A 1917 Fairy-Tale

For some reason, circa 1917 garment styles for women are so dreamy, artistic, and fantastical, to me it’s like something out of “A Midsummer’s Night Dream”, the First World War version.  Fashion was art, and art presented fashion in a way that is unrivaled, so that its appeal has not waned these past 100 years.  Women’s faces were drawn as delicate as a porcelain doll and their hands as graceful as a Goddess.  Their clothes are full of vivid and interesting color pairings.  Their silhouettes might be oddly inhuman in their attire, but somehow they appear harmonious, comfortable, with an entrancing complexity in design.  The background settings seem peaceful, idyllic, and dreamy.  It’s no wonder some teens’ era details are making subtle appearances on some modern runway clothes this year (see Chanel’s Haute Couture Collection, numbers 35, 38, 61, 63) and recently (Oscar de la Renta Spring 2012 dress or Gattinoni’s Spring/Summer 2012 couture).  The aura surrounding those old styles certainly were not a reflection of the reality of the times, however.

It is now the anniversary of Armistice, today November 11th.  This year’s Veteran’s Day is special as we are celebrating a benchmark century since a pact was signed for a cessation of the fighting of the Great War.  Thus, this year was high time that I figured out for myself the late 19-teens’ incredible niche in historical fashion, and an event this summer at the National World War I Memorial (in Kansas City, Missouri) had given me an excuse to do it, tangibly, in a glorious, flowing and feminine style.

Caught in between the 1920s and the late Titanic era, 1917 (1916 and 18, as well) clothes for women was neither the long lean lines of the era before nor was it the barreled torso silhouette of the one after.  Circa 1917 women’s fashion did take one thing to the extreme – the below the bust, almost Empire waistline, an interesting fad compared to the moderately high waist seen about 1914 and the almost hip length waist of the early 1920s.  Late WWI style was a beautiful middle ground that disappeared very quickly and only lasted a few years.  There was an overabundance of details, textures, interesting colors, and unusual features…many times in the same garment.  It was like an over-the-top display of quality, creative, and hand-crafted fashion before the clutches of mass-market RTW or the practicality following the post-stock market crash 10 years later would take over.

Now, let’s put a few things into perspective for a broader view of circa 1917 in my country.  By the late teens, the US had about 2,000 amusement parks.  As the culture of leisure carried over from the Gilded Age, and people seemed to be seeking thrills and adrenaline pumped delights with their free time, it was the beginning of the golden age of roller coasters (ca. 1919) due to the innovations of entrepreneur John Miller.  Menswear was beginning to break free of its Edwardian appearance and accepting the idea of “sportswear”, while women’s fashions were becoming more open to an independent woman, free to move through life without a full-length corset or a man to marry out of necessity.  The first Jazz music recording was commercially released to help usher in a whole new popular genre of listening pleasure and matching that with new active styles of dancing.  The United States officially acquired both Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.  Things were looking up.

Yet, for a darker perspective, there were also three to five percent of the world’s population dead from the Spanish Influenza epidemic (1918 to 1920).  WWI’s fighting was announced as begun for America in 1917 then hastily over in 1918, with about 13 major battles fought and counting about one man out of every thousand dead. President Wilson seemed to be wrapping it up for the nations, and the world was dealing with the aftereffects of the first Great War very unsuccessfully in my opinion.  On our own turf there were ‘problems’, as we had sixteen Americans executed by Pancho Villa and the southwest region in danger as part of our involvement in taking sides for the Mexican Revolution.  Dissatisfied workers in several unions in Seattle, Washington, seeking higher wages after toiling hard producing ships for WWI, went on America’s first general strike, where over 65,000 workers protested for 5 days.  Supposedly the strikers were under the inspiration of the Russian Revolution, leading to a “Red Scare”.

So – as much as the fashions of the late teens were dreamy, artistic, and evocative of ethereal beauty, the world of the mid to late 1910s was anything but a fairy-tale.  Face value can sometimes be just that…a dream, a wish for something better, visual trickery.  This is why the only modern item you will see on my 1917 dress is perhaps the most important one – an enamel red poppy flower pin from the National World War I Memorial.  We need to remember, respect, and learn of the sacrifices and the stories of the Forgotten Generation to make sure the Great War is not disregarded.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  Cotton print (aqua background with a very Art Deco geometric design in purple) for the base layer of the dress, with a sheer lavender poly chiffon as the overlay for both dress and hat.  Basic white cotton sateen for the dress’ collar and ‘bib’ front panel.

