When the items I sew for myself no longer fit or work for me in some way, they are not given up on but treated just the same as – if not better – anything else in my wardrobe. They either get refitted, resized, or mended. If any of those three actions are not possible for one reason or another, they get refashioned. This has especially been an important task for me to tackle since 2020. Ever since that year, the reasons and occasions for which I leave the house has decreased, so I sensibly expend my sewing efforts on the wardrobe I do have versus only adding more new (me-made) pieces. Just recently I refashioned a project I made almost a decade ago, and this has now turned out to be a much more appealing creation for me than when I completed its first iteration!
I sewed up the original blouse in 2013, and it was a success, but never as interesting to begin with as I have turned it into today. As I said in that original post, I struggle to like myself in peter pan collars, and overly sweet styles. I liked it, to be sure, but never felt ecstatic over how it turned out enough to be ranked as a ‘favorite’. I wore the blouse for only a few years after it was made since it quickly became too snug to be comfortable. To be fair, I originally cut it out in a smaller size – I was severely short on fabric. Long story short, I haven’t worn this for the last 8-something years and now that problem has been amended in the most fantastic way I could have ever hoped for!
Measuring the old top as compared to my current body, I realized I needed to add in about 3 inches widthwise to have this fit me comfortably again. My main focus was on adjusting for my shoulders, and I (correctly) figured that a good fit for the bust of the blouse (which had been snug, too) would then follow, as well. Aiming for about 3 inches was ideal because I had no scraps of any worth to use and needed to cannibalize from the current blouse itself. Cutting off that much from the hem meant that the new blouse’s length would be just below my natural waistline…perfect! The puffed sleeves do give a bit of leeway over the shoulders so I didn’t worry about an exact re-fitting. If I would have added in much more than 3 inches my refashion would have been too dramatic and obvious of an addition, anyways.
Most of the original blouse was left untouched, but the little bit I did do made such a bit difference! My first step for this refashion was to cut 4 inches horizontally off of the bottom hem (the 3 inches I needed plus enough for two ½ inch seam allowances). The side seams were cut off to make two rectangular panels. Then I cut vertically down the center front and the center back, separating up the collar. One of the two panels cut from the bottom hem went right away into the center back. With this step, I was able to get my first taste of how my refashion would fit and look and I was so excited! I realized ahead of time that the tiny polka dot print of the back’s added panel would be running oppositely of the main body. The print is so small, I didn’t really care nor did I have much of a choice with what to work with. I rather like the interest it adds to have the print contrast itself ever so slightly. According to my idea, the front was going to have most of the attention so I like how the back is low-key appealing, too.
The front panel required a bit more effort than the back, since I had a grand idea for ramping up the femininity and eclectic detailing to this new version of my old blouse. Luckily, I am quite organized when it comes to my sewing notions (not to brag, but I am proud of this fact). Thus, I was happily able to find the little bit of aqua bias tape leftover from what I used to make the elastic casing on my blouse’s puff sleeved hems. The bias tape was extra wide and double fold, so I found that opening it up fully made it just about 3 inches wide…I suppose you can guess how thrilled I was to discover this! The solid toned bias tape, which was opened up and ironed out as if it was a cut of fabric, was layered over the remaining blouse fabric panel. Doubling up here both used up all of my fabric cut off from the hem and kept the front from being see-through (the bias tape was tissue thin), besides lending some wonderful continuity to the overall look of the blouse.
With the idea that “more is more”, I also sandwiched some vintage cotton lace into the seam when stitching on the front panel. The lace is a slight ivory tone to complement the yellows and greys in the collar. Then, I found a half a dozen vintage ivory pearled ball buttons from my paternal grandmother’s notions stash. The buttons really filled in the big empty front panel and matched with the lace bordering the front. It seemed to be a popular design element to have a decorative-only contrast chest panel to blouses and dresses of the 1960s. I suppose I was kind of vaguely inspired by seeing such patterns in my own stash (such as Simplicity #6801) or through perusing online (see Simplicity 7736). Honestly, though, my refashion was merely the best I could do with what I had available…which wasn’t much to begin with! I wanted to add pintucks or some other sort of extra details to the front panel but I felt lucky to get by the way it was. My blouse is immensely more appealing to me than how it first was, so good enough is as good as done for this refashion project.
I wanted to keep the popover simplicity of getting dressed in this blouse, for all its extra elements it now had. However, it turned so very boxy in shape with the new panels added! I had to sew in four deep, curved, vertical darts to the bust of the front and shoulder line of the back for shaping the blouse. I made sure to not take in enough to necessitate a side zipper. I was trying to ride a fine line of having it fitted yet still staying as a popover-the-head top. I never mind installing zippers (I half enjoy the process, really) yet if I can avoid doing so, I will in no way turn down the opportunity.
