1896 – Suggestions for dressmakers

Along with looking at inspiration pictures (aka: too much pinterest), I’ve been doing some reading on the 1890’s. The website archive.org has a large collection of old dressmaker manuals. Most for the 1890’s are drafting guides, but I also found one book which goes into more aspects of dressmaking. It’s called ‘Suggestions for dressmakers’, from 1896, by Catherine Broughton, and it’s a gem.

It has a lot of tips for how to make stuff up, fitting, lining, etc. But it’s also very funny, although perhaps not intentionally. So in this post, some things I learned, and some funny quotes!

Firstly, this book is written for an American audience, and absolutely cannot get enough of praising Parisians. The author was particularly fond of Worth, though not so much of queen Victoria….

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And in case you were wondering how exactly something was done, she reassures us it’s more about general effect. As the Parisians know, of course:

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Although reading the following, I’d probably be a bit less inclined to go to Paris for my dress. About Parisian dressmakers:

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She also has some really good advice though, and describes some clever techniques in enough detail to be very helpful.

These are some comments on fitting I need to remember. The tip to also fit sitting down is one I want to try more. (I’m also definitely guilty of fitting inside out, despite knowing I’m not fully symmetrical…)

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Of course, in case you thought it was easy, here is a comment to put you back in your place.

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But she does have good tips! If you fit around a posture you normally don’t adopt, then as soon as you go back into your ‘regular’ posture it won’t fit as well.

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And a little note on skirts.

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On cutting on grain: (of course, including some snark)

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I found the section on linings particularly interesting.

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She also has some interesting tips on boning. In particular that the boning should really stretch the fabric, and how to achieve that.

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And for everyone who has ever struggled with hooks and eyes which come undone (including myself):

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And a little bit on skirt bands. I thought the idea of piping was quite interesting, it definitely makes sense if the bodice goes over anyway.

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She then has some chapters on color and style, and her main message is that a dressmaker can make a world of difference. Snarkily worded, of course, we cannot let it get too kind.

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I’d definitely recommend everyone to read this little book in full, it has a lot more good advice in it (and also some not so good). It can be found in full online here.

To conclude, some advice on trousers, just so you know.

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1895 fever

I’m currently on holiday, so a little scheduled prettiness for this post!

Although I’m still working on the stays, I’ve also been brainstorming about my next project, because I’m going to a ball next May with 1890-1902 as theme! I have a ca. day 1905 ensemble, but nothing 1890’s, so it’s time for a new dress.

I have some plans already, which mostly center around year & fabric. I have some emerald green dupioni I’ve been trying to find a project for. The main problem is that it’s dupioni, so not quite historical. My ‘fix’ for this is to overlay it with black silk organza, which I also have in my stash. It will disguise the slubs a bit, and should create a nice overlay effect! (I’m also very partial to black-green combinations, as people familiar with my regular wardrobe will know). The slubs will still show a bit, but this will allow me to finally use this fabric I’ve had in my stash for a couple of years. I’d really hate to ‘waste’ this fabric by not using it, and I think this is a nice compromise.

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It’s hard to get the color right on screen, but this comes close. Beautiful color, but quite slubby.

 

The other plan so far is to go full out, crazy 1895. The 1890’s saw quite a lot of change, with sleeves being slim at the beginning and end of the decade, but growing to huge in-between. 1895 is the height of crazy-big sleeve period. I didn’t use to love it, but it’s grown on me, and doing these extreme’s is just so much fun!

So for this post, some big-sleeved inspirations from contemporary plates and portraits!

Some with the lovely green color:

Green/black, with silk dupioni?

 

Some working with overlays and extra ruffles:

 

Portrait of Countess of Santiago | Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida | oil painting

 

And some because they’re just too fun and quirky to skip:

La Mode Artistique, February 1895

L'Art et la Mode 1893 N°02 Complete with colored engraving by Marie de Solar, Emma Calve

L'Art et la Mode 1895 N°25 Complete with colored engraving by Marie de Solar

Cartridge pleating in the 18th century

This is a story about cartridge pleating in the 18th century, specifically on fitted-back (robe a la anglaise) women’s gowns. About how I first did not know anything about it, and then learned about it not existing at the same time as seeing it for the first time. If that sounds contradictory: it is, which is the main reason I’m writing this post. (a hint to the conclusion: they do exist!)

Some pretty pictures to spark your interest (Kunstmuseum Den Haag)

 

First up: a little terminology! (feel free to skip to the picture of the blue damask dress if you already know all of this).

What’s cartridge pleating?

Cartridge pleating is specific way of gathering a width of fabric into a smaller area. Specifically, it involves:

  1. Folding over the top of the fabric to exactly the height you want it to be.
  2. Running multiple (at least 2, but often more) lines of gathering thread exactly parallel to each-other through the whole width of the fabric, one underneath the other. This is done (at least partly) in the folded over part.
  3. Pulling up the threads to form large gathers/pleats. The threads are kept in and secured in place!
  4. Stitching your gathered/pleated strip of fabric to where it needs to be attached (e.g. a waistband) one pleat at a time, catching the outside of the pleat to the inside of the other fabric. This leaves the width on the inside.

