized collections that Harvard and Duke University have online.

Women Working: 1800-1930, Harvard University Open Collections

As Harvard describes it:

Women Working, 1800 - 1930 focuses on women's role in the United States economy and provides access to digitized historical, manuscript, and image resources selected from Harvard University's library and museum collections. The collection features approximately 500,000 digitized pages and images including:
7,500 pages of manuscripts
3,500 books and pamphlets
1,200 photographs

Includes such representative items as

  • Dorcas Magazine (crocheting and knitting, 19th c), (some issues)
  • Ladies Home Journal, (some issues)
  • Woman's Home Companion, (some issues)
  • Abercrombie and Fitch 1913 Styles catalog,
  • and the diary of Delia Kinglsey, school teacher (1906-1910).

Visit the site! See

Above: Ivory Soap advertisement from Woman's Home Companion, January 1909, Harvard Digital Collections

Digitized Collections, Duke University

Part of the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library. Includes items such as

  • "9,000 advertising items and publications dating from 1850 to 1920"
  • 19th century sheet music!
  • writings and diaries of African-American and Civil War women

Visit the site! See

Super resources for researching and understanding fashion!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

An Edwardian 1911 Corset Cover Dress Diary, Part 2

Hooray, almost finished with the corset cover! Just have to add buttonholes and the internal waist tape, and it's done. Meantime, I have added the lace to the neckline and armcyes (armholes), which was a bit of an adventure in itself. At left, the corset cover as it stands now. The internal waist tape is not pulling in the waist as much as it will, and the front is pinned together. 

Adding Lace, the Long, Hard Way 

Perhaps I was a bit silly, but I was bound and determined to have as finely finished an effect inside as outside the corset cover. No raw edges, nothing to fray, and everything as neat as neat. 

Even after reading the directions out of the 1917 guide American Dressmaking Step by Step (on that say that you can hide raw edges on beading, I didn't "get" it. 

So here's how to do it the long way. Hem the edge to be decorated with as tiny a hem as you can manage. My Singer handcrank has an attachment that can do a 1/8 inch full hem. 

It's impossible to do around the seams, though, so you have to stop near these edges and hand hem them afterwards. Not terribly efficient. 

Once you have a well-fitting pattern, might as well hem each piece BEFORE you seam the pieces. Above or left, the Singer VS 27 handcrank with the small hemmer in operation. 

Measure the lace so that it reaches 1 and 1/2 times around the edge to be decorated. Gather it by sewing in the little margin (it's about 1/8 inch wide and looks like a mini selvedge edge). I ended up arranging the gathers so they looked a little bit like open inverted box pleats or ruching and very much like the effect! 

Then baste the lace to the the edge of the area to be decorated, with raw edge of lace on top of right side of fabric, and its selvage next to the outer edge of the fabric. 

After that, cover this tiny basted seam with beading (sewn with a seam to each side of it) so there are no edges showing. You have to fold out the lace so it sticks out over the edge of the fabric. This is fiddly work! Too fiddly, I say. Above or left, the lace being pinned to the neckline. 

Adding Lace, the Easier Way

The easier way also results in no hem inside and probably a flatter, slightly less bulky result. If only I had read those instructions more closely! Here's what you do. 

On the fabric to be decorated, say a neckline, fold the raw edge from the inside to the outside and baste it flat against the right side. Now inside you have a perfectly smooth surface, no hem, no edges. 

On the outside, now gather the lace and once again baste it to the edge...but this time, face the lace so that its pretty edge already falls out over the edge of the garment, and the selvedge edge is sitting on top of that raw turned-in edge. Baste down.

Then baste and sew the beading (one row of stitching to each side) over the combo of the basted lace selvedge edge and the raw edge of turned over neckline hem and voila...all nice and neat and tidy. 

Man, did I feel silly! I was just fixated on internal hems and didn't realize I could do them externally as neatly. Oh well. Next up, the buttonholes and buttons. Until then, bye now! At left or above, my kitty ZipZip asleep on a chaise in the March sunshine. She's in my lap right now, too.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

An Edwardian 1911 Corset Cover Dress Diary, Part 1

The latest project: drafting and constructing a circa 1911 simple corset cover of muslin. 

