A Cap for a Dear Friend

After fixing some image server issues, the blog is back and I can finally tell you about all the projects I have finished over the past few months. Since my last post, the white crossover gown has come together at last. But I will keep you in suspense a little longer, since a photo shoot opportunity (my first proper photo op, yay!) might arise at the end of this month.

So, today I want to tell you about a gift for my dear friend Ann. She was kind enough to go through her stash and send me fabric for my shortgown when I could not find anything suitable on this side of the pond. This is why I simply had to sew something for her in return. Because she had once told me that she does not have a simple linen cap for reenactment, I knew just what to make for her.

For the cap I used my favourite Mill Farm pattern, the same I have used for mine here, and leftover white linen fabric from the bed shift. When making it up, I tried my hand on two period sewing techniques. The first were itty bitty rolled hems around the brim, on the back crown, and the ties.

Rolled hems around the brim…

…. and on the tape ties.

Further, I got to learn a new technique I had been ogling for a while: rolled whipped gathers! And now that I know how they work, I never want to go back to regular gathers, ever again. They just give you much more control over the gathering process and a much neater edge finish besides. To learn rolling and whipping, I used two video tutorials for orientation: This one from Katherine and another from Conner Prairie, which has sadly gone offline. This second one described a rolling process of the fabric around the needle. But I found that you automatically start doing that, once your stitching gets quicker. Here are some photos of the gathering process around the crown, with a look at the finished item:

Finishing the row of whipped gathers on the crown.

The gathered crown (with a rolled hem at the bottom).

The attached whipped gathers, inside view.

The attached whipped gathers, outside view.

Once everything was hemmed and the gathers were in place, all that remained was to back-stitch the tape ties into the brim, wash and iron the finished item. Here are some photos I took before mailing the cap overseas. It reached its new owner quickly so that she could make plans to wear it for the Regency Ladies Weekend at Riversdale House Museum last month. This was only the third historical costume gift I got to sew for someone and I am super glad that she liked it. :)

The finished cap.

The finished cap… back view.

Speaking of gifts: There has been another, very exciting, surprise that reached me in the mail earlier this year. But I will leave it for next time, since it really deserves a post of its own.
So… stay tuned!

Until soon, Nessa

PS: The image issues should be resolved now, but should you have any trouble viewing or accessing the images on the site, please let me know. Thank you! :)

A 1630s Smock – Pattern & Construction

A day after my last post I decided to stop being a chicken and got to work on my 1630s smock. My journey into this new-to-me period started with a good look through “Patterns of Fashion 4”. There I found the 1625-30 smock from the V&A collection (p. 117). As you can see in the picture, the extant original features some really delicious lace inserts, made from five different types of bobbin lace. I was in love with it even before I had seen pictures of the actual smock.

Smock, c. 1620-40, Victoria & Albert Museum.

This, and the dating of course, is why I decided to use this smock as the main pattern base for mine. My version will not include as much lace, though, and perhaps a bit of plain embroidery. Other sources I used to create my pattern were Drea Leed’s Elizabethan Smock Pattern Generator and the Italian chemise tutorial by Jen of Festive Attyre. While I was looking around the web for resources I also stumbled across the collection of 17th century costume links Elisa of Isis’ Wardrobe has put together. It is a great place to start if you are planning to make a 17th-century outfit.

When making my smock pattern I tried to take some bulk out of the pretty massive extant pattern and tweak it to my petite 5′ stature. Instead of the high neck, I chose to make a low neckline to create a versatile garment that can also go under the more low-cut bodices of the time. In the end, my pattern looked like this:

Pattern pieces and measurements.

The pattern pieces are the following:

  • 1 body piece, 90″x45″
  • 2 sleeves, 23″ long, 20″ wide at the top, 10″ wide at the bottom
  • 2 underarm gussets. 5″ square
  • 2 triangular skirt gores, 11″ wide and 33 1/2″ high

The pattern includes a 1/2″ seam allowance and a 1 1/2″ hem at the bottom. To save space, I cut the gores from rectangles and joined them up at the center. This technique can also be seen on some extant smocks in PoF 4.

After cutting out all the pieces, I folded the body lengthwise and cut out the neck opening, following the schematic below. It sits right at the center of the body and has a total length of 35″ across, leaving a shoulder length of 5″ at each side. The dotted line in the drawing represents the shoulder line.  :)

Schematic of the neckline.

When making up the smock, the neckline is gathered into a 1/2″ wide band, folded in half. To make the band I used a 1 1/2″ wide fabric strip, cut on the straight of grain. The smock at the V&A uses a folded 1/4″ band, but I was too much of a chicken to try that on mine. ;) The length of the strip I determined by gathering the front and back neckline until I liked the fit. Then I measured around the opening:

The gathered front neckline comes to just over the top of the bust and has a total length of 21″. To this I added 10″ for the gathered back neckline. The outer 2″ edges of the neckline are not gathered. This helps the smock to stay on the shoulders. For them I added an extra 4″ to the neckband. Plus a 1″ seam allowance, this added up to a 38″ x 1 1/2″ binding strip.

You can use a similar strip to bind the sleeve cuffs. For a gathered sleeve, however, you should widen the sleeves’ bottom edge by 5 to 10 inches. My version has simple 1/4″ rolled hems. The top 3″ of the sleeve seam are left open to create a slit at the wrist. The bit above that I am closing up with a drawstring in a lace casing. Once finished, it will look like a delicate sleeve ruffle. I will post some pictures of what exactly I did there when the smock is finished.

