Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving for Everything

...My cup runneth over.

23rd psalm

...Our cup runneth over...

May your Thanksgiving run over with thankfulness too.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

An Edwardian Hairstyle: Four-Part Video Tutorial

Here is a fascinating, four-part video tutorial on creating a very pretty Edwardian hairstyle. It's not a Gibson-girl pompadour, but more complex, more sculpted, as video author Wildilocks explains. Ms. Wildilocks is a professional hairstylist, and the style she creates is not for the faint of heart, and could not be done by onesself.

Photo: the completed hairstyle

Nevertheless, for those of us sans friends or family who can style our hair, there are still techniques that we can learn.

Worth watching!

Part 1
In which we learn how to part the hair, start the several ponytails that form the bases of the hairstyle, and start creating rolls and puffs.

Part 2
In which we focus first on the top rolls and puffs, and then on the back hair, teasing the ponytail there to create puffs.

Part 3
In which we create a roll on the side.

Part 4
The completed hairstyle. Lots of puffs, rolls and sculpting, especially on the back and sides.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Past in Review: More Photo Resources

If you're interested in period photographs, do spend some time with the daguerrotypes and photographs of families, couples, houses, military scenes and more offered on these sites:
The images can be so evocative. I caught myself smiling at some of the faces; others I studied in fascination, wondering what lay just outside the bounderies of the photographs.

Photo: Young lady on a bicycle, circa 1890s; Hugh Mangum collection, negative no. 274.

Note: These resources have been added to the Fashion Plate and Photo Resources list.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

1890s Shirtwaist? No, 1980s! About the New Edwardian/Victorian Style

In the last post I showed a shirtwaist I made with sleeves patterned after the giant leg 'o mutton sleeves popular circa 1894-1896. The rest of the sewing detailing I took from an original shirtwaist that I thought dated to the very early 1890s.

Having asked on the Sense and Sensibility board about how to copy the garment, several of the more senior members pointed out that several features on the blouse, especially the horizontal bust darts, show that this blouse dates to the New Edwardian fashion in the 1980s and was handsewn by an admirer of that style, which was popularized by makers such as Ralph Lauren and Laura Ashley. Oops! Ah, so while this blouse is vintage, it is not antique. Collecting clothing is such a learning process!

Here below I describe the shirtwaist and then the Sense and Sensibility members discuss it and give a history of the fashion movement that spurred its creation.

Photo: Edwardian renaissance 1980s shirtwaist

Blouse Construction

The shirtwaist is an interesting garment, so I thought it might be helpful to show that shirtwaist so you can see how it is made.

In the first photo we have the shirtwaist front. The garment is made of a a very soft, sheer windowpane checked cotton. It's trimmed with inexpensive eyelet, of the sort still available today, although the eyelet stitching is tighter than that found now.

In front, the bodice section features a bust dart to either side as well as a pair of darts taken from the bottom. One of the bottom darts was sewed in backwards, which makes me feel better as a seamstress.

Photo: shirtwaist interior

As discussed in the last post, the inside of the garment shows it was very simply sewn. While the main seams are french, so the seams won't look messy when the sheer blouse is worn, the armscye seams are left unfinished. The bottom hem, which you cannot see, if just turned up once and sewn.

The collar is finished nicely, though, for all it's so simple, It appears as if the collar was cut with an inside and outside piece, and the lace trim was sandwiched in the seam, with collar pieces right sides together, and stitched, and then the collar pieces turned out, so that the trim raw edge was hidden inside. Clever, eh?

The sleeves are interesting, too. Note the little tucks that are set into the back side...the sleeves are made of one piece, so the tucks would have been set right after each sleeve piece was cut out, and then the sleeve would have been sewn up.

The cuffs are neatly finished, too.

Here is exterior of a cuff.

Here is the interior of that same cuff.

All in all, it's a graceful little garment!

Dating the Blouse, and A History of the New Edwardian/Victorian Movement, by Sense and Sensibility Board Members

The ladies on Sense and Sensibility kindly assented to my reprinting their comments here, as instruction not only in garment dating but also in features of New Edwardian style.

After Emma Ruth pointed out the bust dart issue, I checked in with the S&S folks again. Acacia wrote:

Natalie, have you considered that this might be a 1970's blouse? It's got that "Gunne Sax" look. I may have owned a very similar blouse at one time. Check if the back button holes appear to be machine stitched. Check to see if there were ever any wire supports in the collar (which might indicate an earlier date).