PATTERN:  a Past Patterns Company reprint of a McCall #8159, from November 1917

NOTIONS:  Many prized notions went onto this dress to give it its necessary finishing touches – some are true vintage, some are special coming from family, and others are uniquely hard to find.  More about them in the body of my post.  Only the best…and I believe it shows!

TIME TO COMPLETE:  I worked on this dress on and off for a few months and finally finished it on June 28, 2018 after 50 plus hours.  The hat took only 2 hours to refashion.

THE INSIDES:  cleanly bias bound with the sheer sleeves, over skirt, and bodice armscye French finished

TOTAL COST:  All my fabric was bought at my local JoAnn’s Fabric Store, with all the finishing trims and notions already on hand (free), I spent around $40.

Fashion was very important to women of the time and magazines of the latest modes of dressing even more so.  “A reaction of the emergence of fashion photography, an annual subscription to an exquisitely illustrated fashion and lifestyle publications could cost as much as a car in 1914”.  During World War I, Ladies’ Home Journal and McCall’s Magazine alone had over a million subscribers each. No wonder the best artists were hired for illustrations – for one case in point, the great couturier Mainbocher started off as a fashion illustrator for Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue after serving in WWI.  Erté and George Barbier are more examples.

However, for one who wants to sew a ‘copy’ of such fashions, these drawings are important only so far as to figuring out what colors, what details, what silhouette to achieve to look authentic.  Construction and closing methods are a mystery.  That is why I started with a copy of a true original pattern…because nothing beats the real thing, right?  So, I had a good starting point but not much to go on because if you think vintage a la 1930s or 40’s patterns are lacking in instruction thoroughness, well, you’ve never seen an antique pattern.  I literally had only two small paragraphs and one tiny layout diagram to go by as my guide.  This is why my next resource was both textual research and sourcing old 100 year old garments for sale online to see physical specifics.

It wasn’t until the 1930s (pretty much) that the way a garment closed on the body was visible and buttons were more than just a means of decoration or display of wealth.  The mid to late teens era kept the closures well hidden in seams or under more fabric and therefore a bit mysterious.  This dress has the very common (for 1916 to ‘18) ‘bib’ front bodice vest piece that does the double duty of both covering the front closures and completing the waist by continuing on as a cummerbund-sash to be tied in a fancy bow behind.  It’s sort of hard to show, but underneath the bib panel, hook-and-eye tape closes the center front, with a few more single hooks for the small side seam opening (covered by the cummerbund wrap around).

On its own, the front covering is a large T-shaped piece.  It has every edge self-enclosed in a facing double and was the last thing directed to be added on to the dress.  Even then it is only lightly tacked on at the right top edge while it hook-and-loops closed at the left corner.  I have seen some of these ‘bib’ frontispieces for sale separately and so I can conclude that some of these were meant to be removable.  This is quite smart, really!  They could easily be cleaned gently by hand this way, without needing to launder the whole dress, too, and most of the prettiest decorations and precious haberdashery could be added on the frontispiece with no fear of being beat up by a general washing.  Most of the antique original ‘bib’ pieces that I have seen have been in the finest linen or silk, since (at that time) most of the wool was going to soldiers’ uniforms and the cotton was making canvas gaiters, satchels, and tents for the war.  Mine is sateen so it has a slight shine that the camera images aren’t really picking up, but I more than made up for the basic material with lots of detail and meticulous hand work.

First of all, plain whites need something extra to make them look fancy and not, well…plain.  This is a dress from the teens, anyway and more subdued excess (within reason) the better was the rule!  My primary add-on was the buttons on the bib front, I knew these were a definite choice.  They are true teens era buttons, in glass, painted in a rich purple over the nubby top texture (see a closer picture on this Instagram post).  They look like fresh tiny mulberries to me – mmm!  To prevent the paint from chipping, as it was starting to do already, I applied a light painting of clear top coat, such as is used on fingernail lacquer.

Then came the lace!  This is a heavy cotton lace which my husband bought for me over a year ago in Italy when he went on a business trip to Milan.  As much as it pained me to use it and not stash it, the Belgium-style lace was just what I had in mind and looks like embroidery from afar.  If I could have come up with a shortcut way to tack it on I would have, but instead it took me several extra hours of hand stitching to tack it down along the bib top along the neckline, along the bib front waistline bottom, and the bottom end of the sash just above the tassels.  Do the sash end tassels make it look like I have servant call pulls?  Maybe, but crazy things work in teens fashion and not only do the tassels weigh the ties down but add color and interest from behind.

