Three Eras of Ladies’ Changing Underwear Styles – Part One, Teens Era

For the last few years on my blog, it seems as if I use the holiday of Valentine’s Day as an excuse to post about ‘underthings’ in February.  As much as I like sewing intimates, I really don’t like showing them off in public, even if it’s not myself modeling them!  However, they are so pretty, a bit challenging to make, something I am proud of, and very informative to learn from.  So, I’ll continue the trend for yet another year by sharing some of the historical and vintage base layer underclothes which have made some of the outfits from the past year before so successful! 

So – just to show how far history progressed towards “modern” underthings, and how quickly it happened in a short period of time (30 years), I will share lingerie that I have made of the 19-teens, 1920s, and 1930s into a ‘revealing’, two-part post series.  Sometimes you can recognize progress and differences better when we take an overall look behind!  This post will be about the finishing piece to my pre-World War I set – a princess seamed slip.  This slip is the in-between to the first layer of underclothes (posted about here) which are covered by the corset, and the true fashion garments such as a blouse, skirt, and/or dress (such as this 1914 outfit of mine).

A good outfit starts from the inside out, and this is especially true the further back in historical dressing you get.  Fashion affected the style of underclothes, but at the same time the underclothes also influenced the fashion.  It was a tug of war, a give and take, with one influencing the other and being influenced in return.  The silhouette that we know a year or decade in past fashion to have had that shape because of what came underneath.  At the same time, throughout the most recent centuries the shape of women has been controlled and dictated by the underclothes that are made and expected to be worn.  Thus, the clothes and what is under them both worked to craft a certain image.  When the mode of dressing changed, underclothes necessarily had to go adapt with it.  Sometimes, as in the case of closed crouch knickers or panties that appeared in the late teens or 20’s, the underwear – not the outerwear – was the first step towards a desire for change, a new, public demanded, progressive thinking for women.  This co-jointed history between the under and outer layers was especially true up until the 1960s primarily.

But even if your reasons are not at all for history’s sake, making vintage undies is awesome!  I find that the teens to 30’s variety are so much more comfortable to wear than modern underwear, and much more fun and easy to sew…yes, really!  Especially when you use the kinds of materials that they would have had (such as cotton or silk), do you really get the full effect of how luxurious and lovely such items can feel.  With all the wires, padding, and image crafting features that add to the difficulty in finding that perfect fit for modern (at least American) lingerie, vintage forms (circa late teens through the 30’s) let your body have its own natural glory, and merely cover in a beautiful fashion and (if anything) only lightly support compared to previous eras.  How can that not sound enticing?!

Time is not wasted either on making vintage underwear because generally they can still work for today’s living.  My teen’s era underlayers (sans corset) might look interestingly odd by standards of today, but are ridiculously comfy.  Granted, they won’t work well under modern clothes, but still would make great night wear.  Most historical base layers were meant to be interchangeably left on at the end of the day as night wear anyway!  My simple 1920s Kestos style bra is hands down the best ever for comfort and ease in– no wonder it was the one of the first commercially produced bra with separate cups!  And 1930’s tap pants and bandeau bras are indulgent little slices of the Hollywood finery which was a part of everyday day life back then – whether seen or unseen!  Both the Kestos bra and the 1930’s tap pants will be in the next post, but can definitely work into modern clothes, perhaps not the knit ‘one-size-fits-all’ kind of fashions (with no zipper or tailoring), but definitely a nice, well-fitting skirt and blouse combo or dress.

Every little detail counts in sewing, but particularly so with vintage and historical underclothes.  Every ruffle has a reason and something as small as buttons over hook-and-eyes point to the state of events and conditions of living.  You can read old clothes, past sewing patterns, and out-of-print fashion images like a small history book if you look at them with the right eyes and inquiring mindset, and that is more than even true of underclothes.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  100% cotton broadcloth – both bleached and unbleached.  The beige colored unbleached cotton is left over from my year 1920 blouse, posted here.  

PATTERN:  Past Pattern’s reprint of a Ladies’ Home Journal Pattern #9206, circa 1912 to 1916

NOTIONS:  I needed wide eyelet for the hem as a shortcut to making ruffles myself.  So, I bought some poly/cotton blend border-stitched eyelet, about 5 or 6 inches wide, at my local Jo Ann’s store.  The cotton, two-tone string that was used for the neckline also came from Jo Ann’s store, but had been bought on clearance the year before for another project.  All the rest of what I needed came from my Grandmother’s stash of vintage notions.   

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The slip was finished on March 10, 2017, after about 4 hours.

THE INSIDES:  The inner edges are basically overcast, for a simple but relatively clean finish.

TOTAL COST:  All cottons were on hand in my stash already, so I’m counting them as free, like the notions from my Grandma, so my only cost was the eyelet, which was rather pricey (so I think), about $15.

This was such an easy, fun, well-fitting, and pretty make, I’m tempted to make another one out of a fashion fabric, something other than basic cotton, so I can wear it as a nightgown!  As this is a veritable reprint of true original pattern, the instructions are one paragraph of text, crude and overly brief to the modern eye used to clear, pictorial, and long-winded explanations.  If you can be confident in yourself, and see the design lines, you will see that this is really simple requiring nothing really too out-of-the-ordinary or complicated.  I think of old sewing patterns’ basic instructions as not being simple so as to leave you hanging…just so you can prove to yourself you really know more than you think and can do well on your own!

When it comes to 1920’s and earlier, pattern sizing can be randomly ill-fitting or unexpected.  Not so with this pattern!  It says it’s for a bust 34”, which is technically too big of a size wearing the era appropriate corset, close enough to be just my size in modern ‘natural’ sizing.  I cut out the pattern “as-is”, with no changes to the sizing or anything whatsoever, and it turned out great!  You don’t really want this to be on the smaller fit, you want it to be loose and slightly blousey.  But at the same time, the lovely princess seamed shaping darts keep this slip skimming the body, and make it easy to tuck into the skinny, high-waited skirts of the era.  I love this pattern.

