Category Archives: Projects

Pink Striped Silk Lisere 1760’s Gown

Unfortunately as I was rushing to get this completed in time for the First Annual Ft Ligonier 12th Night Ball, I did not get construction pictures.  But here is the gown finished:

1760’s Pink Silk Lisere Gown, with dyed American Duchess shoes and a pink Dames a la Mode necklace.

I used the Larkin and Smith English Gown Pattern, which I have used to make several other gowns so I know it fits!  I cut the bodice lining out of cotton canvas (less expensive than linen canvas) and assembled it to test the fit.   Knowing all was well, I cut out the bodice fronts and shoulder straps.  Then I measured for the back and cut out one long panel, long enough for a small train.

I made the center back pleat a little bit deeper than what is shown on the pattern, for two reasons: I wanted the stripes to slant out in an attractive way (so the pleat needed to be deep enough to take up a whole stripe) and I wanted as much fullness in the train as I could reasonably get.  Then I pleated in the en fourreau back pleats and stitched them down.  Actually at first I had them backwards and had to refold them!  Doh!

The pleated back.

Once the back was pleated, I could mount the gown on the lining.  I then cut out the side panels and joined them, measuring over the skirt supports on my dressmaking dummy to ensure the sides were long enough.  I used one full length of fabric for each side panel, which made the dress skirt three 60 inch panels wide (minus seam allowances and turn under at the side fronts).  This is very wide but again, I wanted the skirt to be very full.  I had to double box pleat the skirt to fit it into the waist.

The back with train. The train is the center back panel only – the side panels are regular length.

At that point, I started the petticoat.  I wanted a very wide ruffle at the bottom – it is 12″ wide.  I used a very narrow hem on the top and bottom and the hems are covered with trim.  A wide ruffle like this takes A LOT of fabric!  I box pleated it instead of knife pleating so that saved a little bit of fabric.  Knife pleats will take 6 times the circumference of your petticoat.  So if you are using 2 panels of fabric, you will need 6 full fabric widths of ruffle to go around it.  When you have a wide ruffle, this quickly uses up fabric!  At 12 inches per ruffle I could get 3 panels per yard, so the petticoat took up slightly more than 4 1/3 yards which is almost double what an unruffled petticoat would require (2 1/3 yards).  I left an inch of space between each box pleat so that ended up saving one length of fabric, taking 5 lengths to cut out the ruffle.

Close up of petticoat ruffle. It is sewn down at the top and about 5 inches down, both seams covered with faux fly fringe.

Next I did the sleeves.  The wrong side of this kind of fabric is pretty ugly, and I noticed originals tended to line the sleeve ruffles with a light silk.  So this is how I did mine.  I also lined the sleeves with the silk to avoid the bulk of a heavier fabric, and then applied the faux fringe trim over the edges.  I found this trim on Etsy.

Sleeve with lined ruffle and trim. The upper ruffle is not lined as the underside is not visible when worn.

Last was to tidy up and add the trim.  I box pleated the trim from pieces of fabric that were left over – they are pieced all over the place!  And that is period correct!  Even with a little over 11 yards of fabric, I still had only scraps left at the end.  I also did not make the box pleats on the trim very deep.  You only see them from the top, so who knows if they are 1/4 inch deep or 2 inches deep?  Using less depth saves a lot of fabric. 

Looking at originals on Pinterest, it seemed that during this earlier period it was common to have the trim – usually fly trim on originals – sewn over the raw edges of the trim rather than having the edges of the ruffles / rueshes free.  So that is how I did it.  I did zig zag over the edges of the trim before applying as this fabric is very prone to shedding strings everywhere.

Box pleated trim on the gown and skirt.

Last but not least – the stomacher.  I had a stash of maybe 6 yards of 2″ and a dozen yards of 1″ green silk ribbon in my stash which matched the fabric and trim very well.  It came from Farmhouse Fabrics, the color is leaf green.  I found it nearly impossible to match the shade of pink in this fabric.  I used the silk ribbon to make graduated size bows for the stomacher.  It looked a bit lean with just the 2 inch wide ribbon bows so I added smaller bows from the narrower ribbon in between, and also added bows to the sleeves.  The lace tucker attached to the stomacher I copied from an extant portrait.  It is made from about a yard of antique valenciennes lace, starched lightly so it would stand at attention and not flop forward.

Gown stomacher with silk ribbon bows and lace tucker.

The gown is accessorized with a pink paste necklace from Dames a la Mode and dyed shoes from American Duchess.  They are “Georgiana” shoes which are no longer in stock but she is always adding new styles!  I did a tutorial on shoe dying that can be found here.

The Engageantes (sleeve ruffles) were from the costume stash – I made them about 25 years ago to go with a different gown.  To fancy and fluffy for any sort of day dress, they were a great pairing for this extravagant gown.