Not only is my refashion an improvement on the overall blouse, but I am thrilled over the way I love the collar so much better by it having a wide open neck. Most babydoll style blouses (and dresses) have a peter pan collar that closely hugs the neckline. It takes a very specific interpretation (such as the 1930s; see my “Snow White” dress) in a select few colors (see this 40’s “Candy Stripe” blouse I made) for me to like what a peter pan collar does for my face. I can afford to be picky when I sew my own wardrobe! Then again, taking such an approach helps me hone my taste in fashion and cater to my personality unlike a dependency on ready-to-wear could ever offer.
Re-working something your own hands have already made not only is sensible, eco-friendly, and responsible, but also it requires a greater amount of creativity and determination. I will not deny, there is a dopamine rush from the amazing process of starting a sewing project from scratch and seeing it go from paper laid out on fabric to a wearable garment. Sure, it would be much easier to merely donate and move on, but landfills do not need a single more item added to them when a few extra hours of my time can give me back a new and improved version of my own makes.
I find a more innate sense of personal pride in my every effort to alter, tailor, or otherwise extend the life of the wardrobe I already have. For me, doing such actions also shows me just how far I have come with my sewing skills to be able to add significance and worth to what I have made in the past. I am constantly mending, letting seams out and taking them in, darning sweaters, dyeing, patching or doing some other sort of garment care for me and my immediate family (even for my parents, too, on occasion). This blouse’s refashion is merely the most visually stunning recent example of all the mundane clothing care that I do behind the scenes of my blog! I hope this post has inspired you to “give a darn and mend”!
It’s not every day I go full on casual with what I am wearing, but doing so in vintage style is my preferred interpretation for having fun exercising in the great outdoors. Spring marks the beginning of baseball season in the United States, and so what better way to test out my newest sewing make than during practice pitching and catching with my family in the local park’s field! I now have the most chic but playful, bold yet practical pair of shorts I could ever imagine for summertime fun!
They are pleated, bibbed, suspender style “short-alls” from the mid-1940s in the most luxurious cotton I could find locally. This kind of casual dressing was the preferred choice of teenagers in WWII times, but I am more than happy to rock it as an adult on the 21st century. Here’s to having sporting fun in just as much style as when I have a fancy affair…because handmade fashion is for me something I can wear at any and all occasion at this point!
NOTIONS NEEDED: everything I used came from the accumulated stash I have on hand – thread, buttons, interfacing scraps, rayon hem tape, and a 6 inch zipper
TIME TO COMPLETE: this was made in about 12 hours and finished in August 2020
THE INSIDES: cleanly bias bound for all the seams with vintage rayon tape finishing the hem
TOTAL COST: 1 ½ yards cost me $16 with a coupon
As mentioned when I first used small scraps of this fabric on my 60’s sun set (posted here), I have never really been a fan of chartreuse. Nevertheless, I know it seems quite popular and a sought after color amongst vintage enthusiasts, so I have been wanting to cautiously try this color out for myself for far too long. The fabric’s shade listed on the end of the bolt in the store was marked as “pistachio” but as it is darker and more yellow in undertone, I see it as a true chartreuse in person. Considering my skin tone, I do not believe I’d like myself in chartreuse if worn alone as a solo tone.
Nevertheless, made up in a separate piece as I have done here, whatever top is chosen to pair with the shorts is my chance to play with finding complimentary colors that I do prefer. The suspenders holding up my bib extension integrate the chartreuse into my entire outfit and keep it from being distinct blocks of color separated at the waistline. The only reason I went with a dusty blue tee here was because I had a baseball cap to match, but it was a hard choice. I love the look of my shorts with tops on hand in all sorts of colors, and even with my printed, tight 90’s era tees (still in my wardrobe from when I was much younger) for a modern feel.
I was so happy to find a Sears department store advertisement from Kansas City, Missouri of the same year as my pattern (year 1944) for some “short-alls” exactly like my own. In this old ad, they were offered in a cotton twill and listed as “bib style buttoned panel, pleats front…a Hollywood favorite!” Unlike my last pair of 1940s era shorts (which look like a mini skirt), these are a bit more structured and obviously shorts with their shallow pleats, higher rise, and slimmer circumference of hems, making them perfect for very active activities like baseball, tennis, or volleyball. Under the same circumstances, my blue 40’s dupe-skirt shorts have me afraid of flashing someone with a peek of my undies and leave the fabric looking stained or limp when it gets wet. These chartreuse suspender shorts do none of that. Don’t get me wrong, though – each pair is appropriate for different occasions, obviously. I equally wear and love both of my 40’s shorts, but the chartreuse pair avoids all the pitfalls I discovered with my blue pair. Here, the suspenders and front bib even keep my top tucked in place!
