Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Tutorial: Sense and Sensibility Bodiced Petticoat - Part 1

This multi-part tutorial will cover some key details of making a bodiced petticoat using the bodice portion of the basic Sense and Sensibility Regency dress pattern. The tips are designed to supplement Jennie Chancey's online directions for a bodiced petticoat but to cover elements that a novice seamstress might not be familiar with and to address some oddities I noticed in the online directions.

As always, please click on each image for a larger version

The dress pattern has been out for quite a few years now, and it's more Regency-inspired than accurate, and so this bodiced petticoat is probably not entirely accurate either, but it's fairly easy to make and is a most useful substitution for stays. Bodiced petticoats were indeed worn during the Regency period, sometimes in replacement of stays and sometimes as an underdress worn with stays. Several of us in our period sewing group here in Kentucky are making bodiced petticoats as part of our ensembles for the JASNA Jane Austen Festival in Louisville this coming July. I am making one too as a backup, as I will shortly be making up the Past Patterns Transition Stays (#030), and plan to wear them instead.

The Tutorial

Modifying and Cutting Out the Pattern Pieces
In Jennie's directions, the first step is to modify the bodice pattern pieces so that they'll work for a petticoat, and then to cut them out.. The directions cover the process clearly, so I will not linger on them except for one point.

Look that this picture from the directions, copied below:

It shows the front pattern piece with the new, modified front piece, which has been lengthened, straps narrowed, and neckline enlarged by setting the original pattern piece a little angled to the folded fabric. Note how the edge at the bottom right curves up a bit.

When you unfold the new front piece, this is the effect that upwards curve at the fold will give you:

...the bodice bottom looks like the bottom of a bikini top. While the original instructions called for the fabric at the neckline to be trimmed straight across from the lowest part of the neckline curve to the fold, to remove the dip effect, these instructions appear to have been left out for the bottom of the bodice. Look at the picture of the the bodice front from later in the original directions:

There is no dip there! Now, because when the toile is fitted you will be cutting a good bit of the bottom of the bodice away anyhow, you may not care to trim the bottom straight. However, I'd take the time to do so. You won't have to look at a wavy bottom when you're trying to judge the length of the petticoat bodice, and you'll have a straight line to follow when you do cut off the excess fabric.

Note: Because I was quite distracted when I cut my front bodice out, and neglected to add a full 2.5 inches to the bottom, my bodice bottom isn't long enough to trim out the dip. That was quite an error. While I know that much of the bottom will be cut away anyhow when I fit the toile, I fear that mine is just too short to begin with, so I will recut a fresh bodice piece and baste it again. So what you are seeing in this tutorial is my first bodice front...before I have have corrected the problem.

Fitting the Bodice Toile

The next set of steps in Jennie's directions is under heading "Fitting the Bodice Toile". First she asks you to baste the pieces together, but she doesn't tell you how, imagining that you have the original directions for the dress at hand. If you don't and you're newish to sewing, here they are, illustrated. By the way, the order of sewing the pieces that I use is the same order that is recommended in sewing manuals of the day.

Here below are the right back piece with its matching side piece. (Note: I had a cutting issue here, too...the day I cut my bodice I was helping four other women cut theirs and gave very scant attention to my own. So the back piece is TOO SHORT! Ugh! Memo to file: never try to cut while talking or listening to others talk.

Dealing with Curved Seams

Stitching a curved seam can be tricky, so I will show you how it can be done fairly easily.

First, match the top of the back piece (in front in the picture below) to the top of the side piece (behind it in the picture below).


Now, start smoothing the raw edges together with your fingers. Pin the fabric at the left edge just as soon as you get those lined up (image below). Make sure the pin is set perpendicular to the edges of the curve, for you will be hand-sewing right over it.

Then keep smoothing the raw edges together further down the curve. The piece underneath will not feel like it wants to match up on the curve with the piece on top. This is normal. If you work slowly, though, the edges will line up -- sometimes holding the two pieces of fabric between your thumb and forefinger and lightly rubbing them, using your thumb to rub the front piece either up or down compared to the back piece, will help to align the edges. The picture below shows two pins having been set. Note that they are relatively close together. I find that the steeper the curve, the closer together the pins need to be to control gapping.

You  will find that when the curve of the fabric becomes steep, that it's maddenly hard to line up the raw edges of your two pieces of fabric if you hold them flat. Solution: bend the two layers of fabric with your fingers. When they are laid over the curve of your finger you will find that their own curved shapes will come together. See the image below for one way to hold your fingers to achieve this...

...or you can hold your fingers as shown in this next image, below. It's probably easier, as you can also handle pins at the same time.

Here we go, another pin set, below.

You will manipulate the pieces of fabric and pin them right down to the end of the seam. When you're done, here is what you will see from the front...

...and from the back.

Now, let's lay the pinned seam out flat, as below. Voila! Here's roughly what it will look like when stitched.

Hand-basting Seams: A Rapid Method

Now, here is a little bit on how to hand-stitch a basting seam quickly.

Note: I use red for basting as it's easier to see when fitting a toile (mockup), but if I fear that the red dye might bleed onto the fabric, then I use white thread.