It will not be too long now. The sewn-up smock went into the wash today. I am hoping to iron and finish everything in time for the April “Circles, Squares & Rectangles” challenge of the Historical Sew Monthly. I will tell you a little more about the materials and construction, too, once the challenge photos are in. Until then, I wish you all a lovely, sunny Mayday weekend.

Love, Nessa

An Everyday Regency Morning Belt

Over the past few months, a discussion about wearing historical costume for everyday occasions has made the rounds in some online costuming groups. This reminded me of how much I love wearing Regency underpinnings with modern outfits. Half a year ago, I finally got around to making the Regency-era morning belt I have wanted to make for so long now. Since then, I have worn it under historical costume, but it has also had more than a few cameos as a bra replacement. Worn over a fitted camisole or t-shirt, it is super comfortable, much more than most modern bras. And, since a morning belt involves next to no lacing, it comes on and off more quickly than a pair of stays. :)

In today’s post, I will share the research and drafting / making process with you, so you can go on and make your own morning belt. The research has proven a little tricky, since extant examples of Regency-era morning belts are scarce, or at least somewhat hard to identify. But more on that in a moment!

Some Morning Belt Research

The one thing that has kept me from making the morning belt for so long (years, actually!) is that fact that this style is one of the least documented known Regency undergarments. The closest surviving examples to be found today are various sets of boned half stays. Examples of this are the Utrecht half stays Sabine has taken a pattern from and this corselet held at the Musée Galliera:

Corselet (Palais Galliera, c. 1820)

Corselet (Palais Galliera, c. 1820)

Corselet (Palais Galliera, c. 1820)

Since only very little information on the wearers and the occasion of wear exists, we can only assume that they have been used for morning / undress or maternity wear. And it seems very likely.  Still, I have always missed a clear link between these examples and the ominous “morning belt” from period texts. So I did a little digging.

On a whim, I started searching in French. This way I stumbled into a period book I had not know before the “Manuel des dames” by Madame Clenart, whose real name was Élisabeth-Félicie Bayle-Mouillart. You can access the full text here at Gallica. This is a second edition from 1833, but the content seems to date back to at least the early 1820, so it is a great resource for the mid to late Regency era. And it really is pure gold, it does no only hold advice on corsetry, fashion and manners but recipes for cosmetics, perfumes and some laundry directions for dress fabrics, among other things.

The corsetry chapter lists many types of stays, featuring suggestions on stays for maternity wear and instructions on turning a regular pair of stays into a corset à la prasseuse (the period equivalent of fan-lacing). This chapter also describes mornings belts and gives some instructions of how to make them up:

Extract from “Manuel des Dames” (2nd edition, c.1833).

In short, this extract gives the following hints for the construction of a morning belt (from what I could gather with my very basic French):

Half-stays for the morning are about 8 to 10 inches high (I understood this to be the back length), corded or lightly boned. The top part is shaped like it would be in a regular pair of stays, but the back ends in two long tabs that tie at the front with thread ribbon. They are very convenient for dressing in the morning, plan on going on a bath later or when you are in a hurry to get dressed. I do not know about you, but this sounds perfect to me on an average morning!
Fabric suggestion include white cotton or coutil for summer and nankeen or grey cotton canvas for winter wear. A lining in a matching colour is also suggested to make the morning belt more durable.

From this I gathered that morning belts also featured the crossover back tabs seen in the half stays above. Although they do not quite resemble those in the Galliera example, but come very close to those of the Utrecht stays.

Half-boned stays (Centraal Museum, c.1820).

Half-boned stays (Centraal Museum, c.1820).

On a side note, you can also find this kind of crossover wrapping for shape in a more unusual Regency-era garment. This bust (under-) bodice at the Victoria & Albert Museum:

Bust bodice ( V&A, c. 1820-29).

Bust bodice ( V&A, c. 1820-29).

After gathering this information, I finally felt confident to delve right into drafting my morning belt.

The Pattern

Since this has been my first venture into drafting a piece of corsetry, I decided to use these  drafting instructions for short stays by Mistress of Disguise. They also work wonderfully for actually making short stays. ;)

I started by following the instructions given for the front and back / side back pieces. The only thing I did differently was to use a slightly longer back length (9″ instead of the given 8″). For the bust gussets I cheated and used my size gusset from the Laughing Moon #115 pattern. I left out the straps and included them in the back piece later on.

To create the crossover back tabs, I turned to the pattern for the Utrecht stays by Sabine as a rough guide. First, I created the overlapping section at the center back. For this I drew two lines. The first was a straight extension of they stays’ bottom (underbust) line. Its length was equal to about 1/8 of my underbust measurement. I redrew this line later. Then I connected the end point to the top end of the CB line with a diagonal.

From here I rotated the back pattern piece outwards until the diagonal line was perfectly vertical. I will show you what I mean by this on the finished pattern piece in the picture below. When cutting out, the straight grain will run along this line, too. (Sorry about the slightly rumpled look. For some reason I could not find my original pattern draft…)

The rotated back pattern piece.

The rotated back pattern piece.

Now I elongated the vertical line by the length of my side back piece (again 1/8 underbust) plus two or so extra inches that would got over to the front at the sides. At the bottom edge of the line, I drew a perpendicular that was 2 1/2″ long. This marks the later front width of the tabs. Now I went back to the original bottom edge of the CB line from the initial draft. and connected it to the end point of the short perpendicular line with a long curve.