I thought ahead to choose something equally soft as the rayon of my blue 40’s shorts but more stable and sweat resistant – all of which qualities I found in the Supima cotton sateen. The beautiful, slight shine to the fabric dresses them up, but they are still just a very easy-care cotton, besides being lightweight and cool to wear, too. My next choice after the Supima sateen was a light to mid-weight denim, and I do currently have some such material set aside (from my Grandmother’s fabric stash) for a future project of another early 1940s play set. I successfully tried a rayon and silk blend twill for my personal version of the 1940’s “Harp” shorts offered by Tori at “Potion 23”, a local designer for whom I was the pattern drafter and sample maker. My 80s shorts were a (border print) cotton shirting and for the 50s I did a short romper in pique as well as shorts in heavy hopsack linen. I now have a good arsenal of knowledge when it comes to what works best for different kinds of shorts. Fabric choice has so much to do with the success of every sewing project but I find this fact especially true for shorts. Such a simple little garment of summer has given me so much bother trying to perfect!
The only reason these shorts ended up being closer to fitting like modern clothes in the first place was really due to a re-drafting ‘mistake’. I only realized after assembling my shorts enough for my first try-on that the pattern was sized for teenagers. This explains why the crouch depth sits so much higher than what I expected of a true 1940s pattern. WWII era trousers for women had roomy bottoms for a fit that did not reveal a body form shape as do pants of today. Using a true 1940s pattern is the only reason such a ‘mistake’ worked out okay after all. As a teenager’s design, the distance between the hip line and waist line is really 2 inches too short for me. My hips are about 7 inches down from my waist and not 5 inches, as given.
I should have at least suspected that this was a junior’s design since the high school teenage crowd of the 1940s were the ones most commonly rocking the sporty, fun-in-the-sun clothes of WWII times. The envelope back said this was either for women or junior misses and recommended Simplicity #1315 (reissued in 1946 as #2062) to complete it as a “mother-and-daughter set” of matching designs. At least I was thinking ahead enough at the pattern stage so as to grade in some extra space at the seams of the centers and sides to bring it up to my waist and hip circumference. I had to add in a total of 4 inches because a size 12 from back then is for a small 24 inch waistline, which is a modern size 0…definitely not me.
I am no less happy with my finished item even with the little unexpected – but no less welcome – hiccup in its making. Now I have a decision waiting for me the next time I pick up this pattern (and I definitely will be coming back to it). Do I keep the modern fit of reduced wearing ease (aka, current juniors’ sizing) or draft in the proportions of an adult size for a proper 1940s appearance? Either way, I may just wear the heck out of these shorts and sew another copy in the exact same color and material. I may just pick another one of the other styles given as an option in the pattern to try. Nevertheless, I like these bibbed suspender shorts too much to not just end up making them again in some manner. I kind of want to revisit this same design anyway so as to redeem the crazy and confusing way of closures that I opted for in my version.
The pattern for these shorts calls for workable buttoning front bib. I did not do that on mine. To get a snug fit on a pair of shorts meant for athletic activity does not seem compatible with a handful of buttons. The Supima cotton is a fairly thin, loose weave that snags, ravels, and puckers easily. Even if properly interfaced, I did not want to compromise the material with buttonholes. Also, I could envision the front buttons being a hazard and getting caught during activity and ripped off…this worst-case scenario would not end well.
To end up with a stable, secure closure that keeps the look of the bib front simple, I went for the tried-and-true, good, old reliable vintage metal zipper closing, albeit hidden under the front flap. Over the tummy and under the bib, a short zipper connects the center front seam to an extension piece I added to left side of the shorts’ main body (since the pleat is only stitched part of the way). Then, I have an inner button and elastic loop to fully connect the waistband, as well. The entire right side of the shorts’ pleat and bib front is stitched down in place and all of the closures are accessed from the left side only. This was all my own idea and it works pretty darn well. I do not know whether or not this method of closing is something which would have been used back then or not, but it just made sense from an engineering outlook. Yes, sewing is engineering sometimes. I do happen to be married to an engineer so I suppose he rubs off on me.
