Top Tips for Handsewing Needles (CoBloWriMo Day 13)

Today’s CoBloWriMo prompt is “Top Tips”.

In their posts,Thedementedfairy,  Kitty Calash and Cassidy have pointed out how important handsewing and using the right materials is to achieve the best possible results. My tips are an addition to all the great handsewing advice they have already given.

Being a stickler for always using the suitable needles for each task, I have compiled some points on those pointy things for you. ;)

As someone who primarily hand-sews, I find that proper control over the needle is one of the most important things. To get it, I use the smallest, sharpest needles I can find, namely quilting “betweens”. 

Quilting betweens, sizes no. 7 & 9.

Betweens are shorter than modern standard needles. This brings them closer to historical handsewing needles which were often on the shortish side. Recently I found someone who was totally stumped at people using 1″ long needles for sewing. To be fair, it takes practice and threading them can be fiddly. 

Thus it is best to start with a slightly bigger size, like a no. 7, and to go down as you are feeling comfortable with it. I am now on a no. 9, which is the smallest size I can source locally. On the long run, downsizing is well worth it. I especially notice the difference when sewing invisible stitches, whipped gathers or tiny rolled hems. They turn out much nicer as the stitching becomes smaller and finer.

Another thing I find important is to toss your needles and take new ones regularly. On average, I do this after every second or third project. When sewing with silk or extra fine voile, I automatically take a fresh needle, just to be on the safe side.

If you are unsure if a needle is still good, pass the point over your trouser leg (or skirt ;) ) at an angle. If it scratches or snags, the needle is a goner. You can do the same with machine needles, to be sure you do not get holes in the fabric or a sewing machine on strike.

I hope these tips are no old news to you and will help you a little with your sewing. :)

Love, Nessa

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! :)

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. ;)


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. ;)


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.


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.


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:


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

Gussets, Grommets & Cords: Some Novice Corsetry Advice

Please excuse the long quiet on the blog. As you can guess, I have thrown myself into making the corded Regency stays. While this project is really keeping me busy, it has actually made some good progress so far: The sixteen (!) gussets, as well as all the cording and grommets are done now. So far, no major disasters have occurred, either. Well, aside from bleeding on them twice while hand-sewing, ahem…

Here are two photos of the current state of affairs. I will add some more, less messy ones, once the stays have come together. :) :

One of the back pieces, with finished hip gussets, eyelets and cording.

The corded, gusseted and embroidered front (on a less pretty sheet).

And the stays have proven to be a great learning experience, also in terms of general sewing skills. Even though I am still a novice seamstress, I would like to share some of the helpful things I have learned.

I know of quite a few other costumers in the historical community who are attempting similar projects at the moment *waves at Molly of Avant Garbe*. So I am hoping that these hints might make life easier for some of you. I will also link to the tutorials that have helped me the most, so that everyone can profit from them. Here we go:

Three things about gussets.

Firstly, since it is about time someone says it out loud: Gussets are no fun! They are finicky, they need tiny, annoyingly slanted seams and they almost always seem to fray like mad. But, with that knowledge in mind, sewing them actually feels a bit easier. There is no such thing as the perfect gusset, or gore, unless you have a great lot of practice sewing them. So do not stress over them too much.

Secondly, there are several ways of sewing gussets. The one that has worked best for me is to cut a single slit, stay-stitch around it, fold and press over a tapering seam allowance and then slide the gusset in place while looking at the right side of the corset piece. There is also the method of snipping two tiny extra cuts around the bottom end of the slit. But it is a lot more fiddly and frays even worse when you need several tries to place the gusset.
And, even though it took a lot longer than using the machine, I went the long way and hand-sewed all the gussets. It cost a lot of time, but also saved me a great amount of swearing.

If you want to make your gusset sewing even more hassle-free, here is a very good tutorial on a similar gusseting method by Sarah of Romantic History. Molly has pointed it out to me last week and it really is immensely helpful. :)

Lastly, you should double-check the length of your gusset slit with the actual gusset by matching the dots before cutting. Sometimes the slit markings on the pattern happen to be longer than they should be, which in turn leaves you with less neat gussets. And it also helps not to poke the scissor point into the dot mark on the slit. This happened to me on the test stays and I was anxious not to repeat it on the actual stays. The gusset’s pointy end still needs to sit on a section of uncut fabric. Everything else may result in mild to severe cursing. ;)

Some advice on grommets.

Metal grommets really are a great invention. Even though they are not quite historically accurate for Regency stays, they are used more widely than you think. Right now, they are still “naked” on my stays, but I will cover them with embroidery floss in a later step, to hide them and give things a slightly more appropriate look.

