Saturday, 31 January 2015


A slightly early post this week; I must admit that the sole reason for this is to get my January entry for the Historical Sew Monthly out into the world in the correct month! I did think that this one was going to be easy, and that I could run it up in next to no time (you would think that I might have learned the folly of making this assumption by now, but no). Naturally it didn’t turn out that way, and I finished it with very little time to spare.

This month’s challenge is Foundations: very simply, “make something that is the foundation of a period outfit.” I chose to make an Edwardian chemise, to go with my 1911 corset.

Completed chemise

Although corsets are described as ‘foundation garments’, for me a chemise (or shift for earlier periods) is truly the foundation of any period outfit, as it is the first garment put on. A simply-shaped and easy-to-wash piece of clothing worn next to the skin appears in a great many cultures, for example the qamisa of my Tunisian costume.

I used the Truly Victorian Edwardian Underwear pattern TVE02 (available in the UK from Vena Cava Design) for my chemise.

I shortened the pattern slightly to create a knee-length chemise, similar to this one.

From The History of Underclothes by C Willet and Phillis Cunnington

Despite being entirely hidden from view, chemises seemed to often be lavishly decorated with lace, embroidery and pin tucks. As it was my first attempt at anything like this, I decided to keep it plain.

Chemises from the 1909 National Suit and Cloak Company catalogue

The chemise is very easy to construct; the side and shoulder seams are simple French seams and the yoke insertion, while slightly trickier, is not difficult. The end result is surprisingly full for something which is to go under a corset creating such a narrow silhouette. I assumed that my short waist wouldn't be an issue under all that fullness, and that I didn’t need to make any height adjustments. This assumption turned out to be wrong, as the yoke was far too low on me. I took the shoulder seams up by 2.5cm / 1”, and used this as an opportunity to replace the French seams with flat felled seams. I then recut the armscye, and the end result was a much better fit.

The pattern instructs you to cover the yoke seams and the raw edges of the armholes with lace. I decided to use broderie anglais with ribbon threaded through. Judging from this illustration (for which I stupidly forgot to note the source, apologies to whoever posted it online, if it's yours please contact me and I'll add a link), this is a perfectly acceptable technique for the period.

Late Edwardian chemises with ribbon and broderie anglais trim

I ended up overcast stitching along both edges of the ribbon where it was beneath the broderie anglais, and this completely encased the raw edges of the chemise. On both the armholes and the neckline I was able to get the broderie anglais to match at the join, plus I was able to mitre the corners perfectly around the neckline. All of this made me absurdly pleased with the end result.

Yoke and armholes with matched and mitred trim

The small print:
The Challenge: Foundations
Fabric: cotton, possibly lawn
Pattern: Truly Victorian Edwardian Underwear pattern TVE02
Year: 1901 - 1909
Notions: Broderie anglais and ribbon for trim
How historically accurate is it? Pattern, fabric and construction techniques are all accurate, so I'd say 95%
Hours to complete: There was a lot of hand sewing to apply the trim, so about 10 hours
First worn: Not yet
Total cost: Fabric £4.60, broderie anglais £2.80, ribbon £1.35, total £8.75

Sunday, 25 January 2015

How it all began

When we went to Hay on Wye last year my intention was just to browse the many bookshops, and see what turned up. I wasn’t looking for any specific books. Well, only one. Unsurprisingly, it was costume-related. However it wasn’t any of the ‘standard’ costume references such as Janet Arnold, Nancy Bradfield or Norah Waugh, or even to be found in the arts or historical sections of the various shops I visited. It was a small, slim book of only 52 pages, but it was largely responsible for my lifelong interest in historical costume, and I was quite ridiculously thrilled when I found a copy.

I am firmly of the Ladybird Books generation. For readers who haven’t got a clue what I’m talking about, Ladybird was a children's book imprint first created a century ago by Wills & Hepworth, a printing firm in the town of Loughborough, England. During World War II paper shortages led them to start producing hardback books in a standard format of 7” by 4⅝" (approx 18 by 12cm) and 56 pages (including endpapers), because this could be printed on a single large sheet of paper which was then folded and cut into pages without any wastage. This comfortable size for small hands became the standard Ladybird format, and over time the books came to cover an amazing range of subjects: mostly non-fiction but with classic fairy tales and learn-to-read titles as well.

I had a number of Ladybird books as a child, but “The Story of Clothes and Costume” was my favourite. Along with the others, it was given away when I got older, but when I found a copy in Hay I snapped it up. It was amazing just how familiar all the illustrations were, so many years later.

Whatever the subject, the layout of a Ladybird book book was always the same; text on the left and a full page illustration on the right. “The Story of Clothes and Costume” also has illustrated endpapers, showing male and female headgear throughout the ages.