At least I have the suspenders with real working buttonholes! There would be no easy way in or out of these shorts otherwise, from a practical perspective, though. The straps are stitched down to the front bib, but come detached at the back waistline where there are the cutest imaginable flower buttons in a bright lime green. The crossing point of the suspenders across the back of my shoulders is lightly tacked together so that no matter how I move, the X shape stays in perfect position. It’s not that I really need suspenders to actually hold up my shorts. This is why I have them as laying somewhat loosely over my shoulders. Yet, I just love how there is just as much interest to the design of these shorts as seen from behind with the suspenders and the cute buttons.
I enjoy the fact that I have such me-made vintage pieces to help me look forward to getting my exercise now that warmer weather is here. I never was a big fan of shorts until I discovered how cute and appealing the vintage-style kind could be. No matter how simple, any garment can be elevated by good design and tailoring. I certainly put this particular shorts model to the test run right away for the sake of my post’s pictures, too! I hope you enjoyed the change of pace by having photos of me in the action shots. Don’t you think I am able to pull off chartreuse after all?
There is nothing 100% “from scratch” in the outfit that I’m posting this time, as this is (mostly) about a current refashion of a 1940s blouse I’ve already made back in 2013. Yet, I have paired it with a “new” woolen skirt that I refashioned after finding it chewed up during storage in our cedar closet. Together, this is a fresh take on two existing items in my closet which needed some care and attention…and that deserves its own post, right?! After my previous post on my Victorian skating ensemble, I thought I’d keep things simple and mix things up by showing how I keep up pieces in my wardrobe. In order to earn its keep in my closet, each item needs to be something that fits as well as something I love. I have no qualms about putting something I’ve sewn through a scissor and under the sewing machine to have that happen! I made it, I can fix it up, too. Beyond that, though, this set is the perfect colors to wear for St. Patrick’s Day – the white, orange, and green of their national flag!
I couldn’t help but title my post after the song that this outfit calls to my mind. It is an Irish folk song which supposedly rose out of the 1919 to 1921 War of Independence but got a popular revival in 1989 from the album “Home to Ireland” by Spailpin (listen to the song here). It is almost my favorite Irish song album – I have loved it since my childhood! “The Rising of the Moon” song is not to be missed and “Three Young Ladies Drinking Whiskey Before Breakfast” will get your toes tapping. I am proudly very Irish through both sides of my family as well as my husband’s side, so this is not just celebrating a holiday which is alien to me but happily honoring my heritage! Although some of my Irish ancestors may have preferred to sport orange for today, I align more with the wearing of green, so I love how this outfit unites all the colors just as the flag does. (If you know your Irish history, you’ll understand this one without looking it up!)
FABRIC: The fabric for the blouse is from a seasonal collection of soft 100% cotton quilting fabric, lined in a matching rust orange color 100% cotton broadcloth
NOTIONS: I really had everything I needed on hand – thread, zipper, and bias tape. The single button at the back neck closure is probably close to being the correct era for my vintage blouse, and comes from my special familial vintage button stash.
TIME TO COMPLETE: My blouse originally (first incarnation) took me about 10 hours to be done back in October 2013. In the fall of 2021, I spent another 5 hours to renew the blouse into its latest version.
Both pieces have recently been discovered to be too small on me, but the skirt also had damage so I had more than one incentive for altering them. Now that we are coming out of two years of isolating and staying at home, I have to get to know the full potential of my closet again. A good amount of my pieces have not been touched in a while because of the pandemic, and although my body has mostly either stayed the same or lost weight through it, the same cannot be said for my upper arms and hips. In some of the cases, letting out my 5/8 inch seam allowances is enough. In other garments I find that I will need to add in gussets, side panels, or re-work the bodice. These have now gone to my “need to alter, fit, or refashion” drawer.
I still like these items enough to want to give them TLC or perhaps a whole new spin in the future. After all, I invest myself in everything I make and probably 90% (or more) of my wardrobe is self-crafted at this point. I am happy with what I have and don’t need to start a project from scratch to use my sewing capabilities. Taking care of what I have is sustainable and responsible, I feel. I am just sad to see how my body changes add to my already large enough make-do-and-mend pile. How have the last two years affected your wardrobe? Do you find things fitting you differently or have your style tastes just changed…maybe both? Do you enjoy altering and mending or is it pure drudgery for you?