For the strap, I did a similar thing. I extended the top of the long vertical line by the desired strap length (14″ in my case). Again, there is a perpendicular line at the top edge, 2 1/2″ long. From its end point, I drew another line, parallel to the vertical. To get the length of the line I calculated my strap length – shoulder to underbust length at CB. This way I made sure that only a narrow strap shows at the front.

To shape the top curve, I extended the curve on top of the side back piece, across the back piece, until it reached the end point of the parallel.  The finished back pattern looks like this: Originally the strap was a part of the back piece. But when doing the final mock-up, I decided to make it into a separate piece to reduce some of the strain on the fabric. The seam runs in a spot where the mock-up had a little pucker. There is now no pucker in the end result. ;)

The finished back and strap pieces.

The finished back and strap pieces.

Making Up The Morning Belt

When making morning belt, I used up the leftovers from my long stays. Thus I made them out of two layers, an outer layer of white cotton twill and a sateen lining. After putting in the gussets and sewing together the individual layers, I joined them together by stitching through the side and side back seams. This minimized the amount of basting at this stage and made for nice, extra durable seams on the finished corset.

Joining the layers by stitching through the side seams.

Joining the layers together by stitching through the side seams.

For the light boning, I used four rows of cording with 1/4″ kitchen twine over the side back seams and two rows of cording plus a small piece of heavy-duty cable tie at the side seams. For the busk, I made a teeny 4″ wooden busk from a paint stirrer, using my own busk tutorial. With some hindsight from the last time though, I did not oil it as profusely as the last one. ;)

A tiny 4

A tiny 4″ busk.

After adding four hand-bound eyelets to tie the straps to the front, I started binding the morning belt with cotton bias tape. I bound the short edges of the bottom tabs individually then sandwiched the twill ribbon that ties at the front in between. Then I went about the remaining binding as usual. The top binding at the front holds a small 1/2″ drawstring that keeps the ladies in check.

On the dress form, the finished morning belt looks like this. It fits much better on my ( somewhat more squishy) self and I really love how it came out.

The finished morning belt, front view. :)

The finished morning belt, front view. :)

The finished morning belt, crossover back view. ;)

The finished morning belt, crossover back view. ;)

Close-up of the strap lacing and side boning.

Close-up of the strap lacing and side boning.

Cording at the side back seam.

Cording at the side back seam.

Now I am so happy that I finally got to make this piece of Regency corsetry for modern ladies in a rush to get dressed! :D I hope you enjoyed this rather long post and it has shed some light on the making of a morning belt. If you have questions, please feel free to ask them here at any time. Wishing you all a lovely rest of the week!

Cheers, Nessa

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A Shortgown At Last

Finally, I got to compile the long-overdue post on my beloved shortgown I finished a few months ago. To start off, here is the finished product: I took these pictures after wearing it to one of my very first costume events (a historical market) so it is not perfectly pressed. ;)

The finished shortgown.

The finished shortgown.

The back, with pleats and a little bow.

The back, with pleats and a little bow.

The fabric I used was a gift from a dear friend who is a Regency/Federal-era costumer herself. She was very, very kind to send it across the Pond after I had spent weeks not finding a suitable fabric for the gown I liked. I am so glad she could help me out. But before I got to work with this beautiful fabric, which is a light, printed quilting cotton, I delved into research to get inspired about possible patterns.

Some Research
To begin with, shortgowns were present in women’s wardrobes in the 18th and early 19th centuries. In the 18th century the were also often known as bedgowns or manteaux de lit. And, while the general style of the gown stayed the same over time, some little details in the cut and shaping changed: Earlier versions of shortgowns were often cut from one piece and more or less symmetrical, with a front opening and a flared skirt section, shaped using pleating and / or tucking. Marquise wrote up some very good instructions for an 18th-century bedgown, based on Garsault’s book, here. Another example for this style, but with a more flared skirt, is the Kallfors gown from Sweden. The reproduction in the link also comes with a pattern. :)

And, while one-piece versions seemed to have been the rule, it is not uncommon to find gowns where the skirt section has been pieced on. This was done in the Kallfors shortgown, too. But it is not easy to spot from further away. Here is another Swedish example from Digitalt Museum where the piecing is more obvious in the lovely, bold stripe pattern.

A mid 18th-century Swedish bedgown from Digitalt Museum.

A mid 18th-century Swedish bedgown from Digitalt Museum.

As time went on towards the Regency era, narrower shoulders and slightly deeper necklines made an appearance as working-class women began to adapt the look that was fashionable at the time. Isabella of the Two Nerdy History Girls wrote a very nice post that sums up these developments. With the changes in shaping, neckline and waist drawstring began to be used in shortgowns. Here is a Dutch example from the very early 19th century that seems to have a neckline drawstring and sports a leaner silhouette than the more flared earlier gowns.

Early 19th-century shortgown from Friesland (Source: Memory of the Netherlands database).

Early 19th-century shortgown from Friesland (Source: Memory of the Netherlands database).

Another Dutch gown, where the drawstrings are a bit more prominent is this brown one. It has a visible join and drawstring at the waits, though the join might also be a casing sewn as a tuck. To me, this one looks super cute and very “Regency” and so it became the main inspiration for my project. Below, I will tell you how I went about making it.

Another Dutch shortgown, probably 19th century, from Amsterdam Museum.

Another Dutch shortgown, probably 19th century, from Amsterdam Museum.