A picture for clarity:

Where grey is the right side of the fabric, red are the gathering threads, and purple (last picture) the stitches attaching it to a waistband.

Cartridge pleats

If you want to be sure a piece of fabric has been cartridge pleated, you need to check 3 things. 1, the raw edge is folded down, 2 there are at least two rows of gathering threads in place and 3, it is stitched to the other fabric not by pressing it flat, but pleat by pleat, keeping the width of the pleat. Of these, only the second one is always visible from the outside! But you can typically infer the others if the pleats ‘stand out’ and are not directional (so the ‘fold’ of the pleat is facing directly up in the middle), as this means they have not been flattened when sewn on, and this can only be avoided if you also have a folded over edge.

In my gold 1660’s dress you can see the finished result, with the threads peeking out between the folds.

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What’s a robe a la Anglaise? The exact definition differs a bit (in French it’s used for any fitted-back gown), but in this article I’ll be using it to refer to 18th century women’s gowns who have folded pleats in the back which are stitched down and run into the skirt. The skirt of the gown is cut in one with the back, and then pleated down to fit to the other pieces of the body. In English terminology, this is also what you’d call an ‘English gown’.

In this example from the MET museum you can see the folded back, and how those panels run into the skirt (click on the picture to see their high-resolution photos)

Wedding dress, 1776, American, silk.

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And now, on with the story!

The first time I saw cartridge pleats 0n an Anglaise was in 2017, when I got a chance to see some of the items in the Kunstmuseum Den Haag behind the scenes, on a study table. Including this dress:

 

 

 

I took a fair number of pictures of it showing the inside. Including of how the skirt was attached to the bodice, which was clearly cartridge pleating. All 3 characteristics were there!

This picture clearly shows how the fabric has been folded over, and how there’s a little ‘ridge’ where it’s attached to the bodice.

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And this picture from the outside shows, if you look closely, glimpses of the threads keeping the pleats in place.

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So what, you might ask? And so would I have, until I got a comment on one of my pictures on Facebook: “I thought they didn’t do cartridge pleating in the 18th century“.

I did not know this, and my first thought was: “Obviously they did, look at this dress“.

But once I knew this, I saw many more people talk about how cartridge pleating was just not done on these gowns (or any 18th century gown, for that matter). And these were people who I’d consider experts, long-term costumers and reenactors who had seen many original garments. In short: people much more experienced than me in 18th century dress.

Instead of cartridge pleating, the way to attach the skirts was by knife pleating, which is done by folding the fabric into one direction, stitching it on flattened through all layers. Like I did with my own silver gown: (even though here, the skirt was cut separately from the bodice.)

 

Or on this original gown sold by Vintage textile.com

 

 

18th Century Clothing at Vintage Textile: #2811 French open robe

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So maybe the blue gown was just an oddity? That happens, you can often find single exceptions to a rule, and one counter-example does not prove something is commonly done. Maybe the person for who this dress was made just had odd taste?

Except that I also visited more exhibitions around the country. And I kept seeing Anglaise’s with what seemed like cartridge pleated skirts. From the outside, so it’s more difficult to be sure, but it certainly looks a great, great deal like cartridge pleating to me. This blue gown seemed increasingly less an oddity, and increasingly more like a very typical example.

These are pictures of the 4 gowns I’ve seen which seem to be cartridge pleated. Of all of the Anglaises I saw with folded back pleats and where I could see the skirt attachment clearly, this is 100% of them. I don’t doubt there’s English gowns in Dutch collections which clearly show knife pleats. But I haven’t seen any in person.

Kunstmuseum den Haag circa 1775-1799 (although similar, this is a different dress than the first!

Kunstmuseum Den Haag ca. 1780

Kunstmuseum Den Haag ca. 1780

Centraal Museum Utrecht, 1780

 

So what’s true here? Were these experts wrong in saying there was no cartridge pleating? Or was I seeing all of these wrong? My theory is that it’s neither, and although I cannot be 100% sure, what seems most likely to me is this:

Cartridge pleating your skirts was a typically Dutch thing to do. It was normal in the Netherlands, despite not being at all fashionable in France or England (and, therefore, the US).

This fits with the fact that 1. All the experts I’ve heard the ‘no cartridge pleating’ from are speakers of English and most familiar with English and American collections. And 2. All these examples of cartridge pleating occur in Dutch collections. (I haven’t seen enough items from other countries/cultures to know if it extents beyond the Netherlands, but if anyone does I’d love to learn more!). I proposed this theory to the same experts on Facebook, and the general consensus was that this is probably correct. (I was not imagining things, yay!)

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A very Dutch ensemble? A chintz gown with cartridge pleated skirt, over a blue satin corded quilted petticoat. (Centraal museum Utrecht)

 

There are two additional things which seem to support this theory. The first is that nearly all the cartridge pleats I’ve seen occur on dresses which share some other shared characteristics. This type of dresses seems to exist much more in Dutch collections than in others, indicating that this style was popular mainly in the Netherlands.