What was wrong with the blouse in the first place? You may be wondering this because the blouse has ended up looking close to the same way as when I originally made it – just short sleeved. Well, I wasn’t going for a different spin, just the same look in a bigger size. The armscye was already close fitting when I first made the blouse. Its sleeves were now uncomfortable, losing any ‘reach room’ and the hips were too snug to zip down past the waistline. Also, at this point – since my sewing skills have improved – I was quite embarrassed by my beginner’s efforts at making a buttoned cuff on long sleeves. Thus, the long sleeves were sacrificed to become side panels to add room. It was easier than digging through my containers of scraps in the unlikely hope that there would be a remnant large enough to help my need for a refashion! One sleeve was divided in half to make two panels for the bodice sides, while the other sleeve went towards the neckline (see next paragraph). The original zipper was unpicked out of the blouse and re-inserted in between the front main body and the left side panel.
Just adding in width was not enough to fully open up the sleeves for more shoulder room. I also unpicked the sleeves from the bodice and re-sewed them in at ¼ inch seam allowance (the original blouse had 5/8 inch seam allowance). That was better but my big arms were still pulling at the neckline. So I opened up the neckline, loosened up the center front gathers, cut the neck more open by ½ inch, and sewed over the edge a brand new bias band (cut from the second sleeve, as mentioned above). This time I left lots of excess length at the back closure to the neckline’s finishing bias band so I can button it in a way that is more open. This assuages my claustrophobia over tightly necked garments, and widens out the shoulders a bit. I was able to cut two more small bias strips for finishing the two sleeve’s hem ends.
The brown all-wool skirt was something I have had since my late teen years. I had forgotten about it in our cedar closet for the last decade and it was not properly stored. I believe it was carpet beetles which found it, because moths make bigger chews holes. Nevertheless, the skirt had most of its significant chews from the hipline up to the waist. Being a long ankle length to begin with, I merely cut off the top 1/3 of the skirt (keeping the side zipper, albeit short now), newly tapered in the side seams, added darts to fit, and finished the waistline with bias tape. Any tiny holes left can be patched up easily since the wool is lofty and loosely woven. This was super easy refashion.
Much better than buying raw supplies, I use garments I already have as material for my sewing ideas. This time, these two items were more of a refitting I suppose versus a total re-fashion. Both my skirt and blouse are much more versatile and wearable now more than they ever were, so this is not just about ‘saving’ them, I feel. A mid-length skirt is more all-weather, just the same as making short sleeves on my blouse. My blouse is double layered (lined in all cotton) and the wool skirt is cozy so shortening their length has turned them into something I can wear for cooler days in the spring and fall, not just for the cold of winter. This way I have the opportunity to layer them. Paired over my blouse to bring out the green is an old favorite store bought corduroy blazer back from my teen years.
To conclude, I wish a happy St. Patrick’s Day to all who celebrate! To read more on some of the ways I celebrate this holiday, as well as the fancy green-themed vintage dress I may pick to wear today, please visit this Instagram post (linked here). The fact that St. Patrick’s Day is always immediately followed by the first day of the verdant season of spring always gives me an excellent reason to be on a spell of fascination for anything green. Here’s your tip off as to what may be featured in my next blog post!
Before wintertime is officially displaced by spring for my region of the world, I would like to share my grand outing on a snowy day last month. It was then that my newest historical costume made for a very memorable time ice skating. This classic winter sport was immensely popular and accessible leisure activity for ladies of Victorian times. I had to test how that actually worked out along with other like-minded women of the St. Louis Historical Sewing Society, of which I am a member. My Victorian skirt from December of 2021 acquired a matching bodice and bustle adornment which I stitched together for the occasion. Along with some new additional accessories, my original skirt had a quite different look that is more mid-1880s this time around…and I am ecstatic. I was warm in the cold being a fashionable Victorian lady for an afternoon having fun wearing what I had sewn – what could be better?! We skated at our city’s Steinberg rink, the largest outdoor ice rink in the Midwest (United States).
I did not expect to make a bodice to go with the skirt when I bought its herringbone flannel fabric last year, so this project was a surprise for me, too. After cutting out the Victorian bustled skirt in an unconventional pattern layout to save material, there was a ¾ yard panel leftover plus some generous sized scraps. “Why not try something out”, I thought a month before the date of the event. My silk velvet blouse from my first Victorian outfit was too fancy and fragile to be trusted for ice skating, and neither was it warm enough. I had nothing to lose aiming for a matching set. If you know me, it will be no surprise that every scrap was utilized to maximum potential, and now I am pleased to no end that I have a set!
As much as I liked my first attempt at a Victorian outfit, I am only now fully in love with dressing the “Industrial era” after this my most recent, ascetically coordinated 1880s outfit. A fully me-made outfit was the proper dive headfirst that I needed to get a good feel for wearing the fashions from Victorian times. Yet, doing so has left me itching to make a full-out fancy, sleeveless, trained evening ensemble out of moiré fabric…but I am getting ahead of myself. Please enjoy a small portion of my joy through the photos of my wonderful day out skating in my Victorian outfit!