I basted this bodice with a 5/8-inch seam allowance, for that is the original dress bodice allowance.

As in the picture below, run your needle in and out of the fabric several times before you pull the thread through.

Look carefully at the picture. See how close I keep my hands, with my thumb near where the needle is going in and out of the fabric. What I am actually doing is
  • pushing the needle through the fabric until I see half a pinky-nail's worth of steel
  • rocking the fabric to nip just that pinky-nail's worth of fabric onto the needle
  • rocking the needle downwards again and through the fabric until once again I see half a pinky-nail's worth of steel
  • rocking the fabric again to nip just a pinky-nail's worth of fabric onto the needle again.
Note: in a lot of cases my basting stitches are the length of my FULL pinky nail, but I made them smaller today because the seam line shows better for the camera. 

    I keep nipping and rocking and the fabric just builds up on the needle. It can get pretty tight on the needle, as many as eight or even more stitches all piled on, as you can see below. It takes just a matter of moments, of seconds, to do this.

    Now I pull the needle through and out of the fabric, as in the image below.

    Then I keep basting clear to the end of the seam. It does not take long at all and it's very precise.

    Here is the basted seam. Why is one end longer than the other? Remember my cutting issue? Yes...I will be recutting and basting, but wanted to get this tutorial posted in time to help my sewing circle. Honestly, usually I cut better than this, much better. Anyhow, a little humility is a good thing, and errors, they are endemic to life.

    Completing the Bodice Basting

    Next step is to baste the other back piece to its side piece, as shown in the picture below. (Goodness, if I keep seeing the evidence of my cutting errors my hair's going to stand on end.)

    Now it is time to baste the front piece to one of the basted side/back pieces. See image below of the pieces laid out flat.

    Here it is stitched.

    Then it's on to basting the other side/back piece to the other edge of the front piece, as shown in the image below.

    Now it's time to baste the shoulder pieces together. In the picture below I have laid the shoulder strap that's part of the back piece up to the edge of the shoulder strap belonging to the front piece.

    And now I have basted them together.

    And here we are. All pieces have been basted and we're ready to fit the toile. Oh dear, those dark shapes at the picture's base? My feet...oops :}

    Next posting we will cover fitting the toile. That should be interesting.

    Oh, and by the way, if your toile seems huge, it could be a cutting error but also remember that we have added lots of fabric to a pattern that was made to create a loose-ish outer dress, not skin-fitting inner support wear, so do not despair.

    Sunday, December 27, 2009

    Remembrance of the Christmas Now Past

    Christmas Eve, for which I waited so patiently to sing by candlelight in the cathedral, left in the winks of two tired children's eyes, and Christmas Day came and went, and Boxing Day, and now we're breathing more slowly and naturally once again. And sweets are banned: welcome that lack!

    Now the pause for New Years, celebrated here quietly, with a lucky meal New Year's Day of collards and hoppin' John with red-eye gravy, the delectable secret of which is a splash of coffee. Then it's the Pageant: will the twins dress as sheep or just watch? Then Epiphany, with King Cake (a momentary reprieve of the sweets ban), and then with a sigh the Christmas tree is admired a last time and comes down, to go to rest as garden mulch.

    Photo: the tree in the evening.

    Costuming Plans

    Then I will begin to sew once again, and unless costuming ADD strikes, I'll be working on a single project, to which our period sewing society is devoting itself...we're making full ensembles for the Jane Austen Festival in Louisville in July! A peek into the concept for mine: the year is 1797 and my lady loves white-on-white stripes embroidered with green, and a matching green robe with ruching, wee flat green silk shoes, green-on-white reticule, and a flat cap of net lace!

    Photo: Noah drives his fire truck -- their new easel -- and Christopher rides, making motor noises. This was their main gift and I think they like it very much. Only sometimes is it a board for drawing.

    Friday, December 11, 2009

    Snow Hush

    "Then all is silent and the snow falls
    Settling soft and slow.
    The evening deepens and the grey
    Folds closer earth and sky
    The world seems shrouded, far away.

    Its noises sleep, and I as secret as
    Yon buried stream plod dumbly on and dream."

    The last two stanzas of a poem entitled "Snow". I read it last evening, snugged down in the chaise, waiting for Christopher to stop rearranging his burp cloths in his crib and settle to sleep. Outside the air grew steadily colder and despite our good windows I could feel its fingers trying for cracks, a bitter cold left as a dubious gift after a squally day.

    First photo: "Too much snow", Ithaca, NY.  Photo courtesy ForeverDigital.

    As I read, I took an interior walk down quiet roads that I hope aren't too changed with the passing of 30-odd years, and I remembered each view, memorized with love and daily repetition. Then I wrote it down as a comment on Rebecca's blog, and realized I'd written a prose ode, or maybe an elegy. So here it is, as much so that I can go that way again as to invite you to come along.

    I remember quite viscerally walking home from school as it snowed,
    the hemlocks drooping with the weight,
    the very occasional car muffled to near silence by the whitened road,
    the crystal tinkling of icy water at the waterfall next the little bridge,
    where the flow had built ice caverns and pinnacles for me to dream over,
    and as I came closer to home -- it was a long walk --
    sometimes the bells from the carillon on Cornell's campus,
    rung by a student practicing,
    sounding like the tower had gone under a blanket,
    and then suddenly like they were just around the bend.
    I miss those walks,
    and cold as I would get,
    generally I went at a mosey.
    Why hurry when life was so beautifully malencholy?

