Sunday, 3 September 2017

Wiener Werkstätte ensemble - pictures

My historical sewing has had to take a back seat for a while, as I just have too many other things to do at present. But a couple of weeks ago I had the rare treat of a free day, plus I was due a haircut, which meant that my totally non-historically-accurate fringe (bangs) was long enough to be tucked out of the way. So, I decided to do something that I’ve been meaning to do for ages, and photograph my complete Wiener Werkstätte ensemble; dress, hat and bag.

On the basis that ‘if a job’s worth doing . . . ‘, I also wore all the period underwear I’ve made; my Edwardian chemise and (adapted) drawers, petticoat slip, and 1911 corset (all of which make this the most hyperlinked blogpost ever). The last item wasn’t really necessary as the Wiener Werkstätte, like the Aesthetic and Rational Dress movements in the UK, advocated not wearing corsets. But I was determined to go the whole hog, and I suspect that at least some of the Werkstätte’s clientele would have been reluctant to abandon corset-wearing. To finish the whole look off, I wore my American Duchess Astorias, and Edwardian stockings.

The results were . . . OK, but I’m a long way off happy with them (I did have fun messing around with filters on the photos, though!). I see it more as a learning exercise, and it shows how much I’ve got to learn about historical costuming.

The original dress (image © MAK) and my version

None of what follows will be news to anyone who does a lot of period dressmaking, and it all pretty much echoes what costumers such as Jennifer Rosbrugh regularly say on their blogs, but in no particular order here is what I discovered from the exercise.

First up, I wish that I’d used better quality fabrics for the dress. Even though I have no reason to wear it, if you’re going to put that much time making something, it’s not worth skimping on materials. I was far happier with the feel of the underclothes, which were made in period-appropriate fabrics.

It's a bit too shiny!

Which brings me on to the discovery, made very early on, that the chemise pattern (Truly Victorian Edwardian Underwear pattern TVE02) was not designed for dresses with wide necklines. Even with the alterations I made to lower the neckline, it was well and truly visible. For the sake of the photos I replaced it with a modern vest top (see the ever-excellent Frock Flicks for why I had to replace it with something).

Unboned sections of a corset will go where they want to go, and there’s nothing you can do about it. In this case I had clearly made it too long, so the top inch or so folded over, and resisted all of my attempts to make it lie flat. Unpicking and reshaping the top edge is fiddly, but do-able. 

Despite all the arguments I found when I researched the subject, I remain unconvinced by the combination (no pun intended) of long straight skirts and closed-leg drawers. They must have been a nightmare to do up after a bathroom visit.

The hat brim is too floppy. Much as I like the scalloped edge it definitely needs stiffening, either wire or brim reed. I shall have to take it to one of the Hat Chat sessions at the Millinery Studio for remedial work; although getting it on the train may be interesting!

The brim edge is lovely, but will have to be covered up

By this stage, the brim was buckling a bit

Far and away the most successful element of the whole outfit was the petticoat slip, made from a pattern in Frances Grimble’s The Edwardian Modiste. This was drafted to my measurements using a scaling system, and fits beautifully - so much so that I even photographed it! I can see that if I want to make any more clothes from this period, the Edwardian Modiste patterns are the way to go.

Fringe looking dreadful, slip looking good

Although there is so much of this outfit that could have been done better, I'm working on the basis that all of the items I made were for challenges in the Historical Sew Monthly, and one of the mainstays of the HSM is the "pursuit of greater historical understanding". Simply knowing that it could have been done better, and having some idea of how, is a start.

I do look a bit too chirpy in the pictures as well. Most of the models in the Wiener Werkstätte archive photographs look rather gloomy - sometimes with good reason.

If I was wearing that flowery-swimming-cap hat, I'd look glum too! (image © MAK)

Clearly I need a small dog

For me the most interesting thing about the whole exercise was how totally alien the whole outfit felt to wear. I regularly 'dress like my grandma' using patterns from the late 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, but even when I go for the whole 'look' with period hair, stockings, hat etc, it still feels like only a very small variation from normal dress to me. This felt like 'dressing up'; definitely something from another world. But I’m aware that I was born in the mid-1960s, so would 1930s clothes feel like another world to a younger person? Or was there some fundamental change in clothing, say after the First World War?

That aside, I’ve left the most important thing I learned from this to the end. If you are wearing a long-line corset and shoes which fasten with buttons, there is a definite order in which these items need to be put on. Very definite.

Trying to use a button hook on shoes when you can't bend is doomed to failure!


  1. So impressive, you look great

  2. Wow, what an outfit! You did a grand job and I particularly love the petticoat slip. I'd love to do something like this for a Regency ensemble (my second favourite era after the 1930s) but just thinking about it makes it feel so daunting.

    1. Thank you Cate! The whole thing was spread over a couple of years because I didn't need it for a specific event; it was just something I fancied doing. The Historical Sew Monthly was a great help as I could tie each item into a different challenge, which did give me some sort of nudge to get on with things.

      I do hope you give your Regency ensemble a go - I'd love to see it! xx