Shopping at the Old Arcade

Most people generally know twenties clothing as being tubular with drop waists.  Many also frequently think of the twenties as having beading, sheer fabrics, and fringe, but that was for evening and special occasion.  However, do you know what the turn of the decade, year 1920, actually looked like for everyday wear?  When I started doing research on this I was surprised.  Very high waists, overly exaggerated hips (many with ruffles and ridiculous pockets), slightly awkward long mid-calf length hems, and loose but lovely bust-less blouses.  Yes – this was the year 1920, when women were wearing fashion which was both a carry-over from 1918 – 1919 that was also finding its way for changing up styles in a new decade.  Here is my sewing creation interpreting the year 1920, as a woman in her nice, almost sporty, and nothing-too-fancy clothes to go do some window shopping.
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Actual teens era/1920s hand painted glass buttons (close-up picture here on my Instagram) were included on the blouse I made, as well as several hours of decorative hand stitching on both neck and sleeves.  My hat is a thrift store purchase, which already had straw flowers, but I piled on a wide lace band and silk flowers for an old fashioned style.   I also made the skirt and the purse, as well as some of the authentic lingerie I’m wearing underneath.  This ensemble did not look right (silhouette speaking) until I had the correct undergarments, so I will definitely show you what I wore (and made) in a future post.

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Period authentic doesn’t have to be old-fashioned or un-wearable today.  Because it is all cotton and not body figure conscious, this is really quite comfy to wear.  Sure, it’s different, but yet lovely and tasteful enough for me to only receive kindly smiles from strangers who saw me.  I love the subtle complexity, the understated richness, and the odd femininity to the style of my 1920 pieces.  The ideal of beauty and the popular silhouette for women has changed so much throughout history, and this is just another incarnation that I am glad to have learned to appreciate through sewing it for myself!

THE FACTS:McCall 9412 & Pict.Review Overblouse, both ca. 1920, fm Past Patterns

FABRIC:  100% cotton specialty twill for the skirt, 100% cotton for the blouse, and a tapestry remnant (mystery content) for the purse lined in a burgundy Kona cotton leftover from this project.

PATTERNS:  Past Pattern’s No. 8268, Ladies’ Overblouse, from Pictorial Review circa 1920; a Past Pattern’s No. 9412 “Ladies’ Skirt with Hip Pocket Effect” from McCall Company circa 1920 , and a Vogue 7252 year 2000 patternVogue #7252 from the year 2000 for the purse

NOTIONS:  The notions for this came from everywhere.  The detailed, Art Nouveau-style brass buttons were a Hancock Fabrics’ store brand item, bought when the company was closing, while the old vintage blouse buttons were from our favorite antique store.  Most everything else needed was on hand – I even had the tassel for the purse in my stash!  

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The skirt was made in about 6 hours and finished on October 21, 2016.  The blouse took 8 to 10 hours, with 4 more hours for the hand embroidery, and was finished on February 26, 2017.  The purse was made in about 2 hours on February 28, 2017.

TOTAL COST:  The skirt’s fabric was bought at the now defunct Hancock Fabrics for less than $2 a yard…and I only needed 2 yards here.  I have 2 something extra yards still left for another (upcoming) project.  The blouse’s cotton was bought at JoAnn’s fabric recently for maybe $10.  The brass buttons were expensive even with the Hancock Fabrics closing clearance – maybe $17 – while the old buttons on the blouse were only $5.  The tapestry brocade came from I don’t know where from I don’t know how long ago, thus I’m counting it as free, but the cord handle was bought at JoAnn’s for about $4.  So, my total is about $40 something.

DSC_0232,p,a-comp,wWorking with patterns this old presented plenty of unknowns, but the primary one was in regards to fit.  What kind of body, what kind of peculiarities, and what ease do these patterns account for?  It’s one thing to get something to fit, but historical garments need a particular fit (as well as the right underwear) to be authentically worn.  I did have the assurance that my pattern came from Past Patterns Company…every single garment I have made from what they offer is a wonderful success I am most happy with.  No wonder they’ve been in business almost 40 years!