Specifically, all of these gowns have the pleated back (even though by the 1780’s, a back with cut back panels became more popular), they have robings in the front (folded edges running over the shoulder) which run all the way into the skirt, and the space between the robings is filled with either 2 sewn-in panels closing center front, or several sewn-in trips of fabric closing center front. Although you see robings a lot in the 1740’s and 1750’s in England in particular, these robings typically stop at the bottom of the bodice, and the center front of these is open (to be worn with a stomacher). Moreover, this style had become very old-fashioned by the 1780s, while a fair number of these Dutch gowns is dated that late.

This picture points to the robings and cf closure on the green gown.

 

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And this picture shows the lining of one of the strips closing the bodice on the first blue gown. You can see the (in the picture) horizontal fold above this, which is the robing.

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There are more examples in Dutch collections that I haven’t seen in person, such as this lovely red chintz dress:

Japon, robe à l'Anglaise van sits, rood fond met grote veelkleurige bloemen, lijf met vestpanden, aangeplooide rok, mouwen met geplooid elleboogstuk, vierkante halslijn | Modemuze

Museum Rotterdam 1780/1785

 

For more examples of this style, see this pinterest board!

The second is that we know from some contemporary accounts that Dutch women liked their skirts big, and cartridge pleating is particularly suited making very full skirts stand out even more. The book ‘Aangekleed gaat uit’ has a reference to women mocking others for their lack of petticoats, and the book ’18th century Dress in Europe’ has a quote of a contemporary (non-Dutch) traveler remarking on the same thing.

So, the moral of this story? For me, it drove home a couple of things. Firstly, that the further you go back in time, the more important it becomes not to generalize knowledge on one region to another. Yes, people traveled and communicated, but in the 18th century, there were still loads of characteristics of dress common in one region/country but not in the other. The second is that it’s important to ensure that ‘rules’ don’t make you blind to what’s right in front of you. A single exception does not prove a general rule is false, but it could be a sign that there’s more to the story. And finally, that there is definitely such a thing as cartridge pleated skirts to Anglaises, as long as you are talking about a Dutch context, even if there isn’t in a French/English one.

I also now want to make my next Anglaise with cartridge pleats!

Because it’s so pretty!

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PoF Stays – Materials

After drafting the pattern, the second step for making the stays was gathering materials. For this pair, my goal was to get it as close to the original as possible. Luckily for us, Patterns of Fashion 5 has very thorough descriptions of what was used, and in the front includes extra info on what historical materials were!

These stays have 4 main layers. Two layers of linen canvas which sandwich the bones, one layer of wool sateen which is included in the stitching and on the outside, and a layer of linen lining which is cut in just two pieces per side and added last.

I started by looking for linen canvas that would work. I knew I wouldn’t be able to find any in local shops, which meant searching online. This actually made it quite tricky, because the most important thing for this linen was the ‘hand’. It needs to be tightly woven and sturdy, but not necessarily heavy. On pictures you can’t always see how tightly woven a fabric is. And although you can often find weights for fabric, weight doesn’t necessarily translate to strength. In the end, I went by recommendations from the very helpful people at Foundations Revealed, and ordered the ‘Artist’s Canvas’ linen from Whaley’s Bradford. I also have a sample of the linen canvas that Sartor  carries, which I think would also work, but is just a bit heavier, and just a tad less stiff. Whaley’s stuff is beautiful, and I’m glad I ordered a bit extra for future projects.

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The second fabric was the wool sateen. To be honest, I’d not even really started looking because I thought it’d be impossible to find wool sateen retail. But then someone mentioned that the same Whaley’s Bradford also carried wool sateen, so I ordered a bit of that! It’s a little whiter than the original fabric, as it’s prepped for dyeing, and I suspect it’s also less stiff. The book mentions that even the wool is quite stiff in the original pair, and my wool is very drapey. However, as the linen is what mostly takes care of the structure, I don’t mind too much. I also really love the pale cream color. It’s one of the most expensive fabrics I’ve ever bought (luckily you don’t need much for stays), but it’s absolutely stunning and beautiful to work with.

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The next thing I went looking for was thread. I wanted to sew these stays with linen thread, which actually proved quite a challenge. I knew I could order it from the US, but that seemed a bit overkill for a bit of thread, so I initially went looking in physical shops and Dutch online stores. I could find cotton and silk thread, but not linen. Until I visited the store of Sartor when I was in Prague, and they had some! They sell it in three thicknesses, and I got quite a supply which I hope will carry me through.

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To assist with sewing, I’m using bees wax I got from Sew Curvy. I hadn’t worked with waxing thread before, but know it was a very common thing especially for hand sewing with linen, and so far it’s working very well! My other sewing aids are needles I already had, a little pair of foldable scissors and my trusty thimble.