Finally, to connect the aqua in the under (base) layer of the dress, which you don’t see much of above the knees, I added matching colored feather stitching along the collar edge. Let’s briefly address some good, old-fashioned, quality hand-stitching – it used to be much more than just straight and basic. Until about the teens and no later than the mid-1920’s, hand sewing, even if was just necessary for top-stitching, was detailed, incredibly tiny, precise, and very understated for the time and high quality it shows. It is a skill too lovely to only admire, with feather stitching in particular as my new fascination for hand stitching. This stitch is an embroidery technique which can be ornamental sewing when worked with single threads and it uses loops caught and pulled to make a vine design.  My favorite tutorial to learn feather stitching from can be found here if you want to learn too.  It’s not hard, but the challenge is to be uniform and consistent with spacing.  My collar needed top-stitching and it needed something to give it pizazz while being authentic – feather stitching took care of all of that at once.

Other than the detailing, the dress was really pretty simple to make and the fit was spot on.  After all the skirt was just a basic gathered skirt.  Every pattern piece was pretty much basic geometrics – no darts or fancy shaping, either.  Once the front closing mystery was understood the bodice was simple, too, as were the sleeves…very modern with their flared shape known as “angel” style.  (Look closely and you will see the small fishing weight on the inner sleeve end to make the chiffon hang!)  I must add, the dress while in progress did look like a total piece of trash all the way up until it was almost done.  I just kept hoping for the better as it was being assembled and plugging through the project.  Now I’m so very glad I persevered.

The pattern was my size technically, but I don’t like the lack of a “mistake cushion” that tiny 3/8 inch seam allowances provide so I added an extra inch all along every seam allowance to make them bigger and also “just in case” the fit was wrong.  I remembered that the 1920 blouse pattern which I used before had small shoulders – and I have big arms – so I slashed and spread this pattern’s sleeve tops before cutting out in the chiffon.  With my little changes, this pattern fits perfectly and turned out just like a 1917 dress from a fashion magazine, so I think!

The hem ran very long, again similar to both the 1920 and 1914 skirt patterns I have already used, but this is meant to be for a wide hem.  These wide and deep hems in early 20th century historical fashions really help to shape them, kind of like a stiffening, and need to hand pick-stitched down.  This dress’ hem has a slight “Hobble skirt” reference by the way is tapers in slightly slimmer for the last 8 inches above the hemline.  To emphasize the widening of the upper half of the skirt, the sheer overlay was cut in a high-low hem.  The more fashion images you see in the 1916 to 1918 range, the more it seems that every skirt overlay (and they were popular) had either a hem decoration and/or a curiously shaped hemline.  I went with both because it struck me as working well for this dress.  The arching sheer skirt compliments the arching bodice panel and the purple flower trim I added along this edge brings an overall harmony to the dress with the same trim being used on the sleeves.

With slightly shorter hemlines making it easier for women during the War to move around, it was also the opportunity to show off one’s pretty ankles in fabulous decorated stockings!  I have been holding onto these flocked, floral, vine-patterned, ivory stockings for a very long time just because I knew they were unusual, and now they were just what I needed.  Highly decorative embroidered or painted stockings, “clocked” hosiery as it’s called, had been immensely popular in the 18th century, but had a very strong comeback in the mid to late teens as soon as the skirts were slimmer and shorter.  Many 1910s and 20’s stockings enjoyed the “new” aspect of fashion even to the point of being very fantastical – see this post for snake and bird hosiery!  To say ‘Clocked’ stockings means they have an added design up the ankle, where traditionally a ‘gusset’/wedge has been added to give it shape – very racy considering it wasn’t until the later 1920’s that hosiery was considered as something other than underwear!

Of course, none of this outfit would have the proper look and feel without a good foundation.  Happily, I already had my under layers already me-made and available.  The late teens was in a weird position with regards to underwear.  Things were starting to change over to the looser, more modern two-piece “bra and bloomers”.  The corsetry that was around no longer had such long, lean lines and full body coverage (like what I wore under my 1914 ensemble).  I do not have a shorter late teens corset (like what the blogger “The Dreamstress” has put together).  The main idea is to have no bust support (keep the girls flat!) and volume around the knees with your slips and knickers, so I opted for the early 20’s underwear set I did have…envisioning myself as a very fashion-forward woman doing so!  Over the underwear went a reproduction sleeveless slip which was identical in style lines to this earlier teens era slip which I blogged about here.  The front is a lovely eyelet and the lack of sleeves was perfect for the sheer arms of my dress.