In case you are wondering, I will clarify that I had absolutely no problem ice skating in this and did not find it difficult, cumbersome, or restrictive at all. Even though bodices of the Victorian era had little ease and wear close to the body, a garment that is properly fitted and tailored should not be restrictive. I altered and especially redrafted the existing sleeve pattern to have better upper arm fullness, higher armscye, and more forgiveness by cutting on the bias. Looking at old Victorian pictures, this doesn’t seem to be the ‘normal’ snug fit, but I am costuming for the 21st century. While I do aim for historical accuracy, I am going to make my clothes real-world conscious so they work for me the way I want them to, otherwise the best benefit to sewing for myself is negated.
In contrast, the bodice is more true to the Victorian times than the way I set in my sleeves. I fitted it perfectly like a snug body double to stay put on me no matter how I moved. It was always poised and wrinkle free due to its 8 vertical channels of lightweight boning wrapping around my torso from the bust down. The full range of movement in my arms makes sure to more than make up for the tight fitting bodice, and I was free to dance, throw snow, save myself from falling, or do whatever tickled my fancy. Achieving this balance of a structured fit that still retains body freedom has similarities to the tailoring practices of couture fashion – something I will address further down in my post.
The short pannier undergarment I was wearing to bustle out my skirt behind me kept it from under my legs and gave a fantastic, impressive swish when I’d move around on the ice. The ankle length of my sensible, unadorned walking skirt along with my simple, plaid apron drape was unfussy so there was nothing for my skate blades (or other people around me) to catch onto. As an 1889 edition of the Ladies’ Home Journal explains, “First of all, a skating costume needs to be short, and next it should be simple.” I did not fall down once! I even ran through the snow in this outfit. Remember – just because my clothes may look old-fashioned doesn’t mean that I am that way personally, nor does modest clothing mean a woman can’t move around enough to still have fun. Do not read a book by its cover.
To complete my ensemble, I used several eclectic items from on hand. First of all I am very proud of tweaking a vintage 1950s hat in my wardrobe to make it passable Victorian. Bright colors, especially in velvet (if not fur), were encouraged and popular for at least some portion of a Victorian lady’s skating ensemble, as can be read in many publications of the times. I took off the hat’s original netting and added on a matching red velvet ribbon from my existing notions stash (shocking how well it matches). This way I could tie it under my chin like a traditional Victorian hat but it also would stay on well without needing a hat pin. To further decorate the open crown, I pinned on another little bow up at the top. A lace-trimmed satin pocket square (bought from my trip to Italy so many years back and worn as my neck cravat in my first Victorian outfit) went over my head’s crown under the velvet 1950s hat. A 1930s era lace collar with an attached descending lace dickey filled in my Victorian bodice’s open neckline over my blouse (again, something I wore with my first Victorian outfit). I used a reproduction brooch that I have had since I was a teenager to keep that lace collar in place.
Finally, the most special accessory of all is my beaver fur collar – it had been my paternal Grandmother’s piece. It gave me a little extra warmth, a bit a rich-looking luxury, and a touch of something extra special. I was wearing her earrings, too! I almost never go without wearing something from one of my ancestors at this point – no matter if I am dressing historical, vintage, or modern. Fur seems to be one of the list commonly seen staples for trimming to a proper Victorian ice skating outfit. I was so happy to give Grandma’s accessory an outing with me, even if it did cover up my neckline details which took me so long to complete. In hindsight, I rather wish I would have had my fur muff (posted here) with me, too, but it did not match my overall darker, warmer brown tones very well. I also did not want to run the risk of losing or staining it. Oh well – I was plenty warm as things were and had a great time without it. Other of my fellow Victorian skaters did bring their furs, though, as well as one Sewing Society member even wearing a pair of true Victorian skates!
FABRIC: A dark brown herringbone printed cotton flannel was used for the skirt, a 100% wool twill for the neckline and cuff contrast (leftover from this Victorian apron drapery), and an all-cotton broadcloth in brown for the bodice lining. A 1 ½ yard cut of rayon white plaid shirting was the front apron drape.
PATTERN: Simplicity #5457, from Andrea Schewe, labelled as ‘Victorian 1880s’, from year 2003
NOTIONS: lots of thread, lots of mid-weight interfacing, three packs of buttons for the bodice front, several yards of cotton covered feather-lite boning, 6 yards of rolled braid upholstery trimming, and lots of hook-n-eyes
TIME TO COMPLETE: The bodice alone took me about 50 hours to do – most of it was all the finishing and details which I primarily did by hand. The bustle adornment took about 5 hours to make. Everything I needed was happily finished on February 3, 2022 a few days ahead of the event.
