Purple Velvet in the 1630s – A bit of research

For the first post in the new year, I am getting back to my promise of a research post from December. I am currently working on my first 1630s bodice. It is all so new and exciting to me that I can’t quite round up my other sewing plans for the year. I don’t even have a project list for the Historical Sew Monthly, yet. Oh dear… What I do have, though, is some research on the bodice! This post will mostly deal with the fabric I picked. But since I have not told you much about the basics so far, we will start with those.

The bodice I am recreating is from the V&A’s collection. The pattern for it has been featured in both Waugh and Arnold but also in this wonderful book I got myself as a Christmas present. Here the pattern and construction is given in great detail, so I can remake it as accurately as possible. There are even x-rays of the bodice. Also on the cover…

The original version of the bodice is made out of slashed silk satin with scalloped edges.Mine will be a bit plainer, made from a purple velvet I fell in love with during winter sale.

Bodice of silk satin, c. 1630, Victoria and Albert Museum.

Now, technically, you should research first and then fall in love with a fabric. But sometimes, life just puts the cart before the horse for you. ;) After some last-minute research at the fabric store, I have now put together a better documentation. First of all, I looked into the prevalence of purple in the 1630s. The first thing I did was to have a look around the sumptuary laws. The French edict of 1634 makes no mention of the colour. In England matters are different. Both the Tudor and Elisabethan statutes restrict the uses of purple silks and velvets to the royal family. This has several reasons. First, purple was a very expensive dye to use, especially for the rich, darker shades. Which was already known in Ancient Rome, where its use was restricted to senators and emperors. Another point is that purple is a liturgical colour. In many Christian churches, it is worn during fast seasons, namely Lent and Advent. And in the Church of England, the monarch is the head of church. That plus purple being known as a “royal” colour explains the restrictions well. This also means that purple was definitely known and used for upper-class clothing. Here is an Italian painting from the latter half of the 17th century featuring a rich purple silk.

Samian Sibyl by Guercino, c. 1640, Hermitage Museum Saint Petersburg.

As for the use velvet in gowns, I have found a few good examples of it. Also some stunning, extant ones. First and foremost, there is Dorothea von Neuburg’s burial dress from c. 1598. When I saw it in Munich, I almost bumped my nose against the showcase when I tried to take in every breathtaking detail. Then there is this equally gorgeous men’s short cloak at the Museum of London. The velvet that came closest to the colour of my gown was this English metalwork book cover of blue velvet. Isn’t it pretty?

Velvet book cover, London, c. 1620.

What surprises me is how close the textures of these historical fabrics are to my modern stuff. Mine is not even silk, but a woven 100% cotton velveteen. But it is neither dull, nor very long in the pile. It is a little shiny, with a pile that is dense and short, like that of period velvets. Here it is. The nice texture came out when I washed and steamed it this weekend.

After some digging, I found portraits of 17th-century women in purple velvet, too. For once, there is Susan Feilding (née Villiers) from the 1610s.

Susan Feilding by Willian Larkin, England, c. 1616.

And, if one lady knew what was stylish back then, it was Queen Henrietta Maria. She even wore a dark velvet bodice in a style very similar to the one I am making. I cannot help but love her for that.

Miniature of Queen Henrietta Maria by David des Granges, c. 1636, The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.

Now that I have put you up to speed on the bodice, sorry about the huge delay, I will dive straight back into work. The boned foundation is as good as done and I am between cutting and setting gores at the moment. I will post some work in progress shots once I get around to it.

Wishing you a happy 2018 and a pleasant remainder of the weekend. :)



Little Project Show & Tell

There have been a lot of little projects going on lately. They are too small to write a blog post about each. So I thought to give it a go and sum them all up in a single post. If it works out well, I might do this more often to fill the gaps between bigger project updates. So here come my three current mini projects.

First I have been working on two small, tuckable fichus with bobbin lace trim. They are much like the one I wore to the market last year, simple triangles that are about 20″ high and 40″ wide at the bottom. The first one is all finished and I am about to start on the second one.

Making cotton voile fichus. One down, one to go.

What I just finished is a length of gold trim for my prospective 1630s gown. It is a simple square knot macramé pattern, worked in cotton and lurex cord. It was a lucky find in the Christmas section at the one-euro store. Out of 6 yards of cord, I got 30″ of trim. Since I am working in increments, to have manageable bits of cord, working through it all will take some time. Hopefully I will have enough trim in time for the finished gown. ;)

Macramé gold trim in the making.

