Display matters

I love browsing through the internet looking for historical dresses. There’s such richness out there, so many gorgeous examples. I find that it’s also very important how a dress is presented though. I recently found some photos of dresses on the hanger, or laying flat, and it’s such a shame. Clothing is 3-dimensional, and not meant to lie flat. I often tend to skip over badly photographed items, which is actually a shame, because the dresses themselves can be quite gorgeous.

In this post, some images on how much presentation matters.

Dress, ca. 1810-1815

Dress, ca. 1810-1815


The same garment, one on the hanger, with bad lighting. The other on a proper mannequin, with studio light. Look at the difference this makes!

Some more regency examples:


Dress, ca. 1800-1810

Gown, ca. 1810

The same two gowns. The studio lighting does so much more for the fabrics!


Gown , ca. 1800-1810

Gown , ca. 1800-1810. The bow in the front adds so much!


While for these regency dresses the difference is big, it becomes even greater when considering other silhouettes. Regency dresses are supposed to fall straight, but when hoops and bustles and corsets come into play, the silhouette is very different.

Bodice, 1873/1874

So much prettier when it’s filled out!



The left dress is the same. Look at the difference a good bustle makes!


This post is mostly a note to myself: to not dismiss dresses just because they’re not photographed well. And let’s just hope that all museums will make good inventory images in the future!



Europeana Fashion

I think many people already heard about this initiative, but it’s so great I wanted to share it here.

Europeana Fashion is a new website which aims to bring together the fashion collections of different European partners. Basically, it’s a very large online museum collection database of 22 collections, all catered to fashion and fashion history. The great thing is that everything is in one place, and that many of the collections were not digitally accessible before! There’s info on every item, and often also a link to the original museum website.

The exhibition in the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag about which I wrote a while back included many dresses which were not in the online collection. So I was pleasantly surprised when I found that they were participating in the project, and many of the dresses in the exhibition are now indexed and online! I was also surprised to see how many more dresses they actually had in the collection. The exhibition was quite large, but I don’t think they displayed even a third of what they have. It’s a shame there’s no permanent exhibition! Because of the difficult searching, I saved many dresses from the museum to a pinterest board. Only the ones which are photographed well are included though, many dresses only have bad photo’s, taken on a hanger. Dresses which should be worn over a hoop and corset don’t do so well on the hanger…

The only downside to the website is that you can’t search by year, and that many key-words are in their original language. This makes searching a bit difficult. It’s a great place to just browse and be inspired though.

In this post, some of my favorite dresses from the Gemeentemuseum, in pretty professional pictures. (I’ll probably do some follow-up posts with my detail shots from the exhibition included!)

Evening gown, with gorgeous embroidery on the hem

Silk striped dress, the top of the skirt is pieced together, and the ribbon here hides a horizontal strip of fabric for the ‘waistband’. Saving fabric!

I’m in love with this dress. So many gorgeous details of lace, pintucks and inserts.

Photo’s don’t do this justice. It’s black, velvet and lace, with bright orange detailing and loads of shiny beading.

1830’s wedding dress. I’m usually not a fan of this period, but I actually really love this dress. All those pleats in the sleeves!

Pink silk and lace. There’s something so elegant about this.

The details in the beading in this dress are gorgeous.

This was one of my favorite dresses in the exhibition, and it’s such a shame that it wasn’t displayed so well. It was near the end of a display, with dresses surrounding it, making it difficult to see details.

1860’s Ballgown bodice

My 1860’s ballgown bodice is done! Over a year after first drafting the pattern, but it was always meant to be a long-term thing. I drafted the pattern back when making the dinner bodice, just as a try out. I then cut the fabric a little while later, because I also wanted to make my Irish dance dress out of the same velvet. Luckily, I had enough!  The construction was started a couple of months ago. I’m afraid I didn’t take a lot of progress pictures…

This was the drafting stage

The front. Don't mind the ugly left part, that was just for fitting and I didn't have enough fabric.

The front. Don’t mind the ugly left part, that was just for fitting and I didn’t have enough fabric.

And here I’m planning the lace trimming. I looked at a lot of extant ballgowns, and most actually have more complicated trimming. I really liked the lace though, and even though you see this more on 1850’s bodices, I decided to go with 2 rows of lace. It could be a re-fashioned bodice, right?


Planning the trimming. I decided I liked the lace sleeve best.


The bodice is made with a point in front, just in case I ever want to wear it over my skirt. I have a belt for the skirt with a big bow though, and I love the bow, so I’ll probably tuck the bodice into the skirt. So, now onto the photo’s of the finished thing! (The lace is nearer in color to the velvet in real life. The lace reflects much more light, and these photos were taken with a flash because it was dark, so it show up a little lighter).



And the back:


You’ll have to forgive my dress form for not filling up the bodice completely, it’s just a bit smaller than me in the waist. Wrinkles should be a lot less on me! (photo’s with the dress on me will follow soon hopefully)

The trim is 2 rows of lace on the neckline and 1 on the sleeves.


2 rows of lace on the neckline and 1 around the sleeves


The back has little hand-sown eyelets (20 of them… why do I keep doing stuff like this?) and laces closed. They’re not extremely even and round, but overall I’m happy with them.


Eyelets. There’s 2 more at the top (between the layers of lace) and 2 more at the bottom


And with the skirt! (and new 1860’s hoop!)