Let me start by talking about the bodice.  After some figuring, my estimated bust measurement of the blouse pattern as-is (in the size 38 to 40 bust) is 45 inch around.  This led to my figuring the wearing ease to this blouse was about 5 inches over and above the bigger of the two sizes (bust 40).  I can see that the bust is supposed to be bloused and roomy (over a flat chest) so I went down to a generous measurement for myself and ended taking out a total of 4 inches around hoping to end up at what would be the next size smaller for this pattern.  The side seam allowance is 1 whole inch so I figured I had plenty of room to fix a wrong calculation is sizing, but still…it’s easier to  take out some extra than it is to be stuck with a garment which ends up too small.  I totally feel like I nailed the right fit!

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I realized that this is an overblouse that I am not wearing as an overblouse.  This is not the first time I have made an over blouse only to wear it tucked into a skirt – see this 1958 project.  When I received my pattern in the mail Saundra Altman kindly included a tutorial page on how to add in a stay-belt inside the blouse.  As I am just getting the feel for teens and early 20’s dressing, I kept the construction of my blouse simple from the waist downPerry, Dame & Co Catalog, New York styles, fall and winter 1919-1920 because for now I plan on only wearing it as you see it.  At some future point I hope to make a year 1920-style pleated skirt and wear this same top as a proper overblouse, and at that point I might come back and add the welt pockets and a stay-band to the waist.

I did use my oldest (1930’s) sewing machine to do all the button holes along the front opening, but I also splurged and used all cotton thread and self-fabric bias tape for the neckline.  After I had made the button holes I decided I really didn’t want to subject the buttons to the wear and tear of pushing them through every time.  So, I still sewed two at a time connected like link buttons but they’re on there permanently for now, and if I want them off I’ll just cut the linking threads.  I did try to make these buttons linked by a metal loop with a connecting chain but I had disaster strike doing that.  The back loop on one broke by cracking right off, but it is a molded part of the rest of the button so it cannot be fixed unless I glue some loop or such on it.  I never guessed these were as fragile as they seem to be.  Until I figure out how to add something to the back of this broken button, I will sadly made-do with one at the top closure.  This is the risk of working with, or even wearing, old original items from many decades back – they are unique and fragile, but deserve to be seen nonetheless, so using them is a risk that also could only garners appreciation.

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My decorative hand stitching is I know not the best compared to many others, but this is so much better than I used to be able to do.  Whatever my skill, the stitching does take my blouse to the next level, I think, besides show casing an old time-honored practice that modern garments are so far from.  Hand stitching was very much needed here because of the rather plain color of the blouse’s cotton.  I made my own design, and after several unsuccessful Art Deco drawings I settled on the softer more feminine floral on my blouse.  After all King Tut’s tomb would not yet be discovered for a few years from 1920!

The skirt probably would’ve fit me pretty much as-is, but I did add one extra inch to the waistband only to be on the safe side for fit.  I did not change the rest of the skirt because I wanted the gathers to be a bit looser.  Looking back I wish I had made no gathers across the center front of the skirt – the pockets and the hip panel would look better.  No matter, I like it just the same! DSC_0297a-comp,w

The skirt did not need any special closures for the left side opening – the placket kind of conceals itself because of the side seam pleat overlay.  Only hook-and-eyes keep it together at the waistline.  The waistband is quite neat.  It is a two inch band against my skin on the inside, with a 4 inch waistband gathered horizontally on the outside so it looks like a cummerbund belt.

DSC_0220a-comp,wTrue to the era, the back of the skirt is just a long rectangle for a small taste of the slim and skinny.  What a contrast for the front!  Along the front geometric pocket edge I made my own self-fabric “ribbon” to decorate, finish, and stabilize the edge.  At first I tried a brown velvet ribbon for the edge, but, no – I didn’t look good so I took it off and went with the matching fabric.  This pocket edge needs to be stiff enough to stick out on its own and define the hips so I was tempted to add interfacing.  My skirt’s twill fabric was thick enough that three layers along the edge (1 – the skirt, 2 – the ribbon edging seam allowance inside, 3 – outside of the ribbon edging) was plenty good.

