Sunday, 29 March 2015


The Historical Sew Monthly challenge for March is Stashbusting, and you can see the other entries here.

I felt spoiled for choice on this challenge, but as I have a whole sub-stash of white and off-white cotton and linen I decided to work with that, and carry on with making the undergarments for an early twentieth century outfit. I had a reasonable amount of fabric left over from my chemise, and quite a lot of the broderie anglais and ribbon trim as well, so settled on making some drawers/knickers.

Some time ago I posted about the change in underwear from open-leg drawers to closed-leg knickers that seems to have taken place in the first decade of the twentieth century, as part of the move to a smooth, long-line silhouette. As I want to make a circa 1911 outfit at some point, I need the underwear to match.

In Costume in Detail by Nancy Bradfield I'd found a pair of knickers which seemed a good starting point; closed leg, fastening at the side, and not too full.

White cambric knickers, circa 1907-08

I drafted a pattern based very loosely on the drawers in Truly Victorian Edwardian Underwear pattern TVE02, but with a lot of the fullness taken out.

Full, open-leg drawers

For the side openings I cut slits and finished them with a placket, but with hindsight I don't think that I should have done so; a very narrow hem would have been better.

I used the measurements in Costume in Detail as a guide, and made the front wider than the back, so the openings are actually towards the back of the knickers. The centre section of the back is gathered, and there are small darts in the front. Unlike the example, I put waistbands on both the front and back.

Back view, showing the front waistband carried round to the back

My original plan was to have a plain cotton frill at the bottom of the leg, and put the broderie anglais and the ribbon on the band between the knicker leg and the frill. However I had a change of heart and decided to keep the legs plain and ungathered, and trim the hems instead, like this illustration from The History of Underclothes by C Willet and Phillis Cunnington.

Chemise and drawers, 1911

As you can't see the waistband in this illustration, I suspect that what I've made is a mish-mash of styles which may never have existed in real life. Also, it can't have been easy to undo and redo those side fastens under layers of straight petticoats and skirts. I wonder how many women actually wore the new style, and how many stuck to open-leg drawers (or, as they were known at the time according to my Granny T, "Free Traders") until fuller skirts came in?

The almost completed (missing buttons and buttonholes) knickers

The small print:
The Challenge: Stashbusting
Fabric: Cotton, possibly lawn
Stashed for how long? Unknown, as it was in the 'white and off-white natural fabrics' sub-stash, which has existed forever. The trim has only been stashed since January
Pattern: Somewhere between self-drafted from an illustration in Costume in Detail and Truly Victorian Edwardian Underwear pattern TVE02
Year: 1907 - 1909
Notions: Broderie anglais and ribbon for trim, two shell buttons
How historically accurate is it? Probably not very, as it is a mish-mash of two different styles of closed drawers. 50% at best?
Hours to complete: About 8 hours (I haven’t got any quicker at hand-sewing the trim!)
First worn: Not yet
Total cost: All from the stash, so £0. Yay!

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Pimp my cardi!

As I’ve mentioned before, I have long arms and legs, and a short torso. This isn’t a problem for clothing; I just alter patterns to fit me. Knitwear is a different matter though. I don’t knit (yet), nor have I managed to track down any ace knitters who are willing to make me a suitably shortened jumper in exchange for a made-to-measure frock. So when I came across some pretty, cotton-rich, lightweight cropped cardigans in BHS which more or less fitted me, I was thrilled. The fact that they were 30% off was even better!

I bought one in purple, as I seem to have a lot of purple clothes either in my wardrobe or planned. Then, as it will be ages before I find anything similar again, I picked up a fawn one as well. The idea was that it would go with anything, but on getting it home there was no denying that it was a bit, well, dull.

It was just begging to be brightened up, and my initial idea was to use buttons, trim and lace. I have a substantial collection of pearl and shell buttons inherited from my grannies, but few of them are exactly the same, which limits their use as buttons. Rifling through my button box I found that I had so many buttons suitable for this project that I decided to omit the trim and lace, and limit the decoration to just buttons with holes in them (i.e. no buttons with shanks).