    Second photo: Taughannock Falls, December 8, 2005. Photo courtesy Alexey Sergeev. Third photo: McGraw Tower, Cornell University. Photo courtesy ForeverDigital

    A postscript: Browsing around photos of my hometown, it is reassuring to know that things haven't changed overmuch. A big thank you to Alexey Sergeev of Texas A&M and ForeverDigital on Flickr for recording some of the places I love most in all the world but haven't been able to return to.

    About Taughannock Falls: It's up Cayuga Lake some miles from Ithaca, and is giant, its spray dampening your hair hundreds of feet away, the tallest straight fall east of the Mississippi, they say. My little falls, passed every day on my walk down Hanshaw Road, was maybe six feet high, a fairy cascade over a miniature shale cliff, that murmured under a little bridge just feet away. At a sudden drop below our home, a perhaps 75-foot fall, "my" little creek, in which my sister and I played endlessly, spilling off a deep lip into a tight dell,  just past the edge of what used to be Irene Castle's mansion.

    A five-minute walk from home? Creek after creek, fall after fall after fall, large and small, views down utterly dizzying drops of 400 or more feet, a suspension bridge that swayed when you had the courage to jump on it, another gorge-spanning bridge with a pierced floor to let the rain through, and you had better not look down, or risk being rooted to the spot, whitewater so far, far, far down, a gentle shake, a growling over the gridded bridge floor, as a car went by. Sometimes part of Cayuga Heights Road clinging to the hillside took a notion to visit the valley floor and the road would cave a little at the outer edge. Carl Sagan built his home on top of a gorge-view mausoleum. And floating above in the evening, the lighted clock face of McGraw Tower ringing the passage of time, its bells sometimes singing songs. Have a listen.

    And read the rest of  "Snow", written long ago by an Archibald Lampman and sung much more recently by Lorena McKennitt, on Rebecca's blog at http://ladieshistorictea.blogspot.com/.

    Thursday, December 10, 2009

    A Christmas Meme

    This little meme was passing around some of my favorite blogs yesterday, with invitations to join in, so I am doing so as soon as chance has offered! It's been fascinating to learn about everyone's Christmas memories and predilections...I'd love to read more so if you like, please write yours, too!

    So here we go:

    Eggnog or hot chocolate? Real egg nog for Christmas parties, but hot chocolate all winter long, as a special afternoon treat. I love how egg nog tastes like luscious liquid custard but it seems to like me too much, attaching itself to me permanently around the hip area, so I try for just small sips. Sometimes that tactic is successful...

    2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree? This is hard. Santa used to, and will a little bit this year, but all things considered I'd prefer St. Nicholas on December 6, with little treats left in shoes. Christmas is for celebrating the Nativity.

    3. Colored lights on the tree/house or white?Ah, now you've hit a bone of contention! I like white lights, or honking big old colored bulbs, which we do not own. I wonder if I could beg my dad for his old set? He built his own dimmer, which back in the sixties required some mighty interesting wiring hidden in a 12x12 inch wooden box. It's probably not safe, but the cool factor is very high. My husband prefers little colored lights. Our solution, like so many we have come up with, is to treat each other, with some years for white lights and some years for little colored lights. This year is a colored-light year. My ultimate wish? Real candles Christmas Eve, like the gentleman who writes a Passion for the Past.

    4. Do you hang mistletoe? We have once or twice. It grows here in Kentucky and in the depths of winter when the oaks and locusts are bare, it's a welcome bit of green high up in the trees. People used to shoot it down from branches and sell it, my husband's father says. Oh my, I just looked out the back windows and it's snowing pretty heavily and someone is running a saw. A holiday sound I associate with cutting firewood but I fear it's someone cutting branches that came down in yesterday's nasty winter winds. Did you all get wonked with them too?

    5. When do you put your Christmas decorations up? My wonderful sweet understanding mother decorated the mantels with greenery and a snowman and the creche, and the corner cupboard and hutch earlier this week, and put up a fragrant wreath on our door while I helped to keep 20 little fingers to themselves. The tree? We go late, as in this coming weekend, but leave the tree up ostensibly until Twelfth Night, and sometimes after. We sigh when all the light and color fade to January's cold gray.

    6. Favorite holiday dish? Sarah Jane, I hear you! My favorite moment is just before I bite into my first Mexican Wedding Cake cookies, when all the memories of how it tasted years past flood over me. The anticipation is rarely disappointed.

    7. Favorite holiday memory as a child? There are many. Like the brrr-cold afternoon in our snug spot in Ithaca, behind foot-thick walls, making cutout cookies while snow squalls and the sun played king of the mountain outdoors. It was glorious. What a happy, minute little kitchen, with just one counter, 20-inch wide stove, and great big double white sink, all of it in powdered steel, built for the ages, and the window overlooking the wooded hillside behind us.

