Sunday, June 30, 2019

1895: Silly Season Outfit: Playing With Shirtwaists

The 1890s outfit has come apace. I was to wear it to tea Sunday afternoon, but the cool weather  has deserted us and summer Kentucky heat has taken over, so the prospect of swathing myself in a corset, corset cover, etc., double-flounced petticoat, enormous skirt, and trimmed shirtwaist, and a hat, and gloves, and cotton stockings, made me droop and think of fainting couches.

By the way, with this outfit I am just playing. I haven't done tons of research, just bits. I am not using entirely 1890s materials or even methods. I am just messing and mucking about in fabric and thread, and it's wonderfully freeing. Edit 2021: well, it didn't remain playing for long. All too soon I was down a research rabbit hole. :)

So where are we in the project?

The skirt is complete except for trim. I interlined the wide hem with lightweight interfacing to help it stand out. Interfacing washes, buckram doesn't.

Jeepers, the facing and interfacing sure added some weight. Tried to put the skirt and a petticoat on one of those hangers with clips, and it couldn't handle the poundage! Maybe I ought to weigh them :)

Shirtwaist Vision

The real action, though, has been the shirtwaist.

The idea is to have a multi-purpose shirtwaist: a plain version that would be simply shirtwaist-y, and good for picnics:

The Worthing Picnic. Sioux Valley Genealogical Society Don't the look like a happy group?

Here's a lightweight summer dress (source of image unknown):

By adding a white striped voile overlay to the shirtwaist, I'd have a slightly more dressy version.

Here is my inspiration for the slightly dressy version:

This came from Pinterest, and I have lost the reference.
Doesn't she look fresh and summery? Her face seems kind.

She sports a yummy neck bow and contrasting belt. Notice that her dress doesn't feature strong contrasts in color, as is so common in fashion plates and some extant garments. Mine will contrast between navy and white, but only in the plain, picnic version.

Another inspiration, this one from Quinn Burgess' 1890s Pinterest board:

This one has a neck bow, too. Oh, neck bows, how silly thou art, and how I love thee...

Mucking About With, and Mucking Up, a Plain Shirtwaist

The plain version? Well, I thought I could make up a shirtwaist rapidly, add a few tucks, and cover them with lace insertion in white, for just a little contrast, and be done with it.

That's what I did, and it went together in a matter of a week, with a few hours here, a few there, and no fuss.

As planned, I used the Sense and Sensibility 1909 Beatrix shirtwaist pattern, with the pattern option for a gathered front opening, with puffed elbow-length sleeves. Yes, it's a 1909 pattern. However, the lines are fairly similar, once tweaks are made. As you will see...

This pattern choice gave me a fit with some ease across the chest, but as I know from experience with the pattern, nothing that would allow more than a narrow tuck or two. And I was fine with that.

At the waistline, by contrast, I would have lots of excess to gather in as I pleasure dictated. By 1895 there could be a wee bit of fullness in the lower part of the shirtwaist.

For the sleeves I wanted the balloon shape of our summer girl with the flowers, as we'll call her.

So after peering at a few scans online of sleeve patterns from professional cutting guides, I enlarged the S and S sleeve pattern, making the sleeve head taller towards the outside of the sleeve, and the entire sleeve piece longer. The result was a much fuller sleeve.

Running up the shirtwaist was straightforward, because there are few pieces in the S and S pattern, and they line up as they should. As a blouse, the sewing methods are straightforward, too: French seams, plain hems, and sewing with the straight-stitch handcrank machine, and by hand on hems and sleeves.

The only change I made -- other than the sleeves -- was to us narrow seam allowances in the seams, to make the shirtwaist a little big so I could shape it later.

Once the shirtwaist was constructed, I was ready to play with pleats and tucks to give the shirtwaist the narrow-waisted, bosom-hiding shape of the era.

Here's an 1890s example from the FIDM Museum, with far more tucks, of course:

Silk shirtwaist, FIDM,
This part was fun!

First, I put on the Kay Gnagey corset, a mid-century style, but what I have, and it fits well, is light, and is comfortable.

Next, standing in front of the mirror, the shirtwaist pinned shut, and a cushion stuffed with more pins ready, I started to remove fullness and shape the silhouette:

- an outward-facing tuck over each shoulder about 2/3 the way out, brought the sleeve head up onto the edge of the shoulder, and created what remind me of bretelles.

- taking the body of the shoulder tuck below the shoulder, pointing towards the belly button, and pinning it down about midway between shoulder and bust.

Can you see the fullness begin to be controlled?

- taking four sizable tucks down near the waistline, all pointing away from center, to define the waist and create a peplum.