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Before I could actually start sewing, I also needed boning. The original stays feature baleen, which wasn’t an option, so I went looking for synthetic whalebone. I initially looked for the 5mm wide as that was the smallest I’d seen in shops, but everyone seemed to be sold out right when I wanted to order. Luckily, Foundations Revealed came to the rescue again, as someone had a lot of left over 4mm wide synthethic whalebone and was willing to sell it to me. I’m very happy with the smaller size, as this will closer mimic the look of the originals with their very narrow boning channels. Additionally, I have some 6mm wide synthethic whalebone which is a little thicker (1,5mm instead of 1mm) as well for next to the lacing cords. And I have one wide metal bone, for the front. The original has thicker baleen horizontally in the front, but as I won’t be able to get synthethic whalebone thick enough, I’ll be using the steel.

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And that’s all the materials I have so far! There are some things still missing, most notably the binding. The top of the stays is bound with linen twill tape. I suspect I’ll have to settle for cotton tape for that one, but cotton did exist in the period so I can live with that. The bottom binding is leather, and I’ll have to look around a bit on what to use. For my green stays I used Chamois, which worked perfectly, but I think the original has stiffer leather. I’m not quite sure what I want yet, as stiffer also means more difficult to sew, and tabs are a pain as is. There’s also a leather guard under the arm, which I have yet to find material for. The lining linen will probably come out of my stash, as I have a couple of different white linens left over from other projects. And finally, there’ll be several pieces of linen buckram to stiffen the front. I plan to make this myself, as I’ve seen several people post on how to stiffen linen with natural glues. I don’t actually need these pieces until after all the channels are sewn though, so that can wait a bit longer.

The next step in the process is sewing the boning channels. This will actually take by far the longest, so it might be a while until there’s a next post about the stays! I’m now going at a rate of about 9cm per 10 minutes, so keep an eye on my Instagram for endless pictures of straight lines of white stitching… Meanwhile, here’s an example:

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PoF5 Stays – Drafting the pattern

This summer, I started on what will be my big project for the rest of the year. A pair of fully hand-sewn stays, based on this beautiful pair in Patterns of Fashion 5:

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When I first heard Luca Costigliolo describe his (newly found) method for patterning stays at the Structuring Fashion conference a year ago, I immediately knew I wanted to try this out. At the time was in the middle of sewing my 18th century dress, and after that I sewed 3 more outfits for events, all which had deadlines and therefore got priority. There are no more deadlines now though, so I’m getting back to stays!

I picked the wool sateen stays (1760-70) because I wanted to make a fully boned pair, which would work for the second half of the century. They’re a bit too straight to be fully fashionable for the last decades of the century, but wearing a slightly old fashioned style isn’t unthinkable.

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The first step on this project was the patterning. As wasn’t planning to also hand-sew the mock-ups, this had to happen before I left. In the end I made 5 mock-ups, in post is what I learned along the way, and what I ended up with!

To make the pattern, I followed an article on Foundations Revealed, which walks through Luca’s method for drafting step by step. Aside from taking body measurements, this drafting methods also requires some ‘finished stays’ measurements. Most importantly: the front length, back length, and back width. When I tried the mock-up on, I noticed I got the back length right, but the others not so much.

 

The back was too small, and the front too short. It was pointless to try to fix the other fit issues before I got these right, so back to the drawing board! This time, I traced the images of the final stays first, and looked carefully at the proportions to get the measurements right this time.

I re-drafted the whole thing from scratch, and this time ended up with something already quite a bit closer to the original! The main problem of this mock-up, was that it was too large, mostly in the bust. From this point, I made all changes to the same draft.

 

 

For the third mock-up, I shaved quite a bit off the bust by changing the center front line, and I raised the underarm to fit more snugly. With the high back of this model, I felt this would work to keep the back closer to the body. The changes are the black dotted lines as seen on the previous draft.

 

 

At this point I was getting close! It still felt just a little loose, so I shaved a bit more of the bust and the waist. I also changed the second panel so the front tabs would match the original better.

 

Of course, after mock-up number four I noticed I had over-compensated for the looseness, which made it a little too tight and dig into my hips in the back. Following some great advice via Foundations Revealed, I added a bit of room again, but also looked carefully at the pattern lines again. I made some small changes to get it closer to the original. Most important was the little ‘dart’ between the second and third panel, to make the back stand closer to the body.

This picture shows the fourth (red lines) and fifth (black lines) draft.

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This fifth mock-up was finally good enough for me to dare starting my actual fabric! I made some tiny changes to the angle of the front tabs, but that was it!

 

 

 

 

Sewing room

Last December we moved house, and one of the most exciting things for me was that I finally got my own sewing space!

This weekend I finally got around to re-covering my ironing board and some pillows, which means the only thing to do now is to put some more fashion plates on the wall. Nevertheless, it’s done enough to do a little tour!

Just as a quick note: these pictures were taken right after cleaning up, and in no way reflect the natural state of messiness which prevails in creative spaces…

A little video tour:

 

The Desk:

I knew I wanted a large desk in this room, to fit both my computer and sewing machine. It’s not a very deep desk, but that’s not a problem as I have plenty of storage space with the shelf and drawers.

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The shelf above the desk houses my sewing box, two drawer boxes, a tin with boning/busks, and my pattern weights. In the grey drawers I keep practical supplies such as boning, twill tape, etc. The green drawers store pieces of lace and ribbon.

