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 “Brown”: The Finished Garters

One day before the end of study, the garters are finally complete. Yay! In this post, I will just give you a quick walk through the finished pair, since I am meaning to follow up with a longer tutorial on them in a little while. Here are some pictures for your viewing pleasure. By the way: did I ever mention that my left leg is skinnier than my right one? ;) You can see that quite nicely in the first photo, too…

The finished pair of embroidered early-Regency “elastic” garters.

A closer look at the embroidery.

The whole garter. The bar matching the double hook is hidden under the embroidered end.

If you compare my garter to an extant one from the early 1800s, you will see that the end which has been elasticized with steel springs is somewhat longer than the one I made using modern elastic cord. When worn, however, this difference is made up and the elastic end covers about half of the leg. This illustrates the difference between steel and rubber elastic rather well.

Extant early 19th-century garter, elasticized with steel wire coils (Source: mfa.org).

And here is a look at the challenge details, showing exactly which materials I have used to emulate the historical style. The base fabric itself is a study cotton, though, since this works best for embroidery. Other than that, it also holds on the the stockings very well. =)

The Challenge: #9 – “Brown”

Fabric: A 4″ wide scrap of white cotton canvas.

Pattern: My own, inspired by several extant garters at the MFA, Boston. The embroidery is based on an 1811 floral pattern from Ackermann’s Repository.

Year: ca. 1790s-1820s.

Notions: 2 ft. of brown 1/8″ elastic cord; 1 1/2 skeins of brown embroidery cotton; some orange embroidery cotton; 2 double hooks and bars.

How historically accurate is it? They are more historically inspired than accurate but emulate the period look very well when worn.

Total cost: €1.50 for the yarn; €1 for the elastic and €2 for the hooks = approx. €4.50. The fabric was “free” at this time.

Hours to complete: About 25-30 hours.

First worn: For the photos.

And that was it already. Once I have a little more time, I will write up a tutorial on how I made mine. They were a first try and may not be perfect. But I know what needs improving and will add these points, so you can profit from my little slip-ups and make your own, even better, pair. So please stay tuned. :)

All the best, Nessa

Garters Galore

Today, the embroidery on the first garter has already come together. On this joyous occasion, I will delve into the subject of early 19th-century garters a little more and provide you with some delicious eye candy. ;)

But, first things first. Here is a look at the status quo of my embroidered garter fronts. By now they are both outlined in back stitch. And the bottom one is already filled with satin and stem stitch. Since some period garters also made do with rather sparse embroidery designs, I did get a bit lazy and decided against filling in all the flowers, too.

The embroidery progress on the garters.

I am quite content with how they are turning out, especially since I am a little pressed for time at the moment. But now, to the really gorgeous extant examples….

Up to the late 18th century, and into the very early 1800s, garters were mainly made of silk ribbons that tied at the top of the stockings to keep them in place. Embroidery was a staple. It was either placed directly on the ribbon or sewn to it, frequently with additional padding added underneath. Often, amorous and/or saucy mottoes were added to the designs. Here is a beautiful example of this style, using some delicious pink silk ribbon:

18th-century silk garters from the MFA, Boston. They read “My motto is to love you; it is never to change”.

Also have a look at this 18th-century pair with narrower ties and a wider embroidery section:

Another gorgeous pair of 18th-centuy garters from the MFA.

Further into the early 19th century, but already as early as 1800, innovation paved the way for another style of garters. It is elasticized using narrow steel springs in one half of the band. If you did not know it was steel, you could be tricked into believing you were actually looking at modern shirring, using elastic bands. This type of garter was fastened with a steel hook. For some time, both the tied and the hooked styles existed side by side. The following picture from the MFA shows them in comparison:

Comparison of tied and elasticized garters (Source: mfa.org).

Before I started researching, I had no idea that elasticized garters had already come into use this early on. And now, this style really fascinates me. Here are two more extant examples of early “elastic” garters that have served as my inspiration for the current project. :)

Early 19th-century garters, elasticized with coiled wire (Source: lacma.org).

Early 19th-century garters, auctioned by the Cora Ginsburg Gallery (Found on Pinterest).

There are so many more stunning and gorgeous extant period garters still in existence; more than enough, to fill several blog post. Just have a look around! I especially recommend browsing the MFA’s collection. It holds lots and lots of extant examples from various periods.

I hope this post has helped to awaken your interest in garters. Because, small as they may be, they provide some great examples of period craftsmanship. Even though I am not quite sure how “crafty” my pair will turn out, I will try and keep you posted on their progress.

Much Love, Nessa

The Art Of Getting Side-Tracked

This September is being a really busy month around here. Since my last blog post, I have slithered from the holiday in France, straight into the new student job at uni and onward into studying for the second block of exams. And, during this whole time, I have really missed the blog and reading about all the wonderful things you have been up to.