Endpaper illustrations

The book begins with clothes made from furs and skins, then woven cloth, and then moves through historical periods from Roman Britain to the ‘present’ day (1964).

The first clothing

"Clothes of to-day" (or not)

Many of the illustrations manage to include a range of dress, not just the clothing of very wealthy. In some cases there are separate illustrations for the nobility and the ordinary people, and the text explains the differences in what they wore.

Medieval - the court

Medieval - the common people

Some of the pictures also show the differences in dress which came with age. For example in the 1913 illustration the older lady on the balcony has stuck to the early Edwardian styles of her younger days, whereas the lady on the steps is more fashionably dressed.


None of the drawings are just static representations of what people wore; there is always lots going on, and stories to be told. Looking at the book now, I realise how much the 1860s example owes to William Powell Frith’s painting The Railway Station, which made me wonder what, if anything, had inspired the other illustrations.

Around 1860

"The Railway Station" by William Powell Frith

You wouldn’t use “The Story of Clothes and Costume” as a basis for recreating a historical costume, and some elements are definitely less accurate than others; the Cavalier lady’s bright green dress for example, although it does provide a vivid contrast to the sombre Puritan dress on the next page.

Very bright Cavalier clothing

Despite this, reading the book again, I was amazed at just how much information the 23 pages of text manage to convey. Terms like ‘liripipe’ and ‘farthingale’ are all included and explained -  quite something for a book aimed at primary school-aged children.

The centenary of Ladybird Books is being marked with an exhibition at the magnificently 1930s De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill on Sea until 10 May. “The Story of Clothes and Costume” is one of the books featured - I feel a trip down to the south coast coming on.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

New Look 6070

Carrying on with my plan to Wear Less Black, I've completed my second New Look pattern - 6070.

The John Kaldor crepe which I used has a very bold, very large pattern, which has less than one repeat across the width of the fabric.

Motif highlighted to show the pattern repeats

I wanted to make proper use of the pattern rather than just have it appearing randomly over the dress, so this meant ignoring the cutting layout altogether and first of all deciding what elements I wanted where. I concluded that I wanted one cluster of flowers to form the focal point of the bodice, and I also that I didn't want the pleats of the skirt over a cluster, as it felt like a waste of a design element. After a lot of playing around with different layouts, I finally got an arrangement I was happy with. The sleeves came out with flowers is similar places as well, which was a bonus.

The finished dress

It was impossible to cut the back in a way which matched the pattern, but the two sides look balanced, so I'm happy.

Back view

The above the knee skirt in the illustration is shorter than I usually wear, and New Look patterns tend to be a bit short on me anyway, so I lengthened the skirt to just below the knee. Clearly I have long limbs compared to New Look's standard pattern, as the sleeves turned out a slightly odd length on me; something to remember if I make the pattern up again.

In fact, the sleeves are the one part of the dress which I'm not entirely sure about. They have very deep pleats in the sleeve head, which looks fine when they are just hanging, but makes them stick out in a worryingly 1980s way if I raise my arms! Clearly it's not just that the material I used was too firm; the suggested fabrics include piqué, damask and brocade, which would have an even more pronounced effect.

The sleeves 'at rest'

Because this is another 'winter' dress I added a lining. I kept the wide waistband, which is attached to the dress waistband at both the top and the bottom, but eliminated the deep pleats and shaped it with darts instead.

The lining in progress

I also added a pocket in the left side seam of the skirt, because it's always good to have a pocket.

All in all I'm very pleased with the end result, and wearing it certainly brightens up a gloomy winter's day.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

A few new buttons have arrived . . .

. . . and I don't mean the sort that you sew onto clothes! These are the sort which appear on the right hand side of this blog, and this year there are not one but two of them.

I deliberately haven't done a 'Review of 2014' post, because it's not a year I want to dwell on. But now it's a new year, and while it's dark and miserable outside, that's all the more reason to stay in and sew. So, what might 2015 bring?

First of all, The Dreamstress is hosting another year of historical sewing challenges. This year the challenges will be monthly, so as there are only 12, I'm really hoping that this year I actually get something made for all of them. I've already got things planned for January and February, and as for March's 'stashbusting' challenge; well the main challenge is, 'where to start?'!

As well as giving me the necessary kick to actually get some sewing completed, the great thing about the Historical Sew events is the opportunity they provide to see the fabulous work of the other participants. I'm thrilled that the Historical Sew Fortnightly/Monthly is happening again, and a massive thank you to Leimomi and the other moderators, Sarah and Elizabeth, for all the hard work they put in to keep it running smoothly.