THE INSIDES: both bodice and bustle adornment are bag lined for a completely clean and tidy coverage of all raw edges.
TOTAL COST: The flannel and contrast wool were leftover from my last project. The broadcloth lining, boning and all other notions besides buttons were all on hand already from a rummage sale purchase last year, so I am not counting the costs for them either as it was negligible. The 6 yards of upholstery trim cost me about $12, the buttons were about $6 for three cards of four, and the plaid shirting was $13 – all bought at my local JoAnn Fabric store. In total just over $30!
This project was not just a desire to improve upon my existing Victorian skirt but also a search for validation as well as answers after making my end-of-the year Charles James inspired bodice. As I mentioned in my post, it is often said that his creations are inspired and loosely based on Victorian styles. The more you look at the gowns he made in the 50s decade particularly, it is plainly obvious in the bodice shape and fit, as well as in the skirt drapery. However, I said this as one who was quoting well-respected fashion historians. I was also associating the two from the perspective of merely observing construction and design line similarities. Even still, both come from something other than a hands-on means. I have studied some X-ray scans and interior detail images of Charles James’ gowns to get as close as possible to personally inspecting such high couture pieces for comparison sake. Then, constructing and wearing my very own 1880s bodice has given me that in-person confirmation that Charles James’ bodices are indeed very Victorian. I feel so validated. I am still so elated over this discovery!
They are both very stable (can stand on their own apart from a body), multi-layered (composed of an exterior, interfacing, interlining, and lining), boned in many channels, close-fitting, and tapered low in the front but high in the back along the waistline. Being an experiment, I wanted to try on the finished main body with my Charles James inspired 50s shantung skirt before the sleeves and any details were added. I wanted an even better idea of how much a Victorian bodice could look like part of a Charles James gown. I installed a separating sport zipper down the center front because I wanted a secure fit that wasn’t fiddly to close (which would be the case with hook and eyes) but also to help me be able to try this on properly as soon as possible because I was so excited. The first try on for every single thing I make for myself or others is always so filled with nerves and anticipation. I knew it would fit on account of my measuring at the pattern stage, it was just being able to finally see this bodice on me that blew me away.
I knew from the get-go that I was not going to be a die-hard for 100% true authentic construction methods as long as it is something not seen to anyone but me, anyway. I did do clean, structural tailoring techniques that were more 21st century than true Victorian (which often had quite messy interior finishing) and so very much hand stitching. The inside looks so perfectly finished for my taste and achieves the ‘proper’ look in the end. Thus, ignore the zipper and you can see that this is indeed what Charles James based his gowns on, especially the Babe Paley one I was inspired by (see picture of red dress above) when making my Tulip bodice (post here). Look at how great it looks! The fit feels similar to how a well-constructed 50s evening gown would be (I have tried a few on before). This is an 1880s pattern, though, remember! Sewing this bodice was the best tactile research project ever.
Now that I have sewn more than one item from Simplicity #5457, I can heartily recommend it. The sizing is great and has a fit true to the charts. I made no other tweaks besides lengthening the hem to the sleeves and adding in ‘reach room’, as I mentioned above “The Facts”. I love how economical it is, too. A whole Victorian set – bodice, skirt, and bustle decoration – out of 3 ½ yards (of main fabric) is impressive. It comes together as easily as possible. Even still, with all the tailoring, fitting, and finishing this is time consuming nevertheless so be prepared with a lot of patience, free time, and some sore fingertips. This pattern is super versatile, as well, but that is the good thing about a simple design – you have a base for whatever strikes your fancy. It is highly probable will be using this pattern again.
All of the detailing finishes were my own idea and design. This includes the bustle adornment that is the trio of hanging tabs and not the little pleated rump peplum, which is attached to the bodice. These were not part of the Simplicity pattern I was using for the main body of the bodice, but self-drafted or at least my own addition. I drew up a frontispiece to cover the zipper and make it appear as if I have some sort of faux button placket. It is tacked down to the bodice on the right side of the zipper and hooks closed on the left side. One dozen decorative buttons decorated the frontispiece because Victorian fashions were opulent and extravagant, after all! Then, the neckline and cuffs received the rope trim and then a thin, visible overlap of the same woolen which went towards my first Victorian apron drape (posted here). Pieced together, I had just enough woolen scraps to make this idea work.