Needless to say, as much as I love pockets, these take the cake! My skirt’s pockets are like mini suitcases.  I can keep everything in them and it doesn’t even make a difference the skirt is so roomy and meant to be billowy.  Yet, the only thing that mystifies me about my 1920 outfit is the pockets, mostly because the purses and hand bags were so tiny!  Pockets and purses were still relatively new items to 1920, and both signifying the independence and progression of women, but to go overboard with such a contrast between the two in interesting to me.  As you can see, I did take a slight shortcut and have the pocket opening close with a snap rather than a real working button and button hole.

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Patterns for both the skirt and the blouse both seemed to run very long.  I made the shorter length of the overblouse, which was just over 10 inches shorter than the full-length option, and it is still falls about mid-thigh on me.  For my skirt, I took out 4 whole inches from the length because as-is the pattern falls to floor length (I’m about 5’ 3” height).  Now, take into account the fact that these two garments are meant to have deep hems, especially the skirt.  My skirt does have a wide 3 inch hem to it which helps to weigh it down properly besides bringing it to the proper just-below-calf length for the year 1920.  Skirt and dress lengths of 1920 seem to be just enough to show the ankles, just enough to move freely in, and a tad shorter than just a year or two before (1919-ish).1916 purses

My purse is something so easy but I’m so tickled at how lovely and cute it turned out.  The pattern I used is a real unknown gem with lovely designs straight out of the teens and 20’s.  I remember my mom and I being so excited when this came out!  Look at this comparison between a 1916 handbag poster for comparison.  In a 1926 catalog, I’ve even seen a strikingly similar version to “View C”!  They are all really quite simple designs but I like the fact they give the tracing designs for all the beading and decoration.  My purse doesn’t hold much but came together so quickly.  Trimmings and de-luxe materials seems like the way to go with this pattern and a remnant was all I needed.  I will definitely be using this again!

In the 1920’s, handbags were often just enough room for a few small essentials (including lipstick and keys) and often geometric in shape, like my own vers ion.  Mine is probably way too stuffed than what a 1920 woman would have carried, yet as it was I didn’t have room for everything I needed!  Also in the 1920’s, handbags weren’t necessarily meant to match with an outfit but carry their own tasteful, individual, and often ostentatious flair…quite different from modern times!

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By making my purse (a ‘reticule’ style) from tapestry I am harkening back to a popular type of “daytime” purses of the 1920s – ones made of richly complex fabric carpet bags and delicately flourished needlepoint.  Handbags from these materials seem to either be meant to show the wealth of the one possessing it or the talent of the maker, as many of these types of purses were often handmade by either the woman herself or someone for the company that sold it and some were quite expensive.  By having a decorative tassel at the center bottom point I’m aiming to narrow this to a primarily early 20’s piece.  To read and see more, this “Vintage Dancer” page has a wonderful overview of all the ways 1920’s women carried what they needed.  There is so much history to this littlest part of my ensemble!

All the materials I used for this outfit are just a dream to wear and were wonderful to sew.  The twill for the skirt is a lovely weight and hand – almost as heavy as a denim, slight body, but drapey and soft enough to hang nicely.  The low-key design of the fabric adds interest and keeps the olive and brown tones to it from being too drab.  The cotton of the blouse is so soft it doesn’t really wrinkle all that much and it’s just sheer enough to be pretty.  The tapestry of the purse is so rough, textured, and stiff it provides a nice contrast to the blouse and skirt.

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The place of our photo shoot is something quite special.  Not only is it a city landmark and the town’s best example of Gothic Revival architecture, but it is a National Historic Landmark.  I’m talking about the St. Louis Arcade/Wright Building, opened in year 1919 as one of the very first indoor shopping areas of its kind in the country, a very early, but much more elegant version of the modern American suburban, indoor, covered “Mall”.  Just think how extraordinary this is from a historical standpoint – plans for this steel and stone skyscraper was begun in 1913 before World War I and many of the materials needed for this building were rationed.  Federal officials closed and postponed many construction operations during WWI.  It is rumored that the principle contractor apparently had a simultaneous deal with the government at the time, so I suppose he was able to pull a few strings.  The Arcade was the tallest building in the world for a number of years.  Besides, the architect, Tom Barnett, was something quite important nationally.  This multi-story hall was recently renovated (after being vacant for several decades), preserving much original pieces so that the Arcade can still give visitors a taste of what it might have been in its heyday when people came here for high-end purchases such as jewelry and fine china.  Being able to walk through and visit places like this in period authentic clothes makes sewing this outfit a very worthwhile experience.