Many thanks to Leslie Mack for taking these great photos and the video!

1760’s Pink Silk Lisere Gown


More to come on this gown – to get the maximum flexibility from this expensive fabric, I plan to wear it with different petticoats and stomachers.  Stay tuned!

18th Century Sewing Kit

A great thing to do at events is sit and sew!  Period correct activity + getting your hand sewing tasks done – what more could you ask for?  Add to this the endless problem of how to carry around all of your stuff – some of it modern that must be kept out of view – I decided it was time to put some more thought and effort into this.  I have a reproduction sewing box, but it is large and bulky to carry around.  I need something that fits in my carry all basket.

Work Bag, Pin Cushion, and Housewife   Looking around on the internet and Etsy for inspiration, I decided to make a work bag, a pin cushion, and a housewife sewing kit all with the same fabric remnant I bought years ago.  I found it on Ebay – SO SAD I was never able to find any more of it – like an entire bolt for a gown … Lucky for me it matched some silk I already had in the stash.

Nevertheless, I thought it would make a beautiful housewife, which is a sewing kit that folds up.  And is incidentally also good at holding cash, credit cards, and your driver’s license (he he).

The Housewife: has a space for scissors, two pockets, and a needle book.

There are a lot of ways to make these and different options.  Some have a pin cushion built into the housewife but I decided to make mine separately to make it less bulky.  I had a pattern which I adapted, since I wanted at least two pockets and a needle book.  The needle book is just 3 pieces of wool broadcloth trimmed to size with pinking shears and sewn down.  All of the pockets and accessory holders were sewn to the silk lining, then the lining was sewn to the outside cover and turned right sides out, and slip stitched closed.

The only thing I bought are some of the accessories!

Beeswax, Scissors, Bodkin, Stiletto, Tape Measure, and Thimble.

I had the beeswax  – which honestly will probably just be loose in the work bag – and the thimble.  The scissors, bodkin, and stiletto I ordered from Burnley and Trowbridge, the adorable hand labeled tape measure came from Fashionable Frolic on Etsy.

The Tools: Thimble, Tape Measure, Beeswax, Stiletto, Scissors, Bodkin.

What are they you ask?

  • Thimble – put over your finger to prevent the needle from poking holes in your finger.  Happens a lot if you don’t use one.
  • Tape Measure – measuring things, obviously.
  • Beeswax – running the thread through this before sewing helps avoid tangles.
  • Stiletto – for making holes in things.  Specifically, hand made eyelets.
  • Scissors – cutting stuff.
  • Bodkin – for lacing ties through casings, ribbon in insertion lace, etc.

This, plus some needles, a few pins, and a project – are the basics of a hand sewing kit.

Pins – speaking of, here is my matching pin cushion that has an attached ribbon so you can pin it to your apron or skirt.  In the 18th century pins are for more than just sewing.  Women’s clothing was held on primarily through ties and pins.  So you never leave home without extra pins!

And to hold it all, plus cell phone, head phones, car keys, etc is the work bag:

Work bag – just a draw string bag with a lining!

So now I am ready for some hand sewing this weekend!

Work Bag, Pin Cushion, and Housewife

Battle Of The Stays: RESULTS!

Phew that took a long time!  The worst part of making stays?  Binding.  Ugh took forever!  But they are finally done and photographed.  Photographing them was almost as much work as making them.  The photos were taken in two different sessions with helpers and with a selfie stick, so the hair and chemise change sometimes.  I learned a lot about how to do (mediocre) photo shoots though!  But here it is – a comparison between four different 18th century stays patterns.

I am a modern size 14/16 so this gives a good idea how these patterns will look on  the average lady of today.  Compared to the standard measurements of these patterns, I am slightly longer waisted between waist and bust, and slightly shorter waisted from bust to hip (details like that matter when making corsets).  My waist is wider than the assumed waist on the patterns because I am apple shaped, so I sized the pattern using bust size.  I am reduced three inches which is about the maximum for most 18th century stays.  They are not really designed for tight lacing.

High Level Comparisons

Stays: Larkin & Smith, Reconstruction History Front & Back Lacing, Reconstructing History 1790’s, JP Ryan Diderot Stays

Contestant # 1  Larkin & Smith Front and Back Lacing Stays

Larkin and Smith Front and Back Lacing Stays

I have worn these to several events and they are VERY comfortable!  Great for most of the 18th century, these will get you through both the French & Indian and Rev war (unless you are going super high style, then use the Contestant #4 JP Ryan stays).  These are easy to get on and off and give me a nice (as can be expected) figure.  The inner layers are cotton canvas and the outer covering is red silk; construction notes can be found here.  This pair is boned with synthetic whalebone, which is very light weight and thin.  It was also very easy to work with.  I highly recommend this pattern if this is your first pair of stays or if you only plan to make one pair.  The pattern is worth its weight in gold just for the amazing instructions!  Once you go through them, you can use the method on any pair of stays, including diagrams from costume books.  They are easy to fit, and stays without shoulder straps are easier to move around in.  Front lacing makes it so much easier to put them on and take them off by yourself.  Most of us don’t have ladies maids so this is an important consideration.  Here is how they turned out:

Front of red silk Larkin & Smith Stays – I thought about binding them in black but ended up using self fabric.  I like the black lacing which I used because I could not find ribbon in the right color.  Red is red, right?  Not!