In this post, I will play catch-up and give you a quick update on all the new things that have happened in and around my sewing room since the last blog update. Even though it has been a very full month already, there has been some room for sewing. In fact, there was enough time for me to start two new projects and to get side-tracked more than once. But let us start at the beginning:

The month began in France. It was my first time going there and I absolutely fell in love with French fabric stores and the small merceries where you can buy the loveliest lace, ribbons, buttons and all sorts of other notions. Here is my haul:

Fabrics and notions from France.

At “Toto”, a small chain store, I bought 2 yards of both cream and white voile, as well as a coupon of salmon muslin with nearly transparent woven stripes. All of these will most likely go into making Regency attire. I also found 2 1/2 yards of a very delicate cotton lace and an embossed button at a local mercerie. The button is made of pewter and just begs to be turned into a brooch or necklace. Finding all these wonderful things makes me wonder whether I might have time-travelled back into the Napoleonic era upon stumbling into these shops…

Back home, I set about starting a gown to go over the finished Regency undergarments. I got as far as assembling the e-pattern (I am using Sense & Sensibility’s Elegant Ladies’ Closet with some alteration) and cutting out a first mock-up:

The first stages of the new Regency day dress.

Then I became indecisive about the fabric choice. I wanted to use a sheer white muslin and embroider it with some florals to match the HSM’s upcoming “Brown” challenge. Then this chance find side-tracked me:

Another unexpected fabric find.

It is a sheer, white pima cotton with blue woven stripes and an light check pattern in the base fabric. And it settled my indecision about the dress the moment I picked up the bale. Since it is a leftover, there will not be quite enough to accommodate the sleeves. But I already have some ideas what to do about that.

But first, I had to find a new, quick project for the “Brown” challenge. And I finally got an idea while browsing Pinterest the other night: garters to hold up my stockings. There I ran into two ways of doing them. One was Liz’s tutorial for tied 18th-century garters and another was this post by Isobel Carr, detailing early 19th-century spring steel garters. So I went about patterning my own pair and putting together an embroidery design to match the challenge.

Here is a glimpse of the, thoroughly brown, notions and the embroidery patterns. Since it was customary to add a motto to garters in the period, I came up with one as well: Coeur ouvert – Âme honnête. It means “open heart – honest soul”. That is not quite as cheeky as some of the period inscriptions. Yet, as a good friend has put it: A gentleman “should bloody well have those qualities if he gets as far as your garters.”

The notions for the “Brown” project.

The embroidery patterns; adapted from Ackermann’s Repository, c.1811.

It already feels as though this project is going to be a lot of fun. The plan is to finish it in time, despite all the studying, and to, hopefully, have a tutorial up for you by next month. So it is about time I go on working on it. ;)

Conveniently, this concludes the stream of exciting updates so that I can continue doing just that and wish you all a good start into this week. It feels good to be back with you and I am hoping to write up another post on the garters very soon. I have missed you all a lot!

Much Love, Nessa

We Have A Dragon

Just before I got cracking on my corset mockup, I finally finished the embroidery project I have been working on since January: A dragon-themed wall hanging. It is for my special friend Lauren who has just moved house. Very recently, she has also started out as a self-published author of children’s books. She is a huge fan of dragons, so it was not hard to decide decide on an embroidery design: Naturally, it became a dragon. :)

I patterned the design onto a piece of green canvas. As a base, I used the line drawing of a baby dragon in a coloring book. When I last showed it to you, just after stitching the outlines, it looked like this:

The outlined baby dragon.

I filled out the shapes with different shades of green for the scales and some pink and purple highlights for the wings and tail. To make it all look a little scaly, like it is usual for dragons, I mainly worked with tiny satin stitches. It took ages, but worked out pretty well. The rest, like the wings and the edge of the ears, were worked in tight rows of stem stitch. I also added some writing, worked in stem stitch to complete the hanging.

When all the stitching was in place, I hemmed the edges and attached a piece of self-fabric for backing. As a finishing touch, I stitched a small heart to the bottom right corner, using red wax beads. Now here is the finished product. All it needs now, is a little ironing:

The finished wall hanging.

I am very glad it is finally done. Lauren has already had a glimpse at it and she liked it as well. Now I only need to wait for the mail carriers to end their strike, so I can send it to her, all the way across the big pond. Now I shall go back to corset-making and some Waterloo-related research. I will try and tell you some more about the latter bit very soon. Maybe it will even be just in time for the 200th anniversary on Thursday. We will see. ;)

All the best, Nessa

War & Peace: Summing up the Toque

At last, after another day’s delay, here comes the final challenge post to sum up Josephine’s toque. Looking back at this year’s HSM entries so far, I must say that it has been my favorite project so far. It made me realize just how much I enjoy delving into period embroidery and how I should really be doing more of it again in the future. :)

Yesterday, the time had finally come to put the toque on the hat stand to take a few pictures. I noticed then that it looks a bit big on my ladies’ XL-sized form. This is most likely owed to the fact of me having grown quite the mob of hair over the past year. Although I now have enough hair to work with in a proper Regeny way, the toque might get an “extension”, in the shape of a curly hairpiece, over one of the upcoming challenges. Here is an image of the matched piece Joséphine used to wear with her stunning cap, to give you an idea of what it would look like:

Curly hairpiece worn by Empress Joséphine (French National Museum, Grand Palais).

