March 14, 2021

Two Roads Diverged: Taking a Hiatus

 "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both"
- Robert Frost

Upon graduation, I found myself searching - for a job, for an affordable apartment (still looking), for a sign, a direction, or just about anything with the ongoing pandemic.  It wasn't long and I found myself blessed with not just one, but two full-time job offers.  For the first, I had gone through the lengthy interview process, and the second came to me rather unexpectedly.  I found myself like the traveler at two roads diverged, facing two paths, both with opportunities to apply my degree and interests in separate, yet equally rewarding ways.

And readers, I made my choice.  I have accepted a full-time position in museum management, with responsibilities for overseeing and developing interpretive programming, special and after-hours events, and other collaborative efforts.  I have also decided to remain a part-time team member at a retailer of crafts and fabrics, where the most rewarding duty is helping customers plan and procure the supplies for their sewing projects.  In addition to occasionally cashiering and stocking, working at the fabric cutting counter (where you're most likely to find me) has allowed me to apply my love of fabrics (and enabling fabric buying for projects or stash-building haha) and teaching sewing on the daily.  

So while I haven't had the time or space to work on my own projects (everything is still in boxes from my move), I have found within the retail job, a much needed creative outlet, filling the void left by my lack of present artistic practice.  That said, I am now working two jobs - one fulltime plus, and the other part-time (and physically, quite the workout!).  In millennial speak - the hustle is real - trying to dodge burnout with 60 hour work weeks, and still hoping to afford a place of my own, eventually.  However,  I think I'm learning how to do this "adult" thing...

That said, there is a cost to this path I am choosing.  For most part, I will be placing the "sewphisticate" on hold.  So when updates on my blog and social media become scarce - they are not abandoned, only on hiatus.  (Please note that for now, my Patreon will still be active, and any potential changes to services there will be announced.)  

Thank you for your continued support, and if you see me out and about - either at the museum or in the fabric store - please say hello!

February 18, 2021

"Purled" or Ruched Ribbon Trim

Making decorative trim is like frosting on a cake!  A delight for the eyes, frilly, and fun, ribbon trimming can be the perfect finishing touch for any special project - and it only takes a few, simple and quick stitches to whip up a length. 

In today's blog post, I'll be sharing one of my favorite techniques for ruched, "purled," or "shell" trimming.  Ruching is another term for "gathering," and in this application, large running stitches across the length of a ribbon create a distinct and dimensional swirling pattern:

"Purled" or Ruched Ribbon Trimming

While I was familiar previously with a range of ruched trimmings, I was introduced to this particular style during a college "special topics" class in theatrical millinery.  Referred to as "purled ribbon" trimming, the following is an excerpt from the 1922 edition of Ribbon Trimmings: A Course in Six Parts by the Woman's Institute of Domestic Arts & Sciences, Department of Millinery (see the 1992 reprint by Sloane Publications): 

In a later, 1934 edition of Decorative Stitches and Trimmings, also by the Woman's Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences, the technique appears as "shell trimming."  (Access the digital copy from Cornell University through HathiTrust.)  Interestingly, notice the use of an almost identical image (Fig. 5 above; Fig. 4 below) in both texts:

Now for directions on how to make "purled" trim for your own projects!

First, gather your supplies.  These include the length of ribbon, a sturdy thread to match (I was using a glazed hand-quilting thread), and a sharp needle.  Consider the scale of your project when selecting the ribbon - a narrow 1"-2" width would make for a delicate edge, while a wider 6"-8" width would make a more dramatic, swooping trim.  The length of ribbon required varies depending on how densely you wish to draw the gathers; I found that 2-3 times the desired finished length was sufficient.  

Cut (or use a continuous) length of thread, and secure it to the edge of the ribbon with a few stitches or a pin.  Using a loose running stitch, work a line of diagonal stitches from the top edge to the bottom edge, and another in the other direction (bottom to top).  Continue stitching across the ribbon in a zig-zag pattern like this:

Running stitches in a zig-zag pattern

If you want to ensure that the gathers are evenly spaced, you can measure and mark the bias (as described in the vintage millinery manuals above), or simply "eyeball" the spacing as the gathers can be adjusted later...speaking of adjusting, I like to begin gathering the trim as I stitch.  

To gather the ribbon, simply pull on the thread gently to form the folds.  Experiment with the tightness of the gathers until pleasing - I preferred the look of denser gathers, which billow into a soft, yet structural scallop; while a looser gather retains more of the curvy zig-zag shape.  

Gently pull on the thread to ruche or gather the ribbon

When you've reached the desired length of trim, secure the threads at both ends of the ribbon to prevent the stitches from coming undone.  Fluff, redistribute, and arrange the gathers as needed.  