 

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In my sewing box I have little things such as buttons, hooks and eyes, and spare measuring tapes. At the bottom some larger supplies I don’t use that much. The little Delft-blue box I use to store my pattern weights.

The drawer cabinet is used for sewing supplies I need most readily on hand. The top drawer is for scissors, thimbles, seam rippers, and pens etc. for marking. The one below that I use for office supplies. The larger drawers house thread spools, more scissors and heavy tools, and notebooks respectively.

 

Right next to my desk I have my ironing board set up, so I can use the plug beneath my desk for the iron. I re-covered this with a fun Victorian-style print cotton I got ages ago. I did not have any plans for it, but just couldn’t leave it. When we moved in here, I knew it’d be great for accessories!

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The costume closet:

One this wall, I have the closet in which I store most of my costumes and some supplies. Next to the closed is the ‘messy space’, with my crinolines, sleeve-ironing board, hem marker and some fabric bits. My dummy is also here when it’s cleaned up, but she’s usually somewhere in the middle of the room when I’m working on things.

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On the other side of the closet are an antique clock which used to belong to my grandmother, and some boxes. These store some masks, hats, and the little suitcase is the perfect size for my Truly Victorian patterns.

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The main hanging space in the closet is taken up by costumes. This is not everything, but the most recent/worn things. I have some extra space upstairs for the rest.

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Below the costumes is a box with old sheets/fabric for mock-ups. Next to that are boxes with gloves, fans and stockings. The spray-cans hold a vinegar-water mix and vodka-water mix, for setting pleats and cleaning respectively. At the bottom of the closet are more boxes, these are filled with some of my traditional Dutch clothing pieces.

The right side of the closet is for more storage. At the top some things for my dancing group (wooden shoes are a pain to store…), at the very bottom photography bags and camera etc. The other shelves hold hair stuffs, antique bits and pieces, and crafting things.

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The remaining storage:

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The wall opposite the desk holds more storage, and a lazy chair. This chair used to belong to my mother, and has been in my room for as long as I’ve had one. The pillow has seen quite some iterations! For this room I re-covered it with fabric matching my ironing board.

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The book closet holds my sewing and costuming books. One section is for historical patterning/how to books, one section for traditional costume books, one for hand-craft boos, and one for misc (museum books, 1940’s bound magazines & lace-making).

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Two of the fabric boxes hold patterns, one commercial and one my own drafts. The bottom right box is for fabrics for modern projects, the bottom left is for putting away in-progress projects.

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The other closet has one of my antique Singer’s on top. I have two, one having belonged to my father’s mother’s mother, the other to my mother’s fathers’ mother. Both are from the 1920’s I believe. I only keep one on display at a time, but will probably change them out every once in a while.

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This closet is for all my historical fabrics. Silks are at the top and middle, linen in the middle, cotton at the bottom, and the wool on the right.

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Finally, on the walls I have a collection of fashion plates! I currently have plates ranging from the 1830’s to about 1880, 14 in total. 6 are currently up, and I hope to fill up more of the space with the remainder! (Also, my mouse-mat is printed with a painting from the Rijksmuseum, because I could!)

1880’s Tennis dress

The 1880’s tennis dress is finished! I already wore it about a month ago, but without all of the trim. I since truly finished it and wore it again last weekend!

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The idea of this dress started last summer, when I realized I did not have any Victorian dresses truly fit for summer weather. And that if you organize Victorian picnics, that is quite a handy thing to have as Dutch weather is most reliable in summer.

I’ve always loved the idea of the ‘sporting’ dresses which you see becoming more popular in the 1880’s. My main inspiration for this project was this dress in the Manchester Art Gallery:

Manchester Art Gallery

 

Although it, unfortunately, does not show any pictures of the back, it does feature a very good description. Including some interesting features. The skirt has boning in it (something also seen in this tennis dress at LACMA), so no separate bustle is necessary. The apron is actually one with the main skirt, while the back bustle is buttoned on over a back-closure. I incorporated all of these features in my skirt as well.

And, of course, I had to have striped fabric for this! Tennis dresses in pictures are nearly always either stripes or a light solid color. I found a lovely thin cotton with blue, red and white stripes, which was perfect for this project. I did line the bodice and skirt, as it is rather thin. The bodice was lined for structure, the skirt to support the weight of the ruffles.

The basic pattern of the skirt is TV261 – 1885 Four-Gore Underskirt. I sewed 3 horizontal bones in the back, and a fourth in a curve, similarly to the TV101 bustle. The bones are sandwiched between the main skirt fabric and lining. The fabric is gathered up to fit the bones, and three ties (one at the end of each bone) keep the curved shape behind the legs, similar to the LACMA dress. The apron I drafted myself, and is caught in the back-side seams of the main skirt. The skirt closes center back, and the slit is actually a bit shorter than I’d normally make it, as it needs to stop right before the first bone.

A close-up of the gathered channels with the boning, and the base skirt (sans hem and waistband at this point.