After all my efforts invested in the dress, there was no way I was starting from scratch for my headgear, too.  Thus, the hat is a refashion of a dated 80s or 90’s piece which became a very plausible authentic match.  I made use of something from my wardrobe I never really wear and not only beautified it, but turned it into something I needed anyway – win-win, right!?  Many summer hats in the teens had wide but sheer brims, whether it was made of lace in a wire frame, rows of ribbon, chiffon, or an open mesh.  The last kind was exactly what I had in my dated hat, it only needed a rounder, mushroom-style crown that needed to be much fancier before being closer to authentic.  In order to totally match with the dress, I used the small remnants left of the purple chiffon to loosely wrap (and gently, invisibly hand tack) around the crown, finished off with an intricate burgundy and purple ribbon remnant to match the colors of the buttons and the tassels.

My accessories are all some sort of vintage, except for the waist watch hanging from a chain at the waist of my ‘bib’ front bodice panel.  That was bought new because it looked like a hanging watch I have from my Great Grandmother, only I wouldn’t dare use that one out and about so this is a memory-free and guilt-free replacement.  However, I did have no qualms about using and bringing the umbrella you see.  This is a treasured find, though.  It is a true 1910s (or early 1920s at the latest) piece I found for a deal in perfect condition.  The fabric is dyed silk, and so is the tassel to match, with the handle is covered in leather.  My necklace is vintage 1930s I believe, and carved mother of pearl, actually.  The earrings are of the 1940s from my Grandmother.  The purse is something I actually made for my 1920 outfit, but luckily the colors and the style pairs up perfectly here, too, I believe.  I did find some vintage 1960s leather heels to match, since strappy shoes, and especially French heels, too, were what was popular back then.

Our photo location is an appropriate backdrop as this building was originally built after the turn of the 20th century as a publication headquarters for a women’s’ fashion magazine mogul, Edward Gardner Lewis.  It was constructed in the fancy French neo-classical “Beaux-Arts” style, and acres of the surrounding area were bought up by Lewis to build an equally beautiful upper middle class neighborhood.  Luckily, most of this area of University City is well preserved and the homes look every bit as beautiful as it probably did in the teens and twenties.  They just don’t make architecture like they used to.

There is something so inherently satisfying to spending such excess in time, materials, and personal investment on something beautiful, worthwhile, and creative weather it’s a building or on a dress. I can attest that in the sewing sphere, it is addictive. It hails back to a time when sewing was a true art using one’s hands, when making clothes was more about crafting beauty than just getting clothes for one’s back, and before commercial-fast fashion had its full stranglehold on the garment industry. Quality in the small details is sorely needed today…only our world today needs to understand that it doesn’t come quickly or in bulk quantities.

When you think about WWI in terms of this, though, society needed bulk quantities of lasting quality in order to supply the troops, and yet somehow the world stepped up to provide.  What wool moths and decay have left behind, luckily many of these uniforms are still in great condition and fully wearable today.  It is heartening to see the amount of extant WWI items that are being worn and displayed with pride and a spirit open to seeing and learning from the past anew!  Even though this great centennial will now be over, I hope this era of history keeps being understood and remembered.  My next Great War project will be a women’s military uniform.

“WWI is a romantic war, in all senses of the word. An entire generation of men and women left the comforts of Edwardian life to travel bravely, and sometimes even jauntily, to almost certain death. At the very least, any story or novel about WWI is about innocence shattered in the face of experience.” quote from Anita Shreve.  I hope my dreamy, fairy tale style dress outfit tells one small part of the great story.  Let us commemorate the fallen yet celebrate what peace we have today.

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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.

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?!

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!

Fort de Chartres Rendezvous 2016 – Colonial dressing

DSC_0629-compThis past weekend, our family made our annual visit to the town of Prairie du Rocher, Illinois (U.S.A.) for their 18th century and early 19th century re-enactment at the historic Fortress of St. Anne De Chartres. It was a lovely day for the event, however a week of rainy days as well as a few showers the day itself made the flood plain that the fort is on more of a muddy marsh.  Luckily, we remembered to take our pictures soon after we arrived before our shoes, socks, and my skirt hem were soaked and caked (literally) in mud…yuk!  So much for my lovely suede shoes!  Hearing the fife and drum music made it all worthwhile.

Last year (post here) I went as an early 19th century lady, but this year we all were colonials, 1770 to 1780.  I did a good amount of sewing (and research) to my ensemble as well as for my son’s. Now that our son is old enough to remember and enjoy events like this, I took this opportunity to start him off fully participating with us.  He can always wear modern clothes…not too often will he get to “dress up” with us for a good reason, with somewhere to go!  He did get to wear my old tricorne hat from when I was his age.

