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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wiener_Moden_zeitung_1

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

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

corinthian dress

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

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

Désirée Clary by Francois Gérard (1810).

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

Love, Nessa

Regency Gown News

Last time I mentioned that I had some exciting news on the white drop-front Regency gown I am making. Here is the story: The gown was all planned, fabric set aside, measurements taken and pattern drawn. And then I went fabric shopping…

As fellow fabric addicts collectors, you will know what it is like when you have just decided which fabric to use for a project and then something  more delicious comes along, cancelling your previous plans. In my case, I had decided to go with the white cotton muslin I used for my 1920s teddies. Shamefully I have not yet posted about them. So here is a “teaser” pic that shows off the lovely, airy white cotton very well.

My !920s teddies, made from white cotton muslin.

But where there is lovely, there is always lovelier. ;) So, when I wandered into the fabric store, they had some woven pattern cottons on sale. One of them was a gorgeous white-on-white check muslin. Of course, I fell in love and had to buy it at once. It is even softer than my other choice of muslin and has just the right amount of translucency for a Regency gown. It looks a bit dense and bluish in the photo, but it is not.

The new muslin for the gown.

What do you think? Is it not yummy? When I found it, I was so glad I had decided to finish my smock first. Now, though, I have really thrown myself into the work for the gown, since I cannot wait to finally cut it out and see what it looks like. Today, I fitted the toile over my underpinnings. Here it is on my dress form. Next up is altering the pattern pieces to fit and … cutting out. Yippee!

The altered bodice toile on the dress form.

It feels so good to have more sewing time again. I also love to finally share project updates with you as they happen. Hopefully I will soon have news from the 17th-century sewing front as well. While the new Regency gown is coming together, I am also fervently planning away on my 1630s stays. At the moment I am feeling like a historical sewing newbie once more, slightly confused and ogling all the pretty period costumes with big puppy eyes. But that is a good sign, right?

Love, Nessa

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Monsieur Kobold Wishes Happy Halloween!

Illustration from “Mother Goose” by Arthur Rackham (c.1913).

Happy Halloween, everyone! To celebrate this most eerie occasion I have found a Regency “ghost story” to share with you. It was first published in Ackermann’s Repository on March 1st, 1824 and tells the tale of a spooky prank servants played on their master, a French Major. While it is not really a spine-tingler, it is a fun read, spiced with a little saucy innuendo. ;)

Since the story is about goblins, I have chosen two gorgeous Edwardian book illustrations by Arthur Rackham to accompany it.

illustration_to_the_ballad_young_beckie_from_22some_british_ballads22[1]

But now, I present to you the ghostly “Monsieur Kobold”:

“Ghost Stories – V” (Ackermann’s Repository, March 1824).

“Ghost Stories – V” (Ackermann’s Repository, March 1824).

“Ghost Stories – V” (Ackermann’s Repository, March 1824).

And that was it already. I hope you will have a fun night and get to take your beautiful costumes for a stroll. :)

Warmly, 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

The Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award

On Thursday night, my fellow blogger Crystal at Adventures in Bias Tape provided me with the most awesome surprise: A blog award! Even now, three days later, I am overjoyed to receive her nomination. As always, I am very, very happy when others like my blog and enjoy the things I write about as much as I do. But I am also thankful, since this award provides me with another chance to pass on the admiration those bloggers I love to follow. :)

Long story short: I want to thank Crystal a million times for giving me the “Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award.” It is a great honor to place it here on my blog. :)

Now, to pass on the joy to the wonderful bloggers I follow. To off, here are the award rules:

1.Thank the blogger who nominated you, linking back to their site
2.Put the Award logo on your blog.
3.Answer the ten questions sent to you.
4.Make up ten new questions for your nominees to answer
5.Nominate ten blogs.