The neckline is nothing but a simple, skinny casing with a tie to bring it in a fit it around the neck.  I considered sewing on a separate bias band to do the job, but instead I turned under the neckline twice and had the string run through the hem that I made.  I used the silly, contrast two-tone string not only because it was on hand and it was cotton, but honestly – it’s a fun little touch.  You can’t tell me that just because those ladies back then were wearing corsets and looking all decent and lady-like that they didn’t have a little fun with their underlayers.  Besides, look at the hem…something this frilly is definitely fun!

I went for the shorter length and it ends on my 5’ 3” figure somewhere between mid-calf and my knee.  It only looks a lot longer in our pictures because of the fullness at the hem and also on account of the angle my cameraman (aka, husband) was using to take the pictures.  This length and version of the pattern is perfect for those early to mid-teens era fashions, with their long and skinny, tapered hems.  Hem ruffles and gathered fabric below the knee create the silhouette of the legs that marked this part of the decade.  Skirts and frocks at this time skinny high waists (slightly higher in the back), with long hiplines that flared out into the widest part – just above and/or below the knees – to taper back in at the hemlines.  As soon as I made this slip and had it on, it struck me…of course!  How else would a skirt or dress get such a pouf out in just the right place with a slip or petticoat with ruffles right there to do the job?  Poufy drawers help with that, too.  Here again, the underwear makes the styles, and the styles are made possible by the underwear.  On a practical basis, I would think that a shorter slip would also be good for being unencumbering to footwear of the times.  Women were often wearing high-lacing boots, or at least fancy, fine stockings with the then-new ankle baring heels.  Besides the hem of my historical fashions have very wide hems – this is the case of my 1914 hobble skirt that I have worn over my slip so far.  A shorter length slip would not be absolutely necessary until the fuller, easier-to-move-in fashions of the WWI era (1914 to 1918) arrived.

This slip does button down the back – a tell-tale sign that women at this time had assistants helping them in and out of their clothes.  The time of female independence had definitely not come yet and class gentrification was strong.  For my own slip, I made the back placket, and proper button holes with old teens era carved horn buttons to match…only to realize that it was generously sized enough that I didn’t need to unbutton it to get it on.  So, I just to stabilize the back, make sure it stays closed, and make things simpler in the long run, I hand tacked each button and button hole closed (for now, at least).

Now, you might be wondering, “What’s up with the weird paneling and funky colors to the back half?”  If you didn’t see it before, I guess you see it now.  I wanted to “make-do” with what I had so I went all experimental.  A few scraps of basic, white, cotton rectangles in weight matching the beige fabric were pieced together to form a solid back piece then hand-dyed the white scraps to match as best I could with what was on hand.  As much as I would like a “perfect” looking garment, I am much happier using up and making the most of what’s on hand.  Besides, doing something resourceful like this is much more satisfying in the long run, as well as giving me a much more interesting story to share!  After all, I feel that if I’m going to experiment on something, might as well do it on underwear.

This was my very first tea dye, and I am very pleased!  We happened to have cold brew instant tea bags on hand already, and I own the book “Making Vintage Accessories” by Emma Brennan (great book, btw) to show me how to do it.  I was so excited to see how the dye turned out that I now wish I had left it in the tub longer than 2 hours, but the color is closer than I imagined I would get at all, so I’m happy.  I did add salt so that the color would “set” so I don’t know if I could do It again for a darker color.  The color did not change much at all on the eyelet has it was a cotton and polyester blend.  Man-made materials are no fun – they do not have all the possibilities that a basic, traditional woven like cotton has!

Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post on the lingerie of the next two decades.

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Turn of the Century Romantic

“It was November–the month of crimson sunsets, parting birds, deep, sad hymns of the sea, passionate wind-songs in the pines. Anne roamed through the pineland alleys in the park and, as she said, let that great sweeping wind blow the fogs out of her soul.” ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

I do wish fall did not have to blow away to make room for winter!  However it may be that it is now December and I should be in the mood for Christmas, I would like to feature what perhaps is my favorite outfit from this fall, amplified by a colorful background of the parting season.  By sewing a simple skirt to match an old antique original blouse, I am finally able to completely experience my long love with another historical era in a very real, tactile manner.  “It’s delightful when your imaginations come true, isn’t it? Because when you are imagining you might as well imagine something worth while” ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

I’m talking about the 1905 time slot…just in the cusp of the turn of the 20th century, when the dreamy Gibson Girl stood for an innovative form of female independence and empowerment.  This outfit exemplifies the dawn of the modern day “separates” to wear for an active and socially important place in society.

The Gibson Girl was seen as beautiful and feminine by being an active, talented, strong, athletic, understanding, and worthwhile individual – a “new” but welcomed concept for the times!  Her sudden availability to a form of menswear, that is, blouse and bottoms (albeit a feminized version atop a full swingy skirt), were part and parcel to that new found freedom society was opening up for the Gibson Girl.  Reading what I say is one thing, but now that I have had the opportunity to wear such an ensemble, I personally can attest it is truly wonderful to wear, surprisingly easy to move and do many things in, empowering in the feeling of classiness and being put together, and so very romantic and feminine at the same time!  Bring back the turn of the century!  “It is ever so much easier to be good if your clothes are fashionable.” ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Of course, I suppose you can tell that I couldn’t help but associate myself with a red-head from the same era, everyone’s favorite spunky kindred spirit, Anne spelled with an “e” of “Anne of Green Gables” or “Anne of Avonlea” from the author Lucy Maud Montgomery.  The 1980’s movies from Sullivan Entertainment were something I first watched as a young teen, and I have been smitten with a crush on the stories, the characters, and the era’s fashions ever since!  Besides, the way Anne has a way with words and is not afraid to use the full breadth of the English language has made her one of my ultimate heroines for my writing skills.  “But if you have big ideas you have to use big words to express them, haven’t you?” ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

I might not have a set with Anne’s favorite “puff sleeves” just yet (a matching velvet winter jacket is coming down the pike of my future projects…just wait).  However, I’m tickled to be wearing this over 100 year old, perfect condition blouse!  It was a birthday present to myself, bought a few months back from the shop Jumblelaya on Etsy.  The details on the blouse are just amazing (handmade lace inserts, tiny pin tucks galore, and a plethora of shell buttons down the back) and the fit is so meant for me!  From what research I have done, I believe this ¾ sleeved, collarless style is circa 1905 to 1907, which fits perfectly into my idealized “Anne” characterization of myself – Montgomery’s first book came out in 1908.

