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.

… 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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The Best Of Regency Stripes

Oh dear, has it been three weeks already? But now, the historical sewing mojo is back at last and I finally get to share the first details on my new Regency day dress with you. Yay!

So far, nothing about it has gone according to plan. At first, I was dead-set on making simple white muslin crossover gown. But then, I stumbled upon a sheer woven-stripe muslin in a clearance sale. It was so gorgeous that I fell in love the second I spotted it. Since it was an end piece of roughly four yards, I had to change my plans accordingly: The dress is now going to be a simple early-Regency drawstring gown.

Now that I am making a striped gown, I started looking into the use of striped fabrics in the Regency era. As it turns out, vertical stripes were very popular between 1800 and the mid eighteen-teens. And they came in many shapes, shades and sizes, from woven, over yarn-dyed to printed or painted. In this post, I want to give you a tour of the most gorgeous dresses I have found. There is quite a few of them, so we better get started…

To start off, here is an 1817 miniature of the pregnant Charlotte, Princess of Wales by artist Charlotte Jones. She is wearing what looks like a finely striped dress of sheer muslin or sarcenet:

Miniature of Charlotte, Princess of Wales by Charlotte Jones (c. 1817).

My guess goes more towards the sarcenet, since I lucked into an 1816 fashion plate from Ackermann’s Repository showing an absolutely delicious gown for half-dress, made from red and white striped sarcenet. Also note the contrasting green ribbons.

Red and white sarcenet gown from Ackermann’s Repository (September 1816).

Another illustration I found is an 1810 watercolor drawing by Johann Klein. The blue-and-white fabric design is very close to the one I am working with. That being said, I think that the trims shown here would also work very well on my gown. ;)

German Watercolor sketch by Johann Klein (c. 1810).

Dwelling on the subject of sheer woven-stripe dresses, here are two white cotton muslin gowns from the first decade of the 19th century. The first one is from the collection of the Litchfield Historical Society. It belonged to a Mrs. Lucretia Champion and was made in 1807. The second is pretty similar in fabric design, while showing off a broader stripe.

Woven-stripe muslin dress of Mrs. Lucretia Champion (Litchfield Historical Society, c. 1807).

Striped muslin dress (Tasha Tudor Auctions, c. 1800-1810).

As for colored striped gowns, there is an even wider selection of extant garments yet around. For once, have a look at this gorgeous blue half-silk dress from Nordiska Museet. Especially note the playful bias stripes on the bodice and the fine golden trim contrasting the vertical stripes on the skirt and sleeves. This one is easily one of my most favorite Regency gowns still in existence.

Blue and gold half-silk gown (Nordiska Museet, c. 1815).

Recently, I have found another dress from the V&A Museum that is just as stunning and even more extraordinary for its time. It is made from a yellow cotton knit and the stripes are produced by a change in knitting direction. Before I found it, I had no idea that such a techniques was around this early on…wow.

Striped dress of yellow knitted cotton (Victoria & Albert Museum, c. 1812).

Another dress is this late Georgian / Early Empire cotton gown from the Musee de la Voiture. Even though it looks a little worse for wear nowadays, I think it was a simple, gorgeous dress in its time. Shape-wise, it is also very close to the early-era look I am going for in my dress.

Late 18th-century striped cotton dress (RMN Grand Palais, Compiegne).

Another early example of stripes is this printed green-and-gold dress from the Museo del Traje in Madrid:

Early printed striped silk gown (Museo del Traje, c. 1795).

There are two more dresses with an earlier silhouette that both show off very special stripe patterns. The first is a black-and-white cotton dress from the Met museum. It boasts slightly wavy stripes that, I supect, were printed, rather than woven. The other dress was recently cleared from the Met’s collection and is now on auction. The floral stripes here are printed on a solid moire fabric.

American striped cotton dress (Metropolitan Museum, early 1800s).

Polychrome moire gown with printed floral stripes (c.1795).

About ten years later, dresses made from pastel silks seemed to be all the rage in terms of fashionable stripes. An example of the style is this mauve gown of tone-in-tone woven silk from 1807:

Silk gown (Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, c. 1807).

Quite similar at first glance is this mauve silk gown auctioned by Augusta Auctions. But here, the stripes are printed onto the fabric instead.

Mauve dress with printed stripes (Augusta Auctions, first decade of the 19th century).

This pretty, yellow gown from the V&A’s collection is also made from printed silk. Just like the mauve example above, it can be dated to the time around 1805. Based on the museum’s description, it features a drop-front closure and was originally worn over a “bum pad”.

Yellow silk gown with pink printed stripes (Victoria & Albert Museum, c. 1805).

The last dress on my inspiration board comes from a slightly later time frame, dating to the early 1820s. I included it since it shows a very interesting contrast between two-tone stripes, solid applique work and one of the textured floral fabrics that became popular later in the period.

American striped silk dress (Philadelphia Museum of Art, c. 1823).

This yummy example closes the long list of gorgeous Regency striped gowns. Whew, that has been quite a long list. I hope it has not overwhelmed you and provided you with some inspiration for your own future Regency dress projects, I would love to hear which of these gowns you liked best. Hoping to be back with you soon.

Much love, 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