And here are the ten blogs I would like to nominate for their amazing work:

My questions for you are the following. I am excited to hear your answers.  =)

  1. How long have you been blogging?
  2. What is / are your favorite topics to blog about?
  3. Do you have a favorite book and or author? And what do you love the most about them?
  4. Which is / are your favorite historical (sewing) periods?
  5. Do you have a piece of clothing in your wardrobe that you really love?
  6. Which sewing / crafting technique would you love to learn?
  7. If a time traveler offered to take you anywhere in time and space, where would you go?
  8. Describe your ideal dress fabric.
  9. Which is your most important sewing or crafting tool?
  10. Are you more of a lace or a ruffle person?

And now, it is my turn to answer Crystal’s questions *sharpens pencil*. I hope they will prove satisfactory. ;)

1. Why is your blog named what it is?
Most of all, the blog title says what I love doing: sewing and researching Empire-style fashion. That it could also refer to an actual empire of sewing is just a funny coincidence. I would never, ever dream of that. ;)

2. What made you decide to start blogging?

When I started blogging, I had been about a year (and two dresses) into recreating historical fashion. After researching online a lot, I knew that, in our special little costume community, blogs transport a great deal of the knowledge required to make beautiful period garments. Around that time, I was staying in Vienna and discovered the historical fashion library. That was the special moment that encouraged me to start contributing the things I learned  through my own blog.

3. What do you enjoy most about blogging?

That one is easy: Getting in touch with other bloggers and people who share the same interests, to enjoy, exchange and discover new ideas. And to drool over everyone’s gorgeous creations of course… :)

4. On average, how much time do you spend sewing?

It really depends on how busy daily life gets. But, on average, I would say between one and three days a week are dedicated to sewing and/or embroidery.

5. Of your favourite eras, do you prefer having patterns pre-made or making your own?

Given the time, I like to make my own or at least size up / alter period patterns to fit. With certain garments though, such as corsets *cough*, I prefer patterns and instructions made by more experienced folk. ;)

6. Speaking of favourite eras, which one is yours and why?

Actually, I have two at the moment: Regency/Empire and Edwardian.
Regency, because I adore the style of, light and gorgeous, high-waisted dresses and how the accessories, like underpinning and spencers, are created around this special style of dress.
Edwardian fashion I like because it is a fashion that is still pretty “recent” in historical terms. And because it has its own, adorable, way of playing on fashions that have gone before.

7. What is the most unconventional object used in a previous project? (Either in the making of, or actually in the item)

Hmm. I seem to be a rather conventional girl with what I put into the garments. The weirdest might have been a length of thick hemp rope, to weigh down the hem of my bodiced petticoat. But that might have been a
In the making department, the weirdest tool is my “bodkin”, which is actually a big no. 1 carpet needle which I got for a few cents at the craft store.

8. Describe your ideal sewing area.

A well-lit room with a big drafting and cutting table (not the floor), a neatly ordered fabric section and lots and lots of space for my historical wardrobe and patterns / pattern books.

9. Care to share your favourite sewing tip/trick?

Sure. I love to tie the ends of my hand-sewing threads into a quilter’s knot. It is the least fiddly knotting method and works well on all kinds of threads. If you have not heard of quilter’s knots before, you can out more in this tutorial.

10. Coffee or tea? Plain or doctored?

Tea at home and coffee when I’m out. I love both equally as well, but each has their time. And, I take a lot of milk with both of them. If you put sugar in either, though, I will scowl at you. ;)

Here you go. I hope my answers were not too lengthy. :) Now, I shall proudly attach the award badge to my sidebar. Receiving this blog award has been a wonderful thing and it has made this week so much better. I hope your week has been a good one as well and you can now enjoy the final hours of your weekend. I shall see you all soon, with a few corsetry updates. :)

Much love, Nessa

Thoughts On Two Splendid Chance Encounters, In A Less Splendid Place

The following post is a bit different from the usual ones. It is not about historical sewing exactly, but about a fashion-related topic that has made my inner seamstress slightly thoughtful of late. Perhaps some of you have made similar observations and can relate to it a little:

Generally, I am no big fan of discount outlet stores. This is not because of the prices. As a student, I am as glad as anyone to find affordable clothes at a decent quality level. And it is not the clinically commercial atmosphere, which you would not find at a charity-run, thrift store. What really makes me wince, is the way many costumers treat and handle the discounted clothes and other fashion items. When I see them being tossed lovelessly into carts to be wheeled off in piles to the fitting room, only to be tossed back out again when they do not fit.

