Open Seams with Herringbone Stitch -A Tutorial

While making my herringboned fichu, I realized it was about time to post a new tutorial. So I thought I would show you how I made the open seam at the back.

Open back seam on my fichu.

Open work is something I had always wanted to learn, because it never fails to look delicate, wherever you put it. But, so far, I have not found a go-to tutorial for it. When making the 18th-century baby caps for my cousins, I tried my hand at fagotting. It is very similar to what I did on the fichu, only with a more complicated stitch. I could not really wrap my head around it and eventually opted for a basic whipstitch finish.

Then I remembered that herringbone stitch can also be used for open work. And here we have it, simple and pretty. If you have not seen herringbone stitch before, here is a very good video tutorial. We will be doing just the same to create the open seam. The only difference will be the gap between the two stitch lines.

Now that you have familiarized yourselves with the stitch… off we go!

You will need:

  • The two pieces you want to join.
  • A thread of your choice. You can match it or just go wild with colours. Sewing thread might be too thin. What works well are fillet crochet yarn (no. 80 or 100), silk buttonhole or one to two strands of embroidery floss.
  • A matching needle. For best results, it should be smallish and sharp.
  • A piece or strip of paper as long as your fabric edge. It need not be wider than 1″.
  • A cushion to anchor your work. A small sofa cushion or throw pillow will do.
  • Pins.
  • A ruler and pencil.

How it is done:

  1. Finish your fabric edges. Before you start, the two edges you are stitching over need to be hemmed. Hemming any other edges is advisable, though, especially if your fabric is on the sheer side. Narrow hand-rolled hems work well. You can use them to get some extra stability for your seam (see below).

    Make a paper template for the seam.

  2. Use your paper and pencil to make a template. Basically you draw two parallel lines, each one as long as your fabric edges. The space between the lines should be between 1/4″ to 1/8″. For the tutorial I started with 1/2″, but eventually went with 1/4″ for the fichu.

    Pin the template to the cushion.

  3. Secure the template on the cushion with pins. Make sure it lies flat.

    Pin the fabric pieces on top.

  4. Now pin your fabric pieces onto the cushion. Match the fabric edges you are working on with the lines on the template.

    Bring up the thread and start stitching.

  5. Thread your needle. If you have wax to hand, waxing the thread is a good idea. Now bring your needle underneath the hem on the back of your fabric and bury the knot between the layers. Then bring the needle to the front. It should come up at the top edge of one piece, a little ways away from the working edge.
    NB: If you have a rolled hem, come up right at the inner edge of it. Working the herringbone over the hems will help stabilize the stitch.

    And stitch away!

  6. Work the herringbone stitch between the edges until your seam is done. Try to keep an even tension to avoid puckering or loose stitches.Take the needle to the back to finish off.
  7. When you reach the end of the seam, take your needle to the back, coming up on the hem.

    Knot the thread and bury the tail.

  8. Knot off the thread and bury the tail between the layers at the hem. And, tadah, your open seam is all done!

    Your finished open work seam. Yay!

And that is it already. Easy, right? The next level would be to use a double herringbone stitch instead. Here is a video tutorial for that one. Try not to get dizzy. I still do sometimes! ;) 

I hope you found this brief tutorial useful. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to let me know. I cannot wait to see your own, beautiful open work creations!

Nessa

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The 1920s Step-Chemise (CoBloWriMo Day 8)

For today’s “Vocabulary” prompt, I will tell you about the 1920s step-in chemise I finished in January. Yes… January. So it is about time you finally get to see them. Colloquially, this type of chemise with leg holes or attached knickers was also know as “Teddy” or camiknickers. It emerged for the first time in the 1910s and was more practical than long knickers as dresses gradually became shorter. It was also especially popular in the 1920s as it avoided a visible “panty line” and thus supporter the fashionable boyish silhouette.

For my pair, I used an interesting pattern from a 1921 issue of “La Mode de Femme de France”. The original thing about it is that it only consists of a single square of fabric. It as a neck hole in the center and is tied with a ribbon, either at the bust or waist line. The pattern looked so intriguing, I had to try it at once!

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Step-in chemise pattern from Mode de Femme de France (Sept. 1921). Click for original.