Back of red silk Larkin & Smith Stays

Side of red silk Larkin & Smith Stays – pretty straight in front despite fat gut assuming you stand correctly and don’t try to be a fucking fashion model.  These stays have excellent tummy control!

Full side view red silk Larkin & Smith stays – standing straighter.  Boobs look better because I am using a cheat – stick a rolled up pair of socks under each boob.  Not kidding!  Makes a huge difference!  Apples on a tray, people!

Contestant # 2  Reconstructing History Front and Back Lacing Stays

Reconstructing History Stays

This pair of stays is longer than the others, and is boned with reed.  The reed is thicker than the synthetic whalebone, but interestingly my waist measurement ends up exactly the same in this one as the Larkin & Smith stays above.  Go figure!  The bust is two inches smaller as it is a much more long, narrow stay.  Perfect for the first quarter of the 18th century, and surprisingly comfortable!  I was not sure about the reed but it worked out quite well.  My only recommendation is to use steel bones on either sides of the eyelets both front and back.  I did use them in the back, but not in the front.  I could hear them complaining as I laced it up and I had to be careful to tighten it gradually or the reed would have snapped.  The inside layers are cotton canvas and the outer fabric is blue silk brocade.  Construction notes are here.  This pattern has great bang for your buck as you get four different stay designs, including the rare 1790’s stay (Contestant #3 below).  Drum roll please ….

Reconstructing History Blue Silk Brocade Stays Front – no room for “boob socks” in this long lean stay.  They pop out pretty good on their own.

Reconstructing History Blue Silk Brocade Stays Back – sorry this one came loose in back but I was too exhausted by this point to care.  It does lace evenly when one is not being lazy.

Reconstructing History Blue Silk Brocade Stays Side

Reconstructing History Blue Silk Brocade Stays Side – curving out at the bottom due to fat gut, but has a pretty straight line from waist to bust, where it shows.

Contestant # 3  Reconstructing History Wide Front 1790s Stays

Reconstructing History 1790’s Wide Front Stays

These are one of the two pairs of half boned stays, and for half boned stays I use spring steel boning.  The unique thing about these stays is the very wide front.  This is to help create the wide pooched out front bodices of the 1790’s.  They are also much shorter than the other three pair, so they are not as flattering by themselves.  However I do believe they will create the perfect silhouette for the 1790’s, which is not about looking thin!  They are lined with cotton canvas and the other covering is white silk taffeta.  As I plan to wear them under a chemise a la reine I wanted to stick with white that will not show through the thin fabric of the dress.  I cheated and used metal eyelets with cross lacing on these, because I was afraid they would be hard to lace up on me otherwise.  I also discovered that it does much better if I leave off the bottom three eyelets.  I cannot remember if I copied the eyelet placement from the pattern, but most likely not.  You really only need the eyelets to go down a couple of inches below the waist, and the ends – which are really tabs – know what to do.  Construction notes are here.  Without further ado ….

Reconstructing History Wide Front 1790s Stays Front Close Up

Reconstructing History Wide Front 1790s Stays Full Length

Reconstructing History Wide Front 1790s Stays Side – front pooching nicely.  Stuff a fluffy kerchief down the front and yur done.

Reconstructing History Wide Front 1790s Stays Back

Contestant # 4  JP Ryan Half Boned Diderot Stays

JP Ryan Half Boned Stays

This pair of stays is also half boned, and therefore boned with spring steel.  It has cotton canvas as the lining and green silk taffeta for the cover.  Interestingly this pattern has slightly different pieces for the outer layer, but they do fit together correctly.  I love the shape of these stays!  One of the differences between stays in the earlier part of the 18th century vs. stays from the latter quarter is the shape of the front.  Earlier stays have a conical front, that is a straight line from the waist to the top of the bust (tends to curve out a bit at the bottom on me, due to fat gut).  Starting around 1780, the stays began to curve outward from the waist to the bust.  This is most extreme in the example above but this pair is also cut that way, and is perfect for the 1780’s and into the 1790’s (before waistlines started to rise).  They are very comfortable, but somewhat challenging to get on and off by yourself, but it can be done.  I love how long and slimming they are!  They are good at what they do – I feel like I am wearing a lard tutu as it squashes all that fat downwards with great efficiency.  Don’t need as big a bum roll!  I had some fun with this one and the new selfie stick.  Pardon the side shot glasses – I just could not get a decent side view without being able to see.  Construction notes are here.  Last one!