The Making
To make mine, I played around with the Sense & Sensibility ELC pattern I used for my stripe dress last winter. I went with the long-sleeve version of the bodice pattern. The only difference was that I included a front opening. For this, I added an overlap of 3/4″ at the center front and cut two halves of the front piece, instead of a whole one. Here is a photo of my cutting layout and the lovely brown fabric:

The bodice pattern and layout. :)

The bodice pattern and layout. :)

To finish the front overlap, I pressed over 1/8″ and sewed a tiny hand-rolled hem on either side. I think this is how I finally fell in love with making them. They did not take long and came out looking really cute, almost like iced on. After finishing them, I sewed the rest of the bodice according to package… erm pattern instructions. ;)

The 1/8

The 1/8″ rolled hem on the bodice front.

And the finished bodice, with drawstring neckline.

And the finished bodice, with drawstring neckline.

The neckline drawstring casing I made of self-fabric bias binding, also based on the pattern. For the top closure, I sewed two small eyelets into the inside of the casing. They are set off by about 1/2″ so that they tie safely on the inside.

One of the two CF eyelets. :)

One of the two center-front eyelets. Below you also see the casing for the waist drawstring. :)

Like in some of the earlier extant gowns, I also made a separate skirt piece. I had two rectangles for the front that were 8″ long, plus 1 1/4″ for the top and bottom seams. They attach to the back piece at the bodice’s side seam. For the back piece, I played around with the pattern’s skirt piece, which has a curved top seam line. I trimmed it down to 28″ width, to accommodate one box pleat at center back and four small knife pleats on either side. At CB, the piece was about 11″ high and it went down to 8″ on either edge, to fit the front pieces. After sewing the three pieces together, I added two more tiny 1/8″ hems at center front.

The skirt piece, sewn together and hemmed.

The skirt piece, sewn together and hemmed at center front.

After attaching the skirt to the gown, I finished the skirt seam with bias binding. I then sewed it up into the bodice from CF to the side back seam line to form two drawstring casings. The strings tie up to pieces of cord near the back. To finish off, I finally added a little decorative bow to the back. It helps to cinch up the waistline and nicely brings out the pleats. :)

Another “gimmick” my shortgown has is a bodice “lining” piece that keeps everything in place. It was a feature of the S&S pattern and I decided to keep it, since it helps a lot with keeping the gown straight over the stays.

The bodice

The bodice “lining” from scrap fabric.

When I wore it to the event, the lining and outer gown were held together by a total of 30 (!) short pins. And, after spending six hours plus in costume, the whole construction had not budged an inch. I also wore the fichu on the occasion, using even more pins on it and it behaved very well, too. This taught me again that pins really are a great period closure method. And that, no, they do not prick and poke you at all. :D

So, all in all, I am very happy with my first shortgown and actually having worn it “in public” for an event. Here is hoping that I can repeat this again soon.  Until then, it is back to the thesis and more sewing (yay!). Wishing you all a relaxed remainder of the weekend.

Love, Nessa

 

 

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Catching up: A linen and silk spencer

Can you believe it has been half a year already? When I decided to leave the blogging part of my life to graduate, I thought I would be back with you after a much shorter while. Now, six months later, I am still working on the master’s thesis, hoping to finish it this month at last. But I have missed you and the blog so badly that I have decided to slowly return now. Plus, I have been sewing a great deal, since it helped me to stay focused and gave me little moments of contentment when the thesis did not really co-operate in that respect. ;)

By now, the queue of projects and little things I am aching to share has become quite long. So it is about time to pick up the threads and start catching up! In this post, I will tell you about the first thing I began to make a little while after my last entry: a linen and silk spencer jacket.

I made it up based on this gorgeous extant roller print spencer from the Genesee Country Village Museum’s collection. The original is made up from a cotton print fabric, in very lovely shades of red. For mine, I used some medium blue linen. I had found just over a yard of it on the leftovers table at my favourite fabric store.

While the original is lined with unbleached muslin, mine got a lining of unbleached silk noil. Noil is a fabric made from the waste fibres combed out in the silk production. While it is usually coarse and not really nice to look at, it handles almost exactly like other silks but is much more affordable. So it worked very well as a nice, warming lining.

The pattern of the extant spencer at the GCVM.

The pattern of the extant spencer at GCVM.

Here is the pattern taken from the museum piece. It has only been the second time I worked with an extant pattern and so I was a little anxious. Though, as far as alterations go, I had to change only very little. Basically, I graded up the bottom halves of the bodice pieces to my underbust measurement, using the waistband (at the top) as a guide. Another thing I did was to extend the shoulder seams to my measurements. The rest I left as is. Especially with the sleeves, it was a little gamble. But since the original sleeve cap had lots of gathers, I got away with it. ;)

Still, it took me a good three weeks to get from the first mock-up to the finished pattern. Though the pattern mostly needed some taking in and lengthening, I was very determined to stick to the “measure twice, cut once” rule because there was not much of the lovely blue linen to waste. In the end, the only part I left unchanged was the armscye and the sleeve. They matched up very well and fit like a charm! Even on modern patterns, this hardly ever happens for me so I did a little happy dance after setting the sleeve into the final mock-up on first go. Yay!

The initial-mock up: a little short, but very roomy.

Yippee, the sleeve going in on the first try!

Yippee, the sleeve going in on the first try!

Cutting out: Not and inch of fabric to waste.

Cutting out: Not and inch of fabric to waste.

The bodice coming together.

The bodice coming together.

