The fancy spencer

Today 200 years ago Jane Austen passed away. I originally thought of doing a post with pretty pictures of black and mourning dresses from around that period, but then I remembered I hadn’t written the blog for this red spencer yet. It’s a jacket which is inspired by one ca. 1820, so I’d say 1817 is reasonable enough as a date. As it’s also  nicer to see finished sewing then pretty pictures (no matter how much I like those), I decided it was a good moment to finally write this post. So, in honor of Jane:

This project has been a while in the making. I originally got the fabric a little over 3 years ago. When I planned to make a white-red regency dress, I also wanted to make a red spencer jacket to go with it, in the same red fabric of the dress details. That particular dress didn’t actually get made until last year, and once I knew exactly how much fabric I had left I started on the spencer. Now, nearly 1,5 year later, it’s done!

My previous spencer was dark blue wool, and quite simple. For this one, I therefore wanted something rather more fancy, and I really loved the decoration of this one from the MET. It has a sister with the same decoration, and the close-up pictures allowed me to clearly see the patterns.

My first order of business was to decide on how to recreate the decoration. I quickly decided I wanted soutache braid, as that would save me the trouble of making all that self-fabric cord. So I went looking for a suitable matching red soutache.

This took a while… I eventually found a beading store with many types of soutache though, and although the match wasn’t absolutely perfect, it was close enough to not matter.

Before starting the braiding though, I did a bit of a practise run drawing the little cord through the soutache to create the curves. I quickly ran into a problem: by drawing the soutache over the cord with my fingers, it frayed terribly. I couldn’t really see a way around this as the pattern was super curvy and I wanted the soutache to lay flat. So I decided to not use it after all (anyone ideas on what to do with 9m of red soutache?).

So: next plan. Making the cord myself after all… This took some fiddling to find the best method. My fabric is rather sturdy and not very thin, but I did want thin cords. So I didn’t put a cord inside. (I also didn’t really know how to do that at the time, but have since seen the method shown by Walking Through History which also creates lovely results. Much quicker than my way, but with a cord inside so a little thicker). Not using a cord meant stitching fabric strips into tubes by hand. I experimented a bit with different widths, and eventually settled on the thinnest still workable; 1cm wide. I also tried cutting them on the straight of grain first (much more fabric efficient), but the tube didn’t curve as nicely as when I cut them on the bias, so bias it was.

Transfering the pattern, fraying soutache, and comparison of fabric tubes. The top right image shows the same tubes as the bottom row. First is 2cm wide straight of grain; that gave wiggly curves. Second 2cm wide on the bias. Loads better, but still a bit squiggly. The third is 1cm wide on the bias, which is what I went for

 

And then came the sewing of fabric tubes. I kept a little bag with cord and thread and took it on the train with me every once in a while, and spent a fair number of evenings on the couch sewing.

Strings of cord starting to appear

 

I estimate I do about 10cm in 20 minutes, as it’s quite fiddly work. I also measured I’d need about 3,75 meters of cord for one side of the spencer. That’s about 7,5 meters of tube. At 30cm per hour. Suffice to say, this took a while. I had half of the cord done by summer last year and started to sew that part on.

 

It got taken on a couple of holidays. Below in sunny Portugal last summer, almost half way with the first side.

 

The first side was done briefly after that holiday. Slightly blurry picture because it was dark, but with the shadows it shows the relief nicely.

 

The other side took a bit longer as it took a backseat to the bustle dresses I worked on between September and May. But, eventually, it got done!

 

Once I finished the trimming, I put together the spencer quite quickly. I’d already cut all the pieces before, which really helped. I also had an photoshoot coming up where I was going to wear my red-white dress, and figured it’d be the perfect first outing for the spencer as well. Some more hasty sewing ensued, and eventually I got it done before the event!

The sleeves were the trickiest part to finish. I’d already started on their decoration as well and all the parts were cut out, but I did that over a year ago, so it took a little figuring out. My main inspiration was this spencer, also from the MET.

 

I started experimenting by twisting strips of fabric around another strip.

Experimenting to determine strip length needed. Looks very pretty no? 😉

 

I ended up using wider strips than the example and just 4 per sleeve. The strip around the arm is narrower and plain, the other strips I piped first.

Two fabric strips, piped on both sides and then turned inside out to show the right side.

 

I then twisted the piped strips around the plain one to get the twisted effect.

Sewing the twisted strips on.