I wrote back, describing the blouse much as I did above. Then Acacia replied:

It certainly sounds like you have some lovely vintage sewing techniques in this blouse. I wouldn’t place too much thought into the use of selvage. Home sewers do what they like.

I can’t offer any more thoughts on this. It may indeed be from an earlier time, but the New-Edwardian fashion trend during the 1960’s-1970’s produced some very pretty garments that would match your blouse. The back neck closure was common enough during this Edwardian revival. A homemade garment could include everything you’ve described. Another extremely popular designer during this period was Laura Ashley. There were lots of sewing patterns available (from the big companies to some of the smaller independent companies) to make these styles. Folkwear Patterns showed up in the 1970’s as well.

It's a lovely little blouse. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Frances Grimble of La Volta Press wrote:

That is definitely a 1980s blouse. It's the Ralph Lauren/Victorian revival look. Some of the commercial ones were quite fancy and expensive, but there were plenty of home-sewing patterns for that style as well. I made one from a Vogue pattern, with a lot of hand sewing, and another one from hand-embroidered vintage dresser covers. I also have several of the fancy commercial ones. It is very pretty; but if you want to make one like it, the easiest thing to do would be to surf eBay for similar patterns from the 1980s.

Then we chatted a little about the learning process, and Frances undertook to explain the style a bit more. It's fascinating, as she describes a revival of period fashions that from which our current love of period fashion has had such help:

Sure, go ahead and quote. I will add, that if you often want to date garments (or accessories or costume jewelry), one thing you need to do is to become familiar with later styles that copied those garments.

This body is actually closer to an 1880s breakfast-style basque (to be worn in the morning over a skirt) than to an 1890s blouse. Those however usually have princess seams or long front darts rather than the two kinds of darts, and they usually button in front. The sleeves are usually cut in two pieces. These basques are also usually trimmed around the bottom, and often are more highly trimmed in general.

The 1890s style blouses are not as close fitting, and they also do not have the two kinds of darts. Usually they have a front to be worn at least somewhat puffed, with tapes sewn onto the back at the waist to bring round and tie, to keep the puff, and the blouse in general, in place. Usually the part below the waist is so short that, even if you're very short yourself, it's hard to keep the blouse tucked in without not only the ties, but a very tight-waisted skirt on top, and preferably a belt too. Vintage clothing dealers often sew some more fabric onto the bottom.

But the plain body with two kinds of darts, the one-piece sleeve slightly puffed at the shoulder, the sheer material, and in general the features, is absolutely 1980s.

In the 1970s there was a fashion for “Victorian” styled garments, which was to some extent mingled with the also-fashionable “peasant” look. The styles were very loosely derived from historic (and ethnic) models, and cheerfully combined the features of various eras. They included things like empire-waist tunics and long dresses, calf-length cotton skirts with a ruffle at the bottom, and white cotton blouses with nylon lace. Pure cotton fabrics were very fashionable, often of a rather coarse weave and often with little floral prints. Coarse 100% cotton machine-made bobbin lace was trendy and you can still find lots of it for sale on eBay. Popular manufacturers included Gunne Sax and Laura Ashley (neither of which did particularly high-quality construction).

The “Victorian” look gradually became more sophisticated and began to feature higher-quality fabrics and construction. Fashionable garments included blouses in the style you have, usually semi-sheer, cream or white, and decorated with lace in some way; for example a high lace collar and wide cuffs, and/or a sewn-on lace jabot, and/or a lace yoke, or the whole blouse made of lace. Handkerchief linen was widely used for these blouses. Other styles included long, full skirts made of fabrics like velvet, suede, or handkerchief linen; upholstery brocade vests styled more or less like mid-19th-century men’s vests; tailored tweed jackets and long skirts (to wear with the fancy blouses); long khaki cotton front-buttoning “safari” skirts; and fake or real Victorian or Edwardian lingerie worn as outer garments, especially petticoats, camisoles (new ones made of little cotton prints were also popular), and for the more daring, long drawers (worn peeking out from below a petticoat or from the unbuttoned bottom of a safari skirt). Trendy manufacturers included Ralph Lauren and Jessica McClintock (the fancy bridal/evening division of the company that made Gunne Sax). Sewing was regarded primarily as a form of personal expression, and some sewers put a lot of hand sewing and/or embroidery into their creations. Folkwear patterns were especially popular with people who liked the “Victorian” look; but patterns for styles from Ralph Lauren and other nostalgic manufacturers were also widely available in the big pattern catalogs.

