Monday, August 21, 2017

Day 21: UFO

For those of you who are unaware, in the sewing community the term 'UFO' usually refers to "UnFinished Object(s)". Although today also would have been a good day for a space theme, seeing as we had a solar eclipse!

I'm usually not one to have many UFOs lying about, because I'm usually sewing something with a deadline in mind, and I like to sew in my free time. However, I currently have two UFOs in my sewing [bed]room. The first is a set of regency short stays that I can't sew while I'm immersed in the 18th century, and the second is a gown I'm replicating.

The front of the gown - sorry it's a little wrinkled!
The back of the bodice - I just have to hem a few edges!

While I'm not certain how soon I'll finish the short stays, I'm planning on finishing the gown pretty soon. I just have to finish a few edges and sew a stomacher and petticoat, and I'm ready to go!

The front detail (which also needs to be hemmed)
The sleeves, which are finished, and which I absolutely love!

The gown itself comes from Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion, and is taken from the quilted white gown from Snowshill Manor. However, since I wanted something that would show a little less dirt, I decided to make the gown in a brown silk that I found on sale. It will still be warm in the autumn and winter, but I won't have to worry as much about leaving the house in it! However, I am considering eventually sewing another one out of pre-quilted white cotton, so that it will be quilted and white, but a little bit easier to clean.

My drafted pattern pieces, as well as the gown I'm copying

I started this project last summer, drafting the pattern from the book, and I cut out the fabric in the fall. Hopefully I'll have it finished with a post on the completed gown soon!

A throwback to the window seat in my last dorm with the flowers I loved, and the day when I actually put needle to fabric and started sewing this gown!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Day 20: Not in a Million Years

There are very few things that I won't sew, but I always said that the 20th century was far too modern for my taste... and then I sewed a bunch of 1950's dresses. Then I said that I would never use synthetic fibers again, and I also said that anything pre-1955 couldn't possibly be flattering to me and... I sewed a dress for the Christmas Eve service that completely ignored both those declarations!

It started out when I decided I wanted one of the red dresses from the movie "White Christmas", but then realized that those might be a little over-the-top for a Christmas Eve service. So, I reevaluated my options, and decided to sew something inspired by them instead. I used Vogue pattern 2401, which is from a 1952 dress, and pulled some fabric in the most Christmas-y of colors!

Tigger helps me cut out the fabric, "What? You want me to move? But I'm holding down the pattern pieces!"

I only had two days to work, since I got started on December 23rd, but luckily the dress came together quickly!

The bodice looks like a crop top from a Barbie doll I had!

Dusty Rose kept me company while I hemmed and finished the edges. My cats are the best part of sewing at home!

The finished product on the dressform - having a dressform definitely made this project a lot easier!

I tried it on, did my hair, and then headed to church!

You can't wear a vintage dress without a vintage coat!

I'm really pleased with how it came out, and with how easy it was to sew! So, even though I swore off the 20th century entirely, I expect that I'll soon be adding a few more garments to the already sizable pile of "modern" clothing that I own.


Saturday, August 19, 2017

Day 19: Ornament

This is the first post for this month that I really struggled with. I don't do a lot of ornamentation because so many of the things I make and wear aren't displaying that sort of wealth or that type of life style. However, I realized that there is one way I like to ornament my ensembles, and that's with a hat that makes a statement. Usually, that means a market bonnet!

I know that I've posted about market bonnets before, but I wanted to highlight the many different ways that they can be ornamented.

Plain black silk goes with pretty much every wardrobe - even in the 21st century!

While black was certainly the most common color, every now and then it's nice to be a little bit flashier - I trimmed this red silk market bonnet with scalloped while silk and a bow with pinked edges!

Here's another market bonnet that I made, this time a standard black bonnet with a pretty teal bow and scalloped trim!

And one of my more recent projects, a white market bonnet that I added scalloped green silk to this summer for a friend!