The cardigan, and part of my button collection

I knew that I only wanted buttons on one side of the cardigan, and was worried that the weight would stretch it out of shape, so decided to add a fabric facing, which I made from a lightweight muslin. I put the cardigan on Nancy inside out then (after checking several times that I was working on the correct side of the reversed cardi!) attached the muslin with a few pins, with the grain going straight up and down.

The muslin facing

After that I turned the cardigan right way out, pinned the muslin in place properly, and laid the front over my pin board. I played around with the buttons until I got a design I was happy with, and pinned them in place as well.

Everything pinned in place

Then I tacked each button on separately, and took out all of the pins.

Buttons tacked on and pins removed

The design consisted of three large buttons, with a smaller buttons scrolling around them. It didn’t look entirely clear, so I emphasised the scrolling with stem stitch in DMC number 5 perlĂ© thread in ecru. Once the stem stitch was complete, I sewed the buttons on.

The embroidery highlights the scrolling design

Finally the facing was cut to shape, and the edges finished. Where possible, they were turned under and overcast onto the seams of the cardigan. Elsewhere they were finished with a narrow hem.

The completed facing

And here is the completed cardigan. It looks much less dull, and everything apart from the jumper itself and the wooden heart-shaped button came from my stash. Result!

The end result

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Georgians at the Fashion Museum

It's March, which means I've been down to Somerset for the ever-fabulous Majma dance festival. It's been a looong time since I last danced (Majma 2014, to be precise), so I wasn't sure how this would go, but I had a great time.

As usual, while I was in that part of the world, I went to Bath and visited the Fashion Museum. The current (until 3 January 2016) main exhibition is Georgians – Dress for Polite Society, and contains over 30 examples of dress from the period 1714 - 1830.

Warning - what follows next is a picture-heavy post! Unfortunately there were some very distinctive images on the outer wall of the room, so some of the pictures include strange reflections on the glass cases. I did my best to take photographs at angles which kept this to a minimum, but some were unavoidable.

The exhibition opens with this 1750 open robe and matching petticoat.

Robe and petticoat of yellow woven brocaded silk

Display case

Silk damask garments, 1730s to 1760s

Red woven silk damask gown, about 1750, displayed with stomacher

The yellow silk damask of this dress was woven in the 1740s, but the style is from 20 years later. At more than 10 shillings a yard the fabric was expensive, so it made sense to remodel the gown as fashions changed. From the distinctive mark above the hem, it looks as though it was also lengthened.

1760s gown with stomacher

Whereas these dresses were made from plain damask fabrics, the next set were patterned, either with embroidery or a woven pattern.

Set of three gowns, all altered at some time

The dress closest to the camera is made from embroidered linen, and dates from the 1730s. It was designed to be worn over panniers, but has been altered to be a negligée or nightgown.

Nightgown, and two open robes

The silk of this distinctive gown was woven in the 1740s, but the style is from the 1780s. The dark colour is unusual, and suggests a link with Germany, as most fabrics in Britain at the time had a cream-coloured background.

Black woven brocaded floral silk robe - front view

. . .  and back view

Most of the men's clothing on display up to this point had been in plain fabric. But then came this.

Embroidered silk waistcoat, about 1747

This case ended with a sack-back dress in a brocaded silk with metal threads.

Dress, about 1750

Close-up showing the metal thread and coloured silks

The next case contained several examples of mantuas.

Court mantuas, 1760s

And also some more sack-back gowns. (Note: the lighting seemed to get worse at this point, so it was difficult to get reasonable pictures.)

Open robe, about 1760, and sack-back gowns and petticoats, 1770s

Front view of the pink striped woven silk open robe

Close-up of the bodice, showing the trim

Cream printed cotton gown, 1790s

I couldn't find any printed information about these two dresses, but they were allegedly worn by sisters at a ball on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo (1815).

Almost identical dresses

Two gowns, about 1825

Purple woven silk gauze gown, about 1825, hem detail

The main part of the museum's costume collection starts from 1800, so pretty much carries on from where the Georgians exhibition finishes, but that is the subject for a separate post.

1800 display case

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Style From the Small Screen

Confession time - I have only ever seen one episode of Downton Abbey (the first one). So when several of my friends told me that there was an exhibition of Downton costumes at the Lady Lever Art Gallery, I must admit that I didn’t rush to see it. I did finally visit just before the exhibition closed, and was glad that I did, as it was interesting for all sorts of reasons.