Some of the earlier Renaissance and Dickens fair merchandise (it was the same vendors) was very beautiful; some people were doing art and hadn’t figured out they needed to mass produce to make a profit. There were two California designers (one died young soon after hitting the movie-star market, the other is now making astronomically priced couture accessories) who specialized in a kind of Victorian or Edwardian look. They made a very simple style, like a straight camisole, a peasanty empire-waisted dress, or a corset with no boning, and then put umpteen layers of trimming on it. Even more trimming than the real thing; but they were able to make it work. They liked to work in pastels, though the mock-corsets were usually dark.

Some really amazing garments were also sold at the fancy textile art shows. Some were made of hand-woven fabric (alas, the styles of hand-woven garments were usually rather crude) or were knitted, or they were hand-painted silks. I still have an amazing full-length knitted coat with three-dimensional trees worked into it all over, and a tapestry-style knitted sweater with pictures worked in a flat knit.

Suzi Clarke, a costumier in London chimed in:

You take me back to my "best" years!! I still have a drawstring neck full length dress in a Laura Ashley print that I made. I left off the underbust drawstring, and wore a tie belt. It came in extremely handy for a pregnancy dress in that long hot summer of 1977. And I had crushed velvet loon (very loose) pants and fitted jacket , a blouse like Zipzip's, and cotton gingham skirts with ruffles on the hem and a blouse wwith leg o' mutton sleeves. I never stopped wearing long skirts! And there were the Indian muslin tops, and wrap skirts, often in stripes. Oh, lovely memories!!

Nancy wrote:

Yup, this whole thread is making me a little nostalgic, too. I was in high school and college through most of the '70's, and Gunne Sax and Laura Ashley were highly coveted. I still kick myself for letting my mother get rid of a floor length peach-colored gauze Gunne Sax formal I had when I was 20....

Frances wrote back:

What I remember is the 1980s more than the 70s. I used to go into work at publishing houses dressed in Edwardian clothes and be told by management how high-fashion my style was. Which management liked, because editors had to "meet with the public," which basically boiled down to authors--meaning a lot of editors preferred to wear jeans.

Re the blouse, one other point. I used to collect Victorian and Edwardian "whites," and I still have over a hundred white antique blouses. One thing I've never seen is a sheer batiste or lawn in cream or ecru. Embroidered net, yes. Lace, yes. (One Edwardian fashion for the pouch-fronted blouses was to sew strips of coarse bobbin lace together to create a fabric, then cut the blouse out of it, using two or three straight strips of lace sewn together to make the collar and cuffs.) Cream Irish crochet, yes. Opaque medium-weight linens in ecru, yes.

Sheer cream or ecru cottons and linens: No. They were used a lot in the 1980s, and I personally prefer them to bright whites, but the Victorians and Edwardians did not like them much for blouses. I'm not saying they never used them for anything, but they seemed to like the boil-it-then-blue-it look.

Thank you, Sense and Sensibility members for this trip back to one of the chief roots of our love of period dressing.

A note: I only have the online names that the other members have given; otherwise I'd give them more formal mention.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

1890s "Good Witch" Costume: Precis...and the Twins as Kittens!

This year, our boys and I dressed in black and white for Hallowe'en. The twins were Ladybug's kittens, and sported black and white kitty ears and little black tails, and I dressed as a good witch circa 1890s, with black antique skirt and white leg o' mutton sleeve shirtwaist, capped by the obligatory hat.

Photo: The twins and I on Hallowe'en evening. Oh dear, their ears are perfectly perky, but one of my sleeves has quite a droop.

The boys loved their ears and tails, especially the ears. When they see them in the cabinet now, they want us to pull them out so they can be worn again and again.

My camera having been on the fritz during construction of these costumes, only a precis follows.

The Twins' Kitty Ears and Tails
These were so easy to make.

For each ear, I cut a square of black fleece, folded it into a triangle, and stitched it into an ear shape. Then a triangle of white felt was stitched to the front to create the inside of the ear. Finally, I whipstitched the ear to a knit hat, in a slight curve, so as to make the ear rounded in back and hollow in front like a real cat's ear. The curve also helps the ear stand up on the hat.