I made my Teddy out of a square of cotton Muslin, using the original measurements. The fit was spot-on. Although, if you are taller than me (over 5 feet) you should alter the measurements to fit you. Measure yourself from where you want the chemise to begin, down to your crotch area. This will give you half the diagonal of the square you will need. To get from here to the side length you will cut, double this measure. Then divide it by  √2. This will give you the side length.

To get the width of the center opening, use about half your circumference in the spot where you want the chemise to sit. If you are not super busty, however, the dimensions in the original pattern will do nicely. Then, to form the leg holes, cut off a bit of the two tips at the bottom, finish these edges with a small hem and add buttons or snaps for the closure. Measure and make up the straps last, when you are happy with everything else. The ribbon tying the square into a chemise is laced through a series of buttonholes. They can either by placed at the underbust or hip level. I recommend trying out both versions with a piece of ribbon before you decide where to cut and sew the buttonholes.

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The finished Teddy, laid out flat to show the make-up.

I stuck with the “empire” waistline and it turned out lovely! To spruce up the neckline a bit, I did a shell hem. This was also a suggestion pictured in the original instructions. The other was to use matching ribbon for the neckline finish and straps. To make the shell edge, I used this lovely tutorial. For some extra traction when pulling the thread taut, I cut a finger off a spandex glove and stuck it on my thumb.

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Creating the shell hem.

The finished product turned out looking very lush. All that I need to make now is a period brassiere to go on top. :)

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The finished Teddy, front view.

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The finished Teddy, back view.

Just before starting the Teddy, I finished a slip and robe de style for the family Christmas party. Tomorrow’s “big project” prompt will be perfect to tell you about that poofy little monster. Stay tuned!

Nessa

A 1630s Smock – Pattern & Construction

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

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

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

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

Pattern pieces and measurements.

The pattern pieces are the following:

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

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

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

Schematic of the neckline.

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

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

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

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

Love, Nessa

An Everyday Regency Morning Belt

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

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

Some Morning Belt Research

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

Corselet (Palais Galliera, c. 1820)

Corselet (Palais Galliera, c. 1820)

Corselet (Palais Galliera, c. 1820)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pattern

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

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

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

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

The rotated back pattern piece.

The rotated back pattern piece.

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

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

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

The finished back and strap pieces.

The finished back and strap pieces.

Making Up The Morning Belt

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

Joining the layers by stitching through the side seams.

Joining the layers together by stitching through the side seams.

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

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A tiny 4″ busk.

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

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

The finished morning belt, front view. :)

The finished morning belt, front view. :)

The finished morning belt, crossover back view. ;)

The finished morning belt, crossover back view. ;)

Close-up of the strap lacing and side boning.

Close-up of the strap lacing and side boning.

Cording at the side back seam.

Cording at the side back seam.

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

Cheers, Nessa

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Covering Baby’s Head – Georgian Style

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The narrow-hemmed main piece.

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

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

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

The radial pleats, outside view.

The radial pleats, inside view.

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

The lace attached to the bonnet.

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

The finished baby bonnet, with ties.

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

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

All the best, Nessa

A Quick Regency Apron How-to

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

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A Regency waist apron.

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

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Costume of a fashion worker; Costume Parisien.

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

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

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

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

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The drawing. ;)

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

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Laying out the pieces.

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

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The finished apron.

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

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An Empire apron; Costume Parisien.

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

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Pocket, with a double drawstring casing at the top.

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

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The pocket end result :).

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

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

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

Much love, Nessa

Some Handsewing Tricks

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

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

1. Tiny Rolled Hems

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

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

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Hand-rolled hems on the ruffles.

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

2. Proper Waxing

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

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

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

waxing203

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

3. Better Knots

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

4. Use A Cushion

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

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How I handsew, using a cushion.

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

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

Love, Nessa

Early Regency Elastic Garters : A Tutorial

It has delighted me to see how many of you are also enamored of all those gorgeous period garters. It feels wonderful to be in such good company. But, admiring is only one side of it all. As costumers, we all love to also re-create the fashions we adore. To get you started on your own pair of drool-worthy garters, here is the promised tutorial on how to make “elastic” early 19th-century garters.