 

I’m quite happy with the result, even though its a bit simpler than in the inspiration picture, and I’m happy I didn’t just do a simple plain sleeve. With how decorated the front is, it needs the slightly more fancy sleeves.

Pinning to the sleeve before setting it in.

Done!

 

I finally added a little collar. I’d originally cut this quite a bit larger but because the neckline is not all that high and I didn’t want to hide too much of the cord I narrowed it a bit.

Photoshop is good for determining shape. I wasn’t sure I even wanted a collar, but after drawing one on my picture I decided to make one after all.

Close up. Luckily the collar doesn’t hide the trim too much.

 

The spencer closes center front with hooks and eyes. The bottom is finished with a plain fabric strip, the end of the sleeves with a double row of piping.

Double piping around the sleeves.

 

I don’t yet have all the pictures from the photoshoot, so a little teaser of me wearing the spencer, seen from the back! I really love how the red-white looks with the dress, spencer and bonnet.

Picture by Martijn van Huffelen

 

 

Sewing – Edwardian Hat & Jacket

My Edwardian outfit is now really done! I finished my hat last week, but didn’t manage to get the hairstyle completely right on the first try. This weekend I tried again, with a little more success. I also managed to finish my jacket last week, so I now have proper images of both! Hopefully, I’ll be able to wear the entire outfit in 2 weeks, provided it doesn’t rain that weekend.

The plan for the hat was ‘big’, and I was strongly inspired by this hat in the met:

I already had some black ostrich feathers from antique shops, and leftover black velvet.

I started with taking the dimensions from the inspiration and making a paper version. I then cut down the height quite a bit, because it looked strange, and ended up with this paper version.

The next step was to cut the buckram. Because I bought it in LA and had to take it home on a plane, it was folded:

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The brim of the hat was cut across some folds, and the buckram wasn’t flat anymore. So I wetted it, and placed it flat to dry in the hopes the folds would dissapear. Only problem: I needed something to keep it down which would still let it dry. So all the tea-lights I never light finally got a purpose! It looked a bit funny though…

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It turned out a little wobbly, but good enough. Next step, construction!

I folded the sides of the crown inwards and outwards by cutting slits into them, and then stitched this to the crown and the brim.

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Around the brim I put steel thread to strengthen it. This I attached by machine, which took some careful sewing, but I managed not to break my needle!

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So now I had a hat, but not a very pretty one. I covered the hat with black velvet. First the crown, which I stitched to the buckram around the sides. The side of the crown and the brim I sewed together, then putting it on by sliding it over the crown. I turned over the raw edge at the top to the inside, and turned the raw edge around the brim to the underside.

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The bottom I covered with black cotton, following a similar process as for the velvet. around the brim I turned over the cotton and sewed it to the velvet. Inside the crown, I just cut a rectangle strip and made a bag-like inside with a cord, so I can adjust the size of the crown on the inside. (clearer picture will follow).

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So now I had a fully covered hat! It’s still a bit plain though, so this is where the feathers came in. I had 2 of batches, one bigger than the other. It took some careful placing, but I managed to sew them all to the hat. I covered the end of the feathers with a velvet ribbon bow.

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So I now have a finished hat! I really love how big and dramatic it is. Even though it’s not perfect (the fabric around the crown isn’t as tight as I’d like, I’ll probably attatch it differently next time), I still think it’s a pretty good first hat!

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The inside can be made smaller with a piece of string. I don’t really need this with full Edwardian hair though! Pictures of me wearing it at the end of the post!

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I also finished my Edwardian jacket. I drafted the pattern myself, the plan was a jacket which was open in front to still show my blouse. I wanted it to reach just to the top of my skirt, have 3/4 length sleeves and velvet details. I didn’t plan on the lapels, but when drafting the piece of cotton I was using happened to have the perfect shape, so I kept them! I used a similar sleeve pattern as in my blouse, just with a little less width and a little shorter. I also pleated the sleeve caps instead of gathering. Pretty happy with how it turned out, I now have a proper walking costume!

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I hope to get pictures of the whole ensemble on me in a couple of weeks, but for now a picture of the hair/hat test!

foto van Myrthe Tielman.