Assessing the tucks. No, those sleeves aren't starched yet.
Self-pinning is always a bit wonky, so a few minutes later found me on the carpet with the shirtwaist laid in front and the pincushion within easy reach. The pins were reset in a more balanced way, and the back fullness pulled in by carrying the shoulder tuck all the way to the waist. Then I sewed the tucks down, hung up the shirtwaist, and put it away to marinate until I was ready to cover all the sewing with broderie anglaise lace insertion, with a little more insertion laid in faux tucks for more oomph, to finish things off.

Tucks sewn, ready to be covered by lace insertion.
But... I didn't like the direction the shirtwaist was moving. It was going to become too froofy. I like lace on Edwardian and teens clothing, sure. Here's a dress I made back in 2011:

The 1909 linen dress after a picnic, via a bad camera photo. Ladybug is interested in all the scents.
In fact, in that dress, one of the nicest I've worn, and also one of the hardest to get into, we have lace on lace:

But I didn't want lace on this one after all. I wanted stronger, bolder lines.

So, reader, I am taking out the tucks and stitches, and we're going after this fluffy but tailored look,  below, specifically the shirtwaist on the lower left.

Note that some models are wearing their shirtwaists untucked, for a peplum look, while others have tucked theirs in.


Back with you after I have partially deconstructed and reconstructed the garment. More playtime is at hand. It's a good thing that this is play, because I sure am not taking an efficient route to a completed garment.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

1895: A Summer Silly Season Outfit

Oh brother, I was supposed to be working on the 1760s stays. Yet here I've packed those naughty, annoying things away, in favor of Belle Epoque swishy skirts.

I don't know why: blame it on the summer air. Blame it on the days and days of rain that grow wild daisies in profusion like those in our arboretum,

Daisies alongside along a path in the Kentucky Arboretum.
but that produced monochrome scenes while we were visiting family at Wrightsville Beach for vacation. The boys swam in waves roughly the color of the sky, and the color was not blue.

Cousin Thomas and Christopher boogie boarding at the beach.

Blame it on remembering energetic days at Heart Lake, blackberrying and swimming, and looking at black and white photos taken the previous -- 19th -- century, when a small hotel stood next to what became our family's barn-red cottage.

Families and with children in fat hair bows and fluffy white frocks stayed there, the deep woods to their back and the inviting water in front. Ladies wearing shirtwaists with puffed sleeves and sturdy boots tied up a rowboat or canoe at the stone dock, and more than a few people drank soda pop out of glass bottles, pushing the metal lids into the bottles, drinking the contents, and then tossing the bottles into the shallows. We used to wade, feeling with our feet, and once in a blue moon they touched hard roundish surfaces instead of mud or stones, and we would pull up a bottle whole. Sometimes people swam.

I'd look and look at the pictures, still kept there at the lake, imagining my wild-haired, mosquito-bitten self in shorts and tee shirt, swishing in a pretty skirt, purposefully taking a brisk walk or canoe paddle.

Remembering the Sense and Sensibility Beatrix shirtwaist pattern, and that pattern cover with the three young women rowing in still water, and stroking water lilies as they passed, like we used to do, I thought, why not? It's summer! Let's swish in a skirt and try on immense puffed sleeves and dream of rowing under a blue sky with a handful of fluffy clouds.

The cover from my copy of the Sense and Sensibility Beatrix shirtwaist pattern
Even if it's so humid that my hair turns to a living barometer or the air is dripping with the remains of another rain, like it's doing right now -- I can hear it outside the window on the sill of which Nutmeg kitty sits, ears twitching as she listens to raindrops patter on the porch roof.

A moody Nutmeg kitty watches the rain from a room dim with the cloudy day.

But I want immense sleeves, and a skirt with a ridiculous diameter. I already have a circa 1895 shirtwaist, cobbled from that Beatrix shirtwaist pattern, and a leg of mutton sleeve from Period Costume for Stage and Screen 1800-1930. It just needs and ironing and a tie, and check, a sensible summer top for rambling -- or thinking of rambling, anyway.

I last wore the shirtwaist when the twins were toddlers. You can see where Kentucky humidity, or holding a boy or two, has deflated one of the sleeves. Ha!

Hmmm: cotton skirt with a Truly Victorian 291E walking skirt pattern, and we have the swishy part of the rambling outfit. All I need is my old grubby paddock boots with the button-like press closures.

But want if I want a bodice to go with the skirt that's a little more afternoon tea-ish? I can use the Sense and Sensibility shirtwaist pattern again, but enlarge the puff sleeves pattern option to more ambitious proportions, and make it of the skirt fabric, with some voile gathered and tacked to the front for ambiance and neck bow tacked to the back for kicks. That should be fun!

Let's top it with my old 1790s silk-covered brimmed hat. It's 1890s size, and just needs some loops of ribbon, stiffened so they roll and make a gargantuan bow for the back, and some stash feathers sticking up at odd 1890s what-were-they-thinking angles. And the American Duchess Tavistock boots...