Before we start, it has to be said that the finished garters will not be made in a completely historically accurate way. This is because we will be using elastic cord instead of wire springs to elasticize the garters. Modern elastic varies greatly in its elastic properties, as opposed to the material available in the period. But the end result of this tutorial will be very close to the period look. So, here we go:


You will need:

  • 12″-15″ of elastic cord, approx. 1/8″ wide.
  • 2 pairs of “double” hooks and bars, normally used for in-seam skirt closures.
  • A short length of matching double-fold bias tape, about 6″ long.
  • Needle and thread (matching for the seams and optionally another color to accentuate the cording channels).
  • Four 4″ wide pieces of sturdy cotton fabric, according to your measurements (see below).

Placement and Measurements:

You can place the garters just below, or just above, the knee. To find out how long your fabric pieces need to be, measure snugly around the place of your choosing. For the two front pieces, you will divide this measurement by 2. Then you add 1 1/4″ to it, to get a 5/8″ seam allowance on either side. For a sample calculation: I decided to wear my garters below the knee and measured a leg diameter of 16″. So I ended up with a front piece length of 8″ + 1 1/4″ = 9 1/4″ by 4″ wide.

Obtaining the length of your elasticized back piece is a bit trickier and depends on the bit on how rigid or stretchy your elastic cord turns out to be. First, you need to stretch your elastic cord to see, how much of it is required to go across half your leg diameter. Typically, the amount will vary somewhere between 2/3 and 3/4 of your measurement. With my cord, I needed 6″ to stretch over the 8″ of the finished back piece. Now you can decide if you want a (nearly) flat back piece when wearing your garter, or rather a more ruffled look. Both seem to have existed for period garters and it is up to you, what you like best.

For the “flat” look, you simply take your halved diameter and add a 5/8″ seam at one end. If you would like to shir and ruffle your back piece a little more, you are now going to double the measurement of your elastic cord and add the 5/8″ allowance to that. This is how i did it and I came out with 6″ x 2 + 5/8″ = 12 5/8″ by 4″ wide. Now that you have your measurements, you can go ahead and cut 2 pieces of each.

Making up the garters:

First, fold all your pieces so that the two long edges are touching and press.

Step 2: Add your embellishments to the inside of the folded front pieces, steering clear of the fold and seam allowances.

Next you can decide whether you would like to add embroidery to your front pieces or if you want to ornament them with pieces of patterned ribbon instead. You will be placing your embellishments on one half of the folded front pieces. Since you will later turn them inside out, remember to put the adornments on the inside of the folded piece, making sure not to work over the fold line and seam allowances.

Step 3: Add cording channels to the sewn-up back pieces.

Now you will work on the folded back pieces: Sew along the long, raw edge on either piece, taking up a 3/8 seam. Leave the short ends open, trim the seam and turn inside out. Add two cording channels that are wide enough to hold your elastic cord, starting your first seam about 1/2″ from the top and bottom edges. If you are using 1/8″ cord I recommend you place the cording lines 3/8″ apart (as you can see, mine came out a little too narrow for easy cording).
Optional: Add a fifth seam in between the channels for decoration.

Step 4: Feed the elastic through the channels and secure.

After finishing the channels, cut four equal lengths of elastic cord, according to the calculations above. Feed them through the channels, using a bodkin and, if necessary, a pair of needle-nose pliers. Make sure that a little bit of the cord peeks out at either end and secure it, using straight or, even better, safety pins.
Stay stitch on both sides, close to the edges. This step is crucial, since elastic cord develops a life of its own otherwise. I forgot this when first making up my pair and ended up taking apart and re-cording them because the elastic came loose.

Step 5: Embellish your fronts, fold them back over and mark.

Once you have finished decorating the fronts, fold them back over, right sides facing. Measure 2-3″ from the left edge and mark the point. Now, sew along the right edge of each piece, as well as the long edge, up to the mark you just made. Turn inside out. Your sewn-up fronts will then look like this:

The front piece after sewing and turning.

Step 6: Attach the back pieces to the top side.

Now, place your back pieces on top of the fronts and pin in place. Carefully sew them to the top layer of the front pieces only, while taking up a 5/8″ seam. Make sure to move the back layer out of the way completely. Trim the seam a little, fold the back piece into the front and press.

Step 7: Hand-finish the back of the join.