All other accessories are from my Grandmother (earrings, cameo, and hanging waist watch pendant) and assimilate well by matching with era appropriate jewelry.  My shoes are a lucky resale store find, also imitating (decently well, especially with the pointy toes) the less formal, ankle-freeing “walking” footwear that was seen as more practical, less formal, and a new trend circa 1905.  Having more than one kind of shoe style further revolutionized women’s lives at the turn of the century.  No longer were women restricted to boots as their only option for footwear!  The century itself was only one of the many things that had changed…

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a linen and rayon blend fabric in a very blue navy for the skirt

PATTERN:  Folkwear #209 “Walking Skirt”; my pattern is something I picked up from a second-hand seller with a copyright of 1980

NOTIONS:  Nothing but thread, a waistband hook-and-eye, and some interfacing was needed to make this skirt –easy-peasy!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  It was made in one afternoon’s time of about 5 hours, finished on November 10, 2017.

TOTAL COST:  For just under 3 yards of the fabric, bought just recently at my local JoAnn’s store, cost me just under $20.

Making this skirt was so much easier than expected!  Granted, I took the fast, modern, and easy way to make this using my sewing machine to sew the skirt in its entirety.  Yes, perhaps a hand stitched hem and everything would have been better for a proper historical garment.  But as the navy color makes the matching thread pretty much invisible, and as I will not be wearing this nearly as much as I would like, I opted for machine stitching.  They had sewing machines available for the home seamstress back then, so although my machine is not something from the turn of the century, it is not entirely unlikely that a skirt like this might have been sewn mechanically.

Now I realize that a basic, beautiful design like this is a wide open blank canvas for waiting for personalization.  I was indeed sorely tempted to add at least some rouleax trim, horizontal pleats, or decorative cording of some sort along the bottom above the hem.  However, my lace blouse is so intricately complex and such a priceless historical piece that is deserves to take the center stage of the outfit by having all the details.  My matching velvet jacket yet to make will have lots of details, as well.  Sometimes simple is the most beautiful anyway.

As ‘simple’ as the skirt seams, is has a smart and lovely design.  First of all, there is a slight train to the skirt, where the back dips and sweeps the floor.  There are five gores to the skirt with no side seams.  The side panels on both right and left of the center front wrap around to the behind where they join the two center back panels.  The center back panels are not that obvious because they get pleated in their entire width on either side of the placket closure.  The placket closure only has the one waistline hook.  That’s all it really needs as the back is so full with all the pleats and the interfacing keeps the placket stiff so it doesn’t really open up anyway.  Besides the challenge of working with such long seams and such a large amount of fabric, I am amazed at how something so far back in history can be so easy today and so perennially elegant.

There is such a wide flare to each of the skirt’s panels that they were giant sized pattern pieces.  I did have to open up my wide width fabric and fold the entire 3 yards in half the ‘unconventional’ way, making for a giant 60 by 108 inch square on the floor!  Even still, I did have to take out five inches out of the length to accommodate fitting in the pattern pieces.  According to the size chart, however, five inches was just what I needed for my height to end up with an ankle length skirt, so things fell into place perfectly here.

The size chart was spot on, I must say I’m impressed!  I was not sure what to expect, as this is my first time using a Folkwear pattern.  I was in between sizes so I went up in size and merely made slightly wider seam allowances.  This worked out great, so the sizing is pretty precise.  The instructions were good too.  My only ‘problem’ (which wasn’t really a problem, anyway) was the lack of markings for the pleated back.  Actually, I should clarify that the instructions call for gathering of the back panels, but from what I have seen of extant turn of the century skirts, and with my own taste voting for the organized symmetry of pleats, the gathers were replaced.  Thus, I was left to my own designs to make-do some organized pleats with some measuring to have them match equally on both sides.

If only the back wasn’t behind me where I can’t see it, I’d be ogling it to no end because I think the fullness with the pleating is stunning!  It does totally compliment by contrast the conventional, full, pigeon-breast, uni-bosom of the era and the full head of hair which forms the classic curved Gibson Girl silhouette.  Who would think that emphasizing the back side could look so good?!  The back fullness gives something so basic as my walking such a wonderful sash-shay to it!  And yet, I do not feel confined by it at all.  This is truly the most romantic of eras I’ve dressed in to date.

Some words must be said as well about how I made-do with what I had to even achieve the proper silhouette in the first place.  I luckily did not have to really make the undergarments to match…I already had them.  This is what comes from years and years of re-enacting and buying stuff over those years, some of which were deals and opportunities found that were too good to miss even though the use of them was something obviously for the future.  A modern, turn of the century-style corset cover and pantaloons set was finally put to good use, as was a full, long uber-ruffled hemmed petticoat that my mom had made for a semi-historical costume I wore about 15 years back.  Keeping stuff like this on hand for so long had a redeeming feel to finally find the perfect use and reason to wear them.