JP Ryan Diderot Green Silk Stays Front

JP Ryan Diderot Green Silk Stays Front with Selfie Stick – you can’t see the lard tutu surprisingly.

JP Ryan Diderot Green Silk Stays Side

JP Ryan Diderot Green Silk Stays Back – lacing nice and even steven.

So there you have it!  Which one is your favorite?


Allegheny West Christmas House Tour 2016 – Garnet Bustle Dress Debut

December 10, 216

One of the nicest Victorian Era historic districts around Pittsburgh is Allegheny West.  Originally a different city (Allegheny City) it was built up right after the Civil War and has some really spectacular examples of Italianate and Second Empire stow row houses, and a few giant mansions.  Back in the 1970’s the city was selling them for a dollar.  Not kidding!  A DOLLAR.  My mother wanted to buy one but my dad was like, no way.  Long story short of why I don’t live there.

Anyway!  Lots of people did buy one and now most of the surviving houses are restored.  Many are done with period wall papers and furnishings and they are a delight to see!  Every year, since at least the 1980’s, they have had an annual Christmas House tour where you can see some of the houses.  I thought this sounded like a grand place to go in a bustle dress – they match the houses well!  Being kind of last minute, this year only four of us went, but I hope to make this into an annual event and draw in more people.  We met up with some friends from years ago who have been trying, unsuccessfully, for years to get the home owners to dress up in period costume.  And … they aren’t having it.  So … if you can’t bring Mohammed to the mountain, perhaps we can bring the mountain to Mohammed.

My husband Bill and I with our good friend Christina and Kevin, in front of a decorated mantle.

The rest of our photos were taken in Holmes Hall, a huge Renaissance Revival mansion.  Odd coincidence that back when I was researching how to paint my walls and ceiling for my Renaissance Revival parlor, I ended up using photos of this one as inspiration.

Painted ceiling at Holmes Hall, now owned by John DeSantis.

My painted ceiling and walls. The cat is the reason I painted them instead of using (expensive) wallpaper. She chews wallpaper!

Yes mine is not as elaborate, but even with the simpler design I barely managed to keep ahead of the guy putting up the woodwork, and I had a terrible case of tennis elbow for months afterwards.  But, it is cat proof.

So back to the photos!  I started this bustle dress several years ago as part of Jennifer Rosbrugh’s Bustle Day Dress class.   I got the skirt and overskirt most of the way done, and life intervened, and it sat for another year.  I took the class again this spring and finished most of the dress.  I planned 3 bodices and the first to be completed is the day dress bodice.  More details about the dress can be found in the portfolio page, here.

To say that this place has high ceilings is an understatement!

It was quite cold that and snowed during the tour, so I wore my ermine fur.  It is all antique and was purchased on Ebay.  The cape with lappets came from Scotland and is of 1930’s vintage, I think.  Someone was cleaning out a “Downton Abby” type house and selling all the stuff on Ebay!  There is a smaller wrap over it that is probably Victorian.  I am not sure how old the muff is.  It was all very warm!

Dress with matching hat and ermine fur set.

Closet of ermine set

Side …

And back ….

Closeup of back.

Day dress without fur.


Side Back

Back – interesting shot looking in the mirror.

Two shots of Bill and I


Part of the fun of putting together an outfit for an event is accessorizing!  In addition to the fur and matching hat, I wore Manhattan button boots from American Duchess, a pair of white kid leather gloves, a set of antique bohemian garnets that belonged to my great grandmother (brooch and earrings), and carried an antique Victorian purse.


I can’t wait for this even again next year!

Battle of the Stays: Contestant #2 Reconstructing History Front and Back Lacing Stays in Light Blue and Gold Brocade

RH Stays_

I also did a mock up of these stays, as they needed a bit of tweeking to fit me.  I made them longer overall, and I had to do some fiddling to get the tabs somewhat even especially using the front lacing option.  There are fewer pieces than the Larkin & Smith stays and none of them have curved 3D boning channels.  That said, I assembled them exactly the same as the previous post.

For these stays I will be using reed boning.  It is shown below on the right in comparison to a piece of synthetic whalebone:

Synthetic Whalebone vs Cane Boning

Synthetic Whalebone vs Cane Boning

The boning is a little thicker than the synthetic whalebone and a little harder to slide into the boning channels.  It does look interesting as it is rounder and has more texture.  It will be interesting to see how it wears in comparison to the synthetic whalebone.

The difference in construction comes at the assembly stage.  Sewing all of the pieces together using a hand whip stitch is a PITA!  So for this pair, I decided to try it using the machine.  So I lined up the pieces, front sides together, but instead of whip stitching I used a 3.5mm machine zig zag stitch – I like how this turned out!  It is much more even than the hand whip stitch so it will be easier to cover with trim.