 

The back drape is very simple, and buttons on the waistband sides and back. I added pockets in the skirt on both sides, the entrance between the first and second horizontal bone. This works okay, but the pocket entry is rather narrow as it needed to fit between the bones. It’s good I have small hands, and I can’t fit very large things in it. It makes me wonder what the original’s pocket looks like, as I’m sure it’d need to be a tad bigger to fit a tennis ball.

The bodice base is TV462 – 1883 Tail Bodice, but without tail. The lining is fitted, while the striped fabric was extended (with a little guidance from Izabella Pritcher’s Victorian Dressmaker book), and gathered to the front. It buttons up front, and has a little lace around the collar and sleeves.

Below a picture of the bodice fronts, and sewing the button holes.

 

I wore the dress for the first time with the main bodice and skirt done, but without all the pleats on the skirts. These are 4 strips, with a 1cm hem and 2 1cm tucks, pleated down. They took a while (it was about 18m unpleated), but do really finish the dress!

I first pleated the strip and pinned it on both sides. Then the pleats were sewn down at the top, leaving the bottom pins in. I then sprayed it with a vinegar/water mix and ironed it. Then took out the bottom pins, sprayed and ironed that bit again. I used some painter’s tape to keep the bottom pleats in tape when sewing on the strips to the dress. They held up okay on wearing! Some of the pleats at the back were a bit mangled, but that was to be expected as I sat on them half of the day, and they were quite good about being ironed back into shape afterwards.

 

The pleats being sewn on, and a little close-up showing the the finished result and the tucks.

 

To finish the ensemble, I cut down the brim of a straw hat I had lying around, slightly curved up the back brim, and sewed on some big bows.

 

To finish off, some more pictures of the final dress on me! I wore it with a simple blue ribbon (leftover from trimming the hat) around the waist, but I might make an embroidered belt as the one on the original in the future.

 

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Embroidered pockets

Earlier this year I was travelling, and looking for a project to take with me on the trip. As my regular projects are rather a hand full, I decided to try my hand at embroideriy.

I’d been wanting to make an 18th century pocket for a little while. I currently use a very functional, and very ugly black pocket I made very quickly years ago. It works, but having admired other people’s embroidered pockets, I wanted something prettier. As embroidering a pocket takes some time, yet is all hand work and small enough to fit in a carry on, it was the perfect project for a trip!

I really enjoyed working on the pocket, and finished the embroidery soon after I got back. So when I had another trip shortly after finishing the first, I decided to make a pair!

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This was my first try at ‘real’ embroidery, although I had done corset flossing before. Because of that, I saw this mostly as a practise project. I drew the designs inspired by originals, but not really copying anything. The first (pink) pocket was sewn from colors I already had, the second one I ordered colors for.

During the trip, I kept my materials in this lovely antique cardboard box.

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Both pockets were started at the airport. The branches are done in chainstitches

 

I worked on both pieces during flights, and during the stays at times. As both were solo trips, it was nice to have an activity for during tea, lunch, or slow evenings.

 

The embroidery was done on linen. After finishing, I constructed the pocket (also by hand). The finishing was done completely with whatever I had laying around.

 

The pink one has a back from Ikea cotton, the blue one a scrap of blue cotton. Both are bound with left-over pieces of binding.

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The binding was stitched on with small stitches, but actually came together quite quickly. The slit was bound with white bias tape on both.

 

The second pocket was sewn together on a train, continueing the travel tradition. It took about 1,5 hour start to finish.

 

I decided to make two separate pockets, instead of attaching both to the same ties. This way I can choose to wear just one, and am a bit more flexible on positioning when wearing both.

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To finish up, some closer looks at the embroidery! It’s definitely not perfect, but I’m pretty happy given that I’d never done either a chainstitch or a satin stitch before.

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The Isabella Dress

End of June I visited Edinburgh, to attend the event at the National Museum of Scotland where a team of dressmakers recreated the Isabella MacTavish Fraser dress.

This is one of those rare surviving garments which people might recognize by name alone. But for everyone else, it’s this garment:

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Isabella MacTavish’s Wedding Dress, c. 1785. Photo courtesy of the Inverness Museum & Art Gallery

 

This dress is special for several reasons. The first thing which speaks to people it that it was a wedding dress, is still owned by the same family, and was worn by several generations of brides after Isabella.

The second thing, is that it is the only known surviving example of 18th century women’s dress made of tartan. Add to that the lure of Scotland, the vibrancy of the colors, (and the current popularity of Outlander also doesn’t hurt), and you get a garment which has fans all over the world.

One of those is Rebecca Olds (of Timesmith Dressmaking), whose interest in this garment resulted in the event where this dress was re-created. The goal of this event was to discover more about the dress, it’s construction, it’s quirks, and how it would have been made at the time. To realize this, a team of dressmakers was brought on board, and end of June, they recreated the dress in front of a live audience at the National museum of Scotland. And I got to be there!

The first thing I did when arriving at the museum Saturday morning was to visit the original dress. As always: it’s prettier in person! The colors are still so very vibrant. I mainly took some pictures of the details.

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The fron of the dress. You can faintly see the line of stitching where the lacing strip is attached.

 

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The back pleats!

