July 13, 2018

Romantic Era Long Stays

"I am unwilling to condemn altogether an article of dress so universally worn as stays, corsets, or whatever other name may be given to the stiff casing that is employed to compress the upper parts of the body...I admit most readily that stays sometimes add to the elegance of the shape, but if this is done at the hazard of injuring the health, the sacrifice will be allowed to be too great"
- "Stays and Corsets," page 175
The Duties of a Lady's Maid by J. Bulcock, 1825 

Romantic Era Undergarments:
A shift, long stays & sleeve plumpers

Today's blog post is all about the construction and completed project pictures of my long, corded Romantic Era stays.  A project over two years in the making, these stays were finished just in time for the fashion show at the Bement-Billings Farmstead Museum and will be used as an example in future historic fashion presentations.  Along with a new, me-made shift, sleeve plumpers and corded petticoat, which was handmade by Michelle Forbes of Hand Stiches in Time on Etsy, I am thrilled to finally have a complete set of 1830s undergarments!

Historical Inspiration

As with any other sewing project, I turned to extant examples, fashion plates and other period resources for inspiration.  

I've always admired this set of c.1830-1835 undergarments
from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Costume Collection
(Image source: LACMA)

My version of 1830s undergarments

My diagonal cording design was greatly influenced by this extant example of cream cotton, corded stays from 1828:  Unfortunately, the image came from Pinterest without an original source!   

Corded stays, c.1828
(Image via: Pinterest)

As well as this beautiful version from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston:

Women's stays, c.1820s
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
(Image source: MFA, 99.664.34

And this one from my university's collection featuring hand stitched cording in green thread, leaf motifs and bone grommets:

Corset, late 1820s
Kent State University Museum
(Image source: KSU, 2011.12.37)

I chose to stitch over my grommets with pearled cotton floss to simulate the look of bone or ivory eyelets after these fantastic examples from Augusta Auctions: 

Corded cotton corset, c.1825-1830
with 9 pairs of ivory eyelets for back lacing
(Image source: Augusta Auctions, Lot 243)

I love the cording and bone eyelets on this corset, c.1800-1825
(Image source: Augusta Auctions, Lot 578)

Additional images and extant examples of early corded stays can be found on my 19th Century Undergarments Pinterest Board.  

Construction Details 

For my long stays, I chose a white cotton twill for the outer layer and a natural cotton drill for the inner layer.  The pattern was a combination of views A and B from the Laughing Moon Pattern #115 with a few alterations and a cording design based on the originals above.  The cording itself is the popular Sugar'n Cream cotton crochet yarn.  

Long stays in progress

To cord the stays, I first drew the cording channels and then machine stitched them.  Using a tapestry needle and pliers, I pulled the crochet yarn through each channel, leaving short tails at the end to gently ease inside.  In the future, I recommend laying the cording in and using a zipper foot or hand stitching the channels, rather than adding the cording afterwards...doing so will save your needles, hands and sanity!

Cording channels in progress

Along with the cording, four flat steel bones from Corset Making Supplies and a handmade, wooden busk from Redthreaded on Etsy provide shaping and support.  

Handmade, hardwood busk from Redthreaded on Etsy

I thought about hand stitching the eyelets, but decided against it as I had already used a machine on the cording channels and knew the stays were destined for fashion program use (rather than personal wear).  Also, metal grommets have been used in corsets since 1828, according to Norah Waugh in Corsets and Crinolines, so I didn't feel too bad or anachronistic about my choice.  

Later, I ended up stitching over each grommet with pearled cotton floss to simulate the look of ivory or bone eyelets.  If you have of a modern source or equivalent for either today, I'd love to know in the comments below! 

Binding and grommets and flossing, oh my!

The last step was to bind the straps, top and bottom edges.  For the binding, I cut and pressed bias strips from the outer cotton twill material and hand stitched them in place.  All of the edges were whip stitched down, except the area across the busk pocket, which was basted to allow for easy access and removal of the busk.  And now, it's time for pictures!

Completed Project Pictures 

Corded long stays - complete!



Exterior view.

Interior view.

Left side.

Right side.

Front cording.

Back grommet flossing, outside.

Back grommet flossing, inside.

Binding and grommets for the straps.