This is much easier with zig zag ...

This is much easier with zig zag …

Binding is also somewhat simplified, at least for the top of the stays and stomacher – using the cane instead of the reed.  The reed can be sewn through, using a strong enough needle and going very slowly:

Binding the stomacher by machine - the inside will be sewn down by hand.

Binding the stomacher by machine – the inside will be sewn down by hand.  Don’t try this with synthetic whalebone!

Stomacher with binding, ready for hand finishing.

Stomacher with binding, ready for hand finishing.

Let then hand sewing commence!  At this posting, the stomacher and top binding is done.  Binding the bottom, with all the tabs, takes forever but I will do my best to finish this while it is still 2016 and conclude the Battle of the Stays!

Battle of the Stays: Contestant # 1 Larkin & Smith Front and Back Lacing Stays in Red Silk Taffeta


Larkin and Smith Front and Back Lacing Stays

Larkin and Smith Front and Back Lacing Stays

For this pair of stays I did do a mockup – the style is very different from stays I have made in the past.  I just did a single layer of cotton drill (canvas) with the front panel sewn in and lacing tape sewn to the back.  The fit was overall pretty good.

The basic construction of these is as follows.  For each piece, you trace it onto the fabric and cut AROUND the piece, leaving about an inch extra on all sides.  Both the left and right sides are provided – even though they are mirror images – but this actually does help keep things straight.  You need 2 layers of interlining fabric for each piece (that would be 4 layers if cutting without the left/right pieces) and one covering of fashion fabric for each piece (2 if cutting without left/right pieces).  I cut them out 2 layers at a time, tracing onto the top layer only.  Then you sew the boning channels, trim the interlining fabric, insert the bones, and press the cover fabric to the back.  Tack the excess fabric down and the pieces are ready to be whip stitched together.

Here we go through all the steps on the first piece, the stomacher.  The 2 layers of interlining and cover fabric have been roughly cut out – you can see the line that is the edge of the piece in the photo below.  To determine where to sew the boning channels, I measured and drew a light pencil line down the very center on the back side.  Since the boning channels will show on this pair of stays, I am using red thread but sewing from the back side of the interlining.  It really helps to have a sewing machine where the bobbin and top side stitches both look equally nice when doing this!

Sewing boning channels on the back side of the stomacher.

Sewing boning channels on the back side of the stomacher.

In my stash of sewing machine feet I have an edge stitch foot that is exactly 3/8 inch from the center needle position.  This is the perfect size for 1/4 inch boning.  Still, always do a test channel on scrap fabric to make sure first.  As you can see above, the edge of the foot runs along the previous channel.  Fill the entire piece with boning channels.  Now it is ready for boning:

Boning being inserted.

Boning being inserted.

For this pair of stays I used a new product, synthetic whalebone.  It is plastic boning created to imitate the whalebone used in original stays, and is available from Larkin and Smith.  It can be cut with a pair of wire cutters – it is a bit stiff for scissors.  I like that it is about as flat as a piece of metal boning, so it will not add much to your waist circumference.  Here is a picture of a piece of the synthetic whalebone and a piece of cane boning:

Synthetic Whalebone vs Cane Boning

Synthetic Whalebone vs Cane Boning

When all of the channels are boned, trim the interlining back to the cut lines.

Boning channels sewn, and interlining trimmed to cut lines. It is ready for the boning to be inserted.

Boning in, and interlining trimmed to cut lines.

Front view

Front view after boning .

After boning has been cut and inserted into all full width boning channels, the extra cover fabric is pressed to the inside, and then tacked down.

Cover fabric pressed to the back.

Cover fabric pressed to the back.

Viola! Ready to be bound and have the lining tacked in.

Viola! Ready to be bound and have the lining tacked in.

The same basic steps apply to the other pieces, with two unique differences.  Both the side front and back pieces will have eyelets, so for these pieces, be sure to leave enough cover fabric to press inside over the entire eyelet area.  The lining should not extend into the eyelets.

Here are the side fronts with that first channel unsewn - once that interlining is trimmed, I can fold it and sew.

Here are the side fronts with that first channel unsewn – once that interlining is trimmed, I can fold it and sew.

I saved the first boning channel to be sewn after this strip of fabric was pressed to the inside.  This helps hold the first bone in place.  The edges of this piece will be hidden under the lining, which will come up to the line where the eyelets begin.

Side Front - leave enough cover fabric to press behind the channel for the eyelets.

Side Front with interlining cut along front edge – leave enough cover fabric to press behind the channel for the eyelets.

The other odd piece is the side back, which appears to be curved.  What happens is when you insert straight boning into this piece, it causes the piece to flair out nicely over the hips.  It was a little tricky to map out these boning channels.  Here is how I did it, so that it looks like the illustration in the booklet.