The other project I have just started is a small crewel embroidery piece. When it is done, it will be a sweetbag. I found the pattern on Amie Sparrow’s blog. She has copied some gorgeous 16th-century patterns and made them available for personal use.

Ready for the embroidery on the sweetbag.

Right now, I cannot share too much about this project, because it will be a surprise for a friend. So shh… ;)

And these are the projects keeping me busy at the moment. What are your current projects? I would love to hear about them! :)


Stumbling into a Georgian Room

Last week, I went to visit a local museum, the Behnhaus-Drägerhaus in Lübeck. It is an amazing place that has been there all my life. Set up in two Georgian townhouses, it combines displays of 18th, 19th and 20th-century art with period rooms that are filled with Georgian and Regency furniture. The experience was very immersive as I went there on a quiet weekday. It left me puzzled why I had not come here before.

At the museum two surprises awaited me. One, this painting with a very interesting suggestion for accessorizing my new crossover gown. Just look at that frilly, ruffly chemisette…

Portrait of Henriette von Heintze with her children by Friedrich C. Gröger, c. 1803.

The second surprise was almost a bit out of this world. I found it on the top floor of the museum. Compared to the other two floors, it was almost empty. There was some minor construction work going on but it was open to the public. So I snuck up there. At least it felt like that way… up the historical staircase that got steeper the higher it went. If ever I had experienced the stairs servants had climbed to get to their part of the house, it was here. Once upstairs, I walked into an empty room…

… a Georgian room! It was labeled as the guests’ parlour and breakfast room. Like many others in the museum, it still had the original panelling, stucco and wall paintings that have been restored very well. The creaky wooden boards added to the experience. All that was newer, was the electrical lamp that should date to the early 20th century.

Just being in there left me breathless. I stood there for a good minute, gawping and wondering. Then I sort of started decorating it with period furnishings from plates in Ackermann’s Repository before my mind’s eye. This experience was as strange as it was amazing.

I should visit this special place more often. Maybe, next time, I can come back in costume.


HSM #10 – 1630s Underthings

They are finished! *happy dance* After what felt like an eternity, the final touches on my stays got done this weekend. Now you can have a look at the complete 1630s stays and petticoat. In this post, I will give you the lowdown on the basic facts and spam you with photos. Individual posts on both garments will follow in due course. Right now, I am just bubbly and happy to see how well everything came out. This mammoth project has really boosted my corsetry (and sewing) confidence. :)

Okay, first, here are the pictures:

A look at the front…

… and the back. On me, I lace up with a 1 1/2″ gap, but Rachel here is not squishy enough for it.

The side with a good view of the petticoat placket. Oops. ;)

Here is a closer look at the knitted i-cords in action. I used them as ties on the shoulder straps and to lace the petticoat to the stays. 

Knitted cord at the shoulder straps.

Cords tying the stays and petticoat together.

Attaching the petticoat with “points” like this dates back to Elizabethan fashion. Then “petticoats” were seen as a unit of a stiffened under-bodice and the actual petticoat. Both one-piece and laced two-piece bodice-petticoats were in use. The Dorothea Sabina von Neuburg stays have eyelet holes at the sides for this, too. If there is no heavy busk like I used it, the front tab was also tied down sometimes, to keep it from flapping up.

You may still remember the bum roll I made to go with this ensemble. Here it is, sitting happily on top of the stays:

A look at the underpinnings with the bum roll.

Now, it is time for the challenge facts. I had already mentioned some of them here or there, but it is best to have it all in one place at last. :)

The Challenge:
#10 – Out of your Comfort Zone

This has been my first go at proper 1630s costume and also my very first pair of fully boned stays. All these “firsts” definitely put this project out of my comfort zone.

1 yd of light orange linen, 1 yd of coarse violet linen blend and 1 yd white shot upholstery silk for the stays.

3 yds tropical wool suiting for the petticoat and a strip of silk noil for interfacing.

Dorothea Sabina von Neuburg stays in “Patterns of Fashion” / Drea Lead’s Elizabethan corset pattern and tutorial.

17th-century petticoat instructions at Marquise.de.


Notions: 20 yds of 5mm wide German whalebone; 12″ handmade wooden busk; 3 yds cotton corset lace; no. 100 silk thread for sewing and silk buttonhole for the eyelets.

Cotton thread, linen twine & hooks and eyes for the petticoat.

How historically accurate is it?
About 90% accurate. I tried my best to get the adequate materials and hand-sewed everything. Because there are so few surviving examples of early 1600s corsetry, the stays are plausible but the evidence is a bit patchy.

