Making a 1620s Busk (CoBloWriMo Day 15)

With several small projects happening at the moment, I am getting a head start on tomorrow’s “Small Project” prompt. The first project I am presenting you today is the wooden busk I made for my 1620s stays. I made it using these instructions from Drea Leed’s Elizabethan Costume page.

The finished busk.

For it, I used a 35 mm wide, 10 mm thick pine board. The finished length is 12″ (30 cm). Since the busk’s conical shape was a little trickier to work than the simple Regency-era busk I made using a paint stir stick, my dad kindly gave me a hand with the woodworking.

When it was all sanded and oiled with a tiny dash of canola oil, I felt like adding some design to the finished piece. So I scratched away with a small etching knife and created this little fleur-de-lis. Seeing how I had never etched anything before, it turned out pretty well.

My attempt at an etched fleur-de-lis.

This whole project was so small, it came together in one afternoon. And I am quite happy with it. Although it’s not a real hardwood busk as they were used in the period, it is very stable but also light to wear. The only choice of hardwood at the local store would have been beechwood. But it would have been very, very heavy. So sticking with the trusty old pine was a good idea. :)

Nessa

Top Tips for Handsewing Needles (CoBloWriMo Day 13)

Today’s CoBloWriMo prompt is “Top Tips”.

In their posts,Thedementedfairy,  Kitty Calash and Cassidy have pointed out how important handsewing and using the right materials is to achieve the best possible results. My tips are an addition to all the great handsewing advice they have already given.

Being a stickler for always using the suitable needles for each task, I have compiled some points on those pointy things for you. ;)

As someone who primarily hand-sews, I find that proper control over the needle is one of the most important things. To get it, I use the smallest, sharpest needles I can find, namely quilting “betweens”. 

Quilting betweens, sizes no. 7 & 9.

Betweens are shorter than modern standard needles. This brings them closer to historical handsewing needles which were often on the shortish side. Recently I found someone who was totally stumped at people using 1″ long needles for sewing. To be fair, it takes practice and threading them can be fiddly. 

Thus it is best to start with a slightly bigger size, like a no. 7, and to go down as you are feeling comfortable with it. I am now on a no. 9, which is the smallest size I can source locally. On the long run, downsizing is well worth it. I especially notice the difference when sewing invisible stitches, whipped gathers or tiny rolled hems. They turn out much nicer as the stitching becomes smaller and finer.

Another thing I find important is to toss your needles and take new ones regularly. On average, I do this after every second or third project. When sewing with silk or extra fine voile, I automatically take a fresh needle, just to be on the safe side.

If you are unsure if a needle is still good, pass the point over your trouser leg (or skirt ;) ) at an angle. If it scratches or snags, the needle is a goner. You can do the same with machine needles, to be sure you do not get holes in the fabric or a sewing machine on strike.

I hope these tips are no old news to you and will help you a little with your sewing. :)

Love, Nessa

A simple 1920s mantlet (CoBloWriMo Day 10)

To top off the robe de style from the previous post, I made a quick and easy flanel mantlet. For it, I used this 1921 pattern as a visual source.

An embroidered mantlet, Mode de Femme de France, c. 1821.

Mine is about knee length with my wrist-to-wrist measure as the width. As suggested in the small drawing in the bottom corner, I used a check fabric. It is pretty, with the weird side effect of de-focussing my camera at some angles. ;)

After opening up the front as shown, I hemmed the outside edges. The inner edges are wrapped with some leftover blue wool that is about 15 cm wide on the whole. Over the shoulders, I attached a similar band, embroidered with some lines of chain and stem stitch.

Embroidering the shoulder band.

To wrap the slit, I stitched in the ditch and brought the wool bands around the edge like so:

Stitching in the ditch and wrapping the band to the inside to finish.

The portion of the slit that goes over the shoulders is closed up with a short line of ladder stitch. I did this instead of the herringbone stitch suggested in the pattern.

Ladder stitching the slit in the back.

The finished product then looked like this:

The finished mantlet with trimmings.

At the bottom, the sleeves were to be  formed with the ever-popular 1920s snap cufflinks, poked through buttonholes. I found this interesting period ad for them. 

1920s advert for snap-on cufflinks (Source: Vanity Fair).

Being eager to finish the mantlet, I improvised using regular big snaps, hidden under fabric-covered buttons.