I know ladies of the turn of the century would be wearing the famous S-bend corset, which I do not have.  Making one was out of the question and affording one made by someone else for me was not happening as well.  I have seen some ladies who have dressed in the early 1900’s fashion use their Titanic-era longline corset and add a ruffled bust improver on the chest and a padded bum roll to sort of cheat and get by in between eras.  I did consider the latter option as I do have a teens era-corset, but I didn’t feel like making anything for underneath (go ahead, call me lazy!) and hubby says I’m skinny enough to get by using other ways.  So – I am wearing a modern brassire as my first layer with a very basic, three layered ruffled “bust improver” pinned very simply on me to get the same effect.  Then, as the corset cover had the right pigeon-breast shape in front, it completes the “proper” look for me.  To get an idea of what I wore, it rather looks like what “Atelier Nostalgia” made (see it here) except my bust ruffles are on the inside of the corset cover, and there is more embroidery.  In lieu of butt padding, the gathered waist of my mom’s petticoat was adapted so the gathered waist was smooth in the front and had all of its fullness in back to fill out the pleats of the skirt.  It looks like this vintage original petticoat except mine is blue polka dotted cotton with extra wide ruffles added along the hem.  Yes, I’m sorry, I’m cheating, but at the same time…not really.  The turn of the century era was the beginning of the “modern” female, and women began to realize their value and potential was so much greater than the limitations society placed on them.  We women are experts at ingenious making-do, so I do not feel bad at all in the spirit of the Gibson Girl!  Pretend you didn’t read this and you’d be none the wiser as to what’s underneath what you see.

My books are actually not just something to hold and look good.  They are old books from our collection that were published circa 1900, both of which are on my “to read” list.  The green and gold covered book is “A Man of Mark” by Anthony Hope, the author of the little known classic “Prisoner of Zenda” and its sequel “Rupert of Hentzau”.  Having enjoyed reading those last two and totally addicted to Hope’s stories, I had started to read the “A Man of Mark” but have not yet finished it. “It’s so much more romantic to end a story up with a funeral than a wedding.” ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables .  Anthony Hope stays true to Anne’s ideal on at least one occasion in his stories, so I’ll have to see if “A Man of Mark” continues that.

The little red and gold book is the factual yet romanticized “Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada” by the famous Washington Irving.  I love books that show a different side of an author, and this one shows the studious and serious side to an author more often known for writing the short fiction stories “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow“.  Again, this book has been another one started but not yet finished by me.  Sort of like my sewing, it’s so hard to keep up in reality with everything that’s in my head which I want to do, so some things unintentionally get pushed to the side for a “later”.  “Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive – it’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we knew all about everything, would it? There’d be no scope for imagination then, would there?” ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables.  I will finish these two books yet.

“The things you wanted so much when you were a child don’t seem half so wonderful to you when you get them.” ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables  Well, Anne was wrong, because this outfit is much more wonderful than I imagined it years back.  The funny thing is I had very little qualms about wearing this out and about the Botanical Garden where we took these pictures.  In fact I enjoyed it so much I didn’t want to take it off.  The air was slightly chilly and all the skirt layers kept me rather warm.  Also, 7 to 12 year old girls were really giving me good looks and smiles, as if they were seeing something they might like to wear as well.  I’m supposing I was a good fashion-history influence, but maybe I was just blending in with and complimenting the Victorian surroundings.

When you feel good deep down in what you wear, it has to manifest itself and I believe that spark of enjoying what you wear – whatever that is – and especially feeling pride because you made it can be a very catching emotion for others.  “We ought always to try to influence others for good…and it is ever so much easier to be good if your clothes are fashionable.” ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables  Thanks to Anne’s wit, advice, and fashion inspiration, I’m sure many others like me have found themselves fascinated by the turn of the century, and I just finally translated that through my sewing skills.  Why did this take so long – where and when can I wear this more?!

Teens Era Transitional Suit Set

As of this past April, my country of America began commemorating a century since we entered into World War I, when we added our hearts, efforts, and supplies to the rest of the nations who had already been fighting.  As someone who sews and likes to dive right into history, I guess it’s no wonder I took to making my own outfit from the era as my effort at remembering history.  Besides being commemorative, our local art museum hosted an exhibit linked to the era of my outfit, “Degas, Impressionism, and the Paris Millinery Trade”, and it gave me an actual destination to wear my historical garb.  Their “photo opportunity wall” was the setting for many of our pictures.  You see how I blend right in at a 1912 Millinery Parlor shop?  Also, the newly released “Wonder Woman” movie, which has a WWI setting, was the final odd but added impetus behind making my suit set.  My reasons are varied, but deeply rooted in the history that I love.

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1912 to 1914 was a true transitional period of history and my outfit, as I planned it, intends to pay homage to this.  1912 is roughly the end of the Titanic era, in which fashion still gave a clear visual definition of who was in and who was out of money.  1914 marks the beginning of World War I and the founding steps towards democracy of fashion and greater freedom in many realms of life.  I realize I am riding a fine line between pre-WWI and post WWI with my outfit but it has been two years in coming, and I couldn’t be happier with my first foray into both sewing and wearing teens era fashion!  During those two years, my outfit has been well-researched, long thought out, and lovingly worked on for a while now.  Most all of my details are tied to a historical fact.  Now I feel as if I have a historical statement piece with a story to tell about the history Great War.

Of course the best way to place myself in the shoes of a woman from circa 1914 was to go all out and do my outfit authentically from the inside out.  Yes, this means the underwear, the corset and the whole bit!  You can see my past post about the under layers here, and here is the post about the teens era slip I have since made to complete the underpinning ensemble.  Without the right underpinnings my set did not have the right silhouette, nor did I have the correct posture, ahem (as in being laced into it)!  Wearing a long line corset does make me realize just what a no-slouching posture really is, and it makes me appreciate the comfort of actually sitting in a chair to relax, not just the dainty ‘perching’ that I do in my teens corset.  Plus, it smoothes out all the ‘bumps’ that were undesired for the times, something which modern underwear only ‘supports’, if you know what I mean!

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I believe this combo of blouse, jacket, and skirt (not forgetting the hat) is technically called a “walking suit” even though a slim hobble skirt is not the best for walking.  Yet, I did not find this fashion as confining as many humorous cartoons (such as those by the satirist Benjamin Rabier) and other images make them out to be.