Market bonnets are a great statement piece for any wardrobe, and there are endless ways to ornament them! They're one of my favorite things to sew, and if you want one for yourself, send me an email and let me know (

Friday, August 18, 2017

Day 18: Fave Friday - Favorite Tool

            I don’t use a lot of tools in my daily sewing. Mostly, I work with a needle, thread, and a pair of scissors. Sometimes I use a cloth measuring tape, and every now and then I use marking chalk or a pencil. However, I do have one extra tool that I absolutely love – beeswax.
            When I was younger and just starting to sew, my Grandma gave me a sewing box for my birthday, and passed down some of her sewing kit to me. (You can see the pink-polka-dotted box if you look at my desk on Day 15!) One of the items in the kit was a cake of beeswax. I had no clue what it was, let alone what to do with it, and when I inquired I was informed it was so I could tell people to mind their own beeswax! I didn’t quite get the joke, but I carried it with me in my sewing box anyway.
            Once I started sewing all of my 18th century clothing by hand, and doing a lot more research, I discovered that it was helpful to run thread through a cake of beeswax before sewing with it, and once I tried it I couldn’t go back. The thread goes through so much easier, and it tangles a lot less. I also really like using beeswax, because it’s like incorporating a bit of my Grandma’s sewing into my own projects when I wax my thread with the cake that she gave me.

            You can get beeswax in all different forms; Jo-Ann Fabric sells it in tins, and I’ve bought some in Colonial Williamsburg in different animal shapes. I highly recommend adding beeswax to your sewing kit, even if you only hand sew every now and then – it really makes a difference!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Day 17: Written Source

In college, I was in a reenacting club, called the College Company. We were the best sorts of nerdy, which means that there was an abundance of inside jokes involving hilarious primary sources. One the best ones was over a "pantsless flaming shots party". While men's military fashion is not usually what I discuss, this source was too good to not post about!

And here's the article information from JSTOR, in case anyone wants to read the rest of it!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Day 16: Small Project

            If you’ve clicked back through my blog, or been following me for a little while, you have probably seen my post on garters. In essence, garters are a great part of 18th century material culture, because they could show off a lot of personality, as well as carrying important messages. Since I do most of my 18th century sewing at work, I like to work on projects that show a side of historical people most visitors wouldn’t have considered otherwise, and garters are a great way to do that.

            This month, I’ve taken a saying from an extant pair of garters, halte la, on ne passe pas (stop here, do not go further), and mixed it with a design found on other sets of garters from the period.

            It’s a nice way to work on my embroidery skills while also sharing a small peek into the personalities of the past. In 200 years, historians might find a Grumpy Cat t-shirt and wonder if its owner was particularly anti-social, or simply had a sense of humor. This is the same question we get to ask today when we look at garters like these, and it’s exciting for me to be able to connect the past to the present in such a vivid way.

I don't have a lot of information about these individual garters. I know they were used in a museum exhibition showing underclothes and accessories from 1812, but I also know that this style was seen as early as the 1770's. Furthermore, one of my colleagues who speaks French much better than I do pointed out that "la" should have an accent to indicate its use as a place and not an article. I don't know if this was optional in 18th century French, or if these were perhaps made/decorated by a young lady who was just learning French. After all, you can buy lots of shirts that say "amour" and "bonjour" on them today, why wouldn't French, the language of diplomacy, be just as popular for ornamentation in the 18th century?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Day 15: Workspace

            When I went apartment hunting, I had a few requirements. The place had to have a washer and dryer, the sink needed a garbage disposal, and there had to be an airy floor plan with lots of natural light. I also needed to be able to picture myself sewing there. The week before graduation I found a desk at a thrift store that I’m pretty sure was originally used in a hospital, and was also ridiculously heavy. With the help of two of my friends we moved it to the storage unit I had rented for the month, and after graduation we moved it into my new apartment, which met all of my requirements.
            The second I saw the desk I knew it would be great for sewing, with a sturdy work surface and a nice cutting space, as well as ample storage. I don’t have my own sewing room yet, but it occupies the sewing section of my bedroom, and is lit by the sunshine lamp my parents gave me for Christmas.