The hidden snap closure.

The mantlet wears like a charm and I would absolutely put it on for modern day wear, going with the current poncho fashion. Here some de-focused photos of the completed item.

The mantlet on me.


And a proper 20s-style back view. ;)

see you soon, Nessa

The big and fluffy 1920s Robe de Style (CoBloWriMo Day 9)

This project was finished for last Christmas. Ever since I entered it into the HSM, I have procrastinated blogging about it. Firstly, because I have not taken many photos to document making it. And secondly because the process has been full of bloopers.

On the bright side, this gown is big, pink and very poofy. Perfect for today’s prompt… So here we go. Perhaps it is not as frightful as I think. ;)

Lots of big poofiness happening here…

This robe de style has been my very first 1920s project. I made it out of a thin silk crepe. It looks pink in the photos but is in fact eggshell with tiny red woven stripes. The pattern, like all the other ones I have used to date, came from an issue of La Femme de France.

Robe de style pattern from Femme de France, 1927. Click for PDF.

The pattern in the diagram fits a wearer about 165 cm tall. Thanks to the darts, it is pretty flexible as to bust size. To make it fit me, I shortened the bodice by 15 cm and widened the front darts by 2.5 cm at the base.

The back piece of the bodice after cutting out.

And then I made the mistake. I tried to add a lining to make things less transparent. Thankfully, I was skeptical about that idea from the start and asked in the HSM Facebook group. Here Leimomi of The Dreamstress saved my potatoes by pointing out that sheer 1920s gowns were rather left unlined and worn over a dress slip. So I whipped one up, using this free pattern by American Duchess. Pressed for time I grabbed a sleek, taupe cotton poplin from the stash to make it.

The slip, before attaching the straps. As of yet, they are still a bit too long…

The pattern was meant for casual wear so the skirt hangs, rather than stands out. For formal wear, a pannier-like under-construction was used to hold them up. I substituted, using three layers of cream and rose tulle. For extra fullness, I sewed them to a canvas strip and gathered the skirt in one go.

Constructing a full skirt with tulle and canvas.

The un-trimmed robe de style.

To finish off, I added a big bow of leftover tulle and ribbons. Since the neckline decided to be a spoilsport and did not lie flat, I tackled it with some glass beads. In the end the gown was passable and I wore it to the family Christmas celebration. Forgive the weird expression in the photo. It is just that the person taking it had just told me I look like a pink elephant. It is his idea of a compliment but that only dawned on me later… At least my mother told me that her mother had owned a robe just like it. That alone made sewing this whole, poofy monstrosity worthwhile. ;)

The finished elephant robe de style.

Yours, Nessa

The 1920s Step-Chemise (CoBloWriMo Day 8)

For today’s “Vocabulary” prompt, I will tell you about the 1920s step-in chemise I finished in January. Yes… January. So it is about time you finally get to see them. Colloquially, this type of chemise with leg holes or attached knickers was also know as “Teddy” or camiknickers. It emerged for the first time in the 1910s and was more practical than long knickers as dresses gradually became shorter. It was also especially popular in the 1920s as it avoided a visible “panty line” and thus supporter the fashionable boyish silhouette.

For my pair, I used an interesting pattern from a 1921 issue of “La Mode de Femme de France”. The original thing about it is that it only consists of a single square of fabric. It as a neck hole in the center and is tied with a ribbon, either at the bust or waist line. The pattern looked so intriguing, I had to try it at once!

chemise femme de france

Step-in chemise pattern from Mode de Femme de France (Sept. 1921). Click for original.

I made my Teddy out of a square of cotton Muslin, using the original measurements. The fit was spot-on. Although, if you are taller than me (over 5 feet) you should alter the measurements to fit you. Measure yourself from where you want the chemise to begin, down to your crotch area. This will give you half the diagonal of the square you will need. To get from here to the side length you will cut, double this measure. Then divide it by  √2. This will give you the side length.

To get the width of the center opening, use about half your circumference in the spot where you want the chemise to sit. If you are not super busty, however, the dimensions in the original pattern will do nicely. Then, to form the leg holes, cut off a bit of the two tips at the bottom, finish these edges with a small hem and add buttons or snaps for the closure. Measure and make up the straps last, when you are happy with everything else. The ribbon tying the square into a chemise is laced through a series of buttonholes. They can either by placed at the underbust or hip level. I recommend trying out both versions with a piece of ribbon before you decide where to cut and sew the buttonholes.