The basic spencer with sleeves and the lining basted to.

The spencer, with sleeves and the lining basted to.

Assembling the outer fabric and lining pieces was pretty straightforward altogether. Once the bodice had come together, I more or less flat-lined the bodice, sleeves and collar by basting and then sewing everything together. All the outer edges were left raw as I finished them up with a row of piping and self-fabric bias strips, as it was done on the original. Below you can see the lining process for the sleeves where I basted and then slip-stitched the lining’s bottom hem before sewing up the side seams.

The slip-stitched lining at the sleeve's bottom.

Slip-stitched the lining to the sleeve’s bottom…

… then sewing up the side seams of both layers in one go.

The raw edge on the linen I finished by applying cotton piping to the right side, un-corded edge to the raw edge. This was then enclosed in a 1 1/2″ wide bias cuff from self fabric. The same method I used on the collar. It is a simple round collar with single under-layer of cotton canvas, sewn to the neck edge individually. The bias strip I used for binding here was 2″ wide with about two thirds of it folded into the underside. Amazingly, this trim was enough to make it all lie flat. But then this has also worked on the original. ;)

Sewing the collar around the neck edge (sorry for the blurry photo).

Sewing the collar around the neck edge (sorry for the blurry photo).

The finished collar trim, top and bottom.

The finished collar trim, top and bottom.

Matching trims!

Matching trims!

Finally, the bottom edge was finished with the waistband. It is reinforced with a strip of canvas and has a short overlapping placket hooked shut at the center front. And this was the making process already. The last thing that was missing, was the closure. It is one of the things I like best about the spencer, since it is simple and genius at the same time. Basically it is a cleverly hidden hook-and-eye closure with the eyes sitting over the inside edge at CF and the hooks sewn to a tape underneath the overlapping side. Once you close it, it is completely hidden from view. The hooks are spaced unevenly, with smaller distances at the top and bigger ones towards the bottom. This was also done on the extant spencer and ensures a nice, secure fit.

The hidden closure.

The hidden closure.

And here is the finished piece. I wore it over my blue cotton petticoat, since it was the closest thing to hand and I was a bit excited about finally taking some pictures and entering the finished product into the Historical Sew Monthly’s “Travel” challenge. Now I am glad that I finally got to share the whole documentation with you. I hope you can forgive some of the atrocious photos. My new camera is not very well-behaved in artificial lighting but, at the time, it was the only light available… a by-product of writing by day and sewing by night. ;)

The finished linen and silk spencer... after about five weeks.

The finished linen and silk spencer… after about five weeks.

The back view, by daylight. I was so excited to be done, I completely forgot to iron the waistband. ;)

The back view, by daylight. I was so excited to be done, I completely forgot to iron it. ;)

This concludes my very first post in what has felt like ages. I have missed you all so much! Funnily, the number of the blog’s followers on Facebook has exploded during the idle months. We are not at over 300. Wow! This still leaves me baffled and in awe. I am very happy people stay so supportive and interested, even during longer times of hiatus. Still I am overjoyed to be back. Please give me a little while to catch up on all you have been up to in the past months. It feels like I have missed a great deal of wonderful things!

Much Love, Nessa

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Covering Baby’s Head – Georgian Style

Recently, there have been two new additions to my extended family: Two new baby cousins were born in March and April. They are both girls and look absolutely adorable. To welcome them into their lives, I decided to sew a little gift for each of them. Fitting with the HSM “Protection” challenge, I decided to make a pair of historically inspired baby bonnets. Since I have never sewn any clothing for babies before, it was a sewing adventure I was itching to embark on.

True to my favourite era, I decided to go for a Georgian / early Regency style bonnet. Since time was a bit short to get everything done for the baby girls’ arrival, I opted for a simple style, like the one in this 1801 plate from Costume Parisien:

Mother and child fashion plate; Costume Parisien, c. 1801.

This style corresponds fairly well to this extant American infant’s cap from the late 18th century.

Infant’s cap, second half of the 18th century, American; MFA Boston.

This is the simplest style of period baby caps to be found. It usually consists of two pieces: a narrowly hemmed head-piece and a ruffle or lace edging. Ties were optional and seem to be missing from many surviving bonnets. Beyond this very basic style, quite a lot of bonnets had extra decorations. Lace insets at the back of the head were a very frequent decorative addition, as you can see in this other cap from the MFA.

Infant’s cap with inset lace, 18th century, American; MFA, Boston.

Beyond that, some extant caps show off some very fine, drool-worthy embroidery in white, or sometimes even colored, thread. The early 19th-century example below is one of my favorites. Reaching this skill-level at white embroidery is definitely one of my long-term goals. ;)

Embroider baby cap, early 19th century, British; Textile Museum of Canada.

For my cap, I used Sharon Ann Burnston’s basic 18th-century baby cap pattern and tutorial. The original pattern is sized to fit a very small infant. So, after talking to some other seamstresses who have made it up before and also to the pattern creator herself, I decided to scale it up to about 125% of the size. This way my little cousins can grow into their bonnets over the next few months. :) Here are some detail pictures of how I made up the caps. Since they were so small and my sewing machine needed some maintenance, I sewed everything by hand. It was the quickest, easiest way.

The narrow-hemmed main piece.

After cutting out the pattern from a leftover piece of printed Swiss-dot cotton, I narrowly hemmed the bonnet’s main piece, using the rolled-hem stitch I talked about in this post from last December.

The laddered back edges, sewn 2/3 of the way.