            I completed my sewing space by framing some postcards I had purchased in Bath, England, at the Fashion Museum there, as well as some fitting reproductions of World War II propaganda from the Imperial War Museum in London and a print picked up from a Colonial Williamsburg sale. I also hung a bulletin board so that I could pin up inspiration, primary sources, to-do lists, and fabric swatches, and my sewing books are lined up neatly between homemade seashell bookends.

Gowns from the Fashion Museum in Bath
My sewing books, sandwiched between seashells from Myrtle Beach collected post-graduation
My favorite print from the CW sale

            My fabric stash is in a tote in my closet, and my mannequin sits opposite my desk, easy to drape projects around.

            It might not be the giant sewing space with a full wall of windows I think of when I picture my ideal home, but for my first apartment I’m incredibly pleased!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Day 14: Dream Project

            I have always loved flowy, poofy dresses that use way too much fabric and are completely impractical. Therefore, my dream project is Scarlett’s Prayer Dress from Gone with the Wind. I do have a corset and a shift that are from the correct era, but my hoop skirt needs work (or I just need to sew another one entirely, I’m not sure), and I don’t have the right shoes. Even worse, the gown itself uses a ridiculous amount of fabric, and I don’t have a single occasion to wear it! However, I want to sew this ensemble something awful.

            I’m hoping that some ridiculous costume party or a crazy costumed ball will come up in the future so I have an excuse to finally toss my hair and say “fiddle-dee-dee” in the right clothing, but until then I’ll just stick to sketching the pattern and guestimating yardages in my notebooks!

Just look at how this dress moves, of course I want it!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Day 13: Pro Tip

I'd like to start off by saying that I've been sewing for 14 years, and my first thought when I saw this prompt was "But I don't have any pro tips!" So, while I have one very specific piece of wisdom to share, I'm also going to say this: Don't undervalue your work! If you've sewn something, that's awesome! If you messed up while sewing, you learned something, and that's awesome too! And if you did all three of those things, then you have more skills than you did before you started that project! After sewing my calash, I brainstormed a list of at least five things I would change if (when) I sew another one, and so my next calash will be even better! The one I just finished is good, but the next one will be great.

Okay, I'll get to my main piece of advice now:

            Invest in the nice fabrics. I spent so many years not being confident in my abilities, and telling myself, “If I save money on fabric now, I can buy the nice stuff in a few years when I’m better.” That’s bad advice. What actually happened was I ended up with a bunch of well-constructed and researched garments that I can’t wear because they’re made of polyester and fake silk. Sure, if you’re making a mock-up you can use the poly-taffeta from the $2 sale at JoAnn’s, but for your final project it’s worth it to spring for the nice silk. Fifteen dollars a yard may seem like a lot, but it’ll end up in a project that can be worn for the rest of your time reenacting, altered to fix small mistakes as you learn better, and, if worse comes to worst, you can refashion it into something else entirely, just like they did in the 18th (or 17th, or 19th, etc.) century!

It's beautiful! It's researched! It's well-fitted! It's... polyester??

            For me, I realized that I had to go big or go home on my 21st birthday. I had spent months working on a zone-front gown that I put so much research and time into, but I made it out of modern materials. The gown was beautiful, and I was so proud of it, but I wore it on my birthday and I will probably never wear it again. Even though I loved wearing it on my birthday, that day was also tinged with a bit of embarrassment at having a gown that was noticeably out of place among the rest of the linen and silk in Colonial Williamsburg. So, I started investing in nicer fabrics, and now I can wear my creations forever.

            And yeah, don't break the bank if you're uncertain about something. Cotton muslin is cheap, it's even cheaper when you have a coupon, and it's great for making multiple mock-ups. But linen doesn't have to be expensive - I get most of mine from Dharma Trading Company or (wait for their sales, that's even better!). Silk can be found at Silk Baron, and I wait for sales in Colonial Williamsburg to buy their printed cottons. Finally, my favorite place to shop for all natural fabrics (and anything else I could want!) is Burnley and Trowbridge. I trust their products, they go to lots of events so you can buy in person if you don't want to wait for shipping/like to touch things before you buy them, and they are some of the nicest people with the cutest dachshunds you'll ever meet! 

