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

 

 

Inspiration – Trimmed Regency outerwear

I’ve begun working on a new regency spencer, red to go with the red/white dress. I want this one to be a bit more fancy than my blue spencer, ideally with some surface decoration. So I went looking for inspiration images, and stumbled on a couple of spencers & pelisses which seem to have the same type of trim. I can’t be sure, but I suspect the trim is made with small tubes of fabric, which are then stitched on as a braid. This has the advantage of resulting in perfectly matched colors. There also seems a bit of a trend of flower/leaf patterns. I haven’t found a lot of examples, but enough to make me belief this was done more often. All of these are from ca. 1820.

So far, my plan has been to use soutache braid to decorate my spencer, but if I can’t find properly matching red braid I might try the fabric tube idea.

For this post, some pretty pictures!

The Met museum has 2 nearly identical spencers with a gorgeous trim design. This is the design I also plan to use for my red spencer.

Close-ups show the lay-out very well.

 

Another spencer in the Met which seems to use this technique has a more geometrical pattern.

A close-up shows the same fabric tubes. I especially love the sleeve treatment, and will try to copy it for my own jacket.

Untitled-1.jpg

 

Another one playing with lines, from the DAR Museum.

Eggplant-purple velvet and purple silk twill spencer, about 1818, from the DAR Museum, Washington DC. From the (John and Abigail) Adams family, possibly worn by a granddaughter.:

More wiggely lines, although a bit tricky to see with all the black, from the Germanischen Nationalmuseums.

This one is getting back into the floral theme. From the Chertsey Museum.

 

Spencers are most common, but I also found this pelisse is from the Museum of London. A lovely blue with a leaf/floral pattern, combined with embroidery.

But to really do it justice there’s the close-ups:

 

Regency spencer (and more) finished

When I decided to make a spencer jacket so I could wear my new regency dress outside, I also immediately had a whole other list of ‘things to make’. I needed a bonnet, and as my hands get very cold I wanted a muff. And as I was looking at fashion plates, I also noticed that there’s usually a chemisette worn beneath spencers, so I also wanted one of those. Only problem; I had about 3 weeks to make everything, while working full time and doing all other stuff I already planned. I started with the spencer, as seen in the previous post. After this, the priority was the bonnet.I managed to finish those on time, so I also made a muff. It’s so simple, but very nice with the cold weather! I made mine of white faux fur and lined it with white cotton. I also put some fiber fill between the fur and cotton layer, for extra isolation. Finally, I sewed hooks and eyes to the inside and made a ribbon. The hooks make the ribbon detachable.

For the chemisette, I based my pattern on one of the chemisettes in Janet Arnolds’ book. Of course, I loved the one with all the little pleating in front and mushroom pleated collar. I decided to just start with the garment and see how far I’d come, but I actually finished on time. I only made 6 pleats on each side of the front piece. Mostly, I must admit, because it was a pain to do and I thought it looked good enough this way. All the pleats are set in place by repeated ironing and then sown with tiny stitches to secure it. The collar I improvised, having no clue how to mushroom pleat a collar. This chemisette is also the first garment I completely sewed by hand!

20141204_203755

20141204_203822

20141204_203849

The photo quality is bad, but you can just see the tiny stitches to keep the pleats in place.

 

 

 

Last weekend, I wore the whole outfit, and had a lovely day. I made almost everything I’m wearing, with the exception of the leggings and thermo shirt underneath to keep warm. I’m wearing my stays, blue dotted regency dress, spencer jacket, chemisette, muff and bonnet. My friend took some lovely pictures of me.

IMG_0615

IMG_0617

IMG_0618

IMG_0623

Regency spencer jacket

Now my blue regency dress is done, I want to wear it and the next event is in a couple of weeks, so good news for me! The only problem, it’s outside, in the Netherlands, in December. So thin silk and cotton are not going to cut it. I therefore decided to make a spencer jacket. And a muff. And a bonnet. And if possible a chemisette. A bit optimistic, but who knows. In any case, the spencer has the priority here, and as I already had the pattern and fabric, this should be very doable. So two weeks ago I cut and printed and assembled the pattern. I made the mock-up and made adjustments. Last week, I cut the fabric, the lining, sewed them together and pinned the bodice together. Last weekend I assembled the pieces, made the collar and sleeves, put everything together and finished the raw edges. I even started on the button-holes. Because, of course, for a last-minute project it’s a good plan to make 5 hand-sewn button-holes. Well… at least it’ll be pretty when it’s done! At the time of writing, I’ve made 3 button-holes and attatched the buttons, so if I run out of time it will close with 3 instead of 5 buttons!

Finished pictures will come after the 7th of December, when the event has happened, but I have some construction pictures!

The spencer is made from light-weight blue wool, which is gorgeous, but should really be seen in daylight. My flash doesn’t do it justice. The lining is white cotton, and I used Sense & Sensibility’s spencer pattern, but adapted it to have a high closure and fit my figure a bit better.

The inside of the sleeves before attaching them to the bodice.

20141121_144134

 

 

Gathering the sleeve cap

20141121_144210

 

 

The bodice assembled, before finishing the edges and the sleeves.

20141121_144318

 

 

And from the outside, on my dummy

20141121_144436

 

 

And from the back.

20141121_144455

 

 

Pinning the sleeve into the arm-hole.

20141121_150849

 

 

And with the sleeves attatched and the edges finished. Pinned to close.

20141121_214229

 

 

Close-up of the sleeve cap. The color is a bit weird here, it’s prettier in person.

20141121_214321

 

 

From the back!

20141121_214340

 

 

And a little preview of it worn over my dress! I’m still in love with the fabric, this picture shows the color best.

 

IMG_0552

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.

 photo 890c2-spencer2bjacket_zpsl5evyhek.jpg

Kyoto costume institute

 photo 591bd-empire2_zps9otd2gvv.jpg

Kyoto costume institute

Met museum

Augusta Auctions

Kulturen, Lund, museum

1807, Robertson – Andrew, Princess Amelia