Measure the center of the piece, and draw a light pencil line 3/16 inch on either side – so that the boning channel is running down the very center:

First channel drawn, each line 3/16 inch from the center.

First channel drawn, each line 3/16 inch from the center.

Sew it!

Sew it with the cover fabric in place!

Next I measured how many 3/8 inch channels will fit along the narrow top of the piece, and marked the far edge boning lines to be sewn.  These channels need to be curved, so marking this first curved seam line is important to getting the others sewn in:

Outside channel sewn.

Outside channel sewn.

Then I started sewing 3/8 channels along that curved line using my sewing machine foot as a guide.

Remainder of curved channels sewn.

Remainder of curved channels sewn.

All that remains is to sew straight channels from the bottom up to fill in the spaces on the bottom between the straight channel and the curved channels.

The eyelets for the lacing in the front and back I did per the post How To Make Machine Thread Eyelets.

Time for assembly.  Whew!

Battle of the Stays: Contestant #4 JP Ryan Half Boned Green Silk Stays

JP Ryan Half Boned Stays

JP Ryan Half Boned Stays

After some deliberation I decided to cover this pair in green silk taffeta.  I have enough for a matching petticoat which could be used as a colored undergarment set for a chemise a la reine, or be worn together over a nice chemise during the summer, or be worn as undergarments for gowns and jackets.  I plan to embroider the hem of the petticoat with my embroidery machine, but that is a project for another time!

Now, on to the stays.

This pattern is interesting in that that front panel has 2 pieces for the cover and 1 piece for the lining.  Here are all the pattern pieces for the main layer of the stays:

Main pattern pieces for JP Ryan Half Boned Stays.

Main pattern pieces for JP Ryan Half Boned Stays.

And here are the front pieces – the 2 pieces for the main fabric and the 1 piece for the lining:

JP Ryan Half Boned Stays - Front Pieces and Front Lining Piece

JP Ryan Half Boned Stays – Front Pieces and Front Lining Piece

After doing some measurements and checking some of the individual pieces I did not do a full mock up on these.  Keep in mind that I have made many pairs of 18th century stays for myself over the years – if you do not have this much experience it is always better to do a full mock up.

This seems odd at first but actually they go together quite nicely.  The 2 main pieces are stitched together and then are laid on top of the lining piece, and from then on they are treated as one piece.  I cut the front cover using the lining piece to avoid extra seam lines.  The other pieces I assembled and boned, then add the cover:

JP Ryan Half Boned Stays - side pieces boned and covered.

JP Ryan Half Boned Stays – side pieces boned and covered.

Since many of these boning channels are curved, I used spiral steel boning for them even though it is not historically correct.  For the straight channels I used regular steel boning.  I am not sure how well the synthetic whalebone will work for half boned stays.

Here is the assembled front with the first side pieces sewn on:

Front of JP Ryan Half Boned Stays sewn to Side Pieces

Front of JP Ryan Half Boned Stays sewn to Side Pieces

I put the eyelets in the back piece after attaching the cover but before assembly, using my eyelet plate.  I wanted the look of handmade thread eyelets without the time it takes to hand sew them.  See post Making Thread Eyelets By Machine.

Making Thread Eyelets by Machine

Making Thread Eyelets by Machine

JP Ryan Half Boned Stays - back pieces with machine made thread eyelets and boning inserted.

JP Ryan Half Boned Stays – back pieces with machine made thread eyelets and boning inserted.

The stays are now ready for binding, which has to be done by hand.  They will be bound with bias strips of self fabric.

Psychedelic 1830’s Dress Completion and Debut

The fabric has arrived!  Time to begin cutting …

To get the period look with the fabric pattern cut on the diagonal for the fronts and backs, here is a picture of my favorite way to match patterns.  Cut out the first piece, then lay it upside down and match the pattern.  Then cut around it to get 2 pieces that are mirror images of each other:

Matching pattern on the diagonal

Matching pattern on the diagonal

Here is the front sewn together with the matching diagonal pattern:

Bodice Front

Bodice Front

The pattern piece for the fashion fabric front and back included extra for a gathered “bertha” type look – this fabric was too heavy for that design, and I did not feel like figuring out a pleating pattern.  So I cut the bodice the same as the lining.  To give it some character I finished the neckline with double piping (which is made the same way as single piping – just sew a second row of piping after the first.

Here is a great trick with piping – use a 1/2 inch metal stay as a guide to cut the piping strip so that it has exactly 1/2 seam allowance, making it easier to apply.  You do need a rotary cutter to do this:

Using a 1/2 inch metal stay to cut piping seam allowance.

Using a 1/2 inch metal stay to cut piping seam allowance.

Despite buying special piping feet for my machine, I still find it easier to apply piping with a zipper foot:

Sewing piping to waist with a zipper foot - the 1/2 seam allowance makes it easy to line up.