With the right equipment, gussets are actually easy-going. Since I was a bit skeptical about the hammer setting method, I invested into a pair of convertible grommet pliers for my birthday. If you are interested to see how these work, here it a quick demonstration video by Lucy’s Corsetry:

However, there are still a few tricks with these. For once, try using a tapered awl instead of a thread cutter or scissors to make the eyelet hole. It is much easier on the fabric and keeps the threads intact. Further, turning the pliers over and giving the grommet another quick squeeze, as shown in the video, really provides a firmer hold. It also leaves a rift-like pattern in the metal, as you can see in my picture above. But I actually kind of like that special look. ;)

A few cording tips.

The most tedious part about cording is tracing and sewing the cording channels. But you need not be afraid of it at all. Technically, it is quite easy, if not the most exciting of sewing tasks. And it works fastest by machine. Yet there is one thing that makes finishing the channels a lot neater: Knot the thread instead of back-tacking. For this you bring the top thread to the back of the fabric by using a needle or the tip of a seam ripper and knot it off.

Here is a general sewing tutorial on knotting machine seams. It details the same knotting and back-tacking advice I have been given in my only sewing machine class ever…
If you use this method and work carefully, you can also undo a few stitches in case you have been too eager with the machine and have overshot the end point of a cording line.

In terms of the cording itself, not much can go wrong, if you follow the cording advice on your pattern: Add the right amounts of cording ease to your pieces to preempt shrinkange. Depending on the fabric, the stays can shrink from almost nothing to up to 1 inch which would be a problem, especially in the horizontal direction. Since my twill and sateen had  a lot of bias stretch, no shrinkage happened at all. But I still added the recommended ease before hand and then simply trimmed it off again after. Better safe than sorry. ;)

Two little, but still useful, points are to really use a blunt tapestry needle to insert the cord. It is still pointy enough to poke through your lining fabric, but will do no lasting damage to the fibers. A size 18-20 needle works best. :) Also, always leave a bit of a tail on the ends of your cords, so they don’t slip out again. I think I have somewhat over-done this bit on my stays:

The lining side of the front piece, with all the cord tails.

For a really awesome cording tutorial, detailing everything you will need to know, I recommend a visit to The Laced Angel’s blog. If you can cord as artistically as she can, you have really made your way in the sewing world. ;)

And this concludes my novice-to-novice corsetry advice. I hope I have not rambled too much and that you will find some of the tips useful for your own historical corsetry projects. Please stay tuned for the next round of stays updates.
Much Love, 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,

Assembling a Regency bum roll – A Tutorial of sorts

Unbelievable… I just tackled a challenge, a whole month ahead of its due date. As a result, the Regency bum roll is already finished, completing my set of underthings.
And, making it has been surprisingly quick and easy. It gave me just the burst of sewing encouragement I needed right now. So, I have decided to give you a step-by-step walk through the construction process in case you, too, could use a fun, no-fuss historical sewing project to keep you going. :)

To make the bum roll, I used Farthingales’ Elizabethan bum roll instructions and modified them by measuring around the bottom edge of my stays, instead of the high hip and slimming down the overall width to half the recommended size. When turning and filling the roll, I realized that the 4-5 cm (approx. 2″) I used were a sort of bottom limit. Any narrower, and you might encounter some trouble turning it all inside out or pushing the stuffing all the way into the far tips. That being said, here are the photo instructions for sewing a Regency version of the roll, adapted from the Elizabethan original on Farthingales:

First, sew up the center backs of your eight pattern pieces with a doubled thread. You should end up with four matching pieces.

Then flat-line the outer pieces by basting a bias-cut piece to each. Afterwards, the lining’s center seam should still be visible on the back.


Next, sandwich all four layers together, linings facing outward. Leave a biggish opening for turning and stuffing in the middle of the inner curve.


Now, sew around the bum roll. Then turn it inside out. Have a seam turner handy for the pointy tips. :)


Stuff it with scrap cotton or any other filling material you feel comfortable with. When you are done, whip the opening shut with smallish stitches.

At last, add the ties to the front tips. I used small, invisible overcasting stitches for this step.


And that is it already. Once the ties are on, you will have an (early) Regency bum roll that will look something like this:

And… the bum roll has landed. ;)

Now all you have to do is fit it over your stays and/or petticoat and pat it into shape so it sits snugly, but comfortably against your curves. To see what mine looks like on the wearer, stay tuned for my challenge post, detailing it all for HSF challenge #9 “Black and White”.