Just a reminder of how someone might have worn one. The 1905 Butterick sewing book I have a reprint of states on p. 33, "for ordinary waists [shirtwaists]...a well-fitted corset cover answers about the same purpose as a lining [on a fancy bodice]." So one would put on a chemise and knickers, or a "combinations" instead, then the corset, then one of these corset covers and a petticoat, then the shirtwaist and skirt on top. (Above, the corset cover partially assembled. Set on the stand inside out, I have basted the channel for the drawstring tape over the waistline gathers.) 

Once again, I am using the 1911 manual, Textbook on Domestic Art, as the source for making up this garment. See the Cornell University HEARTH site, and browse for it. You can view and download each page. The directions appear on pp. 86-96, and comprise
  • measuring for a basic shirtwaist pattern,
  • drafting it up into a pattern and adjusting it to a corset cover,
  • cutting the fabric,
  • and step by step construction and finishing;
  • a photo of the finished product is included.

This particular pattern produces a corset cover with an interior waist drawstring or "tape", and then a short peplum that helps keep the corset cover in place. Many corset covers don't have such a peplum; you can easily find them on Ebay. 

The textbook photo shows a simply trimmed garment with modest lace at neck and armholes, and the directions say that armholes could be simply bound with bias tape, although you could make a corset cover with all kinds of decoration from tucks to beading, or make it of eyelet fabric.

(Above, the corset cover with waistline tape channel pinned to it, from the back)

Drafting the Pattern

The pattern only requires two pattern pieces, front and back...but the front is split into two pieces for a total of three pieces. I drafted it in about two hours, including checking it and cutting it. Remember though that I am a slow worker; someone with a bit more experience could knock it out rapidly. There is also an oblong piece of fabric that you cut out to make the channel for the interior tape or drawstring to go through.

The "model" measurements for this pattern are about 15" across the shoulders and and a 24" waist. My 30" waist circumference resulted in a more boxy-shaped pattern, but the result on the mannequin still looks good.

(Above: the pattern draft sample as it appears in the textbook. The numbers are drafting points you use to build your own draft, not measurements.)

Notes on Cutting and Construction

  • If you're unsure of your drafting skills, leave about an inch or so all around as seam allowance so that you can alter as necessary.
  • When you have cut out both fronts and backs, mark the right side of the fabric carefully (with something that will wash out) too. Then pin the shoulders and sides, with the right sides on the outside, wrong sides together. Now, most directions would say, do this on the wrong side of the fabric. Not this time! You'll be sewing French seams, for which the first seam is on the right side of the fabric!
  • Once it's pinned and you're happy with the fit, then baste it, again, wrong sides together. Um, I didn't pay attention, and on autopilot, pinned and basted wrong sides together. So when it came time to make French seams, I had no markings to work with. I had to take everything out and start over. Whoops. Don't make the same mistake! (Above, the corset cover pieces pinned up for initial fit. I have yet to cut the front into two halves; a tester box pleat is set up to mimic the button hole pleat.)
  • I found that pinning and basting on the dress form felt good after a first few minutes of feeling strange.
  • The corset cover closes in front with four small pearl buttons. The right front, that holds the button holes, is constructed with a "box plait", which turns out to look an awful lot like the narrow sewn-down pleat (sewn down on both vertical sides) that seems to make up the fronts of many men's and women's shirts. The result is that you have several layers to support those button holes so they won't rip.
  • After you make up the box pleat, do up the French seams on sides and shoulders. To make these seams: run the first seam 1/4 inch out towards the edge of the fabric. from the seam line. Then, trim the seam allowance pretty close to that seam stitching. Then, turn fabric so that right sides are together, and run a second seam on the real seam line to enclose the raw edges inside it. Press the resulting seam so that it faces towards the inside back of the garment. Whoo! Yes, after awhile it seems more natural to do this, and it sure has a nice, tidy, luxe effect.
  • Put the corset cover back on the dress form, this time inside out. On your pattern draft, you'll have made a series of X's that mark where you should gather the waist together. Silly me, I didn't follow directions. I gathered the full back, instead of just in the center of the back. Silly me again, on the front I gathered from the sides halfway to the front, instead of just across the center of the front. Once again, had to pull it out and do it over. (Above, closeup of front, with waistline gathered and tape channel basted. Note that gatherine is not heavy because you don't want the garment to be too poufy.)
  • The text asks you to do two rows of gathers, 1/2 inch apart. Couple of good reasons for this. First, that's the width of the narrow strip of fabric that is sewn from one side of the waist to the other that forms the channel to put the waist tape through. Voila: automatic markings for placing it. Second, you get a more even gather. Just try to make sure that the positioning of your gathering stitches match decently one to the other. I'd tie off the gather at the end you'll be pulling from. On the other end, leave a long string so you can pull your gathers together.
  • Gather as the text suggests, and use the photo as your guide. Then make up that channel strip from the directions, and pin it to the waistline, placing on top of those two rows of gathers. Arrange the gathers one last time, and baste in place.