Sewing piping to waist with a zipper foot – the 1/2 seam allowance makes it easy to line up.

I cut interlining for the sleeves out of black cotton organdy, which is thin but stiff and should help the sleeves to poof nicely.

Black cotton organdy sleeve interlining.

Black cotton organdy is stiff, thin, and not scratchy when worn.

When I tried on the bodice I found one alteration – the sides of the neckline were sticking up a bit, so I took in the shoulder seams 1/2 inch on the outside edge.  The other issue I ran into was the sleeves, which I fully admit was my fault!  I did not measure the circumference of the narrow part of the sleeve to make sure it would fit my tree trunk arms.  When I tried it on I could not get them to close.  But it was close, so I will explain how I unfucked the sleeves.

There was length to spare, so I trimmed 1 1/2 inches off the bottom of each sleeve eliminating 1 1/2 inches of not-fitting sleeve.

I reduce the seam allowances to 1/4 inch for the lower part of the sleeve, gradually easing back to the normal 1/2 inch where the full part of the sleeve is.  This added 1/2 inch to the circumference and it just barely fit.

So to prevent gap-osis, I added a placket.  The top side of the sleeve opening is finished with the piping in the sleeve seam:

Piping on sleeve opening.

Piping on sleeve opening.

The under side of the opening would normally be turned under and hemmed.  But there was only 1/4 inch seam allowance there now.  So I cut a piece of fabric the length of the sleeve opening by about 2 inches, folded it in half, and sewed it to the right side of the other sleeve opening, using 1/4 inch seam allowance:

Adding sleeve placket

Adding sleeve placket

The placket is then pressed flat outwards, so that the piping side of the sleeve opening covers it:

Sleeve with placket.

Sleeve with placket.

When closed, you cannot see the placket but it is there, anchoring things and preventing gaps:

Sleeve with opening closed.

Sleeve with opening closed.

Then I finished the bottoms of the sleeves with piping.  1830’s is all about piping.  I piped the sleeve seams, the waistline, the neckline, and the armscye seams.  The bodice closes with hooks and eyes in the back.

The skirt was easy – just cut 2 panels long enough for the hem plus 1/2 seam allowance at the top.    The pattern also had a cutting guide for the top of the front skirt panel, to scoop it out and make the skirt slightly shorter in front.  I find skirts always look better that way, so I took advantage of the template.  I pleated the waist (using Clinton Pleat Maker) and sewed the skirt directly to the bodice, with piping in the seam, per the pattern instructions.

Here are some photos of the finished dress at our event, Christmas At the Village (Old Economy Village) on Dec 12, 2015.  I wore the lace pelerine with it and a large black velvet Romantic era bonnet that I made last year.  The weather was beautiful – it was almost too hot outside for the muff!  Thank you to Janet for the photos!

OEV Christmas At the Village, Pittsburgh Historical Costume Society Outing in the Grainery

OEV Christmas At the Village, Pittsburgh Historical Costume Society Outing in the Grainery

OEV Christmas At the Village, Pittsburgh Historical Costume Society Outing outside of Kitchen

OEV Christmas At the Village, Pittsburgh Historical Costume Society Outing outside of Kitchen


Last Minute 1830’s Dress in Psychedelic Cotton Print – Planning and Mock Up

Fabric has arrived!  Now I can take a larger photo of it, to give a better idea of what it really looks like.  This is oriented vertically to show what the pattern will look like once made up into the skirt:

Reproduction 1830's Cotton Print, "Merchant's Wife" line by Terry Thompson for RJR Fabrics

Reproduction 1830’s Cotton Print, “Merchant’s Wife” line by Terry Thompson for RJR Fabrics

Last night I began the struggle of deciding the details.  Really the first part boils down to two decisions:

Decision #1: Which pattern to use.  I have two patterns:

Truly Victorian (TV455) 1830's Romantic Era Dress

Truly Victorian (TV455) 1830’s Romantic Era Dress

Period Impressions (440) 1830's Day Dress and Pelerine

Period Impressions (440) 1830’s Day Dress and Pelerine

The Period Impressions pattern is more of the look I am going for, but the Truly Victorian patterns are much more professionally drafted and take less time to fit.  I did a quick and dirty mockup of the Period Impressions pattern and the fit was quite off – the arm holes were waaaay too big and the neckline bunched up when the back was pinned closed.  It would take time and possibly 2 additional mockups to fit it, so I decided to use the Truly Victorian pattern and alter it to look more like the Period Impressions.  I will also make the pelerine from the Period Impressions pattern, but at a later date since I am pressed for time.  For the first wearing I plan to wear a lace pelerine.