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The finished Teddy, laid out flat to show the make-up.

I stuck with the “empire” waistline and it turned out lovely! To spruce up the neckline a bit, I did a shell hem. This was also a suggestion pictured in the original instructions. The other was to use matching ribbon for the neckline finish and straps. To make the shell edge, I used this lovely tutorial. For some extra traction when pulling the thread taut, I cut a finger off a spandex glove and stuck it on my thumb.

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Creating the shell hem.

The finished product turned out looking very lush. All that I need to make now is a period brassiere to go on top. :)

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The finished Teddy, front view.

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The finished Teddy, back view.

Just before starting the Teddy, I finished a slip and robe de style for the family Christmas party. Tomorrow’s “big project” prompt will be perfect to tell you about that poofy little monster. Stay tuned!

Nessa

A Fashionable Gift  (CoBloWriMo Day 7)

Today’s post should be about something we made for someone else. Since I very rarely do commissions and have already posted about the cap I made for a friend, I will tell you about the beautiful accessory a friend has made for me.

For ages I had been looking at the pineapple reticule from the Kyoto Fashion Institute, wondering if I could make my own. Being a relatively new knitter, I have not yet mastered knitting in the round. So this goal has remained unattainable up until now.

Yellow silk gown and knitted silk pineapple reticule (Kyoto Fashion Institute, c. 1800).

Last Christmas, however, the wait had an end: A very dear friend sent me one! Her mother had knitted it. She is a super experienced knitter, always looking for the next challenge. For it, she used this pattern, finishing it in record time. I will be eternally grateful to her for this incredible gift! Here it is. I have yet to show it off in a photoshoot to do it proper justice.

My pineapple reticule, knitted in cotton.

Much love, Nessa

An Extant Book Recommendation (CoBloWriMo Day 6)

Having thought long and hard on this one, I have decided not to recommend a “classic” historical sewing or costume book for this prompt. Generally I love working with “Patterns of Fashion”. Having drafted the 1630s stays and two other garments from it, I am in love with Janet Arnold’s works and detailed writing. But we all know the series is great already, right? ;)

So today I have picked a little gem that seems to go overlooked a lot. It is an extant book I stumbled across in an online library. Archives like these, especially Gallica and the Library of Congress, are my guilty pleasure. Sometimes I spend whole evenings there, just going on treasure hunts. This is how I found the “Manuel des dames” by Mademoiselle Clenart.
As the title suggests, it is written in French and no, there are no drawings in it. For a not-so-advanced French speaker like myself this can make reading the book a bit tricky and even some native speakers get puzzled with some of the expressions used by the author.

Unbenannt

But still, this book is great. The second edition found online dates to 1833, but it is a re-print of an edition published at least 10 to 15 years earlier. So it is sort of a “style guide” for the savvy late-Empire lady. It has everything from potion, powder and soap recipes to washing directions for period fabrics as well as advice on etiquette and fashionable dress. I especially love the corsetry chapter, which offers advice on different corsets, stays and belts for every occasion. This includes a section on maternity stays and directions to add fan-lacing to a pair of stays. I used the advice when making my morning belt last year.

manuel_pregnancy

Advice on maternity stays. The “ruban à cheval” expression led to an interesting discussion in a costume group. What is a ribbon riding a horse?! ;)

Despite the “language barrier”, I recommend this book to everyone interested in early 19th-century costume or just curious about reading extant sources. You can download a PDF of this book here on Gallica. Enjoy!

Nessa

Why I sew and love Regency costume (CoBloWriMo Days 4 & 5)

Yesterday was spent boning the 1620s stays. And, yay, they are officially boned now! Photos will follow. So tonight is spent catching up on the CoBloWriMo fun I have missed. The prompts for the past two days have been to blog about our favorite era and to tell the story of how we got into costuming / costume blogging.

Those two points go together nicely, so here goes the story. Usually I try not to get too personal on the blog, but today I might make an exception, or two.  ;)

First of, I have been a part of the costuming world for about five years now, and it is one of the best journeys on which I have ever been. Before that, I was just very interested in costumes, both historical and ethnic. In my teens I sketched a lot of costumes to accompany fanfiction and other stories I wrote. Some time ago I ran across a folder with in a drawer with some of those sketches still inside. I had forgotten I had done most of them in ball pen… oh my goodness *chuckle*.