(Above, the Singer 27 handcrank sewing machine used for this project. It does wonderful tiny stitches and uses really neat attachments, sans electricity.)

That's where I am to date. Back with the final product soon as it's done!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Edwardian and Victorian Skirt Plackets: Where to Find How Tos

Skirt plackets: who knew they could be so complicated? Or such a royal pain?

These days we put zippers in everything, even new-fangled invisible zippers that continue the seam line with no annoying and revealing extra stitching around the zipper slash.

It used to be all so very different. Women relied on hooks and eyes sewed into long plackets to hide outer skirt openings. Petticoats frequently had nothing but a plain placket with strings at the that placket opening could gap! You can see an illustrated example of one of those in one of my previous posts. Oh well, at least the gap was invisible to outsiders.

Anyhow, in making up a 1911 skirt from online textbook instructions (see previous posts for details on that textbook), I was told to make a continuous placket. See the image of a placket turned inside out, at left (courtesy Vintage

Well, such a placket looks awfully thick and amateurish on a worsted wool skirt. At least mine did. I hated it and ripped it out.

Finding a Whole New World of Fancy Placket Knowledge

Don't bother in looking at most modern sewing books for fancy plackets. Most of them pay more attention to sleeve plackets. Blech.

Instead, have a look at American Dressmaking Step by Step by Mme. Lydia Trattles Coates (1917), on See lessons 188 to 197. The text and illustrations take you through invisible plackets, extension plackets, and so on...all plackets that will look a lot more professional on an outer skirt than the one pictured above. That's an extension placket at left.

The lessons cover everything from setting in facings to handling the hooks and eyes neatly.

The date may be 1917, but the techniques should be good for quite a few decades prior to that time as well.

Friday, January 06, 2006

An Edwardian 1911 Flounced Petticoat Dress Diary, Part 3: Completion

It's done! A muslin petticoat made in 1911 style with a double flounce! I decorated the outer flounce with tiny tucks and lace insertion, threaded with pink ribbon. 

The petticoat was sewn primarily on a Willcox and Gibbs treadle sewing machine, and the garment's construction features the incredibly narrow, precise machined hems that the Willcox and Gibbs hemming attachments make possible, plus the equally precise tucks. 

This marked the first time I'd used these attachments, and they clear up the mystery of how finely sewn many antique garments are. Old machines such as the W&G make that sort of work quite straightforward. 

I used a Singer 27 VS handcrank machine to produce small gathers at the waistband and on the flounces. Only the finish on the waistband lap is handsewn. 

I drafted and constructed the petticoat following instructions from Textbook on Domestic Art, 1911. You can too! Previous posts on this blog tell more about the textbook and how to find it on the Cornell HEARTH site. 

Additional Views

The petticoat is triple-tucked. The hem on bottom is 1/8 of an inch wide, and is a double hem, that is, the raw edge is turned to the back of the garment, then turned under again to fully hide it. 

The Willcox and Gibbs attachment did that in one smooth motion, which left me rather amazed. I can't get as clean a hem on my electric machine.

The garment has two flounces. That means extra volume when you wear it. The lower flounce starts about shin height, which means the skirt fluffs at your feet when you walk, but leaves your knees unencumbered, and is cooler generally.

Closeup of the placket. It's a bit hard to see, but the stitches are tiny: chainstitchers like the Willcox and Gibbs generally make incredibly small stitches. Second, between one stitch and the next, the line is very straight. The stitch guide helps, and the precision of the cast-iron parts that drive the machine, but it may be the needle that has the most effect. I didn't know this until a few weeks ago, but the standard needles many people use on electric machines are ballpoint...that is, they're not too sharp. When the machine makes a stitch, the ballpoint edge slides into the next available hole in the weave. The commercial Schmetz needle I am using, by contrast, has a very sharp point, so the needle goes right through the woven threads, not between them. Eh voila, each stitch follows the next perfectly straight, not in a slightly offset pattern. And I thought it was my skills:} Oh well.

And last, a side view of the petticoat. Behind it you can just see the Willcox and Gibbs. Yes, that is one very small machine.