To finish the front-back join, flip over the pieces. Fold the raw short edges on the back in by about 5/8″ and press, making sure to cover the entire raw edge of the back piece. Finish the side seam and the remainder of the long seam by hand, using a slip-stritch.

Step 8: Bind the raw back edges.

At this point, your garters are nearly down. All you need to do now is cut your length of bias tape in half and use it to bind the remaining raw edge on your back piece. Do it as you would bind a corset, stitching “in the ditch” on the top side and securing the folded-over side on the back with slip stitches.

Step 9: Attach the hook-and-bar closure.

At last, you sew the hooks and bars to close your garters. The double skirt hooks are the closest thing to the, often ornate, hook closures used on period garters. But they do well enough. It works best to attach the hook on the back end, and the bar on the front. If you look at extant pairs, you will find that the bar usually goes on the “pretty” side, right next to the embroidery. Since the modern hooks are not so pretty, I opted to put them on the undersides instead. ;)

The finished product. =)

And your garters are done! Here is a look at my finished product. But I have a feeling that yours will be all the prettier. If you get to try out the tutorial and make your own pair of garters, I would love to see how they turned out.

I will be back with you very soon, once the exams are all over. By then, I am hoping to have some news on my new Regency day dress as well. Now, back to fixing the garter I forgot to stay stitch… See you all very soon!

Cheers, Nessa

An Economical Regency Petticoat

This past week has been a full one. But, just as with dessert, there is always room for some sewing. ;) So, on Tuesday, I set out to complete my Regency undergarments. With the stays done, all that was left now, was a petticoat. After a quick look at Jennifer’s petticoat fabric guide, I went into the sewing room, to hunt for the right material.

My choice was between a very sheer white poplin and the leftover sateen I had used to line the stays. But the poplin is so lovely that I decided to keep it for making an Edwardian shirtwaist. That left the sateen. At first I was hesitant to use it, since atlas-bound fabrics like these have a knack for being too heavy to make good petticoats. This particular sateen, however, is incredibly flimsy and nearly see-through. That is why it made the cut.

My visual inspiration mainly came from this earl 19th-century petticoat at the Met Museum, but also from the sheer, layered petticoat from the Oregon Regency Society’s blog.

Early 19th-century petticoat from the Metropolitan Museum.

Layered Regency petticoat (Source: Oregon Regency Society).

Since I was not entirely sure about the dimensions, I also looked around the web for suitable tutorials. I found two of those: One by Twila Tee and another by Beth. In Twila’s instructions, I found some information on the finished length and the best strap placement. And Beth’s gave me the great idea to use twill tape for the straps. It is just as narrow as the straps you find on extant petticoats and saves you the trouble of extra hemming. ;)

Yet I had to solve another fabric problem first: The leftover sateen was a 59″ x 59″ square. These are not ideal dimensions for a petticoat, but after doing some math, I found a period solution: Piecing. I cut the fabric at my desired length of 43 1/2 inches  and turned the cutoff into a panel of 12″x 43 1/2″. To give the petticoat an even look, I took a similar strip off the bigger panel as well. Then I put the two smaller rectangles to the left and right of the big one and sewed up everything into a 70 inch wide panel. This is about double my underbust measurement and just enough to make a nice, drapey petticoat.

To create enough fullness at the center back, I gathered the excess fabric into the back third of the waistband, so that I had about six inches of deep gathers to either side of the back placket. When everything was assembled, I added the twill straps. I attached one end 2 1/2″ away from the center back and the other 6 1/2″ further to the front, to get two loops that sit snugly at the edge of my shoulders.

Tweaking the back section with an adjustable tape closure.

For the closure I used a simple tape tie. To get some adjustable drape in the back section, I tweaked it a little by threading it through a channel in the waistband with a blunt bodkin. At the end of the gathered section, I poked the bodkin back through the fabric and secured the tape on the inside with a firm knot. I used the same technique with my late Regency pantalets. It works really well to create a more flexible fit.

The tucks at the bottom hem.

For embellishment and some extra weight around the bottom hem, I added five tucks to finish off the petticoat. The top and bottom one are each 1/2″ inch wide and the three smaller ones in the center are 1/4″ each. When I was done, the petticoat came down to my ankles.
And here is the result of it all, after about 15 hours of sewing: I think it came out pretty well.

The finished strapped petticoat – front view.

Strapped petticoat – back view.