    Or making a draft-cutter, a fabric tube stuffed with rice to stuff at the crack under the front door, with baby Noah in my lap, watching me turn the hand-crank sewing machine I'd set up on the coffee table in front of the fire.

    Or the slow, snowy drives on barely plowed roads from Ithaca to Newark Valley to visit Aunt Lucy and Uncle Ken. Their den in the back, papered in browns, with a little tree next to the French door, and snow over the terrace out back, one wall all book shelves, and us all stuffed in there, adults talking, us wee bits just snuggling and listening, while their big fat kitty alternately froze her nose, pressed to old glass panes, the kind that weeps and grows paper thin at the top of each pane, at a window in the dining room, and heated her paws and tummy on the radiator. How I wanted to pet her, but she was Uncle Ken's devoted friend, not mine...

    8. When did you learn the truth about Santa? You know, I haven't a clue!

    9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? Sometimes we do, sometimes we don't; our minds change about this like the weather, or maybe we simply forget to think about it.

    10. How do you decorate a tree? When I was very little, we lived in Schwabia, part of southern Germany, and my tastes were set there. Our tree sometimes has had popcorn strand garlands (probably not German style, except in the garlanding sense), sometimes gingerbread men strung on red yarn,  always the carolers with wooden painted heads, and little drums and little stuffed hearts made of a dark red velvet like you see in Europe, not the bright scarlet we use over here, trimmed with old-gold gimp. Mom made them while in bed with the bad flu that hit Europe in when, 1967?

    When I grew up, my sister and I shared digs, and we had no money for a tree at first, so we put a begged branch in a bucket one year, and tied the round sticky husks from sweet gum trees to it. Then every year after we made a few ornaments, as like to those we grew up with as possible.

    Today the trees is a memory of the kind I grew up with, with some wooden ornaments received as gifts, a few red balls, always pinecones with similar red velvet bows tied at the top, my paper Sugarplum fairies and princes that I painted, and a few precious vintage blown glass ornaments, and a red velvet bow at the treetop. For a year or two I had a material moment and bought a lot more ornaments but each year they've grown fewer again. And that's it, until the boys' little ornaments join them.

    11. Snow! Love it or dread it? I love snow, so long as you can play in it! When the boys get old enough, I hope we can sled and sled and sled and skate and ski and build forts and get blue lips with the cold, if I have the fortitude. And if we have the snow. Kentucky is fickle.

    12. Can you ice skate? Yup, and still have my skates, but it's been way too long and I am sure they are dry-rotted. I think there's a rink here but it's indoors and frankly I prefer a (safe) pond or outdoor rink.

    13. Do you remember your favorite gift? Golly, no I don't. There have been some sweet ones over the years, and I loved how my (then to be) husband gave me a real cashmere sweater and a winter coat the first year we dated. What an amazingly kind treat that was for a struggling graduate student holding down two jobs. We have since reined in extravagant giving.

    14. What is the most important thing about the holidays to you? Attending Christmas Eve service. It never fails to bring me such peace, especially the late service. That and being near family, my own and my husband's. His family is warmer than buttered toast with honey and being there in all the chaos of children and phalanxes of ham and ambrosia and transparent pie and red velvet cake and baked beans and green beans and country ham and warm rolls and that green molded salad with the pecans and Derby pie, with a chance to run outside on the farm if it's warm enough and to watch the boys take it all in.

    15. What is your favorite holiday dessert? Ambrosia. Hands down. Citrus and whipped cream!

    16. What is your favorite holiday tradition? Christmas Eve service, again, hands down. That is the essence and high point of the entire season.

    17. What tops your tree? That dark red velvet bow, hand-tied and never straight. I can't tie well that high up and it's friendler that way, anyhow.

    18. Which do you prefer-Giving or Receiving? Oh dear. I have a problem with the gift part of things. I love to give something which brings joy, but I get very stressed about all the shopping, and resentful about our culture's pressure to buy buy buy. I wish we drew straws with one gift for each person. That's why Santa Claus is not emphasized here, and the boys will receive a few special toys and books and needful things, but not reams of stuff.

    19. Favorite Christmas song? Riu Riu Chiu, a Renaissance madrigal. Joyous and intricate!

    20. Candy Canes-Yuck or Yum? One for old-time's sake. Where oh where did the pastel-colored cream mints and the ribbon candy go?

    21. Favorite Christmas show? Growing up we used to like It's a Wonderful Life and Charlie Brown Christmas, but our 1980s-era TV is turned off except for the occasional football game. (Go SEC!) I prefer radio programs! I can't wait for the caroling ones to arrive.

    22. Saddest Christmas song? There's an ancient lullaby about King Herod's horrible jealousy and the slaying of the innocents that has a tune to make you weep and lyrics to make a mother cry. Why they made it a lullaby I cannot fathom...but then, darkness and tragedy were a lot closer to Western daily life prior to the 20th century. Let's be thankful for the peace some nations have and pray that it finds its way to other nations still in the dark!

    So there you are! A merry Christmas to you. May it bring contentment and joy and thoughtfulness.

    Wednesday, December 02, 2009

    The Twins: Whoa, Where'd They Go?