Each boy's tail is nothing more than a long rectangle of fleece folded lengthwise and stitched into a tube, then turned inside out to hide the seam. To give the fluffy effect, I overcast stitched a length of maribou to both sides, wrapping it around one end so that the end of the tail would be fluffy, too.

The Good Witch Costume: Shirtwaist

The centerpiece of this costume is not so much the hat as it is the shirtwaist.

I used the Sense and Sensibility Beatrix shirtwaist pattern for the bodice, choosing the flat-front version rather than the gathered front. The bodice is straightforward to construct, offering no surprises, and the instructions are comfortingly complete. The bodice part consists merely of a front and two back pieces, and a collar.

Photo: A slightly more close-up view of the shirtwaist.

An Antique Model

All stitching and finishing I modeled on an original shirtwaist from the period in my possession. The shirtwaist is very plain, and very plainly homemade: most seams are French, but the armscye seams are left unfinished, the shirtwaist hem is just turned in once and stitched, the back is closed by only four snaps, stitched without apology right through to the outside of the blouse, the stitching in the hems neat but set more than an eighth of an inch apart. Of the two darts in front, one is set in backwards, a feat that reassures me...not every seamstress in the past was great or always fixed their mistakes!

The Sleeves

The sleeves I drafted from Hunnisett's Period Costume for Stage and Screen 1800-1930, choosing the 1894-1896 gigot sleeve (pattern A, pattern sheet 30). Sleeves during these years attained their greatest size.

The sleeve is gathered all the way around the armscye, as one might expect. Here is where I learned a lesson. I took tiny gathering stitches, as in my original antique shirtwaist model, but...but, but, I only made one row of gathers, not two. Upon stitching the sleeve to the bodice, though I tried to get close to the gathering stitches, I couldn't help but flatten out some of those pretty, tiny gathers. This doesn't happen when I run two rows of matching gathering stitches and then stitch between them. In fact, upon inspecting my original model and another original gathered garment, you can see that the original gathering stitches are left in the garments, and appear just outside the seam; they in effect hold those tiny stroked gathers in place. So my shortcut resulted in so-so, rather large, somewhat uneven gathers so common on modern garments, not the tiny, evenly spaced gathers I aimed for.

The Hunnisett sleeve design has two other interesting features.

Photo: shirtwaist front showing the curve in the sleeves.

First, after the sleeve is seamed up, the sleeve is drawn up from underarm to elbow in four small pleats placed right on the seam. This shapes the sleeve into a curve, making one want to hold one's arms slightly crooked, which I believe was considered a more elegant stance than allowing one's arms to hang down at the sides.

Second, the sleeve is set into the armscye so that the sleeve seam is a little towards the front, not parallel with the bodice side seam. This also curves the sleeve and by extension, the arm in the sleeve.

I drafted the sleeves to their original size, and it proving too hard to estimate their length, given the strange shape, I stitched them to the bodice and tried them on. The wrists proved to be too narrow, so, following my model antique shirtwaist, I opened up the sleeve seam at the wrist for two and a half inches, and hemmed the opening with a narrow 1/4" hem.

Trying on the shirtwaist again, I found the sleeves too long. Grrr. So, I simply turned up the wrists into a cuff, that turned out to look not only pretty, but to suit common styles of the era. However, the sleeve still wrinkles a bit below the elbow, meaning it's still too long.

Next time, I will cut the sleeves shorter.

Finish, and Achieving the Bouffant Sleeve Shape...with a Dip in Sugar Water!

I closed the shirtwaist with snaps, per my original. Nothing of note there.

As many 1890s ensembles featured collars contrasting in color with the rest of the bodice, as well as bows tied behind, I tied a dark ribbon around my neck, bow in back. Had time allowed, I'd have made a proper black collar bow with the usual poufy bow, sans tails.

When I tried on the shirtwaist, the sleeves drooped sadly. How to attain that fluffy-but-stiff pouf? Starch, bien sur.

However, my spray starch didn't cut the mustard, even when applied liberally.

Not being possessed of liquid starch, or possessed of time or energy for making my own with cornstarch (idea courtesy Hank Trent on Elizabeth Stewart Clark's board), I thought to employ the old trick of dipping the shirtwaist into a sugar syrup, then drying and pressing it.