 

This was the second attempt, as my hair needs to be pretty big to support the hat properly. I only had a hair rat for the front of my hair at first, and the hat kept sliding off. I also tried just back-combing, but my hair really doesn’t have enough volume for that to work. My attempt was for this hairstyle:

Wearing History Blog | French Gibson Girl Hairstyles, 1908 | Mirror Des Modes, May 1908:

I ended up buying 4 bun-filling rings for a sock bun, like these:

I cut all of them open and sewed them together into a big ring. This allowed me to put this on my head and use as ‘filler’ for the rolls. My hair is pretty thin and sleek, so I need filler. This worked quite well, and made my hair big and sturdy enough so I could put my hat on it and make it stay in place.

 

 

Inspiration – Edwardian tartan

After cutting the fabric for my Edwardian skirt, I realized I have enough left over to do something else with. I’ve been thinking on making a short jacket out of it, to go with the skirt. Not a full one, because the fabric is very busy, and I like the idea of showing off my blouse underneath. But it would make a nice ensemble. So I’ve been browsing for inspiration images, and additionally found some more images of Edwardian tartan/plaid/checkered ensembles. So it’s time for pretty pictures!

All images are from the 1905-1907 archive of the Dutch fashion magazine de Gracieuse.

 

 

Edwardian winter jacket

Last year I stumbled on an add on Marktplaats, a Dutch version of Ebay, advertising an old jacket. There were no exact dates, or provenance, just ‘antique 19th century’. But it looked really lovely, and for the asking price I figured I’d probably even want it if it wasn’t actually 19th century. So I bought it, and it’s absolutely gorgeous! Not entirely sure if the ’19th’ century is correct, but I’d date it between 1897 and 1910, so close enough. The inside is beautifully finished, and the trimming is obviously done by hand. It’s made of wool, and unlined. The only damage is that 4 of 6 buttons are missing, and the braid has turned slightly brown. This last thing is also what made me conclude on the dating, as there’s been some research to this type of discoloring. It probably happened in the early stages of viscose production and dyeing, because the proces wasn’t perfected yet, ageing turns the viscose brown. (There’s a full Dutch article on it here, based on research for a master’s thesis: https://www.modemuze.nl/blog/verkleuringen-bij-een-zwarte-damesjas).

I’m still planning to see if I can take a pattern from the jacket and the braid pattern, but haven’t gotten around to that quite yet. So for now, I just tried to take some proper pictures! There’s loads of them, so if you don’t like a lot of images maybe stop reading now. I personally always get frustrated when museums don’t post all views, so I tried to give plenty of perspectives!

The full jacket:

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Some detail shots of the finishing and the jacket on the dummy:

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The jacket closes with a double-layered flap which hides the buttons and buttonholes. Only 2 of the buttons are left, the others have fallen off.

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Some images of the construction and the jacket lying flat. The jacket is not lined, but all the inside raw edges are covered with tape including the arm holes, so it’s beautifully finished. The buttonholes are also obviously worked by hand, and the stitching of the braid shows on the inside. The collar has a facing for extra protection and two hooks and eyes to keep it closed. The tag is still included and says ‘Nouveaute’.

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Finally, I tried to take some images of the pattern of the braiding lying flat. Of course, it didn’t want to lie flat at all, so apologies if it’s still a bit wobbly. The braiding is gorgeous, and done by hand. I also appreciate how it’s not 100% symmetrical, there are some slight differences. That’s also the reason I tried to photograph both sides. When wearing the jacket, half of the braiding on the right side isn’t even visible, but the attention to detail is amazing. On the collar, both the inside and the outside are also decorated.

The left (viewer perspective) side of the front braiding.

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And the right side:

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The inside collar

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And the outside:

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Inspiration – Spencer Jackets

In december, the pattern company Sense & Sensibility had a sale and as their patterns can also be bought as e-patterns, I couldn’t resist. Paper patterns often involve expensive shipping, but an e-pattern will only cost printing paper, making it a lot cheaper and therefore not so bad if I never get around to working with them. I bought three patterns, the elegant ladies closet, with dress patterns, the regency underthings pattern and the spencer & pelisse pattern. I have a ‘want to-do’ sewing list which is way too long already, so I haven’t made any concrete plans yet, but I’ve started to look at inspiration pictures. Because I would really like a new dress, and I don’t really have proper stays, and it does get cold out without a jacket, and… You get the idea. So for now some pretty pictures of regency spencers.

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Kyoto costume institute

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Kyoto costume institute

Met museum

Augusta Auctions

Kulturen, Lund, museum

1807, Robertson – Andrew, Princess Amelia