Circa 1914, the hobble skirt was widely worn, yet was being frequently and publically made fun of.  Then there was Paul Poiret, who backtracked on what he claimed he created and introduced the freedom and progressiveness of harem pantsJeanne Paquin, the first major female courtier, is supposed to have created a version of the hobble skirt which included pleats for ease of movement for the new, more active woman.  My own skirt is a combo of Paquin and Poiret – it has a trio of asymmetric pleats that are stitched down halfway up to free up my knees.  The world itself was fighting for the death of the skinny hobble skirt.  Active women who become a part of the workings of society were sorely needed and whatever fashion stood in way of that was destined to depart.  A suit such as mine was meant for a time in history when a woman of society was merely meant to be a figurehead and present an ideal image of her status.  By 1914, such a suit set was in its last, glorious, waning sundown.  Wearing this outfit was nothing too terribly uncomfortable, but it was a bit confining in its own right, which did take some getting used to.  It helped me realize why the fashions of the 1920s came about.

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When the newly enlisted soldiers left on the boats to go off to the Great War, many ladies wore their best “going away” clothes.  Not only was it dressing up to see their men off, but it was also one last big splurge, or indulgence, before buckling down into rationing and a full-hearted war effort.  I think this set certainly falls into the “going away” category!  I had ideas for even more finery I could have added, like a pocket watch, extra pockets, and more buttons.  I might get to that yet, but for now what I have is something finished and totally wearable.

DSC_0151-comp,wThe Great War had far-reaching implications on the previously active global import/export marketplace, thus there was an absence of much that had to do with the clothing, fashion, and textile industry.  Imported dyes, which had been coming out of Germany, became rare thus leading to a more frequent wearing of black and neutrals.  This is besides the fact that many people (especially mothers, wives, and sweethearts) were in mourning, anyway.  My own outfit greatly reflects this historical point, by using primarily black and grey tones together with two neutral cream colors to calmly brighten things up.

The war effort also caused heavy rationing/unavailability of leather, wool, and cotton (which, among other materials, were going towards supplies such as uniforms and tents).  Ladies had to wear more silks, with the occasional rayon blend (invented in 1910). Heavy rationing applied throughout many countries and America wasn’t excluded, but it did have situations a bit easier comparatively.  Straw, with some linen, were also somewhat rationed, so substitutes from paper were invented in counties like Russia and Germany, and “Jean cloth” (yes, denim) was resorted to as a leisure cloth.  At the beginning of the war, however, most walking suits still tended to be in “practical” and breathable pure linen.  As I am in the USA, I felt it would be fitting for me (if I was living back then) to have such a set as mine in linen, lined in a very basic cotton.  Non-war effort cottons like gingham and batiste were nonetheless used and still popular for housedresses, anyways.  Many women who weren’t involved in manual, farm, or food related work were enlisted into the textile industries or assigned to convalescence and hospital needs sewing, so I imagine access to rationed fabric was not entirely off-limits for all women.  Thus, my outfit is a mix of some fabrics and materials which would have been a luxury and some which would have been used for an authentic early war-time suit.  Restrained opulence was common with early and mid WWI clothes (see this for one example) since – after all – old habits die hard.  The Titanic era didn’t go down overnight like the famous ship did…

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Asymmetric designs were incredibly popular at this point in fashion, being used on blouses, skirts, suits, and dresses for both day and evening – no doubt from the Art Nouveau influence.  The asymmetric trend probably had to do with the ‘new’ draping of fabric on the body (Grecian idealism) for evening and tea gowns as well as an elegant and avant-garde desire to break away from the sweetness of the Edwardian period before.  I wanted my suit set to have some asymmetric loveliness…I do love how the trend continued into the 1920s, 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s so strongly.

Even during WWI, common luxuries could frequently be taken with neck line collars, since they needed such a small amount of material.  This is why my single asymmetric collar with matching sleeve cuffs are from an expensive, all-cotton, burnout velvet tapestry.  My top collar is from the same fabric as my skirt to add continuity to the outfit, plus I see it as a practical, “making-do” touch to use up every last scrap!

IMAG0287a-comp,w“Making-do” was greatly encouraged in many aspects of life, more so when it came to fashion, especially when it came to hats.  Headwear was a necessity that a lady would not do without and publications of the times stepped up to the need to show how homemade hats could be done easily, inexpensively, yet with a no less fashionable appearance.  My own hat started out as an inexpensive, basic floppy-brimmed hat blank bought from Wal-Mart…of all places.  (Pardon the pins in the picture at left – it was here a work-in-progress.)  It is made of a thick 100% wool felt so it is an accurate and proper hat making material, just something that might have been an expensive luxury for 1914 – all the more reason a woman of those times would have re-fashioned it herself!

Feeling united with the war effort extended into the modes of fashion with many hats and clothing mid or late in WWI possessing details which had a very obvious, albeit past, military influence.  Napoleonic Era hats were frequent, and I channeled the old-time tricorne hats with my own re-fashion (although I know it’s probably more 1917-ish to do this).  My favorite part is how my hat looks so different from every angle it’s seen.DSC_0172-crop-comp,w

The top heavy, floral, opulent picture hats of the early teens were shrinking in size by the time the decade was nearing it midpoint.  World War I nudged hats to become more compact, with many non-flower related decoration and interesting features to the brims.  They were often trying to create more of a straight-line silhouette to the rest of an outfit…pretty much like my own hat does (especially thanks to the feathers)!

The overly frequent and outlandish use of birds on millinery in the decades leading up to WWI led to many protective steps to ensure the survival of many kinds of flying creatures, the most well-known being the founding of the Audubon society.  At the turn of the century, the Audubon Society offered 5 public lectures on such topics as “Woman as a bird enemy”. In 1910, the Audubon Plumage Law reigned in extravagant millinery practices harmful to wildlife, which is why I’m using humane but no less elaborate pheasant feathers.