After all, these clothes were once cut and sewn by someone, somewhere. And, since some of them are actual designer items, they were put together with care, in more than just a few minutes of assembly work. And, even it is just a t-shirt or pair of jeans that is tossed around by a customer, it feels to me like someone’s work is not being valued enough. Unknown as this person may be, he or she would not want their product to be handled this carelessly. If it were one of my hand-sewn items being wrangled into a shopping cart like this, I would most likely cuff the culprit around the ears…

The modern empire dress I saved at a discount outlet, after mending.

The other week, I posted a modern empire-line silk dress on the blog’s Facebook page. I bought it at just such a store, because I pitied it. It is of very fine Thai silk, and almost entirely hand-finished. When I walked past, I saw how someone had wedged it onto the hanger quite sloppily, so that the lining was being stretched out. With a slight pang of compasson, I picked up the dress and saw that the fine fabric was snagged and worn through around the seams, from obvious mishandling. So I decided to adopt it, to save the fabric from even more damage. When I walked out of the store with my purchase, I felt as relieved as though I had just rescued a sad-eyed kitten from a kill shelter, extreme as this may sound.

The other day, I went shopping with my family, and we visited another discount store. Luckily, we only had a look around the household floor. Here we passed a smallish bargain book section. And, among the small pile of sewing books, I found this:

A book I had not expected to encounter in the bargain book section…

The find made me wonder whether the store wanted to appease last time’s ill feelings, since this is one of the contemporary sewing books I have always wanted to own. It contains a concise primer on all dressmaking techniques and a series of classic, adjustable skirt, dress, top and trouser patterns. But, so far, I had not found the English edition at a reasonable, affordable price. Now, here it is and I am fairly chuffed.

Yet I am still not very happy about the impact of discount stores. Of course, they serve a purpose and are a reliable source of income for the companies running them. But then again, they do not encourage respect and conscience for fashion, and its creators, in the customers. Personally, I now prefer second-hand or charity thrift stores to find affordable clothing items, which have already been loved and cared for by their previous owners. :)

I hope you did not mind this, somewhat ranty, post. It is something I usually do not do; but I think this had to be said. Next time, we will go back to the business of historical sewing and its joyful prettiness. =)

All the 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

Cloak Progress: Folding the trim

For the HSM “Blue” challenge,  I am finally getting to make the Regency cloak that has been on my project wish list for so long. And I really owe you a research post to get the whole project rolling properly.  There is just one tiny, little holdup: term finals.

So I have been meaning to do some cloak research all week. But, after spending a few hours with statistics, it gets a bit tough. On the bright side though, I have itched to use my hands after all this brain work. As a result, the sewing is coming along quite well. Tonight, I have been enthusiastically folding and ironing away on the 3 yards of self-fabric trim that will go onto the hood.

Since the woven wool fabric is somewhat fussy about lying flat and being cut straight, it took a small trick to fold over the raw edges. I cut the side out of an old cardboard box to get a strip that was two inches wide; the width of the finished trim. The rest was simple and felt a bit like magic. It went like this:

One: Center it.

Two: Fold, press and pin.

Three: Done. Three yards of blue wool folded. Whew.

And now, I can happily fall over and relax for the rest of the evening.

Wishing you all a Good Night,
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

Merry Christmas

I wish everyone of you a very Merry Christmas

and

a Happy New Year!

Have a wonderful time with your family, friends and loved ones.

And, perhaps, you will enjoy some entertaining parlour games as well. ;)

Here on the blog, and in life, it has been a busy year. So, I also want to thank each of you for your support and encouragement. It is the biggest and best present I could have wished for.

Much Love, Nessa

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