Hours to complete:
Lost count. ;)

First worn:
Around the house, to break in the stays and take measurements for the next layers.

Total cost:
The orange linen was €10 and the boning around €15, everything else came from my stash. My guesstimate would be around €55 for everything.

And that was it already. The underthings, and especially the stays, came out very well, much better than I thought. Do you remember how skeptical I was in January about getting them done this year at all? At first, drafting the pattern from so many different sources felt rather scary. But after three mock-ups and a good bit of swearing things began to look doable. In the end, the hardest part was binding the stays. The binding tutorial at Your Wardrobe Unlock’d was a real lifesaver here. After surviving even that, my sewing mojo got a much-needed boost.

So, the next time you feel like your sewing skills have hit a snag, I recommend making yourself a pair of stays. ;)

Love, Nessa

My Own Georgian Pockets

After delving into the wonderful world of extant Georgian pockets in my last post, I have finally finished my own pair. Yay! They got done just in time for the Historical Sew Monthly’s “Inspiration” challenge next month. My inspiration were these cute patchwork pockets made by The Young Sewphisticate. For the pattern, I went with an extant pocket from Costume Close Up. I shortened it to 12″, so the pockets would not bump into my knees. Short girl problems. ;)

The finished pockets.

The left pocket is patchworked with fabric bits from my stash and quilted in a simple diamond pattern. For the binding, I used some leftover double-fold bias tape. Instead of pins, I used wonder clips. They worked like a charm!

Binding the quilted pocket.

For the pocket on the right I bought a fat quarter of block-printed cotton. Up close, the off-white base looks almost like nankeen, so it worked wonderfully. I would have loved to get more for a dress; only the store no longer sold it by the yard… bummer.

The second pocket, looking cute.

The binding on this one is made out of scraps left over from my shortgown. On the bias, the brown and white checks get a whole new look. For the top edge, I went back to the green tape, to turn my pockets into a proper pair.

The halfway bound pocket.

The trickiest part about making the pockets was to neatly bind the slits. It is a popular topic for questions on the costume groups, too. So I will talk about it a little more in a separate post. For now, I will go and put the finishing touches on my stays. They have to get done in time for this month’s HSM. So much for setting priorities… LOL!

Cheers, Nessa

1630s Underthings – A simple bum roll

For the Historical Sew Monthly October challenge I am just finishing my ensemble of 1630s underthings. At the moment I am still playing around with the stays and petticoat. But the third piece, the bum roll, is already finished.

Bum rolls have been around in different forms as rump padding since the Elizabethan age. At first they were worn together with the farthingale but around 1620 they began to be worn on their own. This fashion more or less lasted until the Georgian era. When you look at Regency gowns up until the 1810s, there is often a small, sewn-in pad, reminiscent of a roll.

Here a small visual history of bum padding since the early 17th century :

Isabella di Savoia d’Este, Frans Pourbus the Younger, c. 1606. She is till wearing a late version of the Spanish farthingale.

Gertrude Sadler, Lady Aston, British School, c. 1620-23, Tate Gallery. The fullness of the skirt shows more towards the back, hinting at a bum roll being worn on its own.

Madame Molé-Reymond by Élisabeth Vigeé-Lebrun, c. 1786. The nice bump in the back is also created by a bum roll.

Bum pad sewn into the back of a Regency gown, c.1810-13, National Museum of Australia.

My bum roll was inspired by Quinn’s simple 18th-century bum roll. For it, I folded a rectangle of fabric in half and tapered the top edges to form the “horns”. Like so:

The bum roll “pattern” after cutting.

For the ties, I attached two 1 yard long pieces of twill tape into the points before sewing the roll together. Then I filled it with a mix of carbage (fabric scraps) and cotton fiber. Since it will go under some pretty heavy skirts, I made sure to stuff it extra firmly.

The carbage before it went into the roll.

The finished roll is 4″ wide at the widest point in the back. The length is 26″. It equals my high hip circumference, from hip bone to hip bone. Anything else would be too long to fit under the stays at the front.

The finished roll.

Although it does not look very round in flat, it is very pliable and lies nicely against the body. Leaving it tied to the form for a few days helped to shape it. When it was done, I was eager to stick it under a skirt, so I test-fitted the petticoat over it.

Testing the roll under the petticoat.

I must say, I really like that bump! Now it is time to finish the rest of the underthings in time for the challenge. Please stay tuned!

Yours, Nessa

Georgian Pockets Galore!