DSC_0295aa-comp,wP.S. Good news…you don’t necessarily have to sew if you want this ‘look’!  ReVamp vintage has re-made an amazing year 1921 oversized pocket skirt very similar to my own, the “Prudence” with brownish olive twill and lovely details!  Although, there are a few ways to wear a modern take on such a style – “Dress Romantic” on Etsy marketplace has a neat version that’s my favorite!  As for ready-to-wear 1920 style blouses, ReVamp has lovely options but any loose modern blouse with lace and/or feminine details would work – my favorites are this Anthropologie yellow blouse, this J.Crew cream colored pleated neckline blouse, or this sheer smocked neckline top.  There’s always old originals out there, too, (like this one) for a taste of the real thing!  Will you be channeling the early 1920’s for yourself, or have you already?

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A 1910 Era Brassiere and Open-Drawers

Yesterday in the States here we celebrated “Armistice Day”, better known now as Veterans’ Day.  The agreement that was signed between the Allies on the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918 marked the ceasing of the horrible hostilities on the Western Front.  World War I also proved a good point for the capabilities of women, and the efforts for the passing of 19th Amendment would be productive in the next few years, giving women the right to vote by 1920.  In honor of these two past events (so good to learn from with what’s going on lately), I am posting something that I’ve made from the 1910 decade.

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In an effort to branch out and explore more historical eras and their fashion, history, and way of life, I’ve taken the first steps towards an authentic 1912 outfit by starting from the inside out…the proper way to get the correct figure when re-creating the past.  I’m going with the more advanced, “fashion-forward” two-piece undergarment combinations to go as my first layer against the body under a corset. I am very proud of and happy with both pieces and together with my corset, they make for a wonderfully good way to start.

As far as I know what makes this a brassiere and not a corset cover is the closeness and slimming fit as well as simple decoration.  A corset cover has more fullness to it, as well as a set waistband with a sort of ‘skirt’ or ruffle below it.  This brassiere is lacking the conventional boning of the time, but this give me options to make my undies work for more than one time period.  A full corset and/or a supported dress bodice would more than make up for no boning.  The drawers for my set are from a slightly earlier time period, the turn of the century or late Edwardian era as far as I can tell, but still short, poufy, frilly, and open-crouched as they should be for 1910.  Nevertheless, most all the under layers historically seem to be light layers in sheer weight linens of cottons, which I adhered to in my versions.  lily-elsie-a-popular-english-actress-and-singer-during-edwardian-era

I was even trying to re-create a hairstyle of the popular actress Lily Elsie, at right, one of the most popular beauties of the time.

THE FACTS

FABRIC:  The main body’s fabric of both pieces is a soft and lightweight handkerchief weight cotton in an antique ivory color. 

NOTIONS:  All notions are 100% cotton, too (except for a small percent of the modern thread’s content).  Most of the trim was bought specifically for this project from Ebay and Etsy sellers because I wanted this to be as authentically close to the original as possible and my town fabric stores don’t carry this kind of neat stuff.  However, the cotton eyelet lace for the drawers’ hem came from my Grandmother’s stash of supplies, while the shell buttons for the side closings came from Hubby’ Grandmother’s stash of notions.  The cording is half cotton and polyester bought from Jo Ann’s Fabric store.  The ribbon shell lace for the brasserie neck and arm holes was bought Jill Salen book coverfrom a Hancock Fabric store.

PATTERN:  The pattern I used for the brassiere was free from here at the blog “historicallydressed.com”.   My drawers came from author Jill Salen’s book, “Vintage Lingerie”.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My brassiere was finished on February 16, 2016 after about 4 or 5 hours.  The drawers were completed on February 27, 2016, after maybe 8 to 10 hours.

THE INSIDES:  Not perfect but cleanly finished and quite nice.  Most all seams are covered by the entredeux tape/trim or ribbon.   For those that aren’t, the side seams and shoulder seams are a flat-felled finished in my brasserie while the drawers have French seams.