    The twins haven't appeared much in these pages lately, but that's because toddler isn't a very good word for their state. They don't toddle anymore. Mini-meteor might be more appropriate. Or maybe colt. They sure seem more adjusted to living in a field where they can satisfy the urge to run, than to a house, which offers too many corners and blind turns to negotiate in slippy socks.

    They may spend happy hours every day with their books tossed around them, explaining to each other the pictures that they see, but the rest of the day is for kicking up their heels or running full tilt, ringing an imaginary fire bell as they race to put out the next fire or rescue a kitty from a window. Whoa, boys, can I get your picture, please? Here we go -- wait, wait! Ack, that one'll be blurry. Oh, never mind.

    Memo to file. Next time, use the sport mode on the camera. If it's fast enough.

    Saturday, November 21, 2009

    Tutorial: Making Stroked Gathers on a Mid-Nineteenth Century Petticoat

    Yes, the petticoat needs shortening.
    Edited October 29, 2020

    As part of a mid-19th century dress project, I recently hand-sewed a muslin petticoat. When well starched, it fluffed the dress out quite well and hid the shape of the hoop steel in the hoop skirt beneath.

    The petticoat serves as the top petticoat, and thus is designed sans tucks or flounces, which might mar the skirt surface above.

    As always, click on the photos to see them full size.

    A plain muslin petticoat does not sound like the most exciting garment, on first blush, and surely, with no whitework embroidery or period rick-rack lace treatment at the bottom, it looks severe. What it does have, however, is beautiful lines, created by the stroked gathers that are whipped to the waistband.

    The stroking and process creates the prettiest eensy-weensy, teeny-tiny pleats imaginable, while the whipping process helps to reduce bulk in the waistband.

    Photo: the completed petticoat. It's too long; I was making two petticoats and cut one long to add tucks to, to serve as a second, under-petticoat, and believe that I sewed that one up as the top petticoat by mistake.

    Plain gathering, stroked gathering, gauging, and pleating are all methods that were used to take in the fullness of skirt panels to make them fit a waistband. The stroked gathering results in a tailored, clean look rather like gauging.

    In the rest of this post I want to demonstrate, in pictures, how I made these stroked gathers and completed the waistband.

    Photo: detail of the petticoat waistband, showing the stroked gathers whipped to the waistband.

    Until recently, it wasn't terribly easy to find out how to do this. While there are descriptions of stroked gathers in a number of period sewing manuals, how they could then be set into a petticoat waistband was not clear at all. I ended up reading and rereading a series of threads on The Sewing Academy board run by Elizabeth Stewart Clark, as other people were having similar questions. Then, I made my petticoat, and checked with the board to see if the process I followed was accurate. Sure enough, some of the expert folks on the board replied that based on their research and examples in their collections, it was. Phew!

    While I was making the garment, Elizabeth's rewritten manual, The Dressmaker's Guide: 1840-1865: Second Edition came out, and I ordered a copy. I had just finished my petticoat and found in the book, to my happiness, complete and clear directions, illustrated, for creating the same sort of waistband. The book also detailed several other methods of achieving a low-bulk waistband. Therefore, this little tutorial I consider as a sort of unofficial supplement to the method Elizabeth describes so much better than I can.

    Bye the bye, I cannot recommend The Dressmaker's Guide enough. It is beautifully and good-humoredly written, the illustrations are incredibly clear and useful, and while it does not cover outerwear or millinery, it does instruct the reader, step by step, in drafting/draping and making undergarments, including corsets and cage crinolines, and dresses, with several options for each undergarment and a wide array of treatments for dresses. There is also a very long, very detailed section on hand-sewing construction techniques the way that the Original Cast, as she calls them, would have done them. The book has become a favorite adjunct to my sewing, not just for midcentury garments, but for period sewing in general.

    The Tutorial: Stroked Gathers
    A little background. I used Elizabeth Stewart Clark's free petticoat pattern at http://www.thesewingacademy.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/2010Petti.pdf (PDF file) to make up the basic petticoat. (In the new book, the petticoat section stretches from p. 153 to 184, and includes a myriad of details!) I seamed four 45" wide panels and hemmed the skirt, and got to the point of setting the gathers. The method described in the free pattern is the most basic one that was used, and does not produce stroked gathers.

    Here begins the tutorial. 

    Step 1
    At this point, I measured the raw petticoat top into eight sections by folding it in half, then half again, then half again. I marked the divisions with pins. I decided that rather than try to run two very long gathering threads along 180 inches of fabric, I would take on the task in these eight sections. That way I would have less trouble handling long threads, and I could easily break up the task into parts to be completed over several days' or weeks' (as it proved) time. Elizabeth does the gathering in one step; this is where what I did varies from her method. The potential downside of my method is that you have to be very careful at the ends of sections to make them perfect so that one section's gatherings blend in with the next sections, with no obvious break.

    So I ran a gathering thread a quarter inch below the raw top of the petticoat, through the first section, and eighth of the petticoat. I filled a needle with 4-6 little nips of fabric before pulling the thread through. I measured the first stitches with a hem gauge to make sure that they were about 1/8" long, and memorized what that length looked like on the needle.