 

It’s important to note that the goal of this project was to make a recreation, not a reproduction. The main difference is that a reproduction is meant to be as exactly as the original as possible. However, this typically means sewing based on the exact measurements of the original. And ironically, that would mean that the process of making the dress would be different from the original. For in the 18th century, women’s dress was typically cut and fitted on the body, which means that very little exact measurements are involved. So instead, the team aimed for a recreation. They had a model with them, and the dress was cut and fit to her. Some care was taken to replicate some of the quirks of the original, but in the end, no two bodies are the same, so the recreation is a little different from the original in some ways.

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Fitting to the body

 

The first day, the first step was to cut the fabric. The fabric was specially made for this project, woven by Prickly Thistle. They studied the original fabric, counted the threads, and made a lovely reproduction. In the end, they added a couple of strategically placed threads to ensure the fabric was at least as wide as the original. This was necessary as their looms were stronger than the 18th century equivalent would have been, and therefore slightly ‘shrunk’ the fabric. The fabric is a so-called ‘hard’ tartan, woven of worsted threads in red, green and blue.

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Cutting

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The fabric had not been stretched, so had to be mangled a bit to ensure everything was lying straight and on grain.

 

During two days, the dress was sewn completely by hand. At any time, there were about 2 to 3 people sewing, while someone else was answering questions and talking to the audience. I learned so much from the interactions alone, and it was lovely as well to meet all the other interested people in the audience!

The first step was cutting the skirts, and the front of the bodice and shoulder straps. After this, the back was cut, and the sleeves and cuffs. All cutting was done based on measurements and the previously fitted linen lining.

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Marking the skirts

 

The first bits of sewing was the main skirt seams (aside from those to the back panel, as that ran into the bodice), and attaching the lining to the front of the bodice.

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Sewing the front to the lining

 

Then came the cuffs, which were pleated, and then lined, and the sleeve seams were basted. The final thing to do on the first day was to pleat the back. Here, the original was followed as closely as possible.

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Sewing & lining the cuffs

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Checking pictures of the original when pleating the back

 

Day 2 started with the first fitting. First, the front and back were put in place on the body, and then the shoulders were loosely pinned. The main focus here was to fit the side seams, where the lining of the front was pinned to the back. After this, the sleeves were fitted.

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Fitting the bodice seams

 

Then, the sleeve seams were sewn, as well as the side seams. As the side seam initially goes through the lining of the front only, the front is then folded over top, and top-stitched in place. Simultaneously, the skirt was pleated so it would fit the bodice.

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Folding over the front of the bodice to be top-stitched to the back

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Pleating the skirt

 

Then came the second fitting, in which the skirts were fitted, and the sleeves set. The skirt has a hem which is on grain, so the length difference between front/back/sides is taken up at the top. The sleeves were pinned to the bodice in this fitting, and the cuffs were set.

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Fitting the skirt to the bodice, ensuring a level hem.

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Setting sleeves

 

The final steps were to set the sleeves, sew on the skirt and cuffs, and fix the shoulder straps in place!

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Sewing in the sleeves

 

One of my favorite things about witnessing the whole process were all the little quirks of the original dress which came to light. On first glance, it looks like a fairly typical 18th century dress, but this recreation highlighted a couple of oddities. Firstly, the style of the dress, which is actually relatively old-fashioned. The wide back-pleats and winged cuffs are typical of the 1740s and 1750s. However, the green deye used was patented in 1775, which makes the family story of it being Isabellas wedding dress in 1785 very likely.

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The cuff on the original

 

Some construction choices were also unusual. Both the front and back of the dress were cut on the straight of grain, while fronts were usually cut on the bias to form around the body better. It also features tilted lacing strips sewn to the inside, which is uncommon (especially the angle). These might have been there to help keep the bodice smooth around the body.

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Showing the lacing strips on the inside

 

The sleeves of the original were also set a bit unusually, in that they were caught in the back underneath the outer pleat. This shows that the pleat was stitched in place after the sleeve was set. The final oddity in construction was the skirt attachment. Usually, skirts are pleated and then seamed to the bodice. But in this dress, the pleats are first folded over, whip-stitched to keep the fold, and then stitched to the bodice through all layers. This creates quite a bit of bulk in that seam!

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The original dress. You can see the sleeve being caught in the back pleat, and the tiny stitches at the top of the sleeve, holding the lining in place.

 

Finally, there were some simple ‘mistakes’ made on this gown, most notably in the sleeves. The sleeves are taken in at the top, indicating that they were originally too wide. There is some piecing at the bottom, so they were also a bit too short. But then they were too tight at the bottom, which was fixed by a simple ‘slit’ at the bottom, which was then covered up by the cuffs. This was recreated in the new dress. Finally, the original also show that the lining of the sleeve was a bit too short, as it does not go all the way to the shoulder. The original shows a little line of stitching at the top of the sleeve, catching the lining in place. Oops.

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Georgia showing what it was like trying to lift her arms before the slits in the sleeve were caught.

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A little slit hidden under the cuff fixes the problem!