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I’ve been doing re-enacting since I was 10, and every year, every time I attend an event I learn more and integrate that into my outfit.  Well, I know I’m lacking in stays to bind myself in, and our little man could use a vest.  However, this time I took the week before to lend some much needed finishing touches to my ensemble to get it close to how I would like it (more authentic).  It was also high time for me to address my hat, giving it a new look (more down later).

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Now, my short-gown is a nice working class fitted jacket in a lovely nubby raw linen.  It is simple and unlined, and not made by me but sewn by an acquaintance of ours from the “Marquette Trading Company”, as is my under chemise.  The jacket came without any closures or ornament, which I liked so as to customize to our taste and suit the rest of the outfit.  I hand-sewed in hook-and-eye tape into the front center closure, basing it off of this original from the MET museum.  Pinning the jacket front closed might be accurate, too, but I get poked enough when sewing, and if the Met has an original jacket with hook-and-eyes down the front…I’m all for easy!  As a final touch, I would like to add some interest to the sleeve ends, like a loop and button to pull it up to a V-point at the inner elbow (maybe next year).

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I made the rest of my outfit using raw, nubby, muslin cotton.  The skirt is a simple one made maybe 7 to 10 years back– just a few yards of fabric uber gathered.  I probably could have shortened it even more to show the proper amount of shoe/ankle, but my skirt was wet and therefore heavy and kind of dragging down a bit.  The apron is recently made and is also simple – just one yard of material with half the pleats ¾ inch and the others ½ inch.  My necklace is hand strung coral beads finished with sterling parts.

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Yes, I didn’t forget the hat!  When I was a teenager I bought this straw hat blank and decorated it with a lace neck jabot and some nice plastic flowers.  While it was a nice attempt, the hat’s embellishment wasn’t really authentic so I did look around and make something closer to how it should be for the era.  I used a modern ribbon (sadly yes, but this was a last minute fix) but it looks so much better than what I had and I had fun sewing it!  The ribbon was widely box pleated then sewed through the center into the wedge of the crown and brim.  A wide ivory ribbon from underneath keeps the hat on my head – you just can’t see it because it blends in with my linen head covering cap underneath on my hair.

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My scarf is modern, yes, and in a rayon, but I think it works.  “The Dreamstress” has a terminology post on her blog about Ikat prints and they were quite popular and used in many different ways during this time period (look at the 1755–65 chiné gown from the MET).  It seems they were a bit of a French mode and a luxury.  I’d like to think for an American colonial to wear Ikat might be seemingly associated with the country’s independent ideals of that time, so I think it quite symbolic for my outfit.

DSC_0625a-compI rather decided at the last minute to make our son’s clothes so I had to do a bit of research and made do with what I had.  Luckily, I already had some cotton batiste on hand to use for the shirt.  Mostly I used my husband’s shirt as my guide and made the best mini version I could.  For a start, I used a modern but vintage year 1953 pattern as a rough base to cut out a simple Simplicity 4026, year 1952tunic, cutting the jacket pattern pieces (front and back) on the fold and adding in a front neckline with a facing.  Then I used the sleeve pieces to the jacket as my guide, using the extra length to gather in the ends like cuffs with elastic thread.  The shoulder seams are off the shoulder like they should be but I did want the shirt to be roomy so he’ll get more than one wearing out of it.  I pleated in the center outward sleeve tops, which turned out well except I need to take out more of the cap poufiness.  Then I drafted my own collar and added skinny ties.  Voila!

My son’s breeches are something – just good enough for the day.  I really made these with no pattern whatsoever and completely self-drafted them using a pair of my hubby’s unwanted old cotton khaki pants.  They have good features – a mock front fly flap, a back gusset closure, a wide waistband, and pleated in knee cuffs.  I just wish I had made them longer and had buttons for them, too.  Poor little guy – other re-enactors were getting a kick out of him because he walked everywhere with one hand holding up his britches because he had serious droopy drawers!

I’m proud I was able to get this close in one day’s worth of a few hours with no pattern yet I’m frustrated because they were so lacking.  I’ll do better next pair – be sure of it.  However, boy 18th century patterns are hard to come by!  I found one at “Jas. Townsend and Sons, Inc.” and more at “Patterns of Time”.  Any suggestions as to other good sources for children’s 1700’s patterns or what to look for would be appreciated.

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It is a refreshing palate cleanser to break away from my “normal” sewing of the 20th century and dive into other past decades and centuries.  Now I have the gumption do a historical project.  I did pull out my Regency patterns to plan a new frock or maybe I’ll pick up some of my Gilded era, Titanic era, and Civil War projects which need to be finished!  We’ll see.  Next, I have to find more re-enacting events to attend…