Binding, exterior detail shot.

Binding, interior detail shot.

Shoulder straps, inside and outside.

A complete set of 1830s undergarments! 

Thanks for reading!

July 11, 2018

Presenting on Fashion: "The Underwear Under There"

Unpacking from another "Underwear Under There" presentation this afternoon left me thinking about several things...so I thought I'd write a little blog post on both my fashion talk and related personal observations.  

Display of reproduction Regency Era underthings.

For me, the making and wearing of historical fashions has become more than simply an interest and hobby to pursue in spare time.  It's become my focus at both school and work, and a passion I hope to turn into a full-time career.  Nothing makes me happier than sporting the latest creation, or researching and sharing new discoveries with others.  Through this niche, I've met so many interesting people (both online and in person), formed friendships, gained confidence in public speaking and acceptance for my unusual interests (and odd appearance to the general public haha!)  

Over the past few years, I've been very fortunate to have several opportunities to develop and teach historical fashion education programs, including a walking tour, summer camp and general practice in front of school and senior groups, scouts and the general public.  I've started recording notes and folders for different presentations, in hopes that I can continue doing and expanding on these offerings.  I'd love to find more outlets and audiences, and am always open to suggestions - so please, suggest away!  

I enjoy working with children of all ages: 

Photograph credit:
Ruby Foote, GCV&M photographer

And even dressed and undressed for a college fashion history class: 

But, in the meantime, I'll be happy with my walking tour at the Genesee Country Village: "The Underwear Under There."  The first time I gave this presentation or "gathering" as our museum calls it was last summer.  In one hours time, visitors and I make three stops - first to the Dressmaker's Shop, then the Foster-Tufts House, and Romulus Female Seminary - tracing the dramatic changes in fashion and undergarments necessary to create the silhouettes during first half of the 19th century.  

At each building, I opened with the fashion tastes of that decade and a brief historical context.  It really helped to have the interpreters there to model the silhouettes from the outside, then to talk through the underwear layer by layer with reproduction examples.  To keep things entertaining and engaging, I added period anecdotes, fashion plates, satirical cartoons and a slew of terribly punny jokes, as well as passed around a majority of the undergarments.  People of all ages enjoyed trying on the sleeve plumpers and lifting the weight of several petticoats all at once.  (I even let several interested visitors try on my corsets and cage crinoline afterwards to bust some common myths!)  Finally, I took questions throughout the tour and referred to other attractions and events in the village, including the Susan Greene Costume Collection.  

Pictures from last year's walking tour: 

Every visitor receives a day sheet at admissions
with special programs, highlights and other information. 

I left a sign with a few items in the Dressmaker's Shop to interest visitors.
The interpreters were also so kind to advertise it!

Pictures from yesterday's walking tour:  I really hope I'll get to do it again, soon!  And maybe I'll convince a friend or the sister to take a few pictures during a future tour...

A new description and time!

For those who are interested, here's my outline:

1800s: Regency (named for the Prince of Whales and later King George IV) or Empire in France (after Napoleon crowned himself in 1804) 
  • Neoclassical revival and the popularity of the "little, white Regency dress"
  • Examples of undergarments: clocked stockings, chemise or shift, short stays, strapped or bodiced petticoats 
  • Fashion plates 

1830s: Romantic Era (named for the artistic and literary movement that focused on emotion over industrialization)
  • Transitional period, Gothic influences, popularity of fashion magazines (like Godey's, Peterson's, etc.)
  • Examples of undergarments: stockings, chemises and split drawers, long stays with wooden busks, sleeve plumpers, pockets, small supports and layers of tucked or corded petticoats
  • Fashion plates and satirical cartoons - here are two of my favorites: 

"Modern Oddities" by William Heath ("Paul Pry")
Hand-colored etching, published June of 1829
(Image source: The MET)

"The Toilet of a Modern Belle: Inflating a Lady"
Hand-colored etching, published July of 1829
(Image source: The MET)

1850s: Crinoline Era (named for the crinoline, of course!)
  • Textile advancements like the Singer sewing machine, mass production and expansion of ready to wear clothing 
  • Examples of undergarments: chemise and drawers, stockings, corset with slot and stud busk, cage crinoline and petticoats 
  • Fashion plates 

And last, but not least, I have to share this picture as a teaser for the next blog post:  When I saw this other the day, there was a screen shot and much squeeeeeing! 