There are a few modern re-makes that I snuck in to help complete the overall outfit.  Firstly, what you see under my suit jacket is more like the sensible and fully wearable option to the little neck dickies in the Butterick pattern.  I am wearing a full blouse, something that is a modern re-make my mom bought for me maybe a decade ago.  I am sure as fashionable as a woman of circa 1914 might have been, no doubt she would have appreciated the practical option of taking off her jacket, versus the façade of the neck-only dickies.  My blouse has a hidden button placket up the front, which would have been in the back for a true-vintage piece, but this is undetectable enough to not detract from my overall authenticity.  At my neck, I am wearing a “Downton Abbey” brand brooch I had bought from a Department store years back.  I think it is the perfect touch!  My glass bead earrings are from my Grandmother’s jewelry collection.

DSC_0199a-comp,w,cropFinally, my boots are something that I found at Wal-mart (of all places) about 17 years back.  They are only vinyl, yet they do have working grommet and hook closures plus a semi-French heel, so close enough is again wonderful.  Not that I wouldn’t be willing to spend a bit of money to have my ideally perfect outfit…but when I have items ‘close enough’ on hand already, that’s even better because what I’ve been holding on to for years can get its long-awaited opportunity to be useful and shine.

THE FACTS:Butterick 6108

FABRIC:  Suit Jacket – 100% linen exterior and a cotton lining with a combo of cotton brocade and linen for the collars; Hobble Skirt – 100% linen; Hat – Wool felt hat blank

Past Patterns hobble skirt pattern-compPATTERNS:  Suit Jacket came from Butterick #6108, a 1912 pattern; the hobble skirt was made using a Past Pattern, a copy of a Pictorial Review #5462, circa 1911 to 1913; the hat was self-drafted from looking at era authentic fashion plates and photos

NOTIONS:  Surprisingly, much of what I needed came from on hand, as it needed not all that odd of supplies.  I went through lots and lots of thread (of course), and I covered most all the inner seams of the jacket in bias tape.  The skirt’s inner waistband has a ribbon from my stash, and hook-and-eye tape (which I always try to keep on hand) goes in the side closure.  Vintage fancy buttons for the skirt pleats look as if they could be authentic jet, but they’re only deceptive plastic.  They came from the stash of my dear departed Grandmother.  Cotton interfacing (another vintage notion I always try to keep on hand) went into the collars and sleeve cuffs.  The only notions I had to buy was the frog closures for the jacket, the pheasant feathers (from Hobby Lobby), and the hemp ribbon (found at the Dollar Store).

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The skirt was made first, and was finished on March 28, 2017, after only 8 hours.  The jacket was done on April 20, 2017, after only 20 hours.  The hat was made on April 21, after only an hour or two.

DSC_0184,a,p-comp,wTHE INSIDES:  I finished everything so nicely in bias tape.

TOTAL COST:  The linen for the jacket exterior was made from a combo of one vintage tablecloth (found at rummage sale for $1) and a one yard cut of linen bought at Wal-Mart about 17 years back (old enough to be counted as free).  The cotton jacket lining was on sale at Jo Ann’s Fabrics for $2 a yard at 4 ½ yards (about $9).  The damask collar was $10 for half of a yard (coming from the expensive home furnishings section) and the grey toned linen for the skirt and single jacket collar was also only $2 a yard, bought when Hancock Fabrics was closing its business ($4 for only 2 yards).  The frog closures actually came from the button section, and so were a bit more expensive.  The supplies for the hats cost me a total of only $20.  So…added up, this outfit is a total of about $50.  Not a bad price for not cutting any corners with what I wanted!

DSC_0187-comp,wAs to the actual sewing, each piece really easily came together.  Making each was no harder than regular sewing and, when I think about it, actually more fun and informative!  The biggest challenge to making this set was the fact that I had to put on all the appropriate matching under layers (meaning the underwear combo, corset, slip, and blouse) each time I wanted to try on my suit jacket and skirt, see if they fit, and tailor them appropriately.  If I was going to do what a woman of those time would have done, fitting the suit to any other shape would have been pointless – a modern shape has too many buldges.  This caveat was not all that bad as it sounds.  Sure it was a bit of a bother, I was dedicated.  You know, the best part is it got me used to dressing into and wearing the Titanic era garments, so much so that it was not all that odd when I actually got around to wearing the full outfit out and about in public.

DSC_0193a-comp,wI found the fit of both patterns to be at generous.  The skirt pattern ran a few inches big and I had to make a giant pleat/tuck kind of adaptation down the center back as a fix, while the jacket was just a tad generous so I went down in size to find my perfect fit.  Other than this tip, my two garments needed no other change and were made as-is.  The skirt needed a giant 8 inch hem, but the wide hem helped properly which down and round out the bottom like interfacing.  Keep in mind that the teens era skirts have longer backs than fronts as the corsets were designed to smooth out the bum and back curve so they naturally sat higher from behind.  As I am quite skinny in my corset, I had to even out the hem, anyway.  The jacket sleeves were slightly brought closer into the armpit for more reach room – and yes, I do have full and comfortable movement!  I suppose I could have shortened the sleeves for my lightly petite frame, but they’re ok.  I did add a ribbon closure inside the jacket to help keep the wide open neckline closed better, with a small hidden hook-and-eye at the point where the asymmetric collar ends.

My biggest shortcut to sewing the jacket was to line each ivory linen jacket piece with the black lining.  I didn’t want any seam allowances showing through the light colored linen. Backing the pieces in the back knocked out ‘two birds with one stone’ by providing opacity and lining.  I just then finished off the seam edges with bias tape and top-stitched them down in their proper directions.  Not the best way, I know, but it gets the job done almost just as nicely yet quicker.  I do not like to take more time than is reasonable on an outfit that will not see all that much wearing.

(I’d like to title this next picture, “Hello ladies, may we chat?”)

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I originally planned on a fully hand-made, from scratch millinery creation for the hat to match my outfit, but I was running short on time before the event I was to attend.  This is why I re-fashioned a hat.  The wonderful Tanith Rowan (blog here) was of assistance to be at this step, and even provided a few helpful links to free newspaper archives for some awesome yet relatively easy patterns from 1912 and 1913.  I have plans for those hats yet on another future teens era project, but for now I think this hat is just what my outfit needed.  No kidding – my set was “meh” or even “good” but still missing something until I put the hat on and it turned into amazing!  The power of hats is truly underrated.  They add so much to an outfit and a person…and with a hat like this, it can even add height when you have dramatic feathers!