A timeline in green

Because I love green, and always like time lines of fashion. This is by no means a complete overview of clothing in a certain era, but just a list of my own favorites.

15th century

Rogier van der Weyden, The Magdalen Reading, c. 1435–1438. National Gallery, London.

Hugo van der Goes detail – Margherita Portinari, Netherlands, 1476–78.

16th century

Bartolomeo Veneto 1530

Lavinia FONTANA (Bologna 1552 – Rome 1614) Portrait of Laura Gonzaga in Green

17th Century

Princess Mary Henrietta (1631–1660), Princess Royal, Princess of Orange by Gerrit van Honthorst National Trust – Ashdown House


Evening dress, 1680’s-90’s

18th Century

Jacket and Petticoat 1730s Nasjonalmuseet for Kunst, Arketektur, og Design

Portrait of Juliane Fürstin zu Schaumburg-Lippe c.1781 (Johann Heinrich Tischbein the Elder | The Athenaeum

19th century

Centraal museum Utrecht (ca. 1805)


Redingote 1819 costume parisien

Gown circa 1830

McCord Museum, late 1840’s

MFA, about 1865



Ball gown, Jacques Doucet, 1898-1900.


And a timeline!


Edwardian corset progress

A while without any sewing posts, but I have been, I promise! My 1860’s ballgown bodice is almost done (a post will follow when it’s complete), and I’ve been working on my Edwardian corset. In this post some progress on the latter. All photo’s were taken with my phone, and sometimes in bad light, but I wanted to register progress closely this time and this was the easiest way.

I started with tracing the pattern and cutting the pattern pieces (I’m using Truly Victorian E01). After this, it was mock-up time!


I’m always a bit lazy, so while I wouldn’t skip a mock-up of such a close fitting garment, I usually just pin it together to check for fit. I also included a panel at the center-back because I don’t have lacing yet. The mock-up fitted all-right. It seemed a bit loose at the top, but Edwardian corsets aren’t really meant to support much anyways. I figured that if it would turn out too loose, I’d just stuff in extra padding, because that’s what they did back then as well. Next step was cutting the fabric!



The strength-layer.



And the silk. This was really scary! Next to cutting was marking all the pieces. This is especially important in corset patterns, because it isn’t always obvious which piece is which at first glance.



Marking always takes so much longer than I initially think… Next up was flatlining the strength-layer to the silk. The pattern I’m using calls for a single-layer corset, so I sewed the strength-fabric to the silk around the edges.


Flat-lined pieces. It’s already pretty! The construction was next, and started with inserting the busk at the center-front. My busk was slightly too long, so I needed to shorten it first.


After cutting it off, I filed the edges to be smooth and used plumbers-tape to protect it further. (I wouldn’t recommend the cutter I’m using by the way, I need to get a new one).


For the loop side, I sewed the facing to the center-front piece, leaving gaps at inter falls for the loops to fit through. This is what it looked like right sides together.


And right side. Next I put the busk in between the seam allowences, with the loops sticking through the holes. I then sewed the facing in place next to the loops. The other side was similar, but here I sewed the facing on normally, and then poked holes through the Center-front piece to fit the knobs through. Next up, construction time!



This is always the stage I like most, because you can see the corset coming alive. This photo is of all but the center-front piece sewn together.



After sewing and pressing open the seams, some of the curved seams were ironed to one side and top-stitched to secure them more. This was scary, because I’m using slightly contrasting thread and I wanted it to look pretty on the outside as well.



I think it turned out pretty nice! These are the seams at the frond of the corset.



Time for the eyelets! At the center back, I attached the facing and sewed 3 lines of stitching. The first to form the first boning channel, a gap for the eyelets, and then another 2 lines for the second boning channel. I initially wanted to use an awl to poke the holes for the eyelets as the silk frays, but I couldn’t get the hole big enough. I ended up cutting the holes with the eyelet-tong, and using fray-check to keep the fabric under control. I tested it on a scrap, and it looked pretty sturdy, so hopefully it’ll hold. And then I put in all the eyelets! They’re 5 mm prym eyelets.


Next is planning the boning channels. They’re internal tubes, and I sewed together 3 cm biasbinding to create the channels as I couldn’t find pre-made anywhere. The pattern called for 4 channels in the front, but I could only fit 3.


Sewing the channels in. I also added a waist-tape. The pattern doesn’t call for it, but it’s supposed to increase sturdyness.


And then, cutting the boning! Cutting, filing and taping the bones.

This is where I’m at now. I’m having a slight delay, because after sewing on the boning channels, this happened:


Wrinkles! It’s not entirely avoidable because of the thin silk, but it’s not very pretty either. I strongly suspect that using a special sewing foot will help decrease this. It happens because the top fabric and bottom fabric are moving at different speeds through the machine, and there are foots which help getting things aligned again. As turns out, the machine I’m using comes with such a foot, but it’s at my mother’s, so I don’t have it yet. I’ll probably unpick some of the boning channels and test re-stitching them very carefully to see if I can decrease the wrinkles. It’s a bit of a set-back, but I really want this corset to turn out really nice. I already invested in the fabric and lace, and I’m planning on spending even more time on flossing and I’d hate to end up thinking I could’ve done more to make it as nice as I can. It will probably always have some wrinkles, but I want to have at least tried.

So I’m now waiting for when I can get the foot, and then I’ll be able to continue! Meanwhile I’ve been working on other stuff, so my ball-gown bodice is now nearly done and should be posted about in a couple of weeks.