 

At the end of two days of hard work, figuring out how to recreate the oddities, stitching seams, and answering our questions, the dress was done! Well, very nearly, as some final sewing to the shoulder strap had to be finished after the museum closed and we had to leave. But it was enough done to show us the final project, and they finished up the dress that same evening!

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I loved attending this event, learning more about this dress, and 18th century dressmaking in general. Seeing every step of the process really helps understand how these gowns were put together, and also puts into perspective how much work goes into it! If it looks quick from this overview, keep in mind that there were 7 experienced dressmakers working on this for two days! They had the major tasks of not just making a hand-sewn dress, but making a recreation of the Isabella dress, which definitely meant stepping outside of comfort zones and figuring out how to recreate some oddities. The interaction was also really lovely. Everyone was very generous in sharing their knowledge and experiences, and answering questions. Through learning about the little quirks, this dress really comes to live!

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The team:

Rebecca Olds: Timesmith Dressmaking (Project leader)

Lauren Stowell: American Duchess

Abby Cox: American Duchess

Peryn Westerhof Nyman: Isabel Northwode Costumes

Katy Stockwell: Regency Regalia

Alexandra Bruce: Alexandra Bruce Costumes

Georgia Gough (Model)

Flora Macleod Swietlicki 

 

The fabric was woven by Prickly Thistle, The Inverness Museum and Art Gallery is the current custodian of the dress (although it’s still privatly owned), the National Museum of Scotland, hosted this event and currently exhibits the dress (until November 10, 2019)

For updates on the project, (talks, and a documentary which is in the makes), keep an eye on the Timesmith Dressmaking facebook page.

Chintz in the Rijksmuseum

In March, I visited the small chintz (Chintz – Global Textile) exhibition at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. I went looking for one of my pictures today, and suddenly realized I completely forgot to blog about the visit. So here’s me making up for that! (If you’re curious about chintz itself, I have some info on that here as well)

The exhibition was small, just a single room, but it had some stunning pieces. The Rijksmuseum is not focused on costume, but it does collect things which have to do with Dutch history and identity. Chintz is one of those interesting things which was originally exotic, made abroad, and yet became a part of Dutch heritage. Through trade initially, and later on through it’s continued existance in traditional costume. The pieces in the Rijksmuseum were mostly 18th century, some wall hangings and fragments, other complete pieces of clothing.

 

To begin, they had a number of so called ‘japonse rokken’ (loosly translates to japanese robes), or banyans on display. Modelled after imported Japanese kimonos, they were worn by men and show the orignial use of chintz in more informal wear.

 

There’s quite a variety, I especially loved the red one as it reminded me of the early 18th century ‘bizarre’ silks.

 

They feature some nice details, such as the strips in the collar of this yellow-ground one.

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The one woman’s gown on display was this beautiful francaise. They have it photographed over wider hoops on the website, and given how it drags on the sides I suspect it would’ve been worn that way, not how it’s displayed here.

 

Despite the inherent formality francaises normally have, this one is relatively simple. It does not have any trim, although it does feature some very nice cuffs.

 

They did have some other women’s garments as well. Firstly, this lovely petticoat featuring some interesting scenes. Chintz was definitely not just about flowers!

 

Finally, there were two garments from the town of Hindeloopen, which had it’s own specific local (traditional) dress. First, this ‘wentke’, which is a long overcoat. The blue-white combination is typically worn for light mourning. Special about this one, though, was the silver on the chintz. (Do click on the right picture to see it better). It fairly sparkled in the light, it was so beautiful!

 

The other item was a ‘kassakeintje’, which is basically a shorter (cassaquin) version of the wentke. This is probably one of the most famous chintz pieces out there, most people will have seen the official photograph of the back:

Jak van sits, dat op een crèmekleurig fond grote bloemen en ruitpatronen toont, met als hoofdkleuren paars, roze, blauw en blauwgroen. Afwerking met roze-wit langettenband., anoniem, 1810 - 1820. Hindeloopen

The lighting was not as ideal in the exhibition of course, but this does finally give an opportunity to see the front! It’s also interesting how it, at first glance, seems perfectly symmetrical. However, once you look a little closer, you can see small (and some bigger) deviations from the mirrored pattern.  Especially in the purple waving lines at the bottom side/back of the bodice

 

I also took some pictures of the fabric. It’s truly stunning, I keep being awed by how pretty the colors always are in original pieces.

 

The back has gores to make it flare out, and all the seams have a tiny line of red contrast stitches about 1,5cm to the side. This is typical for the wentkes and kassekeintjes from Hindeloopen, I’ve never seen any without.

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Aside from the clothing, there were also some fabric pieces. These were some fragments. The first was a small piece, but special due to the gold on it.

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This was a larger piece off a role, a bit more ‘modern’ in style.

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Some piecing, which is always difficult to see in chintz.

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Finally, there was one large wall-hanging on a red ground. This fabric was so stunning, it was one of my favourites. You can see the age, and somehow it’s still so vibrant.

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The exhibition is on display until July 21st 2019, so there’s still a little time left to go see it! (Ask where to go at the info desk, it’s a huge museum, and a very small exhibition)