    Then I ran a second row of gathering stitches a quarter inch beneath the first row, matching the stitch length as exactly as I could. (You have to do this or your little gathers won't fold into even pleats.)

    Then I ran similar gathering stitches through the rest of the panels. First rows always went fast, about 10 minutes per panel, but second rows were slower. Since I had memorized how much fabric to nip up each time on the needle, I let my muscles keep the stitching regular and regulated, but kept an eye on what I was doing and if the stitches in the second row stopped matching those above in length and position, I pulled them out.

    I reckon that the whole gathering stitch process took a half hour per panel, times 8 panels.

    Step 2
    Next I prepared the waistband. Per the suggestions on the ESC board, I took the waistband fabric and turned up a half inch to one side. I basted it down so it would hold. When period sewing, I am usually far from an iron, so use finger pressing and basting and pins.

    Then I measured and marked it into eight sections, leaving extra at the end for the closure per the original directions.

    Step 3
    Now it was time to attach the petticoat to the waistband. As with the gathering process, I handled this a single panel at a time. So for each panel, I pulled up both gathering threads together, and the material collapsed into even tiny pleats, as you see in the image.

    Once the material for that panel was gathered, I pinned it to a section of the waistband, wrong side to wrong side. This means that the right side of the waistband, with the raw edge of the fabric turned under, faces you. The gathered fabric is put up underneath the waistband and pinned. Yes, I used a needle to pin it with: it was what was handy.

    Then I fit the gathers in the petticoat to fill the space on the waistband. Almost invariably this resulted in very tightly packed gathers. In this photo below you are looking at the underside of the waistband and the underside of the gathers.

    Then I stroked the gathers. I worked on the back, wrong, side of the waistband and gathered petticoat. I stroked the head of the needle in the little valley between each gather, dragging the needle head lightly downwards from the top of the petticoat towards the body of the skirt. Just to reiterate, I used the head of the needle, not the point. If you use the point, you could possibly damage the fabric a bit.

    I noted that not every gather needed stroking, because most gathers fell into neat straightness by themselves. Only a few gathers were bent, or caught under another gather, or were poofing out instead of valleying in like they should.

    I then turned the petticoat over so that the front of the waistband was on top (with the turned-under edge to the back: you can see the shadow of the edge through the fabric) and the gathers underneath. Not all gathers looked even from this side, but of course the top of all those gathers is underneath the waistband. I knew I needed to do some more stroking further down into the skirt. Yes, that is a needle serving as a pin.

    Here I stroke each gather again from the front side. I am using a size 10 needle, which is very small and narrow, so it's hard to see, and the picture is blurry to boot because I was using the camera timer and holding the camera with my chin :) It may look like I am pushing the needle upwards, but no, I am drawing the needle head downwards.


    Next I turned the petticoat so that the gathers and band were pretty much perpendicular to me, and started to stitch the VALLEY of each gather to the waistband. To do this I first caught a tiny bit of the fabric in the valley of the gather onto the needle, then pushed the needle through the top of the waistband down through it, bringing the needle up through the underside of the next gather's valley. I am left-handed, and for some reason couldn't manipulate the needle any other way.

    I followed this process for all eight panels. It was time-consuming, but pleasant work.

    Step 4
    After attaching all of the panels, I turned over the waistband, and attached it to the other side with small (1/16" to 1/8"), even running stitches, again per the ESC board's advice. I could have achieved an even better result by repeating the whipping process on the back side of the petticoat, but I was out of time and needed the petticoat for an event.

    Then it was time to add the closure, and I was done with the petticoat.

    Once again, my great appreciation to the ESC board for their warmth and advice.

    Silhouettes for Cards and Decorations for You: Part 3

    Here is the last of the 1880s silhouettes for you to copy and use for cards or decorations. Someone cut this one, as they had the others, from a magazine long ago, and I thought you might enjoy it!

    As always, click on the image to get it at full size.

    Monday, November 09, 2009

    Silhouettes for Cards and Decorations for You: Part 2

    Here is a second set of 1880s silhouettes for you to copy and use for cards or decorations. Someone cut them from a magazine long ago, and I thought you might enjoy them!

    Thursday, November 05, 2009

    Silhouettes for Cards and Decorations for You: Part 1

    A week or two ago I bought a series of small 1880s silhouettes that had been cut from a magazine. Thinking that copies of them would make pretty cards or small pictures, or even Christmas tree decorations, I photographed them, tried to clean them up a little and am posting them here for you to copy as you will. They are not under copyright as far as I can tell.

    As always, please click on each image to get the larger version.

    Here is set number 1.

    Do enjoy!

    Friday, October 30, 2009

    On State Street in Ithaca New York: You Are There

    Would you like to walk along State Street in Ithaca on a sunny day, and glance in the shop windows or admire the big homes up the hill? Would you like to nod hello to the two young men walking by you on the sidewalk? Would you like to do so in 1900?

    Then visit this street-level view (on Wikimedia). The 8+ megabyte file will take some time to load, and you will have to click the image to get it to render full size. Then wander around in it...and admire the moxie, and maybe meet the eye of the handsome student, and make a mental note that you too should probably use a big rain umbrella to shade your skin from the sun.

    Here is just a little, tiny detail to whet your appetite.