Afterwards, I folded the bonnet in half, butting up the back edges. They were then sewn together about 2/3 of the way from the bottom edge. For this I used a ladder stitch. It is a more or less invisible stitch that can best be described as a straight version of the slip stitch, going from side to side in parallel, horizontal lines.

The radial pleats, outside view.

The radial pleats, inside view.

The open portion at the top of the back edge was gathered into radial pleats, using a circle of evenly spaced gathering stitches, about 1/2″ away from the center. I used a sturdier fillet crochet cotton yarn for this step. Pulling the gathers taut on both sides, created the little rosette you can see in the bottom picture. To secure everything, I tied the thread ends into a firm double knot. Then I back-stitched and buried each thread in the seam.

The lace attached to the bonnet.

Last I stitched some cotton lace to the hemmed edge, all around the cap. After that all I had to do was to add the ties at the “x” marks. For this, I used two 7″ long pieces of 1/2″ wide cotton hem tape. And here is what the finished baby bonnet looks like:

The finished baby bonnet, with ties.

Making one bonnet took about ten hours, or three evenings while taking a break from study and paper writing. ;) I am very happy with the outcome. And, hearing back from the new babies’ mothers, they were very pleased to receive them as a surprise gift in the mail. Now I cannot wait to see the bonnets on my little cousins’, once they have grown into them. :)

I should really try and sew for friends and family more often. But this year, time is extra short *sigh*. Although I am hoping to see you all again very soon.

All the best, Nessa

HSM #3: Ladylike Hand Protection

For me, embroidery is one of the best pastimes during exam season. It gives you something to pick up and work on when the paper writing muse is silent or when you simply need to take a little break. That is why I decided to do a small, handy  embroidery project for this month’s “Protection” challenge: A pair of early Regency mitts.

The main inspiration came from these two extant pairs from the Met and MFA collections. The mitts from the Met are an earlier pair from the latter half of the 18th century. At this time, a triangular flap, often with a contrasting piece of fabric sewn to its underside, was a common feature of mitts. Towards the Regency period, this flap slowly disappeared in favour of a straight top, as you can see in the early-19th-century pair from the MFA below.

18th-century mitts, in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum.

Mitts, late 18th – early 19th century, MFA Boston.

Since this has been my first glove-making adventure and I was feeling a little unsure about how to design a pattern, I went to search for resources and found a wonderful tutorial for making Colonial mitts. It uses a pattern based on an extant pair from the Colonial Williamsburg collection. I used it as a base for my own pattern, enlarging it to about 120% and taking off the flap to get a straight top edge.

Next I picked a floral embroidery pattern from Ackermann’s Repository to decorate the top. It is a bud and leaf design I outlined in stem stitch. To fill out the buds, I also used stem. The leaves are filled with alternating satin or fishbone stitch.
Since the fabric I used was a light cotton sateen, I added the embroidery before cutting out the mitts, to prevent fraying in the wrong places. ;) Here is how it all looked in progress:

The embroidery in progress.

Once the embroidery was finished, I cut out the gloves and found that embroidering had been the easy part of this project. So I will give you a brief walkthrough of how I made up my pair, for future reference, in case you are planning to make your own. :)

Gathering the materials.

The first thing I did was to get together my materials. I used sateen for the outer layer and a light cotton shirting from the stash for the lining. All pieces are cut on the bias, to allow for a snug but comfortable fit. In this picture, the thumb holes are already cut out. Before I did that, though, I took an extra step:

Tracing the shape for the thumb hole.

After backstitching and overcasting the thumb pieces’ 1/4″ side seam, I placed the underside of the piece on the right side of the mitt body and traced the shape. I then subtracted 1/4″ on the inside of the trace line for the seam allowance and cut the hole based on that. There was a thumb hole given on the original pattern, but after sewing a test piece, I found that it needed some improvement. And taking the time to re-trace it really did a lot for the fit. :)

The shell and lining, with the side seams sewn and pressed open.

Next I attached the bottom edge of the thumb to the holes, right sides facing and backstitched it in place. Afterwards I just sewed up both the outer and lining pieces at the side seams, taking a 3/8″ allowance. Once all the seams had been pressed open, I slipped the lining over the outer, so that the “clean” sides faced each other and the thumb peeked out of the hole in the lining like so:

The shell and lining matched up at the side seams.

To line the mitts, I sewed the pieces together at the top edge with a backstitch, taking up a 1/4″ seam. After I folding the lining into the mitts, I finger-pressed under about 1/4″ of fabric around the thumb hole and stitched it down, encasing the raw edges on the inside. As a final step, I folded and slip-stitched the bottom hems of the mitts. To keep the lining invisible, I created a slightly deeper fold, so that it came out about 1/8″ shorter than the outer layer.

Once everything was in place, I used a single strand of embroidery floss to create a herringbone borser along the thumb hole. It came out very pretty, but also served to reinforce the fabric against wear and tear.

The finished mitts. :)

Here is what the finished pair of mitts looked like after this final step. I am quite happy with how they came out. Finishing them was a very sweet treat at the end of the exam season. :)

Now the new (and final !) term is here for me. At the moment I am still very busy juicing all the lemons uni throws at me. Although, finally, things are starting to roll again in the sewing room. There are a few new projects coming up and I am much looking forward to sharing them with you.

Thank you all for your patience in bearing with me until now. I will do my best to stop being such a stranger and bring the blog back up to speed again soon.