❤ ❤ Costuming idols ❤ ❤ 

June 28, 2018

Down to the Seas - 1860s Photoshoot

"I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied"
- "Sea Fever" by John Masefield

At the beginning of the month, I finally finished the pink dress that had been waiting for a skirt since February.  Having a deadline of the fashion show at the Bement-Billings Farmstead Museum certainly helped move things along.  For those who sew, while there's nothing like the feeling of completing a longstanding U.F.O (or "UnFinished Object"), it's that first wearing that makes the trials of construction worth the challenge.  And thanks to Maria, the sister and photographer, we have pictures of that moment!

New dresses make me giddy!

Construction Details

Before jumping into the completed project pictures, let's discuss some of the details of the construction.  When I first saw this unusual reproduction cotton print, it just said make me into an 1860s day dress.  The background has tiny coral stripes against an ecru with large red and blue motifs.

The coral 1860s dress.

In fact, the print and scale are reminiscent of several tintypes I've come across, including this one, which served as inspiration:

Photograph of an 1860s lady
(Image via: Pinterest)

Here's my version:  I thought about adding silk trim, but then decided to keep the design simple with a single, self-fabric puff on each sleeve to let the fabric speak for itself.

Reproduction 1860s day dress with a large print.

For the bodice, I used the same block as the red "DNA dress" with a front opening fitted with two darts on each side and a one piece back with a curved tuck in the fashion fabric to mimic a three-piece back.  Both the neckline and bottom edge of the bodice were finished with piped facings, and the front facings were folded back and slip stitched to the lining.  Eleven metal hooks and thread eyes serve as closures.  

Following the directions in one of my most favorite resources, The Dressmaker's Guide by Elizabeth Stewart Clark, I drafted narrow sleeve puffs for the coat sleeves.  The sleeve hems were finished with wide muslin facings, and set into piped armscyes. 

Gathering the sleeve puffs.

Finished sleeves.

The skirt consists of four panels, balanced and gauged for wear over the hoop.  This was attached to the finished edge of the bodice, catching only the fabrics of the facing and lining to allow the piping to hang free.

Funny story, the dress actually came out a little short...apparently, in my eagerness to finish, I neglected to add extra length to the bodice (as it is set for a 1.5" waistband) and balanced the skirt to my usual measurements.  Rather than falling 2" off the ground as intended, the skirt rests at 4" over the hoop.  Luckily, Liz Clark and other experts on the Sewing Sisters Facebook group saved the day, assuring me that 4" is still within the acceptable range for adult.  So, learn from my mistake and always measure, twice is better! 

Close up of the piped edge and gauging from the outside.

Inside view of gauged skirt attached to the finished edge,
catching only the facing and lining to allow the piping to hang free. 

I had fun using up scraps for the hem facing!  I thought these two, pretty blue reproducing fabrics coordinated with the main print:

Close up of all of the reproduction prints! 
To me, the two blues look more 1830s appropriate,
but all three share that fern or coral-esque design.

Please note that I do use a machine for interior seams, though any visible stitching, finishings or 19th century techniques (like gauging) are done by hand.  And with that, let's move on to the pictures!

Completed Project Shots

The "coral dress," with it's coral-esque color and motif, just begged to be photographed at the seaside, or, in our case, by Lake Ontario.  For this photo shoot, Maria and I went up to the Irondequoit Bay, which has a small public beach and pier to walk out on.  It was both warmer and windier than we were expecting, leaving us with the sunburns to prove it, but Maria worked her magic with the camera as usual.  Many, many thanks to you, sister!

In the following pictures, the coral dress is worn over a mid-19th century chemise, drawers, modesty petticoat, corset, 90" cage crinoline with a small pad, and two tucked petticoats.  Accessories include reproduction stockings and boots, collar and belt by me, gold bee buckle by Ensembles of the Past, and ribbon hair net and matching bow by Timely Tresses

*All photographs courtesy of Maria M.*   

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;

And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

Poem is "Sea Fever" by John Masefield.

And just for fun, here's one last outtake before jumping into the next sewing project:  

Thanks for reading!