But, before I get to that, it is due time I plot some Regency gown shenanigans to go over it all. At the moment, there is a whole cascade of ideas buzzing around in my head. And I have promised Susan and Lady Constance, who are currently planning their own Regency wardrobe, to blog about those a little. Just wait for me to untangle all these different dress fantasies up there. With my thesis going full-blow at the moment that may take a little while… ;)

See you very soon.Yours, Nessa

HSF #7: The Cap à la Russe

At long last, my very first Regency cap is finished. Well, in fact, I completed it last weekend, just in time for the challenge. Now, I finally get to share it with you. As this project was based on my own pattern, you will also get to read a little about how I put it all together. To learn about my very first, somewhat funky, self-made pattern, check out the pattern-making post over here. :)
But first, here are all the details:

The Challenge: #7 “Tops & Toes”.
Fabric: Cotton lawn for the cap body; Muslin for the brim and bag lining.
Pattern: My own, inspired by a fashion plate from Ackermann’s Repository.
Year: 1813.
Notions: Punched lace, 1.5 yards of linen tape, three 8-yard skeins of white cotton embroidery twist.
How historically accurate is it? As far as the research goes, pretty accurate. It is entirely hand-sewn, too, and embroidered with an original pattern from 1822.
Hours to complete: 25 hours: 20 for the embroidery and 5 for assembly and sewing.
First worn: For the photos and around the house to try it out.
Total cost: € 4.50 for the embroidery yarn. Everything else was in my stash.

That being said, here are a few photos for your viewing pleasure:

The shy girl with the cap…


The side-back view. [It looks a bit on the short side, but I do not like caps covering my ears ;).]

The side.


The top.


The inside lining.

Some notes on the make-up:

Here is how I assembled it all into the finished cap: First, I cut out the pattern from the finished toile (see link above). I cut two crown pieces, one from the shell material and one from the lining, as well as two identical brim pieces from the same fabric. I then enlarged a floral border from the period embroidery pattern below, traced it onto the outer crown piece and set about embroidering it. For a detailed primer on the white-work embroidery I used, have a look at this post here.


The embroidery pattern from 1822 (I used the floral border on top, enlarged to double the size).

After the embroidery was finished, I added a small length of leftover punched lace for some extra decoration. Next I sewed up the curved back seams on both crown pieces (shell and lining), pressing them open. Afterwards I turned the lining right side out and slipped it on top of the shell so the right sides of both pieces were facing. I then sewed around the side and back sections of the cap, leaving the straight front edge open for turning.

Assembling the brim was next: For this, I took a strip of punched lace, twice as long as the brim’s outer edge, gathered it and stitched it against one of the brim pieces, wrong sides together, with the “lacy” edge of the lace facing down. After sewing, I folded up the lace, ironing the seam towards the brim’s inner edge. Here is the finished brim and lace:

Punched lace, gathered into one of the brim pieces.

Before the final assembly, I turned the crown right sides out and ironed it a bit. Then I sandwiched it between my two brims so the right sides lay against either side of the main piece with their outer edges pointing down. Now I sewed along the crown’s front edge and along the sides of the brim.

The two brim pieces, pinned to either side of the crown.

Afterwards, the brim was turned inside-out. I folded the raw edge of the  piece without lace to the inside, then closed the front with small, careful stitches. Finally, I attached the linen tape to the cap, a little behind the brim’s top edge. For this, I pinched the tape in the center. As the cap will be laced to one side, I placed that centerfold a little to the left of the cap’s middle line. And done.

Some maneuver critique:
For it being my first Regency-era cap, I pretty happy with the outcome: It fits on my biggish head and the white embroidery really turned out drop-dead pretty. To be fair, I forced myself to work very accurately by doing most of it at a public place, namely the local coffee shop. Weird, I know, but very helpful to keep me going.

On the downside, I get really annoyed when caps and hats cover my ears. Hence I was a little too eager when it came to trimming the sides of the toile. As a result, the cap looks a little too short on the sides, and too oval, compared to the original fashion plate. But, luckily, that is only an optical game…
All in all, the cap has a very comfy fit, accommodating most of my hair as it should. Yet I hope you like it a little, too. As they say, there is always room for improvement the next time around. ;)

Until next time,  Nessa


HSF #4: The Complete Underthings

And my first-ever challenge for the Historical Sew Fortnightly is done!

Yesterday I finally finished the Corded Short Stays to go with the chemise you have already gotten a peek at in this post. As I am still a novice seamstress, they have definitely been a “challenge” in more than one way… many raspberries were blown and I am glad my poor sewing equipment is rather deaf to coarse language. But in the end I am quite happy with the result. Here is a summary of the challenge facts. After that, there will be some pictures of the finished sewing adventure for you.