    I wish there were more of these giant photos of my hometown to get lost in!

    Wednesday, October 14, 2009

    Regency Hand-Sewn Drawstring Dress: A Tour of Stitches, Part 3

    We will continue our tour of the drawstring dress construction with the skirt, the last part of the my mockup dress to be sewn. See Part 1 and Part 2 of this series to find about why I am focusing on stitchery in this project.

    AlohaAroha had asked that I provide better images of the full front and back of the dress so she could figure out where the detail photos were on the full dress. I've gone one better: here are two new photos of the back and the front, each labeled, by letter, with the seams being discussed in this series. I've gone back to the previous posts and added the photos there too.

    Per usual, please click on the images to see much larger versions of them.

    Photo: dress viewed inside out from the front, labeled with seams discussed in these posts

    Skirt Seams
    Costume Close-Up explained that skirts were seamed loosely; skirt seams had less stress on them, so the seams could be sewn with a running stitch, and besides, loose seams meant a skirt could be unpicked more easily to be renovated.

    Jennie Chancey, in her Ask the Experts reply to my question about stitches, said that options included French seams (for very sheer fabrics), backstitched seams, flat-felled seams, and running-stitch seams.

    I chose the last option, and made the skirt seams with a quarter-inch seam, sewn with a running stitch at 8-9 stitches per inch. To sew the running stitch, I would run the needle in and out of the fabric three or four times, picking up a little fabric each time, and then pulled the thread through, and following up afterwards with a backstitch to hold the stitches in place better. Then I'd repeat. This stitch is known as a combination stitch.

    Why is the little intermittent backstitch important? Try an experiment, if you care to. Run several inches of running stitch into a folded piece of fabric. Pull the end of the thread. Puckers rather easily, doesn't it? Now run the same seam, but this time, sew the combination stitch like I did above. Now pull. Fewer puckers: it's a stronger stitch.

    Photo: dress viewed inside out from the back, labeled with seams addressed in these posts.

    Grimble's The Lady's Stratagem suggests attaching the fabric at your knee while you sit (pinning it to your skirt or slacks, for instance), so as to "work it [the seam] more comfortably" (p 305). I did so at times and at other times, held the fabric in tension with the aid of a sewing bird. In both cases, attaching the fabric to something allowed me to stretch out the fabric and thus put some tension upon it, and the seam would come out straighter this way. I found, also, that I could do something similar by holding the fabric in my right hand with my fingers stretched out while I sewed with my left hand. You sometimes see the stretched-finger position in old paintings of women sewing, and I always thought it just an artistic touch, until I found myself doing the same thing naturally.

    I finished the skirt seams by overcasting them loosely, per examples I've seen on the Web and per Grimble (p 344).

    Setting the Skirt on the Bodice
    To attach the skirt to the waist, I used a single, backstitched seam for strength.

    This is a variation of one of the methods Grimble's The Lady's Stratagem suggests, namely, to prick-stitch the skirt and the lined bodice together, with the prick stitching being done from the right side of the fabric. (See last section in this post for discussion of prick-stitching.)

    The very center back of the drawstring dress is tightly gathered. I used stroked gathers, an effect quite common during the period. Costume in Detail shows many Regency dresses with beautifully stroked gathered backs (scattered through pp. 87-104 -- I am leaving out later Regency examples), and The Lady's Stratagem (p. 320) and The Workwoman's Guide (p. 2) both explain how to do them.

    In my case, I did not do them as well as I would now, because at the time I wasn't understanding the directions I read very well. I backstitched them to the bodice, at the bodice seamline, but, did not make sure to backstitch each little pleat separately. As you can see, I got some no-no bunchiness in the pleats as a result. I am going to redo them.

    Photo: the not-entirely-successful stroked gathers experiment.

    Stroking gathers? In brief, the idea is to run two rows of very small, 1/8" long gathering stitches at the skirt seamline. Then, gather the fabric up, which as its strung on two rows of threads, will start of itself to form tiny pleats. Then, straighten each gather and line it up with its siblings by stroking the blunt end of a needle in between each gather, in effect training the fabric to lie a certain way. Then connect the gathers to the bodice. Here's where it gets tricky, and here is where you can easily mess up the gathers, as I did.

    Grimble suggests to "fasten them, one by one, and very close together with one or two over-cast stitches. If hte skirt is set on by over-casting, continue to sew on the wrong side. If, on the contrary, you are using prick-stitches, turn the gown over to the right side, so that you may sew the folds from that side. " (p 320). This suggests two submethods to me.
    • The first would seem to be a very tiny version and variation on gauging (also known as cartridge pleating). When I had prepared the gathers, per Grimble (p. 319-320), I'd have turned in the top of the skirt to the seam line, then would have run my gathering stitches. Then I'd turn in the bottom of the bodice at the seamline, so I had a fold to whip to. Then I would have stroked and then whipped each pleat to the bodice. I know gauging itself was done during the period, because a late Regency skirt in Costume in Detail is treated with gauging, although the gauging results in larger pleats than do the tiny gathered pleats common with stroked gathers.
    • The second would be to use a method explained on the Elizabeth Stewart Clark board and which I have used to wonderful effect on a mid-century petticoat. It involves a version of overcasting or whipping (which term is correct, if any?) in which the skirt top for the gathered portion is not turned down, the gathers are made at the seam line and just below it, and stroked into place, and tiny overcast stitches are made from the valley of each pleat to the turned-in bodice bottom (that is, two layers of fabric). The bodice is caught only to the depth of about a 1/16th of an inch. I know for sure that results in tiny, perfectly tightly, gorgeous gathers, and there is no bulk from gathering through two layers of fabric. See photo.
    Photo: stroked gathers on a mid-century petticoat I have underway. In this image I have already set the gathers, and now am attaching the waistband to the otherside, using 1/16" running stitches with the smallest sized needle I own. Much better results, here!