Exhibition poster

The Downton costumes on display showed how dress is used in the program to highlight the differences between the characters. The costume on the left for example could only belong to the Dowager Countess.

Costumes for the Dowager Countess, 1916-19, and Lady Painswick, 1912

Whereas the mother of the current Countess, although of the same generation, dresses completely differently.

Costume for Martha Levinson, 1923

It was interesting to see just how detailed the costumes are; for example the embroidery under a sheer panel on the dress above.

Costume detail

I was also intrigued to see just how much wear and tear the costumes suffer. For example, this dress had clearly been torn at the armhole, and subsequently patched.

Costume for Lady Mary, 1922

Close-up showing tear and mend

With this in mind, I was really surprised to discover that Cosprop, who provide the costumes, do on occasion use genuine period garments such as this heavily beaded dress from the early 1920s. It was hand sewn onto new net to make it wearable for filming.

Costume for Freda Dudley-Ward, 1923

Whereas that dress was so densely decorated that a few loose threads were unlikely to show, I did wonder if shots of this dress had to be carefully framed to avoid showing the wear on the centre front panel.

Costume for Lavinia Swire, 1916-19

Close-up showing missing and damaged beading

The exhibition wasn’t just Downton costumes; it also contained items from National Museum Liverpool’s own collection (including one from the Tinne Collection).

Teens and twenties garments from National Museums Liverpool's collection

These two early teens-era dresses were made by T & S Bacon, a firm based in Bold Street in Liverpool. The one in the background is from the wonderfully-named “Young Ladies Department”.

Evening dress 1910-12 (front) and 1911-13 (back)

Bodice close-up

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Bold Street was known as the “Bond Street of the North”, and was home to a number of very grand shops offering a made-to-measure service. As well as T & S Bacon, these included De Jong et Cie, and Cripps.

Cripps, Bold Street, about 1941. Image © National Museums Liverpool

Cripps ceased trading in the 1970s, but the building is still recognizable today.

Bold Street, 2015

All of Bold Street's luxurious shops are long gone, but when I came to take photographs for this post I noticed that a few clues to its grand past still remain, if you care to look for them.

Halle Des Modes, Bold Street

Sunday, 1 March 2015


I did actually finish my entari last night, in February, so on time for the challenge (honest!), but it was a bit late to start posting about it. So here it is now.

The completed entari

Entaris seem to have often been made from linen or silk, with a cotton lining, and a narrow contrast facing of silk. The facing is clearly visible in this illustration.

Dancer, c16th, possibly from the Bodleian

My entari is made from a linen/rayon mix, with a cotton lining, there is definitely no silk involved! I did include a contast facing though, made from the trouser fabric of a shalwar kameez set.

Showing the lining and contrast facing

The facing has accounted for most of this week's sewing. The sensible thing would have been to sew it onto the lining, then machine sew lining and outer layer together, then turn the garment right side out and understitch round the edges as necessary. However for reasons which might have been sensible when I did it in the summer, I had sewn the facing strips onto entari itself, and so had to slide the lining underneath the facing, turn the facing edge under, and slip stitch all the way round the facings. This is why it took all week. The facing definitely has the effect of stiffening the lower edge of the entari, making it hang better.

I had read somewhere (and I really must improve how I record things which I find) that the facings around the shaped sleeve edges were not shaped, but had a straight edge, so that is what I did.

Facing shaped around neckline but not around sleeve edge

The small print:
The Challenge: Colour challenge - Blue
Fabric: Linen/rayon mix for outer layer, cotton for lining, synthetic of unknown composition for the facing
Pattern: Found here. Unfortunately I've not been able to find the original source, so if anyone knows it, please let me know and I'll update the details
Year: sixteenth century
Notions: Soutache, narrow gold braid and commercially-made motifs for trim
How historically accurate is it? The pattern and some of the fabrics are accurate, as is the style of fastening. The fastening themselves are too elaborate however, so I'd say 50-60%
Hours to complete: Lots
First worn: Not yet
Total cost: Linen/rayon £29.61, cotton lining £7.79, facing fabric £5, motifs £2.40, soutache and braid from stash, so £44.80in total