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.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Regency Hand-Sewn Drawstring Dress: A Tour of Stitches, Part 2

Let us start our tour with the bodice, the first part of the my mockup dress to be sewn. If you haven't read Part 1 of this series of posts, have a gander to find about what I am doing and the sources I used.

As always, please click on the images to see much larger versions of them.

Photo: front of dress, viewed inside out

Back Seams
When I started the dress, the first thing I did was to seam up the back piece with the two side back pieces. Since the back of the bodice would get a great deal of stress, I used a two-part seam, called the flat-fell seam, that was used during the period for women's garments that took great stress. Most of us who have done period sewing are familiar with this seam, as it's endlessly useful, and I found it made sense for this area of the bodice.

First, I attached a side back piece to the back piece, right sides together, and backstitched the seam with a half-inch seam allowance (per Sense and Sensibility pattern instructions). Each backstitch measures between 1/16" and 1/8" long. Guided by Frances Grimble's translation of period French sewing manuals in The Lady's Stratagem (p. 311), I basted the pieces first, to hold them steady, then drew the seam line with pencil, and then stitched. It is exceedingly difficult to backstitch a perfectly straight line without such helps.

Photo: back of dress, viewed inside out

Then I trimmed off one seam allowance to 1/8". On the wrong side of the fabric, bit by bit I finger-pressed down the remaining seam allowance 1/4" to cover the trimmed raw seam allowance, and bit by bit, hemmed it down, each stitch about 1/16" from the next. I kept the stitches as small and even as possible so that the dress, which would be considered a plain wash dress, would wear well and so the seam would sit smoothly. Because of the curve of the seam, I had to ease this hem in, but in hand-sewing that's easy to do because when you make small stitches, your fingers can manipulate the fabric into place. As I hoped, from the outside the double seam stands out just a wee bet and gives a faint shadow line, the curving in of the seam making the back look small. (See the photo above, plus the photo of the neckline interior for seam details.)

Photo: back of dress. If you look at large version of image you can see the bodice back seams. Note that I am not happy with the gathering of the back of the dress...the stroked gathers is discussed in the post after this one.

I did the same for the other back piece.

  • I have seen pictures of no unlined dresses that show interior stitching, and none of my written sources helped in this area, since they assumed the dress bodice would be lined, so I guessed on the applicability of the seam treatment. However Jennie Chancey suggested that this treatment was fine, along with all other seam methods I chose, except one (see below), when I asked for seam information on the Your Wardrobe Unlock'd Ask the Experts column.
  • Grimble's sources say that backstitches are never used for flat which I assume in the context of the text means flat-felled seams. And in fact, by mid-century you have run-and-fell seams, in which the initial seam is simply running stitched before the hemming is done. However, Janet Arnold shows neatly backstitched back bodice seams in her drawings, and The Workwoman's Guide (p. 105) says that all bodies should be backstitched together, although those might be on lined dresses, in which lapped seams were used. Perhaps the French manuals' authors were opinionated, or French and English methods differed, or I am misunderstanding something. Probably the last. The more I think about it, why waste backstitching on a seam that is sewn twice...the second time with a close hem, which is really durable, by the way?
Photo: dress shown inside out, and displaying the interior flaps.

Front Dress Panel

The drawstring dress is constructed with the exterior fabric gathered into a drawstring, but inside, there are also two separate flaps, sewn to the side seams and the shoulder seams, that when the dress is donned, lay across the bust, each lapping the other, and pinned shut. These flaps help the exterior look smooth and help hide stay lines from showing through flimsy fabric.

Photo: detail of running stitch used on interior modesty flaps.

Because Regency seamstresses were as practical as their forebears in finishing raw edges, I forewent hemming the raw edges of these panels an instead, making a tiny 1/8 hem, running stitched it. Stitches measure 1/8" to 1/16" long. To keep the running stitch from catching on anything or puckering, for every 4-6 stitches, I inserted a back-stitch. This was easy to do, as I ran my needle through the fabrics and loaded it on to the needle for those 4-6 stitches, then pulled the thread through, and right after, made the backstitch. Then repeated. It created an easy rhythm.

Next I basted the interior panels to the front piece at the shoulders, and attached it to the side-back pieces, flat-felling the final seam, including the interior panel fabric in with the front piece.

The side seams were treated the same way.

Photo: side seams: flat-fell seam constructed of backstitch, one allowance trimmed and the other hemmed down over it. Armscye is also visible, with the basting stitches still left in it. Underneath those stitches you can see the back-stitching...the backside of backstitches look like continuous overlapped stitches.

The Sense and Sensibility pattern called for a front facing to be cut on the bias, seamed to the raw edge of the neckline, and then turned in and hemmed down. The result would not only finish the neckline but also serve as a channel for the neck drawstring.

Having read Costume Close Up, and knowing this dress design dated to 1795, not long after the garments examined for Costume Close Up, I assumed that the makers would probably not cut the facing on the bias, but on the straight grain, as bias cuts waste fabric. As Linda Baumgarten had written, "[c]ertainly th extreme waste of material that results from cutting bias binding would have been unacceptable in the 1700s. In fact, it may not have occurred to eighteenth century seamstresses and tailors to try it." (p. 7)

Photo: neckline facing from the interior. View the large version and note the hemming stitches: it's important to keep the hemming stitch very close indeed to the fabric being hemmed down, or it may pull on the fabric it's being hemmed to, creating tiny holes, as it does at intervals here. You can also see the interior of the flat-fell work on the back seams.

So that's what I did. Easing the facing round the sometimes steep curves of the dress was not easy, but again, because I was going stitch by stitch by hand, I could vary the tension on the fabric and manipulate it into place. Nevertheless, there are 2-3 places where there is a pucker.

What to my surprise to learn from Jennie Chancey through Your Wardrobe Unlock'd, that the original dresses she has seen have facings cut on the bias! There went my theory, pouf.

Jennie said that certainly some dressmakers might have cut straight of grain, so my method was conceivable, but even by 1795 folks were cutting bias...I am guessing that they saw just how much of a pain it was to ease the facing around the curves, and then try to gather the dress, and found that bias worked better. Oh, for a scholarly treatment of this change, for it portended great changes in dress cutting down the road!

Sleeves and Armscyes
Each sleeve is backstitched together for strength, the seam allowances overcast to stop fraying, then the sleeve is basted into the armscye and backstitched together, again for strength. The edges are left can see this over and over in extant Regency gowns.

The sleeve ends are hemmed with a very narrow hem, each stitch about 1/16" apart for durability. You can see this easily in extant dresses. Before I set the hem, I basted it together, and left in the basting stitches.

Photo: sleeve seam and sleeve edge hem. You can see the basting stitches left in the hem, and the overcast stitch used to finish the sleeve seam is also clear.

So there we have the bodice. Next up, the skirt portion of the dress.

Other Regency Garment Documentation
Before I leave you, here's more information on where you can get useful documentation on specific stitches used in Regency garments. Gloria, author of In the Long Run ("Empire Waists? Nothing better!") blog, has documented the stitches she has used on her black velvet spencer and red open robe.

She notes, among other things, that Past Patterns'
"Circa 1796-1806 Lewis & Clark Era: Empire Gown" has excellent documentation. I have got to get that pattern. Saundra Ros Altman's patterns are superb. The dress that pattern is taken from is a simple day dress and so the documentation would be very useful. Although, like any individual dress, it has its quirks, like the back construction.