The Challenge: #4 “Under It All”

The Challenge Items: Regency Underthings ( a chemise and short stays)

Fabric: Varied weights of white cotton. Mostly muslin and some pink duck.

Pattern: Sense & Sensibility Regency Underthings

Year: 1800s-1820s

Notions: Unbleached cotton bias tape, 1/8-inch weaved cotton cord, wired plastic boning and a leather lace for the stays; 1 ft. of various bobbin laces for the chemise; No. 1 purl cotton for the drawstrings.

How historically accurate is it? All in all, a good 85 %. The chemise in itself is much more accurate because it was entirely hand-sewn. The stays, however, have some plastic boning and a little machine stitching on some of the inner seams. But I did attach the whole five yards of binding by hand. :)

Hours to complete: About 40 hours for each of them.

First worn: For fitting and taking some pictures.

Total cost: About 15 € for the chemise and 20€ for the stays.

Now here is a look at the finished short stays over the chemise:

The finished product. ( I still need to get used to lacing them properly…)

So you can have a better look at the cording, here is another snap shot from the side. I used some doubled 1/8th of an inch wide cotton cord for it. It provides good bust support and feels nice and soft against the body to boot.

A side view of the cording.

If you have been wondering where the above-mentioned pink duck fabric went: It makes up the interlining. In the right light, it shines through a bit, which was the desired effect. You can see it more clearly through the inside lining:

Here is the lining, with the pink interlining peeking through.

And now, to the project’s biggest blooper: Because of the four months without weekly hand-sewing, my fingers got a bit more poke-sensitive again. So, attaching those five yards of binding and pushing the needle through several layers of fabric was a bit of a chore. As a measure of ouch-prevention, I taped my middle finger below the thimble. It seems the thimble long enough for my funny needle technique has not been invented, yet. ;)

“Safety measures” for hand binding the stays. ;)

Making these short stays has been the most ambitious historical sewing project I have tackled so far. It has been a new, exciting experience. I hope you can enjoy the look of the finished product as well. :) Perhaps I will try making a modern corsage from my folk wear book next. But first, I need to recover from that mountain of binding… ;)

Love, Nessa


A New Family Member

A New Family Member

Meet the newest addition to my family.

This is my new “baby”, the first sewing machine I have ever owned. His name is Obadiah, or Obi, for short. He arrived yesterday and is still in his terrible twos. I am trying to get him to work properly, which he doesn’t yet. That is why I named him Obadiah, after Sergeant Hakeswill whom I don’t like much. Sometimes, when I read a Sharpe novel, I like to yell at him. And this Obi still needs some shouting at, too.

Once we are past the shouting matches though, I will finally get to sewing part of my short stays with him. I can’t wait…



PS: Today I have finally gathered my mojo and signed up for the Historical Sew Fortnightly 2014 for real. I think it will be much fun. :D

My First Sewing Class – and more embroidery patterns

Hello dear readers,

As promised, it is time I reveal my little secret from earlier this week to you: Today I took my first-ever sewing class at a cute little sewing cafe in Vienna. Well, not really a proper sewing class. It was more of a crash course in machine sewing. And it was very exciting. :)

As you know from my About page, I have never touched a sewing machine before. Honestly I was always a bit frightened of threading them and thought of them as little thread-eating monsters that make life harder. The first part, as I know now, is a myth. Threading the machine was easy once I understood what all those funny arrows meant. But the second bit still needs some puzzling out. This machine seemed to find the red thread very tasty. ;)

I must say that today changed my opinion on machine sewing. Somehow, I am not totally anti-modernism anymore. Yet it does not mean I will switch to it completely. Some of my friends call me “the human sewing machine” (no kidding) because my hand-sewn straight stitches are just as neat. And I do want to keep that reputation alive.

Yet the long inside seams of skirts are really testing my patience sometimes. Feeding them through a machine would really make life easier. Though, knowing myself, I would still do the visible outside seam of my French seams by hand. Another matter that has been on my mind, is whether my short stays would not become a little more durable if I did the main seams by machine instead of back-stitching them with quilting thread. Well, we will see what happens. I will make sure to keep you updated on this little adventure.

What else is new?

First of all, the blog’s wallpaper. Do you like it? I made it from an embroidery pattern published in Ackermann’s repository in January, 1826. How did I find it? This time it was not at the library, but on Google… I was really happy to finally find some late Regency muslin patterns on the web after all. On her blog, EK Duncan has put together all the embroidery patterns published in Repository from 1826-28. I hope you will enjoy them as much as I do right now. :)

Wishing you all a merry second advent weekend.



Useful links:

EK Duncan’s blog featuring needlework patterns, fashion plates and historical artwork, not only from the Regency period.