As autumn is finally here and we are about to spend more time indoors, enjoying our needlework, period movies or a good book over a nice cup of tea, I thought it was time for a picture post. In line with my current project for the HSM “Inspiration” challenge I have put together a little collection of extant Georgian pockets to marvel at.

Now you might say: “Wait, wasn’t she working on a 17th-century costume and what about her usual Regency stuff? Why is she getting side-tracked by pockets?” Well, here is the thing: I am one of those people whose handbag is always full of little bits and bobs in modern life. At events this has proven tricky in the past. No Regency reticule can hold all my stuff. Alternatively I brought along a lidded wicker basket or a nondescript cloth carrier bag.  It worked but was not the most period accurate solution.

Then I remembered Georgian pockets. They were still around in the early Regency era which I love so much. And since my new crossover gown has a drop front with deep plackets, pockets wear easily undeneath. The next consideration was what to do for my 17th-century costume. This was what initially made me research pockets. Sources often say that ladies wore them between the mid-17th and 19th centuries. Since my gown dates earlier than this, I wondered what had gone before pockets as we know them.  And I found the saccoccia, a belt pocket worn in Renaissance Italy. It had roughly the same shape but was worn outside the skirt more often. For more details on the saccoccia, I recommend this in-depth post by Anéa Costume.

For now, Georgian pockets will be my fix-all solution for both periods. Knowing my 17th-century persona, she would be cheeky and inventive enough to stick the pockets under her skirt, even before 1650. But now, I will just stop rambling and show you all these pretty pictures!

When we think of pockets, we often picture those amazing little works of hand embroidery some ladies have put on theirs. Like these ones here:


Pair of embroidered linen pockets, mid-1700s, Worthing Museum and Art Gallery.

Equally gorgeous is this quilted and embroidered pair, featuring a shepherdess:


Embroidered and quilted linen pocket, with silk binding, early 18th century, MFA Boston.

To make suck pockets, the design was stitched onto an uncut piece of fabric which was later cut and lined to protect the back of the work. Here is a set of stunning, nearly finished pocket fronts held at the V&A:


Pair of pocket front, embroidered by Hannah Haines, c. 1718-20, Victoria & Albert Museum.

But, even in the old days, not every lady was a super-skilled embroiderer. Pockets were a welcome canvas to practice not-yet-so-perfect needlework skills. This is why I am in love with this one from the early 1800s.

2006.0011.001 Pocket_winterthur

Embroidered wool twill pocket, c. 1807-15, Winterthur Museum.

As seen above, another technique used to embellish ladies’ pockets was quilting. Sometimes it was done in white thread on simple white pockets. And, simple as it may sound, the results look absolutely stunning:


Quilted linen pocket, c. 1760-75, Victoria & Albert Museum.

Also often associated with quilting, is patchwork, which was extremely popular with pockets, too. Examples come in many shapes and sizes. There is patchwork with bigger squares….

1961.0235 obverse

Patchwork pocket from New England, c. 1800-10, Winterthur Museum.

… patchwork with tiny squares…


Pocket, early or mid-19th century, Royal School of Needlework.

… beautifully designed patchwork…


Patchwork pocket, New England, 18th century, MFA Boston.

… or patchwork with applique.


Pieced and appliqued pocket, American, late 18th or early 19th century, auctioned by Crocker Farm.

So pockets were definitely a way to use up all your beautiful fabric leftovers. But sometimes they were also made of one single piece of beautiful fabric, often printed cotton calico:


Pocket made from block-printed calico, English, c. 1720-30, Winterthur Museum.


Cotton calico pocket, early 1800s, Manchester City Galleries.

And the print fabrics used were not all white, either. Look at this pink pocket with autumn leaves:


Cotton pocket, late 18th or early 19th century, private collection.

There are a lot more stunning and intriguing examples out there. This is just a small selection to fire up your pocket imagination. Maybe now you are going to make your own on one of those long evenings to come. I am currently working on my second pocket and have become a tad addicted. :)

Yours,  Nessa

Pins Pins Pins

Pins are a real sewing staple. We use them very, very often and still hardly talk about them. This why I want to write about them today.
Lately I have been working on a few different sewing projects. And I realized that I have been using many different pins for them. So I thought I would give you a little “tour” of my pin collection and tell you a bit about which ones I use for which sewing tasks. Perhaps you are using you can find a new pinning idea for your sewing in this post. :)

My pin collection (left to right): Standard steel pin, veil pin, glass head pin, fiberglass pin.