The outfit would then rather look like this one, that I found on Pinterest some time ago, and to which I lost the reference. My apologies...

Starting the Outfit

What with all the clouds, and the twins busy with cousins and bouncing around and summertime reading, there was time to play and whip right through the skirt.

I purchased Truly Victoria's epattern, and spent a few hours of a non-beach rainy afternoon on vacation taping the pieces together from printer paper and preparing the pattern. The epattern saves on shipping and paper. I hope that TV puts more patterns in their downloadable line.

A Push To Re-Use What I've Got and Reduce Fabric Use

Lot of "use" sounds in the above, yes?

Against better judgement, I purchased inexpensive new navy quilting cotton with white pin dots for skirt and bodice.

This was in direct contradiction to my recent decision to lower my hobby's carbon and environmental footprint by not buying new fabric.

I have been using stash fabric, vintage fabric, vintage and antique notions, and employing old sheets and such for years out of preference -- just like so many of us do -- but wanted to close up the gaps.

And discovered that late Victorian patterns eat fabric for breakfast, turning it into vast expanses of skirt and sleeve.

Only had I found used complete king size used sheets in any pattern would there have been enough fabric for skirt and bodice. And I would have driven all over Wilmington NC looking for it.

Do I make the costume as I want it? Change the specs to what's available used? Factor in gas for travel in choosing new fabric? Make a costume that can be used several ways over time to minimize fabric use?

I tried to balance these factors, and am not sure I chose well, but environmental impact is now part of the costume project equation, as it should be. It's smart and responsible to do so -- and being thrifty is just like our forebears usually were, only for somewhat different and more existential reasons now.

Leimomi Oakes of The Dreamstress discussed carbon footprint in a recent post. If you haven't read it, please do.

The Skirt

Let's sing a paean to Truly Victorian, shall we? I've used quite a number of their patterns now, have made them as designed and have played with them to create my own designs, and They. Always. Work.
They're well cut, the sizing makes sense, the directions usually are concise and clear, and the site's forum, on which I've lurked, a Godsend. I love them very much. Thank you, Heather McNaughton for the No-Fail, No-Nonsense pattern line. You made putting together that skirt just plain fun, even if my Singer 28k hand crank sewing machine (bought in the 2000s) made my right arm tired with all of those long skirt seams. Ooof.

Turn, turn, turn that handle.

The hand crank is actually pretty fast, once you get the hang of turning the crank with your right hand and guiding the fabric with your left. One of my favorite features is that you can go stitch by stitch to ease through existing seams, around steep curves, or what have you. There's no motor to endanger by going so slowly, and there's no electricity used, just your own energy. Gee, a good reason to fuel up with a muffin, eh?

Here I am running a seam using it: one twin managed the camera.

The talking is choppy. It seems I cannot speak and sew at the same time.

Here are all the pieces laid out in front of the windows that tell us we did have a few rays of sunshine once in a while.

The spinning wheel has been quiet for a while, interrupted by the sewing adventure.

The skirt has a front, side front, side back, and back, and a generous hem facing. It's meant to be made with medium-weight fabrics, and with stiffener in the hem. 1890s skirts tended to have stiff hems to stand out nicely. Have a look at the photo of the young lady further up in this post.

Here is that hem facing, before I cut it out. See how wide it is? By the 1890s, fabric was cheaper than labor, and people splurged on their hem treatments.

Yes, that's a wide hem facing.

We will see if the lack of a stiffener affects my skirt too much. I didn't want a hot and heavy skirt. The fabric is fairly loosely woven, and what body it has is thanks to masses of factory-applied sizing, I think. I will starch it so much that it stands up on its own and walks away.

I used French seams throughout. The fabric frays easily, and I didn't want to have to hand-finish each seam, and a French seam is stronger.

There are no other construction photos -- the pattern directions were clear, and there's not really much to tell about a plain skirt. Little scope for imagination, shall we say, nod, wink?

Here we are, the skirt, untrimmed and lacking its facing, but otherwise complete. Look at the diameter of the hem, will you? Holy cats!

I do have an original petticoat from what is likely the 1890s, given its shape. It's complete with massive flounce. It has no train like early Edwardian petticoats, and is too full, I think, for circa 1910-11, when the fluffy skirt revived briefly. It may have been made from an earlier broderie anglaise petticoat. It's good and strong and it fits, so I will carefully wash it and see how it does. Pictures in another post.

If we don't get enough poof and floof, I may add a flounce with a ruffle to the interior of the skirt.

As for trim, well, two rows of white bias tape will do nicely. Maybe I will get to that this weekend. Mid-1890s skirts were usually, mercifully plain. I am getting to like this rather bold but clean-lined era.

Next up, that bodice.