Strapped petticoat – side view.

And so, my Regency underthings are complete at last. (Yay!) Now I can finally start making a first dress with a proper period fit.  Perhaps it will get finished in time for the HSM “Brown” challenge. Once it is done, I will also try to post some pictures for you, with all the different layers on my person. But first, it is time for a short break… ;)

Until very soon, Nessa

Corsetry Tutorial : Making An Easy Wooden Busk

The stays are making steady progress this week. Since I got a decent wire cutter on Monday, the spiral steel bones are now cut, tipped and put into place. Right now, the binding is already in the workings. This only leaves one question: What to do about the busk? Oh the busk…

Initially, when I got the pattern, I also bought a matching flat metal busk of 30 cm (12″) length, as required on the envelope. Since I am a bit short, I also got the next smaller size the shop carried, which was 25 cm (10″) long.

My two solid metal busks.

After shortening the stays, it now turns out that the 12″ busk is a bit too long to fit into the bound busk pocket; and the shorter one is somewhat too short. The actual busk length that fits me is somewhere between the two, namely at 27 cm (10 3/4″). So I needed to find a quick solution. Since I wanted to save the metal busks for future projects, I came up with something else: When I bought the wire cutter, I also picked up two paint stir sticks and some sandpaper. And, eventually, they solved my busk problem, in a rather pretty way.

Since some of you might find this helpful, I have written it up as a brief tutorial.
It should work to make a wooden busk of 30 cm (12″), or shorter, for Regency stays or corsets/bodies of earlier periods that ask for a straight busk.

[Safety advice: When working with wood, please wear suitable eye and mouth protection against the dust sawing and sanding create. Airing and vacuuming afterwards are also a good idea. ;) ]

You will need:

  • A wooden paint stir stick
    (or other untreated hardwood board of approx. 4 mm thickness and 2 cm [3/4″] width)
  • A pencil or fine marker
  • A saw
  • Sandpaper suitable for wood (not too coarse or fine; about 40-grain worked well for me)
  • A fine file (I used a disposable pedicure file)
  • Optional: Olive oil and lemon juice

The tools. In the center you can also see the finished busk. :)

The steps:

First, shorten the wood to the desired length. Mark the cut line and saw off the excess.

Next, you will clip the four corners, to shape a rounded tip.
For this you mark two dots on each corner. One 0.5 cm (1/8″) from the right/left edge and the other the same distance from the top/bottom edge. Connect the two dots to create a slanted line with an angle of about 45°. Carefully saw off the corners at the lines. The graphic below illustrates this step:

Mark and saw off the corners at an angle.

Now it is already time to smooth your busk. Start by putting the file to the jagged edges at the corners and file them to the desired roundness. Then rub the top and bottom ends over the sandpaper to round them off.

The long edges are next. Depending on the planned width of your busk pocket, they might need an extra thorough sanding, for the busk to lose a few millimeters on either side.
The best way to sand them is to put the whole piece of sandpaper in front of you and scrub the edges over it until they are smooth.
Stop scrubbing every once in a while to prevent creating too much friction. Otherwise the wood might start smoldering (I am not kidding).

To finish the busk’s top and underside, cut or tear off a handier piece of sandpaper. Wrap it around the busk and run it up and down its length with gentle pressure until the wood is smooth to the touch. You can also run the paper around the tips and sides for a neater finish.

You are done! Here is a before and after photo of the end result, busk at the top and paint stirrer at the bottom: ;)

Adding a finish:

As you can see in the last picture, the finished busk is a bit darker than the original piece of wood. I achieved this look by adding a simple, homemade oil polish. It consists of 1 1/2 cups of olive oil and one cup of lemon juice. You mix the two ingredients and apply them to the busk with a soft cloth. After letting it dry for a few minutes, shine the wood with another dry cloth. You can find the whole recipe, and some other nifty ones, here on Everyday Roots.

Another thing you can do to decorate the busk is to carve, or draw, an intimate piece of writing onto it. In the Regency era, a busk like that was a popular gift young men gave to their beloved. Perhaps you know some dashing gentleman who would like to try and make one for you… ;)

So much for today. With the busk, my stays are now almost complete and I am hoping to come back with the first pics of the finished garment in my next post. Please stay tuned. :)

Love, Nessa