    By the way, for those who are interested, I have a tutorial on -- successful -- stroked gathering. See Tutorial: Making Stroked Gathers on a Mid-Nineteenth Century Petticoat.

    I have seen photos of a dress that appears to illustrate attaching the bodice and dress with overcast stitches as as I have quoted from Grimble. A cranberry-colored silk faille dress, circa 1800-1810, at Vintage Textile seems to display this treatment, as shown in the photos below. Look carefully (you'll have to click on the images to see the larger sizes for sure, this time), and notice that the stitches pretty much run vertically, not horizontally. That's why I think it's overcast stitching, although it's hard to tell from the interior shot. I am writing the owner of Vintage Textile for information and for (belated) permission to use her photos.

    The front of the dress.

    The back of the dress.

    The dress interior. It is very hard indeed from this angle to tell how the skirt and bodice are connected.

    Skirt Interior Drawstring Casing
    There is not much to report here: all I did was to backstitch the casing down.

    Skirt Hem
    Costume Close Up explains that with fabric so expensive, hems were generally quite shallow...a quarter inch or less. My other resources, including Grimble, basically agree. So, I made a quarter-inch hem and running-stitched it, at about 10 stitches per inch. Again, why waste effort with a fancy hem when it would get dirty, need to be repaired often, and be unpicked anyhow when the skirt was renovated?

    Additional Thoughts on Stitches

    What other stitch options might I have for an unlined dress?

    When I wrote to the Ask the Experts column on Your Wardrobe Unlock'd, Jennie Chancey of Sense and Sensibility gave some wonderful tips. Among them:
    "One of the most eye-opening revelations to me when I began studying extant garments from this time period was how "un-standard" the seam finishes were!
    With all the careful, intricate embroidery on the outsides, I'd often turn to the inside of the gown to be shocked by what looked like really sloppy hand sewing -- long running stitches, raw edges left unbound, odd shortcuts taken. But, even on sheer gowns, I realized that, once you backed away six to twelve inches, you just couldn't tell. The hand work blends in to the whole.
    Over ten years into my research, I can tell you there isn't one "right" seam finish for the Regency era! All of the finishes you mentioned--backstitching with felled seams, lapped seams, running stitches, overcast seams--are kosher. I've seen incredibly tiny French seams so well made they resemble piping inside the gown, and I've seen long running stitches that don't look like they'd hold the dress together. One gown I viewed in the Valentine Museum (Richmond, Virginia, USA) had incredibly fine hand-stitching everywhere except the hem -- and that was done with a rather uneven running stitch (perhaps it was hastily rehemmed later for a shorter woman?). But, again, when you backed off a single pace to view the gown, you couldn't see the hem stitching at all. It just disappeared into the fabric. So you are on the right track with all of your seam finishes."
    Doesn' t the above make you feel free? It does me!

    I often wonder if prick-stitching might be among the options for sewing the bodice seams on an unlined dress? When Grimble explains prick-stitching (pp. 311-312, and scattered thereafter), she is assuming that the dress bodice will be lined. Prick-stitching, I take it from her, is a form of back stitching. It's always sewn on the right side of the fabric. To paraphrase her description, you make a fold of the fabric at the seam line, and place it down right side out over the fabric it's to be joined to, which is also right side out. The one piece will be lapped over other. The two pieces are basted together to hold them, and then the pieces are carefully backstitched together from the right side (either classic back stitch with one stitch beginning in the hole left by the last, or with a tiny space between each stitch). Often a second row of back stitches is added for strength.

    So, if the dress was unlined, one would have to make the lapped seam in one of two ways:
    • turn under the top piece at the seam line and sew it to the bottom piece at the seam line on the bottom piece, but the edge of that left raw on the interior
    • or turn under the top piece on the seam line and sew it to the bottom piece, which has been turned inwards at its seam line. In this way the raw edges are sandwiched.
    I wonder if this is an option because in so many pictures in Costume in Detail and elsewhere the back seams and side seams show neat back-stitches, often two rows' worth, just as Grimble describes. I just haven't seen any detailed photos of actual garments shown inside and out that show this method. Oh, for the chance to visit a collection and see for myself!

    A final note: Anna Kristine over at The Art of Clothes also has sewn a striking Regency day gown in red with black trim. She has documented the process too, especially the slashed sleeves. If you visit the Regency posts in her blog and scroll around, you will find all the posts.

    Thus endeth the tour. I hope it has been useful to you.