TOTAL COST:  The cotton base for the camisole and drawers came from on hand as did the twill tape and thread, so I’m counting this part as free.  I bought extra of most notions, but dividing out what amount I used for the brasserie, it comes to a total of $16.00.  I used about one yard of entredeux ribbon ($2.00), about one foot of hook and eye tape ($2.00), one yard of embroidered entredeux trim ($7.00), and just over 2 yards of ribbon lace ($4.50), ½ yard of twill tape, and ¾ yard of cotton.  The drawers were as good as free (using what was on hand) unless you count $2.00 for the back draw cording.

After looking through all the sources for Edwardian, Titanic, and WWI era patterns I could possibly find, as well as several historical-knowledge sites and blogs, I found myself easily enlightened but yet still confused by all the different ways these three eras are somewhat 1917-corset-covers-and-bras-a-compmulti-layered into one another when it comes to what goes under ladies’ clothes.  (My favorite internet sources are here at Wearing History and “Lady Carolyn”.)  Some Edwardian styles are in the Titanic era, as are some early 1920’s styles found in the end of the Titanic era/WWI times.  Now there were some features to undergarments which are crucial to the silhouette of the year or decade, and some little touches to the lingerie reflect that, such as ruffles to fill out a skirt or a bodice at a certain place or princess seams for a long and lean silhouette.  However, through those 20 years, I did understand that the mixture of drawers and chemise could be slightly mixed up a bit – one-piece combo ‘chemise/drawers’ under a corset with the corset cover and a slip, or the two separate pieces could be worn under the corset with a slip chemise over that, or even (lastly) a short chemise under the corset with drawers and short cover over corset.   All these individual underwear pieces can be seen in this 1917 Sears ad (at right) in the “Everyday Fashions, 1910 to 1920” book by Dover.

Thus, I’m hoping that my readers will take into account my efforts to be accurate, if anyone who knows more than I do sees anything amiss.  I want to make something which would work for a good part of the 1910 decade.  (I’ve seen an alike set of brassiere and short open-crouch drawers in a 1917 catalog page.)  I also want to also stay true to my own personality in my historical sewing, and I can certainly see myself (if I lived back then) drawn to the newest fashion-forward fad of two piece undergarments.  It’s funny nowadays to consider this brassiere “new” and possibly “progressive” for its times by being very pretty and two-piece undergarment.  (I think camisole tops looking similar were worn out in public in the 1970’s and 80’s, with jeans or hippie bottoms in the “flower child” ideal.)  Nevertheless, by wearing the open-crouch drawers, I’d be a not too dsc_0948-compwadventurous woman by adhering to what was considered “proper” bottom first-layer covering since the 1850’s.  Open bottom panties were considered indecent when they started being worn about the 1850’s, and then when closed crouch intimates came in during the 1920’s, it was hard for the general society to adopt them until the next decade.  All of this is weird, isn’t it, when you think of how underwear is today.

Besides the efforts to research and source all my materials (which was well worth it), making this Titanic era undergarment was easy, quick, and stress-free…and fun!  The entredeux trim and ribbon were super easy to work with.  I did the seams first which had the entredeux insert, which was the center back and the bust fronts.  Then the side seams and shoulders came next as well as the fitting.  Too much fitting wasn’t really needed as making the pattern as-is came out a little too big – an easier fix than something which turns out too small!  I simply took the seams without the entredeux in a bit more.  Finishing the center front seemed best if I folded in the edges back inside to meet at the entredeux trim.  This made the entredeux bust line seam come in towards the off center more than the original garment intended, but it works better for my personal fit.

dsc_0950-compwNext, the hemming trim, the laces, and the hook-and-eye tape were added but first, the bottom trim was slightly adapted to stabilize the garment better.  As I received it, the entredeux embroidered ribbon had wide raw edges.  The original garment had some sort of twill tape simply sewn to the back.  Instead, I merely cut a strip of cotton (used for the main body) to sew to the entredeux ribbon at the long edges so I could turn it inside out like a strap/tube.  Now it was sturdy with nicely finished edges ready to go on the bottom of the brassiere around my ribcage.  The twill tape down the opening was added to keep the hooks off of my skin as well as provide a strap extension to join to the drawers.  Everything put on my 1910’s brasserie is very, very close as could be to the old original garment as shown at “historically dressed”.