Steel pins are my tiny workhorses. I use them to hold together most standard fabrics, such as (poly-)cotton or wool. When in costume, I also use them as dress pins, to secure the layers on top of my stays. Although some people worry that they might prick themselves, I have never had that problem. My trick is to pass them in out of the fabric a few times, as if I was sewing with them. Then I make sure the pointy end comes out on top and everything is fine. The two things that annoy me about steel pins are that they bend easily and that they seem to get dull more quickly than other pins. Of all the pins I use, I have to replace these most often.Glass head pins are my new love. I only bought my first pack last month. Since then, I have mostly used them in stay-making and to fit mock-ups. They stay in place more reliably than average steel pins. I also find that they iron better and I iron over my pins a lot. The only downside I see at the moment is that they do not pick up so easily. Sometimes when I try to pinch the head between my fingers, the pin literally jumps to the other side of the room. Besides, good-quality glass head pins are not really cheap. Which is why I only got mine now… but it was a good investment!

Fiberglass pins are what I use to pin silk or other fine fabrics, such as sateen or voile. They slide in and out easily; sometimes even too easily. Also, they never get dull. But you do not usually find these pins in many places. I got mine at a store selling all kinds of novelty items. You might have to search around quite a bit to find a seller that carries them. I really wished more places would sell these cool little things.

Veil pins are basically 3″ long mini hatpins. And that is how I use them. When working on millinery projects, they are great for holding the hat/bonnet base on the styrofoam head. Of course you can also use them as decorative pins on mantles, cloaks or veils, as the name suggests. ;)

Another, amazing, thing I discovered recently are wonder clips. Once upon a time, they were mostly known to quilters. Now more and more sewers are discovering them. It took some time for them to come to Europe, now we can even buy more affordable no-name clips. They work just as well as the Clover ones. Recently I have used them when binding my stays. It was much easier than sticking in a pin every half inch or so.

Binding the 17th-century stays with wonder clips … and pins ;).

And this concludes the brief tour around the pin collection. Now I am curious about your sewing and costuming experiences with different pins. Looking forward to hearing from you!

Love, Nessa

A Herringbone Fichu

After the stays, I was itching to do a pretty project that would not take ages to finish. Thus I picked up a scrap of cotton voile and made another fichu. Like my previous one, I based it on this super handy fichu guide by the Oregon Regency Society. Only this time around, I made it rectangular in shape.

Here is what I did: I started by cutting two rectangles, each 28″ long and 12″ wide. After finishing the edges with 1/4″ hand-rolled hems, I joined up the pieces with an 8″ open herringbone seam. It now sits at the center back of the finished fichu. Finally I embroidered two more rows of herringbone stitch down center edges to match.

Creating the open herringbone stitch.

All herringboning was done is a blue no. 80 filet crochet cotton, which I use for anything but crochet. It works great for sturdy finishes or small embroidery designs like this one. Here is the finished item. Making it took about eight hours in all.

The front view.

A closer look at the herringbone finish.

The back view.

A close-up of the open-work seam.

This small project was much fun as I got to do two of my favorite sewing things… decorative stitching and rolled hems. After hand-rolling quite a few of those, the process has become a bit addictive. I think some of you can sympathize here, no? :)

Yours, Nessa

CoBloWriMo 2017 in Reflection

Here is my reflection post, fashionably late as so often, to look back on an exciting month of blogging. Before embarking on the CoBloWriMo journey for the first time, I was really not sure if I could get out a post every day. But then the blog was in a horrible backlog and it left my blogging mood like…

Portrait of Laure Bro de Comères by Théodore Géricault (c. 1818).

Then I decided to just let CoBloWriMo happen and to post as much as I could. And now the project post are finally up to speed again, for the first time in a year. And there is more: I got to know many new-to-me costume bloggers who make the most amazing things. And a sense of community has begun to form between us, as we got to read and follow each other’s posts over the course of the month.

Admittedly, towards the end of August, some personal stuff came up on my end and post started flagging a bit. Then Blogger acted up and I could no longer comment on the blogs hosted there. Working on fixing the issue now so I can follow and comment on the work of all the amazing people I “met” through the CoBloWriMo group.

Lastly, participating has given me back some of my old blogging mojo. I learned how to post from the WordPress app on my phone and actually have new ideas for posts again. There might be a new tutorial and some other fun stuff coming up here very soon. :) In summary, my blogging mood post CoBloWriMo is something like this…

Fashion plate of an evening dress (c. 1812).

Sending a big thank you to the organizers of CoBloWriMo and everyone who participated. You are an awesome bunch of people and I miss you already. I am much looking forward to staying in touch with your blogs and seeing all your projects in future.

Much love, Nessa