With the costume journey my sewing journey began as well. I had not sewn much, aside from the usual mending, before starting my first costume, an 1850ish wrapper. It took ages to finish and I learned the skills I needed off Youtube tutorials. Up to that point, my relationship with crafting and needleworks had been very complicated. On the one hand I come from a family of talented knitters, cross-stitchers and sewers. My grandmother, for one, was a tiny lady who had to make and alter most of her own clothes. She was already old when I was born and we only spent the first ten years of my life knowing each other. But I remember going out with her one fall, to collect chestnuts. It felt like going on a promenade with the perfect 1930s lady in a tailored wool coat, feathered fedora and fur stole. This was when I decided I want to be such a lady one day, too.

On the other hand, any crafting endeavor since nursery school had been connected with frustration and self-doubt. The main reason for this were teachers and educators who had no patience for the clumsier kids like me. As a result, I have been told “you can’t do it!” more often than I can count. And it stuck, until well into my teens. Eventually I stopped caring what people thought of me or my skills and just started trying out crafts at my own pace. I found a mentor in my high-school art teacher and majored in Art although everyone but the two of us thought I would fail graduation if I did. Although in the end it was my best subject and I learned to use my creativity as well as my hands.

After falling back in love with embroidery around the age of 16, it took another six years for sewing and costuming to come around. I had had a friend in the SCA before that but never believed there were more people like her who sewed actual, historically accurate clothes. Then I started googling, found The Dreamstress, Fashion Through History *waves at Åsa* and the Historical Sew Monthly. After that the list of fascinating historical costume blogs to read grew and grew. I was hooked and decided to give it a try.

Everything started in the same year as my study abroad term in Vienna. By the time I got there I had finished the wrapper and a sort-of Regency day dress. I was yet undecided if I should fully dive into the hobby or which period to sew. Then I found something interesting. By the time Wien Museum (a comprehensive museum of Vienna’s city history) still ran an open fashion library at Palais Hetzendorf. My first visit there was just amazing. It took care of any further questions. I came in, asked the librarian about extant journals and she inquired which time period she should get me. Totally clueless, I asked back which was the earliest they handed out to visitors. A moment later I had issues of Ackermann’s Repository from 1800 on my study table. Ever since, Regency has been my main and favorite era. This shawl dress from Wiener Moden Zeitung has been my dream gown ever since.

Wiener_Moden_zeitung_1

Promenade dress from Wiener Moden-Zeitung (c. 1816).

The plate with the yellow Corinthean robe I use as my blog image comes from the same journal. It looks like a pretty close Regency resemblance of myself, glasses and all. ;)

corinthian dress

Corinthian dress from Wiener Moden-Zeitung (c.1810-20).

There is another funny story about my relation to the French Empire era. I only learned about it from my mother some two years ago. It is this: My middle name is Désirée. It is a bit peculiar seeing how my parents have never been to France, let alone speak a word of French. So I asked why. It turns out, I have been named after Désirée Clary Bernadotte through a series of crazy coincidences. The first is that my father loved novels on the age of Napoleon and had his mind set on naming a daughter after Désirée. She had given Napoleon a run for his money and he admired her for it. Secondly, there was once a Swedish ferry called “Princesse Désirée”, named after a direct ancestor of hers. My mother saw it as a little girl and chose to name her daughter Désirée, too. If that is not peculiar, I do not know what is. Thus, Désirée and her times will always play a special role in my (sewing) life.

Désirée Clary by Francois Gérard (1810).

And this has been my entry for the past two prompts. I hope it has not been too lengthy to read. Tomorrow I will try to be good again and return to the a post a day routine.

Love, Nessa

Jacobean Waistcoats of the 1600s (CoBloWriMo Day 3)

Today’s focus is on extant garments we adore. Since I just blogged about the extant item I own before reading the prompts, let us take a look at the other extant garments that have been on my mind of late: embroidered ladies’ waistcoats from the early 17th century.