            Have faith in your abilities! It’s better to learn with linen and silk than it is to learn on polyester anyway!

Day 12: Garment

            Most of the things that I sew are garments, so there’s a lot that fits into this category for me. I decided to post about my caraco, because I just finished it last month and I haven’t shown it off yet.
            Much like my calash, this project was also started last summer. I cut out the pattern pieces, and then had to move back into a dorm and promptly lost my will to do anything the second I discovered that my room for the next year was completely lacking an overhead light and was in a constant state of shadow. So, the fabric sat untouched, and the pattern got wrinkled in a tote while I finished my senior year of college. However, upon graduating and moving into an apartment that was much more habitable, I pulled out all of my sewing projects and got back to work!

            The gown itself was very straightforward and easy. I used the J.P. Ryan pattern, with only a little bit of piecing on the skirt to accommodate the guestimated amount of fabric I had bought the previous May during a sale.
            The ruffles on the cuffs were where I really enjoyed myself though. The fabric of the gown was a printed cotton chintz, but I made the ruffles out of linen, because I just had to. I always forget how much I love to work with linen until I’m sewing it, and this was no exception.

            Because I sewed this gown at work, I don’t have any pictures of the process, and because the pattern was of the best quality I don’t have anything out of the ordinary to say regarding the construction of the caraco. I’ll close on this note: I sewed this garment at work, and so a lot of visitors asked me what I was working on. That usually resulted in me trying to compare different garments to modern clothes, and uttering the phrase, “A caraco is like church clothes or an outfit you would wear to work.” That’s a very rough and inexact description, but it seemed to help most people understand. Unfortunately, you just can’t get into the intersectionality of clothing styles, textiles, and social class in a two-minute interaction!

Here's the look from the side - please excuse the weird flaring from the base of my stays, they're too big and my new ones are still being worked on!
            If you want to make one of these for yourself I highly recommend it. J.P. Ryan’s pattern is fantastic, and it’s enjoyable to sew. Also, how cute is that ruching band?? And, if you want any tips, advice, or simply want to talk about your latest project, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment or send me an email! 

*This post should have been published on Saturday, August 12th. However, I was returning from vacation and still needed to take some photographs before I could show it to the world!

Day 9: BIG Project

            So, every now and then you see something, whether it’s in a store, on the screen, or in a book, and your first thought is, “Well, that’s just ridiculous”, followed up immediately by, “I must have it.” That was the story of me with the calash. I saw it in the Milliner’s Shop in CW when I was young, and after the half second required to make a face at how ridiculous it was, I decided I needed to sew one someday.

Some period depictions of different calashes

            Last summer, I sincerely thought about starting one, but I didn’t have any fabric suitable for it. I wanted to make one that was green silk, with a pink or red lining, since I had plenty of documentation for 18th century calash bonnets fitting that description. (There are so many shapes, sizes, and colors of calash bonnets though, check out the MET's collection!) I found a bargain on green silk and ordered it last August, and then in March of this year I found some pink linen that I loved at the Fort Frederick Market Fair. One of my friends had some reed she was giving away, and with that, my calash was born.
            I started by analyzing the calash from Fitting and Proper, and replicating the measurements at their full scale. From there it was simple straight sewing to make the rectangle with all of its boning channels and gathers, and then add some ruffled edges and insert the boning.

My half-gathered silk in one of my favorite break rooms/sewing spots at work
            The biggest challenge was probably trying to keep my stitches invisible – no matter what color thread I used, it would show through on one of my layers. I experimented with different stitches, keeping them discreet, and eventually found something I was happy with. If I was to do this project again, I might consider using tapes to make the channels on the linen lining, and then pick-stitching the green silk over top. However, this method was certain cheaper and faster! I am also contemplating making another with just the green silk, and folding the silk around the reed to sew the channels that way. It would be lighter, and would also solve the problem of visible stitches.