The primary issue with the Truly Victorian pattern is the waistline.  The pattern has two possible waistlines – either at the natural waist or a pointed V.  My understanding has always been that 1830’s dresses were slightly above the natural waistline.  After looking at a lot of originals on Pinterest I came to the conclusion that the higher waistline is the early part of the decade – like 1830 – 1832, and after that the waistlines dropped to the natural waist as drafted in the pattern.  Since my other two 1830’s dresses have high waistlines I think I will do this one with a more natural waistline.  I want to wear a solid color dark belt with it to visually demarcate the place where the waist ends and the sleeves begin.  I debated whether or not I should add a waistband, but the end decided to just leave it as a straight piped waistline.  I shortened the waist 1/2 inch, and added 1/2 to the neckline in the back and on the sides (the front was fine).  That is all I am changing on the pattern.

Decision #2 – Which Corset to Fit Over

If it were not for the fact that we are going English Country Dancing that night, it would be an easy decision.  I would fit over a regular Victorian corset since I don’t actually have a waist.  A waist is a terrible thing to waste, and I don’t have one without a good fitting corset.  On the other hand, my regency corset made recently in Jennifer Rosbrugh’s Regency Corset class is correct for this era and it is so comfortable – it feels like pajamas!  But the trade off is it does not provide any waist reduction.  This is not an issue wearing Regency and other high waisted styles.  I just hesitate to plan this dress in a way that I know I will be unhappy with in the end.  So right now I am thinking of a compromise – fit with the Victorian corset laced more loosely than I normally wear it.

When I fitted the mockup I made an odd discovery!  On Friday I went to a Civil War event and wore this same corset, a new one I made recently covered in pink silk (I love this corset BTW, and will feature it in an upcoming “battle of the corsets).  Since I was expecting some fitting issues with my dress I laced it down as tightly as I dared in a relatively new corset, and still felt like a stuffed sausage in the dress.  I barely got it hooked.  My waist measured 35”.  Fast forward to Sunday, when I put the corset on again and laced it so that it felt stable but not tight.  I measured the waist – 34″!  The only explanation I can think of is water retention.  Maybe I will try taking a mild diuretic the morning before the next event.

On another tangent – as I looked at these gowns I was struck by the similarity in shape to the 1630’s.  There are many periods of history where the basic silhouette is the same as another era (Regency/Edwardian, 1780s bustle / 1880s bustle) but I didn’t register this one until I was deep in the design phase of this project:

1830 vs 1630

1830 vs 1630

Left Image:  Dress 1832, American, made of cotton at Met Museum.
Right Image: Wenceslaus Hollar (European-born English artist, 1607-1677) Ornatus Muliebris Anglicanus; Print made by 1640. British Library.

Last Minute 1830’s Dress in Psychedelic Cotton Print

We are planning an 1830’s Christmas event on Dec 12 for our costume group at Old Economy Village.  Afterwards we are going English Country Dancing!  Several ladies are making new dresses for this, and all the talk about fabrics has sucked me in.  I have two 1830’s dresses and both are over 17 years old.  I think it is time for a new one.

I started by looking over my Pinterest board for 1830’s.  Also I saved a link from Samantha’s blog (Couture Courtesan) with a dress I really like from this period.  It is more late 1820’s, but the basic design idea still applies:

Beautiful reproduction 1820s Dress by Couture Courtesan

Beautiful reproduction 1820s Dress by Couture Courtesan

What I like about this dress – the striped fabric, the bodice cut on the diagonal, and the trim around the bottom of the skirt.  I really like the striped gowns – here are some originals:

Circa 1836 cotton dress, England. Via National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.

Circa 1836 cotton dress, England. Via National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.

Dress 1832, American, made of cotton at Met Museum

Dress 1832, American, made of cotton at Met Museum

So what fabric to buy?  Nothing modest or matronly will do, I want to be as loud as the wallpaper in the Rapp House …

Rapp House wallpaper from Adelphi - YES you can have this in your living room too!!!

Rapp House wallpaper from Adelphi – YES you can have this in your living room too!!!

These prints are so ugly they’re beautiful!  While looking for some fabric ideas for a friend, I blew 45 minutes on Sunday looking at Reproduction Fabrics and I found it: the loudest 1830’s print I think I have ever seen:

Reproduction 1830's Cotton Print, "Merchant's Wife" line by Terry Thompson for RJR Fabrics

Reproduction 1830’s Cotton Print, “Merchant’s Wife” line by Terry Thompson for RJR Fabrics

I can make up this dress fast as a print that busy doesn’t really need any trim!  I am thinking of wearing a lace pelerine with it, like this:

Wool dress, England 1836 - 1838 at Victoria and Albert Museum

Wool dress, England 1836 – 1838 at Victoria and Albert Museum

This is the one I have – hopefully it will look good:

My lace pelerine

My lace pelerine

For the pattern, I have this great 1830’s pattern from Truly Victorian that I have not used yet:


Not sure how that pleated bertha collar will work with this fabric – we will have to wait and see!