Monday 4 March 2013


When The Dreamstress announced the Historical Sew Fortnightly on her blog, I thought that it would be really interesting to see what people made for the various challenges, but I certainly wouldn't get involved myself. For a start, although I have been sewing for more years than I care to admit to, I have no experience of making historically accurate clothing or other items. On top of that, I barely seem to have the time to make contemporary, machine-based items, let alone anything requiring the time and hand-sewing to be period accurate.

Then I started wondering if I could use some of the challenges for things which I wanted to make anyway. My first attempt at this was a 1920s beaded dance dress for challenge number 4; Embellish.

The dress is based on the 1923-5 dance dress in Patterns of Fashion 2, but with the skirt consisting of 12 painted and beaded panels, loosely based on this example from the Philadelphia Museum.

1920s beaded dress

As I've already mentioned in previous posts, I am nowhere close to finishing the dress, but thought I'd post anyway about what I'm doing to embellish the painted panels.

Panels with the painted areas embellished with beading

My first idea for the beading was to use tambouring, which was how the original dress was beaded, but it soon became apparent that my technique is not up to the job, and/or satin is not a good fabric to tambour on, as it is so easy to snag the threads.

Sewing the beads on singly is definitely not an option, as it would take far too long. I had already strung a lot of beads for tambouring, so I decided to couch the strands of beads on instead. My initial plan was to light my embroidery frame from below, so that I could follow the design lines drawn on the wrong side of the fabric. A good idea in theory, but the reality was that no matter what I did, the hand working below the frame seemed to permanently be in a place to block out the light.

This was where the care I'd taken in painting the designs neatly paid off, as I can light the work from above and simply follow the outlines of the painted areas. To add a bit more interest, I decided to outline the painted shapes with light gold beads, and do the 'stalks' of the flowers in slightly larger and darker beads. I'll also use the darker beads to outline each panel.

Close-up showing the different beads

There's a very long way to go, especially as the skirt panels aren't the only beading on the dress.

'Mystery panels' for the dress

It's definitely a long-term project, but I think that I've caught the historical costuming bug now (this may not be an altogether good thing!) so plan to keep working away at it as my hand-sewing to do when I fancy a break from machine-based work.

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