But now, here are some more facts and photos detailing my toque:

The Challenge: HSM #4 – “War & Peace”.

How does the item fit into the challenge? I recreated this toque (in a slightly more modest fashion) to iliustrate how Napoleon’s success on Europe’s battlefields enabled his family to dress lavishly and become fashion icons of the period.

Fabric: Approximately 1/2 yd. of cotton net and some plain white cotton shirting to line the band.

Pattern: My own, modeled after Empress Joséphine’s extant example.

Years: Before 1815.

Notions: Textured gold embroidery thread, seed beads, cotton thread.

How historically accurate is it? The toque is embroidered and sewn entirely by hand, but some of the materials used might not conform with period equivalents.

Total cost: The cotton net came from a thrifted old curtain (which is now a rather lavish, somewhat wearable curtain ;) ). The beads and gold thread cost about € 7. So it should be € 8 altogether.

Hours to complete: Many evenings and two whole weekends. ;)

First worn: This Wednesday night, to try it out and make it dry more quickly, after rinsing out the last of the pattern markings,
And, here are the pictures of the completed goodness. I still do a little happy dance, every time I look at them. Perhaps, once I have completed a matching ball gown of sheer white muslin, I will post a picture of how it looks on my actual head. :) For now, I got Jane, the hat model, to show it off:

The toque’s front.

The toque’s side.

The toque’s back.

This brings a very productive April to its end. In May, I will finish a very practical Edwardian item for everyday use around the house. After that, it is due time for me to finally get cracking on my first “real” Regency corset. Of course. I will keep you up to date about these sewing adventures as well as I can. But, for now, I will enjoy the remainder of the holiday weekend. :)

Have a wonderful weekend, Nessa

Josephine’s Toque: The Complete Embroidery

Just in time for the challenge, the toque’s embroidery is finished. And, as promised to Lady Constance in the previous post, here is a glimpse at the results. Even though I have never worked with gold thread, net fabric or beads before, the outcome is rather neat. After washing off the blue pattern marker, I was really  stunned for a moment.

Especially the beading was much easier than expected. I finished the scallops on the band over the past two evenings, using this simple outline stitch. Although, I recommend using a hoop, to keep the fabric smooth and more manageable. ;)

The leaves on the toque’s crown, however, were a little less easy-going. They are stem-stitched, using two strands of textured gold floss. Since this kind of metallic thread has a mind of its own, it took me about a week to figure out the right amount of tightness and the best direction to pull through the stitches. But, after that initial phase, working the leaves was great fun.

Long story short, here are the pictures:

The Crown

The crown’s embroidery of golden leaves, worked in stem stitch.

A closer look at the leaves.

The Band

The toque’s band, embroidered with small white seed beads. :)

Even though my toque’s design is not as elaborate as Josephine’s original gold braid and bees, I am still proud of finishing it in time. Now, on to line the band and gather up the crown. I am hoping to share the completed toque with you soon.

Until then, please have a nice evening and a wonderful weekend. :)

Best, Nessa

Edwardian Practicality & Other Joys

The past two weeks have been pretty eventful, in a good way. Today I have finally found a moment to share some of these recent news and updates with you. They all have to do with sewing and that makes them even more joyful.

Firstly, the embroidery on Josephine’s Regency toque is making steady progress. The metallic thread, the cotton net and I needed some time to get acquainted. But now, we are finally getting on. Out of the three vines, two have been completed so far. Perhaps, if the third one gets finished this week, there might be enough time left to add a few of those delicious white seed pearls to the decor. Here is hoping…

A quick snapshot of the embroidery progress (please excuse the messy pattern marker stains).

I have also found that I make the most progress when taking the needlework out to coffee with me. It feels very relaxing to concentrate on stitching while the flurry of the coffee shop rushes on by around you. Unexpectedly, embroidering in public has also proven to be quite the conversation starter:

The other day, a little girl came over to my table and asked what I was doing. When I said that I was embroidering a cap with gold thread, she started beaming all over her face and told me she had never seen anything like it. This startled me somewhat, since I am not used to this kind of attention at all. But, on the upside, I seem to have passed on the needlework bug to someone else who had not heard of embroidery before. ;)

In between the bouts of embroidery, I also got May’s “Practicality” challenge underway. It will be an Edwardian pinafore apron from blue and white striped cotton. So far, I have cut out everything according to the diagrams, assembled the yoke pieces and attached the apron’s body. Here is a look at what the body halves looked like after cutting:

The folded apron body after cutting out.