Sewing gathers after boning channels
            One of the things that really excited me about this project was how much I would get to learn. In addition to the basic research one does when they undertake a historical sewing project, I also realized that I would be learning more about how an 18th century lady carried herself. As I sewed, I interpreted the project, and found guests asking the same questions I had been asking myself: Would it really balance on my shoulders with just the small ruffle and tie? Would it actually stay up like I wanted it to? What if my arm got tired from holding the ribbon? (I especially love questions like that last one, asked by a very young girl. The smallest visitors usually have the most insightful questions regarding the practicalities of everyday life that would otherwise be overlooked.)

At this point, most visitors who saw me working remarked that it looked like an accordion or a caterpillar! You can also see some of the reed I used in the lower right corner.

All of the cane cut to length and inserted into the channels - it was quite the monstrosity at this point! (And I can't wait to make an even bigger one!)
            However, once I finished the calash, I had answers! I still haven’t added the ribbon, but if your arm does get tired, it’s okay – the calash stays up on its own! I don’t know if I could run in it, or if it would stay put in gale force winds, but I am certainly able to walk around and go about my business at work with it on.

            So, for a project I spent a month affectionately referring to as my ‘starburst watermelon hat’, I’m pretty pleased with my fancy outcome!

*This post should have been published on Wednesday, August 9th. However, I was on vacation and was not able to photograph everything before leaving

Friday, August 11, 2017

Day 11: Fave Friday - Favorite Fabric!

            It’s really hard for me to select a fabric that’s my favorite, but I’ll do my best!

-In terms of type of fabric, I absolutely love working with linen. It’s comfortable to wear, it’s easy to care for (just wash and dry it on hot before cutting/sewing!), and I can sew with it in any weather – I sewed the apron you saw yesterday in pouring rain! There are also multiple fantastic resources for linen, and it’s cheaper than wool or silk.

-In terms of an individual fabric that I’ve personally worked with, it’s still difficult to narrow it down, but I’d have to choose my sewing scissors cotton. I wanted a fabric that showed off my love of sewing, while being versatile enough for me to wear anywhere. I sewed a dress that I can wear to church, parties, or just around town, and I usually get asked if I sew/about my sewing when I wear it.

-In the miscellaneous section, I like fabrics with fleur de lis-esque designs, novelty prints, and anything with polka dots!

One of my favorite fabrics, a fleur-de-lis in blue given to me for Christmas (I made a dress for my birthday out of it!)

A hilarious novelty fabric that I own; I think the only way I could use it would be for ridiculous throw pillows or a pillow case!

A super cute novelty print I saw on JoAnn Fabric's website!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Day 10: Visual Source

            As an interpreter in Colonial Williamsburg, I’m in costume every single day. While I sometimes wear my own 18th century clothing after sending it through the review board, most of the time I wear clothing from my allotment, made by our Costume Design Center. About a month ago, I paired my brown jacket with my blue petticoat, and one of my friends told me that I looked like a painting she knew!

The Chocolate Girl, by Jean-√Čtienne Liotard, 1745

            Obviously, I looked it up, and the similarities were striking.

            It only took me a moment to decide to replicate the rest of the outfit (and maybe the petticoat and jacket eventually, but not quite yet). The apron would be easy to make, and the cap, while slightly different than other caps that I’d made before, wouldn’t present too much of a challenge.

            For the apron, I was fortunate that I had a length of linen in my sewing stash, so I whipped up a pinner front apron using the portrait and a few other extant garments as my references. I mostly used the apron from Costume Close-Up, although I altered a few of the measurements to make it fit both my body proportions and the look of the portrait better.

            The cap was a bit different, since I had to do some more guess work and a lot more research, but it did come together. You’ve probably already seen my post from Day 2, but if you haven’t you can go back and check it out.

            The final step was to stage a photo shoot in the only place that made sense – the Charlton Coffeehouse! They serve sipping chocolate made using an 18th century recipe, and so I posed with one of their trays and some china, and the help of a few of my friends.