So I mixed about a teacup full of sugar with three or so cups of water, heated it until the sugar dissolved, and commenced to dipping the shirtwaist.

The sugar solution was perfectly clear and acted like a slightly cold water, until I touched it and realized that it left a very thin, sticky film on my hands, and on the shirtwaist.

I dipped only the sleeves and shirt front, then wrung them out and hung the shirtwaist to dry.

Once almost dry, out came the iron and I began to press the shirtwaist.

But oh my! What I learned by trial and error! Never touch an iron to something that's been covered with sugar or it'll stick and leave a film on the iron. Out came the press cloth.

Then press, press, press, as hard as I could. I had to dampen much of the shirtwaist, for the sugar solution had left a faint mark at its edges, and that needed to be blurred away.

Nevertheless, the ironing went well, except without a pressing ham or sleeve board, it was hard to deal with the boufiness of the sleeves...they are all curves so you can't easily iron the sleeve flat, and the armscye is too narrow to allow the sleeve to be pulled over a full-size ironing board.

Once ironed, I put on the shirtwaist, had my mother snap up the's impossible to do alone...and voila!

A note: I used this project as a tester, a prototype for a nicer shirtwaist down the road. It was a good learning experience. I wouldn't try a fancy leg o mutton sleeve without prototyping, since you're dealing with a very three-dimensional sculptural form that yet does not cling to the figure and relies on pleats and gathers and stiffener to achieve its shape.

The Skirt

The skirt is an original antique, made of what looks like a combination of silk and wool, woven with a gorgeous feathery pattern in relief. It is very thick and heavy.

The skirt lacked a waistband when I bought it, and the waist measured more than 50 inches.

It closed with a short placket with underlap and a single large, heavy snap midway down the placket.

If I get a chance, I'll add more photos of the skirt to this post.

Photo: the ensemble from the side back. You can see the back pleats and the tails from the ribbon around the collar.

The skirt is made of one front panel, a gored panel to each side, and two back panels, with the placket set in the center back.

The skirt is completely flatlined in polished cotton, and there is a deep hem facing in stiffer cotton as well. The bottom is finished with brush braid.

I believe the skirt to date to the late 1890s or early 1900s: it's built just like the skirts Kristina Harris describes in the Victorian Sewing Techniques book.

I folded, to the depth of about an inch and a half, the top of the skirt over onto a wide, thick grosgrain ribbon, and stitched all panels except the back ones to the ribbon from the right side.

Then I set each back panel into an inverted box pleat topped by another pleat facing to center back, and hand-stitched them to the ribbon. Setting the back into a few pleats was common in the 1890s, and to make the skirt fit me, required doubled pleats.

I should have used a hook and eye or bar as closure (can't remember which is more correct), but in a hurry, used a snap. Not a good plan. Snaps unsnap under stress.

All stitching was made such that it didn't harm the original, and could be removed easily.

The skirt was worn with a plain, masculine belt, common in plain shirtwaist and skirt ensembles.

That's it. The project took several weeks, but since my sewing stints averaged 15 minutes to 25 minutes in length (that's all I can squeeze in to busy work and family days!), really didn't consume many hours.

Wearing the Ensemble: Notes

The ensemble was suprisingly comfortable. The skirt moved easily, even if it was quite heavy, and the pleats in back and the construction inside ensured it didn't cling around my knees. However, going up and down stairs was a bit tricky because the weight really is a bit to handle, especially when you are carrying a boy and attempting to lift the skirts out of the way.

The shirtwaist's sleeve cut, what with the smallish armscye, and sleeve pulled into a downwards, front-facing curve, do make it hard to raise the arms too high, but then, so do my modern, heavily darted, "feminine fit" blouses, which also untuck annoyingly every time I lift my arms. The most interesting thing about this shirtwaist was that the pouf at the top was was so nice not to be constrained by a tight shoulder! On the other hand, I was rather, well, wide, and that was hard to get used to.

Though the evening was cool, I was toasty: I wore a camisole and corset cover underneath the shirtwaist, and petticoat under the skirt. It all kept the chill away. However, I wouldn't vouch for a sugar "starch" on a hot day: don't you know that the nice stiff sleeves would turn into a sticky, miserable mess! Next time, liquid starch, please.