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As for the bottom drawers, the patterns from Jill Salen’s book don’t give much to go on as far as instructions, so I had to do my own research to see some original garments to get the right idea of the construction.  Others know more than me, but I believe the books’ dating of these drawers as “1850, pantaloons“ is wrong.  Everything I saw and found in my research confirms the pattern and its styling is more of a late Edwardian Era to Titanic era, possibly WWI era, too, for a stretch.  This pair of drawers at the Egerland Museum is a carbon copy of my own (from Jill Salen’s book) and they are dated to circa year 1900.

dsc_0960-compwThe drawers were relatively easy and fun to make, as well as ridiculously comfy to wear even if a bit silly looking.  Yes they do have a completely open crouch, connected only at the waist, but it is undetectable because these are so baggy.  I did not change a thing to the pattern – no resizing, hem shortening or anything – and they turned out great.  The hardest part was the lack of any instructions or clarification, but with a bit of research, overview of extant pairs, and attention to details in the picture I figured it out.

dsc_0974a-compOn each side, there is about a 6 inch by 1 inch (finished size) placket in the ‘bound and faced’ method used on vintage underwear.  The placket tops end at the waistband and close with a single button on each side (I used an old carved shell button).  The waist is plain in the front, merely faced with three rows of knife pleats on each leg.  The back wide waistband has a cord running through it, coming out of a tiny button hole so there is the possibility of adjusting the back tighter.  The bottom hem is gathered into more entredeux trim, which then has eyelet lace gathered into that for a frilly finish.  Though short, I can totally see the “bloomer” look in these old-fashioned undies.

Now, after all this gab comes the corset.  I did not sew this but I did have “Fiorentina Costuming” on Etsy custom make it for me.  As I am on the smaller side I do not have dsc_0976-compwmetal or spiral boning – only strong plastic canes.  It is all cotton (even the lace) and unlined so as to not be too warm to wear or too bulky.  I cannot say enough wonderful words about my finished garment, the quickness of her replies to my many questions, and the options she offered me so I could have it just the way I hoped.  I am very happy with it.

For being my first corset, it is confining but comfy in its own sort of way.  There is something like a one hour span before the corset or my body (don’t know which) acclimates itself to the shaping.  This slim, full torso corset certainly does make one walk, sit, and hold posture in an entirely different way!  I could be wrong, but I believe this is a pre-World War I style (1913-ish according to here) by the way it comes full up to the bust.  This doesn’t quite match with some post World War I garments I’m intending to sew but I do not have enough places to wear clothes from the teens, nor enough free time for extra sewing, to warrant more than one corset for an era.  However, I do plan on making an elegant “woman-with-money” 1912 beaded lace evening gown at some point so this will come in handy.  Not having a ladies maid (duh), my method (seen here) of dividing the back laces into two parts helps me dress myself and have extra room to use the toilet without unlacing the whole thing.

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I did add on my own garter straps to the corset (this blog page helped me out).  I know thick, colored elastic is not authentic, but hey – I do what I can.  We had an extra pair of child’s suspenders on hand, meant for our son, but they gave me just enough elastic to cut four straps with clips attached to make things ultra-easy.  I cut two 6 inch straps for the back sides and two 8 inch straps from the adjustable clips for the center front.  Then I simply turned the ends under and stitched down between the boning for total lengths 1 inch shorter than what was cut.  Grey is neutral enough that it does not standout too much with my corset and the elastic is super thick so it doesn’t look so much what it really is.

dsc_0966a-compwI have the tendency to totally laugh at myself with this outfit – I’m kind of rather embarrassed in it, actually.  There is also something between disbelief that I am wearing this and satisfaction in the enjoyment of doing a decent job on sewing such different items from a new-to-me era.  Oh well.  At least this 1910 under-clothes have prompted a new “dive” into the history of the WWI era – before, during, and after – and learn as much as I can in the most rounded out way possible.  I just don’t want to dress the era…I want to understand it.

Now, hopefully the next steps to my teens era outfit will look more decent, and be just as enjoyable for me.  This was a wild ride, taking these preliminary steps, but quite interesting.  Thank you for making it through this long post so I can share it with all of you.