If you’ve made it this far reading, thank you for joining me on my tirade about my efforts to make the perfect World War I commemorative outfit.  I have a special Pinterest board dedicated to my inspiration for this project – please visit it here.

So much of what has happened in the past is linked to why things are how they are in the present and clothing can be used as a tool to help tell such a story.  I like to share how my sewing skills help me accomplish that.  Look for more (and perhaps less involved) WWI era and older historical clothes to come here on my blog!

Colonial Days at Fort de Chartres

Our family’s annual weekend event of 18th century re-enacting has come and gone by as of the weekend before, but I added some advancements and additions to our outfits worthy to share.  My set is barely different – I wore a lightweight boned vest-style corset underneath this time and remembered my embroidered pocket.  Hubby’s outfit is pretty much the same as last year too, except this time he remembered to wear the tricorne hat I made oh so many years back. The main addition this year is my creation of a vest, with some re-fashioned pants, worn by our little man so he could look like a half-size colonial gentleman.  As I did last year for his shirt (which he thankfully still fit into this year), the rest of the pieces you’ll see for our son where whipped up by me in one afternoon, using only scraps of what was on hand.  I am so proud of him in this!  Time for an old-fashioned family photo.

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It was a lovely day, and happily a dry one, too, but a tad on the warm side for all the layers 18th century re-enacting requires.  As happy as my son is to wear what mommy makes, he was almost too warm to appreciate it as much as he might have otherwise.  Nevertheless, once he saw the fife and drummers and the bagpipe playing Scottish Highlanders, he forgot to worry about anything else!  Please visit my Instagram page to see some video clips of the wonderful Grand Parade at the end of the day.

I know my hubby’s waistcoat is more working class in its heavy canvas, but we had extra cotton tapestry, nice and thick, on hand for seat cushion covers.  Why not go dressy with my son’s vest if I can?  He does look so good being spiffy!

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Basically, I roughly drafted our son’s vest off of an existing modern vest and tweaked the cut to make it closer to my husband’s vest.  Looking at the pattern cover image of this boy’s set from Jas Townsends helped me immensely, too.  I cut the fronts so they would have a full coverage enough to overlap down the center, with the overall vest having a long past the hips length.  The vest is backed in Kona cotton and fully lined so a double DSC_0485-comp,wwas then cut off of the tapestry pieces, as well. After the shoulders and half of the side seams were sewn on both lining and tapestry, I sewed the entire outer edges together (right sides in) halfway up at the side seams for the vents, and leaving a hole at the center back bottom to turn it inside out.  Then the raw armhole edges were turned in and I hand sewed the edges together.  This ‘lining-used-as-a-whole-body-facing’ makes for such a pristine and clean finished look.

I self-drafted the pocket flaps, lined them as for the body of the vest, and sewed them down without having real working storage available there…only confusing to my son.  Well, this was a quickie project and I’m not doing welt openings again anytime soon unless I have to.  I didn’t even bother to do buttons and buttonholes all the way down like I really would have preferred, only sewing two pewter buttons on the pocket flaps.DSC_0487-comp,w  Rather than button closing front, I opted for a simple internal ribbon tie to keep the vest front closed.  Am I sneaky cheating on a historical garment?  Probably.  However, doing so on a child’s garment is reasonable to me.  If it was for me, that would be another story.  At this point in his life, he grows out of things so quickly.  I wanted something believably accurate (historical-wise), good looking, simple to make, easy to dress our son in, and smartly economical by using up stuff on hand.  I think I found what I was looking for here, and boy do I think it looks awesome on him.  I’m hoping I made it generous enough so that he can get another year’s wear out of the vest.

Screenshot_2017-06-03, cropped,p,wThe breeches started out as some modern, heavy twill pants which were rather high-water on him.  I merely turned the hem up and under into the body of the pants, tacked that in place, then made a tuck at the outer end of the new ‘hem’ to taper in under the knees.  This is again not as authentic as I would like, but easy and passable.  These breeches even make for nice looking 1930’s knickers.  Luckily, the long vest covered the modern zipper fly to his pants!

I’m looking forward to fine tuning these outfits each event, especially those for our son since boy’s historical clothes are hard to come by.  Until next time!

Simple Luxury: a Vintage Hair Curling Tutorial

Yay!  I’ve reached 200 posts here on my blog!

To celebrate I will offer you something that is definitely different.  Here’s my very first hair tutorial to show you one of my very favorite way of achieving a curly hair style.  This method of pinning or setting my hair for curls was shown to me through my good friend, 'Pickwick Papers' curl-paper illustration-compwho is a hair stylist, by her salon’s owner, Cecil.  Apparently, it is the real-deal old-fashioned way that they used to do it before we women had metal, foam, plastic, wire, and electric devices to resort to for a hairstyle we wanted…ladies resorted to paper and fabric!  I have no idea when “rag rolls” and “curl-papers” originated in history, but my first introduction to this type of pinning up one’s hair was in high school when I read Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist”.  There are several references to “curl-papers” in both Nancy’s and other ladies’ hair throughout the book, with the most prominent citations in Chapter 13 (find it yourself here).  Just think – this book was from circa 1840!

It might be the best looking way to set curls (hubby thinks I look rather funny in it), but it is natural, easy on the hair and head, and requires only very simple and readily available supplies.  Little or no money is needed to try it out…only a little time.

This is the final part, number 3, to my post series on easy and simple ways to stay comfy, cozy, and effortless but authentically vintage when it’s time to unwind.  Post number 1 is a 3 hour, bias-cut nightgown and post number two is a fleece, very coat-like housecoat.  The pictures below show my finished style after using my hair curling method. Enjoy the following tutorial!