The first example that usually comes to mind is Margaret Layton’s jacket at the V&A. Yes, the one she also wears in the painting. ;)

Painting of Margaret Layton by Marcus Gheeraerts and embroidered waistcoat (c. 1620, V&A)

But that is not the only surviving jacket there is. Especially in early 17th-century England waistcoats, embroidered such as this one or of knitted silk, seemed to have been a staple for the fashionable lady. Especially the ones with Jacobean crewel embroidery in silk and gilt threads required quite a bit of small change to buy though. Elisa of Isis Wardrobe has collected a few different examples of various origin on her blog. It is fascinating to look at and the linen waistcoat with woven silver stripes has totally stolen my heart.

Similar to the Layton jacket, there is another embroidered waistcoat I love in the Burrell Collection at Glasgow museum. It is also included in “Patterns of Fashion 3”.

Embroidered waistcoat (c. 1615-18; Burrell Collection, Museum of Glasgow).

Some time ago, a team of curators and embroiderers have set about recreating the Burrell jacket. They have compiled this great little film that gives lots of detail on this type of waistcoat, the Jacobean embroidery technique and also how the garments were fitted and worn. I really like the video and have recommended it many times before. Here it is for you, too.  Enjoy!

Whenever I look at all these pretties, I curse myself a bit for making my 17th-century persona French. These waistcoats were not common in this part of Europe. French sumptuary laws have played some role in this as they limited the amount of embroidery and, especially metallic threads. The same laws also barred most classes from using them at all. I can feel a post coming about this topic in the near future! And, maybe, I will find an excuse to make my own waistcoat after all. We shall see! For now I will just finish those stays.

Yours, Nessa

1630s Stays In The Making (CoBloWriMo Day 2)

Since it is August already (wow!) CoBloWriMo has officially started. So here I am accepting the challenge to blog more this month. Since last fall, life has been pretty crazy here with finishing uni, moving house and traveling up and down country in search of the right job. So there is quite a queue of posts now, waiting to be written.

Today I got back from a long birthday weekend and am using the moment to answer the prompt of the day. It is to blog about my current project. And that is *drumroll* a pair of c. 1630s stays. After the smock I finished this spring, they have been the next item on the list. 

It took some time for me to get started, but two weeks ago, I finally felt brave enough to draft the pattern. Being new to 17th-century costume, it was quite intimidating at first, but eventually, after two mock-ups and lots of fittings, things relaxed for me. Now all the layers are cut out and we are almost ready for boning.  Here are some facts about the project so far:

Pattern: Based on the Dorothea von Neuburg stays in “Patterns of Fashion 3″ and ” & Crinolines”. To draft the waistline, I referred to Drea Leed’s Elizabethan corset pattern and instructions for boned tabs. For reference, I also looked at Caroline’s post on making 17th-century stays and Sarah Bendall’s reconstruction of the Dame Filmer bodies, on display at the Gallery of Costume in Manchester. Both have been immensely helpful.

The Dame Filmer bodies (c. 1630-50) at Gallery of Costume, City Galleries Manchester.

Another thing that has helped me out was a 1620s painting of a French lady at her toilette. It shows some interesting details of the tabs and also the straps which you can see underneath the lacey cape.

A French lady at her toilette (c.1620s).

Materials: 

  • Boning: German plastic whalebone, 5mm wide
  • Busk: Hardwood, 30 cm long, 3 cm wide and 9 mm thick.
  • Outer fabric: Orange handkerchief linen
  • Interlining: Heavy linen-viscose blend. It is not entirely HA but super sturdy. Since it is a pretty shade of violet, I might use it for binding, too.

Lining: White upholstery silk. This is a shot silk and absolutely not period. But it was readily available from a local shop and does its job nicely.

The make-up so far: After cutting out the three layers, I sewed together the front and back pattern pieces of each one. At this point I should have stay stitched them to prevent fraying. But I only did that in the next step, after pressing the seams and stacking the layers on top of each other. I do not recommend forgetting this step at all… ;)

Cutting out the top layer.

The lining sewn together.

Next I marked the busk pocket and boning channels with chalk. After some trial and error, I settled on 6mm wide channels. Right now, I am in the middle of sewing them, by hand, using white silk thread. This is how they are looking so far. I think this may take a while to complete. ;)

Boning channel WIP.

This has been the state of the stays so far. I will do my best to keep you posted. Right now, I am just very excited about being a part of CoBloWriMo for the first time. Let us see what surprises this month will bring.

See you soon, Nessa