While tumbling down the rabbit hole of other sewing blogs, I came across Marie's A Stitching Odyssey, and in particular her Vintage Sewing Pattern Pledge for last year. My stash of vintage sewing patterns (as opposed to modern reissues) has, ahem, 'expanded' over the last few years, but I've never actually made anything from them. In my defence, I'd say that it's because if I'm not using a reissue I've tended to draft my own patterns for vintage clothing (like the CC41 dress and the Mikko dress), but then what's the point of buying these patterns? The good news is that the Vintage Sewing Pattern Pledge is back for 2015, so I've signed up and pledged to make up three (for once, let's keep it to something I can actually manage) of my vintage patterns. Now I just need to decide which patterns to use.

Some of my patterns from the 1930s and 1940s

And some from the 1950s and 1960s

Actually, I do know what I'm doing for my first pledge - but that's for a future post.

Happy 2015!

Sunday, 4 January 2015

All That Glitters / Fairytale

Way back when the 2014 Historical Sew Fortnightly challenges were announced, I immediately decided what I wanted to do for Fairytale. Unfortunately by the time that challenge came round, things were not very fairytale-ish in my life, so it didn’t get done. It had been one which I was really looking forward to, so as my intended entry involves glitter, I decided to sneak it into the All That Glitters challenge.

Like my Politics of Fashion dress, this was inspired by a long-ago exhibition in the Edinburgh Festival. This one was about Phoebe Anna Traquair.

Phoebe Anna Traquair (1852 - 1936) was born in Ireland and moved to Scotland when she married. She had studied art in Dublin, and started working in Scotland in the 1880s. Her work ranged from mural painting and large-scale embroideries to illuminated manuscripts.

Catholic Apostolic Church murals, Edinburgh. Photograph by Stephencdickson (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Around the turn of the century she took up enamelling.

The Love Cup, 1907, © Victorian and Albert Museum, London

She created small, vividly-coloured plaques in metal frames, which were made up into jewellery or included in other pieces such as this silver and paua shell bowl.

Paua shell bowl, 1905-1906, National Museums Scotland

As well as pendants, examples of her work which I've found online include some necklaces with multiple enamel plaques, such as this lovely piece with its mermaid, ships and sea creatures.

Necklace, 1905, © Victorian and Albert Museum, London

Necklaces with multiple pieces and multiple chains seem to have been quite common around the turn of the century; you can see some more examples here.

Taking Phoebe Anna Traquair's enamelled jewellery as inspiration, I decided to make a necklace based on The Twelve Dancing Princesses; specifically on the items which the soldier brings back from the enchanted underground realm. (If you're a bit hazy about the details, click here for the story.) The idea was to have the branches with the leaves of silver, gold, and diamonds framing the golden goblet, which would be set in a sea of blue for the lake in which the magical castle sits.

Design sketch for the necklace

I used Fimo modelling clay to make main part of the necklace. Unlike silver clay, it is hardened by baking in the oven, so no naked flames are involved! The blue base was made from a sparkly clay; the nearest I could get to an enamelled effect. The rest was made from white clay, which was then painted with gold or silver metallic powder before hardening. Once baked, the painted pieces are varnished to stop the powder from rubbing off.

The leaves at the points had oval jump rings impressed into them and then removed before baking. The rings were then glued into place once the leaves were complete. You can see one by the top right of the blue section in the photograph below.

The 'lake' base, goblet, and leaves

I made far more leaves than I actually needed, so that I could choose the best ones. The 'diamond' leaves were painted silver, and then covered with tiny, glue-on navette stones.

The branches were tricky to make because they had to be moulded to the shape of the base, then very gently prised away without distorting them, so that they could be painted silver.

Shaping the branches

The necklace was assembled by gluing all of the parts together. I would have liked to model and harden it as a single piece, but couldn't work out how to do this without getting gold and silver powder in all the wrong places! I wasn't convinced that the leaves at the points would remain attached with just glue, so added a thin backing to hold it all together.

The main section, with silver, gold and diamond leaves and the goblet

Taking inspiration from the bowl above, I used paua shell beads for the droplet at the bottom and between the various sections of chain.

The completed necklace

This was the point at which everything got a bit too glittery! Try as I might, I just haven't been able to get a decent photograph of the finished necklace. I've tried every combination of natural light/flash/close-up/zoom etc. I could think of, but anything other than the murkiest of light seemed to bounce off the shiny parts and wipe out the details. Any suggestions of how to take a better photograph gratefully received!

The small print:
The Challenge: All That Glitters, and a very late entry for Fairytale
Fairytale: The Twelve Dancing Princesses
Pattern: My own
Year: Early twentieth century
Notions: Fimo modelling clays, gold and silver powders and varnish. Paua shell and pearl beads. Metal chain, jump rings, wire and necklace clasp. Glue-on stones.
How historically accurate is it? The shape and idea, yes. The materials, definitely not. 60%?
Hours to complete: Too many to even think about, but worth it
First worn: Not yet
Total cost: Fimo products £15.52 (with lots left over), paua shell beads £5.59, chain £1.99, everything else from stash, so £23.10.