I felt these additions added depth, interest, and complexity appropriate for the era. Yet, as this was meant to be a basic and practical set, these decorative elements add the right touch of finery without any gold work, beading, or embroidery so common for the era – these were all too fancy for my intention. The rope and woolen trimming were sandwiched in with every other seam’s construction except for on the bodice neckline and cuff hems, where it is hand tacked in place after the edges were fully finished. I could not commit myself to what I wanted to add until after I could have to opportunity to try it on together with the skirt.
The bustle decoration is all I could make out of a few rectangles of material that were left from the bodice. I think it is cute and different – totally my design while still convincingly Victorian inspired. I didn’t want to overwhelm the simple apron drape with a draped booty bustle. However, I was too short on fabric for that to be an option. I have seen a few fashion images or extant garments which have basic bustle adornments that are similar to what I crafted for myself. I lined the underside with matching fabric to cover up the raw edges so the tabs look just as good no matter which way they flap. I added more of the rope trimming (used on the bodice) into all the edges of the three hanging tabs to help them to be more decorative and seemingly intentional. They were something I just cobbled together, after all! In lieu of closures, I merely attached all three tabs to a length of brown satin ribbon (on hand, used to stabilize the inner waistline of my skirt) so I can tie it to my waist before I dress in my bodice…easy peasy and versatile!
Just like for my first Victorian outfit, I was here again inspired by the brown and white dual tones worn by the woman on the far left in an original Godey Lady’s book original hand-tinted fashion page from April 1874 that is framed in my bedroom. Besides my one book page print, however, I have found a plethora of fashion plates and extant 1880s garments which are in a variation of brown tones, contrasted by gold and/or white. Along that vein, I specifically wanted to complement the white of my blouse peeking out from under my bodice’s open neckline and ¾ sleeves. My first apron drape was too bulky under the close fitting bodice, also seeming too fussy and drab when the skirt and bodice were matching. I therefore merely hand draped a plain cut of yardage in a soft rayon to be my new skirt apron. The plaid weave brightens up my overall brown tones and adds a level of simple sophistication with a touch of bright white, as I had wanted. The plaid easily adds to the impression that there is more going on than there is (as it was super simple to incorporate it into my ensemble) yet keeps my set relatable. Plaid was quite popular to use in women’s fashions of Victorian times throughout many countries.
My Indian sari pleating skills came in handy to “make” my skirt’s new apron drape…no stitching required other than to hem the fabric’s cut ends. First, I asymmetrically tucked in the top half (most of one corner) to the plaid fabric panel into my waistline starting from my left side seam over to the other side of the center front. Then, I hand pleated the free end, much like is done on a pallu (the decorative end) of a sari to drape it over the shoulder. Finally, I brought it around to tuck the pleated end into my waist at the center back. This process is so much easier to do in real life than to describe but it is really that simple – no pattern or sewing needed!
I see many of such asymmetric apron drapes from the early to later half of the 1880s decade. I love any asymmetric fashion and I feel that I can relate to Victorian styles better when I see them elegantly, artistically askew than perfectly uniform and proportionate. The benefit to costuming in the 21st century is here again (as I mentioned above previously) the ability to customize a historical style to my own taste, ability, and budget. I don’t know for sure if such asymmetric apron fronts were historically sewn or draped, or even something that would have been paired with such an outfit as this. Yet, whatever seems to work for me and achieves my own interpretation of the 1880s works for me.
I recognize I have a LOT to still learn about the nuances of Victorian fashion. Thus, I ask those of you who know what you are doing more than I to go easy on me here. I love my newest historical set and am proud of my progress in interpreting this era, especially since – up until recently – it has been something I never remotely figured I would ever be sewing or wearing. Victorian dressing was something I have long been content to admire from a distance. It seems to be very complicated to understand. The styles adapted every year or two, especially between the 1870s and 1880s…bustle sitting high, bustle sitting low, elevated hairstyles, cascading hairstyles, short waistlines, long bodices – and all these in different combinations! Things must have been confusing for women of those times who wanted to stay “on trend”. At least tailors and seamstresses or even home sewists were probably very busy tweaking hemlines, adding extension panels, and making accessories to keep up.
This newest Victorian set is a big step further into exploring that well of knowledge which is fashion history but I have a feeling this era will be much more challenging for me to get a hold of fully in my mind than anything from the 20th century. I will keep trying, though! I guarantee you this will not be my last Victorian project. I just hope my next Victorian creation has such a fun time out as this one! Ice skating in full Victorian garb is an event that will be hard to beat!