Much love, Nessa

HSM #2: A Market-Day Petticoat

Despite the finals still going strong, I surprised myself and finished the entry for the Historical Sew Monthly’s “Pleating & Tucks” challenge on time. It is a pleated petticoat to go with the shortgown I am planning to sew this year.

This marks the start of a whole working-class outfit which I am planning to wear at a historical market in October. It will be one of the very first costume events I am attending in Regency-era costume. And, boy, am I excited about it already! But first, here is a look at the petticoat:

The finished petticoat, front view.

The finished petticoat, rear view.

The petticoat is made of two yards of unbleached cotton broadcloth. I cut it to the finished skirt length, leaving one selvedge intact. After sewing the fabric into a tube with a single side seam, I pleated the raw edge into a  35″ wide waistband, using graduated pleats. At the center back, there are some 1/4″ pleats “stacked” on top of each other for some extra fullness. At the side seams, the pleats reach a maximum depth of 1″.

A close-up of the graduated pleats at the back.

The “tube” method I used to construct the skirt was inspired by the Hungarican Chick’s bib-front gown tutorial. It seems to work perfectly for that purpose, with an even front flap being cut into the skirt. Since there is no such flap in a petticoat, I had a little extra work getting it to hang  evenly. The little hack I used to balance it, is a 9″ long “dart” over the left hip, opposite the side seam. Here it is:

The dart balancing the skirt.

At the top of the side seam, there is a short in-seam placket, about 7″ long. It matches up with an overlapping hook-and-eye closure in the waistband. The overlap here is approximately 2 1/2″.

The inseam placket.

The overlapping waistband closure.

And there is another secret to the petticoat: The bottom edge is on the selvedge, so there is no need to hem it. At the moment, I like the look as it is, but I might fold it under when I decide to use it as an invisible petticoat under a dress or other skirt.

The bottom “hem”. I feel like such a cheater… ;)

When the skirt was all sewn up, I machine-dyed it with an artificial indigo dye. Afterwards, I sewed on the straps to keep it securely at the underbust line. They are made from 1″ wide white cotton tape which stays pretty invisible over the other underpinnings.

That is all there is to the construction process. It was easy and quite fast, in spite of mostly hand-sewing it. Now, here are the challenge details to fill you in on everything else. :)

The Challenge: #2 – Tucks & Pleating

Fabric / Materials: 2 yards of unbleached cotton broadcloth; blue dye

Pattern: None. Loosely based on Twila’s petticoat tutorial.

Year: c. 1800.

Notions: One yard of woven cotton tape; cotton thread.

How historically accurate is it? Most of it is hand-sewn, though I had no extant example to work by. Since the indigo dye was synthetic, I would say it is about 95% accurate.

Hours to complete: About 30 hours.

First worn: For the fitting, it will be worn more extensively at a historical market this autumn.

Total cost: € 6 for the fabric and notions, plus € 4 for the dye, so approximately € 10 altogether.

It was good to get the chance and post for you, but now it is back to the grindstone for another month. I am hoping to see you all again in April, with some updates on the two small projects I am trying to tackle for the “Protection” challenge. One of them is a set of two 18th-century baby caps. This is the first time I am making baby clothes and I am much looking forward to sharing this experience with you.

Until then, I wish you all the very best. See you next month!

Love, Nessa

A Quick Regency Apron How-to

To wrap up 2015 and start afresh into a new sewing adventure in 2016, here is a look at the last project of the year and how it was done. It is a simple Regency waist apron I spontaneously made over Christmas, using a scrap of rose-colored cotton I found in my old “sewing drawer” at my parents’ house. I pieced the fabric and sewed up everything by hand. Here is the end result of about 16 hours, with me looking a bit tired but happy. ;)

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A Regency waist apron.

I have been wanting to make a simple apron for Regency wear for some time now, but never came around to it. While browsing Pinterest, I have run into quite a few fashion plates featuring waist aprons and I found them all just adorable. Other than white or black, some of the aprons were made up of colored fabrics. A color range that shows up on plates rather often are light shades of lilac and rose. Since I really like these tones, they became the apron color of my dreams. Here are two examples I really liked and that helped inspire mine:

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Costume of a fashion worker; Costume Parisien.

Finding the scrap of rosy cotton in the drawer and a little extra time over the holidays were what convinced me to make the apron at last. All I needed to do now was to settle on period-appropriate dimensions for it. Luckily, I found this untrimmed black silk apron in the MFA’s online catalogue. It is 67 cm (26 7/16 inches) wide at the top and 96 cm (37 13/16 inches) long.

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Untrimmed silk apron, first half of the 19th century; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Based on these measurements, I decided to make my apron 66 cm (26″) wide at the waist and 95 cm (37 1/2″) long, excluding seam allowances, which came to about 1/2″ at the top and sides; and 1″ at the bottom. There was one small problem though: My scrap measured only 75 by 150 cm. So I had to do some serious piecing. But this was also a period thing to do, as you can see when you take a closer look at the extant apron. :)

To work out the math of it all, my dad, who used to be an engineer, suggested I make a drawing so that I would not lose track of all the pieces. So I scrawled all the pieces and dimensions on some note paper. It is not much to look at, but worked very well as a “pattern”. ;)
The waistband / strings are not on it. They were made from three leftover strips and came to a band that was 5 feet long and 2 inches wide when finished.

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The drawing. ;)

After putting the drawing into action, the apron looked like this: The side strips are made out of two pieces each, the smaller of which I attached at the top. It was later covered by the pockets. To join the strips to the apron’s main body, I used French seams.