Yesterday, the two pleated trims came together as well. They will be decorating the apron at the shoulders. For each of them, I folded a 90 cm long strip of doubled cotton batiste into 1 cm knife pleats. This has been my first-ever attempt at hand-pleating and for that, the trims have turned out rather well.

Pleating the shoulder trims – before and after.

Next up, they will be attached to the apron. For that, I now have a new helper in the sewing room: an adjustable dress form. Since I name most of my bigger sewing gadgets, I have dubbed her Rachel. She has been my reward for passing last term’s hardest exam and is proving to be a very useful aid.

“Rachel”, the new dress form, modelling the finished apron yoke.

This concludes the latest sewing updates. With the new term having started, I will try to be good now and post again more frequently. I have really missed you all and your wonderful, encouraging feedback. :)

Warmly, Nessa

A Few Updates From Sewing Life

Oh dear, the new is ten whole days old already. I think it is time for a little update about how my sewing has been faring so far. Even though it might be a bit early to say this, I have a feeling this year will be special, at least as far as costume is concerned… ;)

Last weekend I got the chance to kick off the sewing year with a visit to my friend and fellow HSM(F) contributor Britta. We spent the afternoon admiring her wonderful collection of costumes. You might have already seen some of them on her blog, but they are even more awesome in real life.

Thanks to her, I also got the chance to try on an 1860s corset and crinoline for the first time. It was a special feeling. We found a corset that fit me almost perfectly and got a little excited over it. Here are a few pictures. I am wearing her “whipped cream” petticoat from last year’s HSF #1 challenge. Oh, and forgive the striped sweater. Next time I will wear a proper shift underneath, promised. And I am sure there will be a next time, since I seem to have fallen in love…

Wearing an 1860s corset and crinoline for the first time.

Mastering the door frame with 6 m diameter. ;)

The chance to share some costume geekery with a good friend has given me a motivational blast for my sewing. On Monday I started working on my split drawers for the “Foundations” challenge, but the pattern and I still have to become friends. Since I am not really used to working with commercial pattern from big companies, we still need some getting used to each other. The fact that the tables on the envelope told me I was a size 18 came as a bit of a shock.

But, thanks to the support of the HSM Facebook group I got over it rather quickly. I learned that Simplicity patterns contain a somewhat excessive amount of ease and that cutting them one or two sizes smaller is a viable option. Today, I cut out a mock-up in size 14. It still looks a bit wonky to me, but then these are my first historical drawers. Here is a picture of the progress so far. I will keep you posted on how they are coming along.

The (one-legged) drawers mock-up.

In other news, the embroidery fever has infected me again. At the moment, I spent most of the time working on a very late Christmas present for a friend. It is a mini-tapestry featuring her favorite animal: a dragon. Well, actually, it is a baby dragon. I copied the pattern from a childrens’ coloring book and, so far, the little fellow looks like this:

My current embroidery project.

Tonight, I will start filling him with satin- and long-short stitching. I am really excited about how he will turn out. He also still needs an apt name. So far, he is called Leopold-Napoleon. But, perhaps, some of you have some creative name suggestions as well. If so, please let me know. I am very intrigued to hear them. :)

This has been the gist of my sewing year so far. I hope yours has been off to a good start as well. I am much looking forward to seeing the gorgeous costumes everyone will be making. Happy sewing to us all.


See you very soon, Nessa

Project Boudoir: Bed-Shift Photos

After finally charging up the camera and setting up everything for the first round of photos in the new living-room, I have captured a few pictures of the finished bed-shift for you. It is made from a light, but cozy, linen-cotton blend and turned out very nicely. I could wear it around the house, day in and day out. The only problem with that endeavor is the rising autumn chill outside….

But, luckily, the pieces of the bed jacket have already been cut out. I patterned it using late-18th and early-19th men’s shirts as a guide. In a little while, I will tell you some more about it all. But, for tonight, here are a few pictures for your viewing pleasure:

The front view.


The back view.

The neckline and lacing.

The sleeve with lace trim and gusset.

My first-ever monogram. It says “N.S.”. I picked it out in satin stitch, using an 18th-century alphabet for linen embroidery.


Those are the impressions of the bed-shift so far. I will add more photos once the whole boudoir ensemble is finished and ready for the HSF’s “Re-do” challenge, due on November 15th. But I will blog some more before that as well. ;)


All the best, Nessa

P.S. This weekend, I realized that “Sewing Empire” now has a total of 55 followers, here and on Facebook. It has amazed me to see the blog being received this well. And I would love to thank you for your wonderful feedback and support. Please keep it coming. You are the best. =)