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This might sound weird to start off with, but I will demonstrate how to make your own “curlers” using something menial but soft and readily available – toilet tissue paper.  This is how Cecil first showed me.  In “Oliver Twist” and Jane Austen times, women used paper – and you still can try this with strips cut from a lunch bag or such if you’d like.  In addition to toilet paper, you can even use paper towels.  I also have “curlers” made from real rag portions or scrap fabrics, the reason this kind of set is often known as “rag rolls”.  However, learning to use toilet tissue paper means wherever you go, you’ll never lack the necessary tools for lovely curls…just sayin’!  Later on you’ll see my curlers made from velvet leftover from this blouse, but just basic cotton is actually the best material, in my opinion, for rag rolls.  You don’t want to use any material silky or slippery in feel.  You want a fabric that will somewhat “stick” to itself.  Here’s your fabric scrap pile’s big opportunity to become useful!

Best perk ever – this set is the most comfortable to sleep through the night in that I have found yet!  This is due to the fact my method of rag rolls is not just wrapping hair around a strip of fabric and tying a knot.  Who wants to sleep on that?!  My rag roll method is all about making the perfect “curler” that eliminates any knotting, tying, or any little bird’s-nest of hair to sleep on overnight.

First off, you need to start with a rectangle that is about 4 inches by 12 inches (or 3 squares of toilet tissue paper to be exact).  You can make your rag rolls longer (maybe 15 inches) if you want them to be a bit easier to work with and you can also make them wider (maybe 5 or 6 inches) if you want thicker “curlers”, but I would not recommend going smaller with the proportions.

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You are going to take this rectangle and fold it first in half towards you, long wise (step #1 & #2), and then in half again (step #3).  In other words, the rectangle is being folded into fourths along the length.

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This done, you hold both ends and twist only 3 times.  A semi-twisted rectangle piece, not a tightly wound ‘rope’, is the ideal.  A few twists of the wrist while holding each end is all it takes.  Now, put your finger into the middle and fold the whole piece in half, keeping it twisted.  Voila!  You have your curler!  You can do this as you go to see how many you’ll need or you can do about a dozen and work with that.

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Now, I usually only do my rag rolls when my hair is completely dry or partially dry.  Starting off with wet hair would only soak the rag scrap and prevent your hair from ever drying (unless you sit under a hood hair dryer for a long, long time).  Wet hair with toilet paper “curlers” seems like the formula for a gunky mess, so make sure your hair is dry for this option.  My hair is naturally curly so maybe starting off with hair completely dry will not work for everyone without adding on some sort of setting lotion or the like…I don’t know, I’m not you!  You’ll just have to try and experiment to see what works best for you.

The same thing goes for the portions of hair you want to use – you’ll have to experiment.  I usually grab a portion about 2 inches square from the scalp and always curl under (unless I want a 60’s ‘flipped end’ style).  Now’s the time for some rapid fire quick tips.  Smaller portions make tighter curls, larger portions make looser curls. You can also twist your portions of hair like you did for the rag “curlers” – this helps the hair stay in place but also makes for a loose, wavy sort of curl.  Rolling in with the hair at a 90 angle or more from the scalp creates volume, versus rolling in at a 45 degree angle which creates a curly style that lays closer to the head.  Rolling in all the way to the scalp creates more, tighter curls while rolling only half way up to you scalp leaves a flat crown with curly ends.  There are so many possibilities for changing it up for a different look!DSC_0348-comp,w

I like to make the front side portion as tighter, smaller portion curls rolled in a vertical angle.  The same goes for the bottom back hair along the nape of my neck.  These two spots come un-curled easily over the course of a day and I like tighter curls falling down one side of my face. My hair is cut in long layers, with the front angled down so curling this way pairs up well with my haircut.

Once you have a hair portion, hold the end of your hair because you’ll start curling there.  Find the middle of the rag “curler” (still keeping it twisted and looped in half) and put your other finger over it.  Roll the end tips of your hair twice over both the “curler” and your finger. Then pull your finger out and keep rolling in from there.  Having your finger over the rag roll at the beginning of the curl keeps the tips of your hair from being kinked or rolled way too tight.  Otherwise you’ll end up with a finished curl that has an end which is very frizzy and terribly ugly (called “cow licked”).  Believe me, I tried a set without my finger there at the end just to see what it would do and won’t do it again!

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Once you’ve rolled up as far as you want to go, take your two “pinchy fingers”, thumb and index finger, and peek them out through the loop at one end of the rag “curler”.  Grab the two “tails” at the other end of the rag “curler” and either stuff or pull them through the loop.

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It takes practice to get the loops just right because if they are too big they won’t hold the curl or tails.  If the loop is too small, well…it won’t work at all either, especially if you’re using toilet paper (it breaks and you have to start over).  Again, this step takes a bit of practice.100_6439-comp,w

With all curls looped closed and hair pinned up, I’m ready for bed!

After a night of sleeping sometimes a few curls do come undone.  However, they almost always survive intact well enough to do their job.  All taken out, below at left is what my rag rolls look like un-combed.  After a thorough brushing with a bristle brush, this (below right) is my finished hairstyle.  The curls do relax a bit over the course of the day, more so with extra brushings, but generally last me for two days.  Of course, as my hair is naturally curly, it probably takes to the set better than others might find.

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This hair set works for many decades depending on how you use it.  A loose set is something I can use for the 40’s and especially 50’s, while a tight set I use for both the 30’s and the 80’s.  Look what fabric can do for your hair!

Please do let me know if you try this and how it works for you.  It took me several times of experimental sets before I felt like I had it down and was doing it decently enough.  Please do ask me if you have a question – whether it’s something you need clarified or whatever!

P.S. I will have a “short and sweet” version of this hair curling tutorial on my Instagram, just done with velvet rag “curlers” rather than the toilet paper used in this post.  Also, in case you were wondering, the printed tee I am wearing in some of my pictures is my newest Agent Carter acquisition…to see the whole thing, go on my Instagram post here and figure out the meaning to it!