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Laying out the pieces.

After sewing every thing up, I had a 39″ x 40″ rectangle, which I gathered into the waistband. The finished band and strings were pretty narrow, about 1/2″, since they had been folded under twice, to hide all the raw edges. When the pockets were attached, the finished product looked like this:

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The finished apron.

To make the pockets, I used the last two scraps of leftover fabric, they measured 5 1/2″ x 6″ each. Inspiration for the pockets came from both Katherine’s Regency apron pocket tutorial and the fashion plate below.

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An Empire apron; Costume Parisien.

While Katherine used an eyelet to feed her string through the pockets, I decided to experiment a bit with a double drawstring casing. While the pockets were still unsewn, I threaded some cotton tape through one channel, took a turn at the end, careful not to twist the tape, and went back through the second channel. I then attached the pockets using Katherine’s method and closed up the side with the “turn”.

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Pocket, with a double drawstring casing at the top.

It worked pretty well and I was happy with the outcome. It worked a lot better than expected and gave the apron two cute, ruffly pockets. ;)

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The pocket end result :).

When the apron was finished, the whole fabric scrap had been used up completely. This was why I decided to make the apron my last “Re-Do” project for the Historical Sew Monthly 2015, re-doing the “Stashbusting” and “Practicality” challenges. For piecing was a practical period way to deal with the narrower fabric widths at the time. Sarah’s amazing working class Empire dress is another, much more stunning, example of applied piecing.

Making a Regency apron at long last was great fun and helped tide me over long evenings of ski broadcasts on the family TV set. I hope that this little walkthrough of how I made it will be helpful for you, if you are planning to make your own.

Since uni will be a tough cookie for the first half of January, the blog might become a bit more quiet again now. But I will do my best to be back with you shortly. :)

Much love, Nessa

Some Handsewing Tricks

While the month rushes on with giant steps, I am working away to finish the hand-sewn Regency ensemble for the challenge deadline. Since this is my first completely hand-sewn project in a while, it took me some time to get back into the routine. Now that I am back into it, it has become a fun and meditative pastime to end a long day.

As I go, I tend to pick up new tips and techniques to make my sewing life easier. Most of them are only tiny, little hints, so tiny that I went “duh” when I found out about them. Yet they can make the whole handsewing process a lot more easygoing. This is why I would like to let you partake in the things I have learned in this project. I hope you will enjoy this little selection of tips and, perhaps, everyone will pick up a new sewing gimmick, or two. ;)

1. Tiny Rolled Hems

For a long time, I have been wondering, just how many of the historical seamstresses I follow make those tiny and neat rolled hems on sheer cottons and linens. In the past, I have used the “obvious” method of pinning, tensing and rolling as you go. But it simply did not cut it.
Now I learned how to really tackle rolled hems. This method has also been used historically and, once you have some practice, it is really fun to use. It is a special rolling stitch that encloses the raw edge in a zig-zag pattern.

Here is my result of using the method to hem the ruffles for the chemisette. You can probably guess which of the two I hemmed first. ;)

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Hand-rolled hems on the ruffles.

For those of you who, like me, have not yet heard about this magical stitch, here are two tutorial explaining the process: I used this one by Laura. Alternatively, there is also a nice video tutorial on the Threads website.

2. Proper Waxing

For sturdy and tangle-free handsewing, a nicely waxed thread is key, especially when sewing with cotton or linen thread. When I was still new to sewing, I thought that simply meant slipping the thread over a piece of beeswax. But now I know that this is only half the process. The other half consists of ironing the thread. Since most costumers know this, it is not talked about much. Although a friend recently asked me to tell her how I wax my threads.  So I will share it here, just to be sure. ;)

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Start by waxing your length of thread. I usually do this by holding the wax in my right hand and pinning down the long end with my thumb, while pulling through the thread with my left.

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Then place the thread inside a piece of kitchen paper. Ideally, you should not fold it too often, but a few times usually work fine.

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Last, fold over the paper and iron the thread without steam, on high or medium high, depending on the material. Afterwards, your thread is ready to use. It should feel like a sturdy piece of twine.

3. Better Knots

After threading the needle, knotting can be the next hurdle before you can start stitching. I never quite understood how the traditional method of pinching and rolling worked. So I turned to securing my threads with quilter’s knots. They can be a bit dizzying to do at first, but once you are in training, you can put them into every thread you like, even doubled ones. Here is a brief video tutorial on how to tie them by Sunni on the Threads site. Depending on how many twists you make around the needle, you can create a firm knot or a smaller one to bury between two layers of fabric. :)

4. Use A Cushion

Personally, I have the nasty habit of hunching over my needlework. It is something my poor back used to complain about a lot. Some people solve this dilemma by always working at their sewing or dining table. Sadly, my niggling elbows are the next ones to nag me when I do that. There is another solution though:

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How I handsew, using a cushion.

I now put a cushion in my lap when I sew, while lounging on the sofa. This is a comfy habit I picked up while binding my stays. Sometimes, I still have to stop myself from hunching, although my sewing posture has much improved since. Not to mention that my back, wrists and elbows are very grateful. Perhaps this trick will work for you, too.

This concludes the tips for today. Admittedly, they were no great deal, though they might be helpful for those of you who find handsewing strenuous or want to improve their skills a little. Please let me know what you think and if you have any other handsewing questions you would like to learn more about. :)

Love, Nessa