Arrange the gathers and secure the threads at both ends

And now your ruched ribbon trim is finished and ready to be added to the project of choice!

Finished sample of "purled" or ruched ribbon trim

Here's what the finished trim looks like added on top of another gathered frill on a cotton cap: doesn't it look like a confection?  The more trimmings, the merrier!

Have you ever made "purled" or another style of ruched ribbon trim?  

If you're looking for more ideas, check out these "10 Easy to Make Ribbon Trims" from Sew Guide, and there's an entire book (which I'm currently eyeing) on Ribbon Trims: An Embellishment Idea Book by Nancy Nehring.  If this tutorial was helpful to your sewing and you make something with ruched ribbon trim - feel free to share in the comments below! 

January 13, 2021

Solstice Swap 2020 [Gift Unboxing]

Back in December, Katie Lovely of Latina Living History organized an international "costuber" and costumer Solstice Swap!  Each of the participants drew a name in secret and exchanged gifts on the winter solstice, spreading much needed joy during the holiday season.  

Follow the official tag: #solsticeswap2020

If you've been following my other social media, you may have already seen my gift reveal, but I wanted to do a follow up post simply to share more pictures!  Look for the official tag - #solsticeswap2020 - to see all of the other, fun gift exchanges and unboxing videos on YouTube.  

But first, a shout out to Marion BrĂ©gier of the blog, Green Martha, who was my solstice swap!  Marion makes the most gorgeous historical costumes, art, and illustrations, and her bullet journal pages are seriously amazing!  If you don't already, follow her on Instagram @green.martha and on her Youtube channel.  Prepare to be inspired...and possibly start bullet journaling if you don't already :)

Solstice Swap Gift Unboxing

My solstice swap gift came from the one and only, Kristen of The Victorian Needle blog.  (She's also on Instagram @thevictorian_needle and Tiktok @the_victorian_needle, where you can find more of her crafts and hilarious #teachertok videos).  She really surprised me - going all out with my favorite colors, which are blues and corals; including Pusheen (love that cat!); and making the most beautiful, handmade and historical treasures:

Obligatory box photo...about to be opened!

And here's the reveal - I still can't believe she managed to fit everything inside the box!

Gift unboxing!

As for the particulars, there was a historical handkerchief from Burnley and Trowbridge: unknown by the sender, I actually had been eyeing this pattern for a while, and was thrilled to see this!

Postcards from the Detroit Institute of Arts: also unknown by the sender, I collect postcards!  So, Kristen really checked off every box with her gift ;)

And an incredible, hand-beaded, punch paper sewing box filled with an assortment of matching, punch paper sewing accessories! 

Hand-beaded, punch paper sewing box and matching accessories!

In case you were wondering what "punch paper" refers to, it is actually a heavy-weight paper with a grid of evenly-spaced, punched holes through which embroidery thread can be worked, much like modern day Aida cloth or needlepoint canvas.  According to an article on "Perforated Paper Needlework" by Diana Matthews, "perforated carboard" was available by the 1820s, and "gained in favor over the decades to become one of the most popular craft items of the Victorian age."

Matthews further speaks to the popularity and widespread uses for the craft, explaining that:

"During its heyday, perforated paper was available in dozens of different colors and embossed patterns and was used for making a large variety of household items.  Godey's Lady's Book, Peterson's Magazine as well as a host of other periodicals and books of the day regularly gave patterns for items to be made from this most innovative product.  Needle cases, wall pockets, stamp holders, hair receivers and complicated ornaments could be fashioned from it along with the bookmarks and mottoes as it lent itself well to both flat and 3-dimensional crafts." 
- "Perforated Paper Needlework" by Diana Matthews, Victoriana Magazine 

In fact, Kristen is an avid creator and collector of all things perforated paper, and probably holds the largest, antique, punch paper collection in the country, if not the world.  She's also written a booklet with scaled patterns (if you can find a copy, I highly recommend!), and teaches workshops on the subject.

Each component of Kristen's gift is a work of art itself, so I wanted to highlight the items on their own to give a sense of scale and close-ups of the intricate details.  Starting with the beaded sewing box, which is lined in royal blue silk:

Matching, embroidered thread winders:

A beaded, castle-shaped tape measure and holder, which took a lot of engineering! 

A needlebook with a very Victorian rose on the one side, and Pusheen on the other:

And finally, the most adorable, needle felted Pusheen - gosh I love that cat! 

I'm just in awe of all the time, talents, and thought Kristen put into her solstice swap gift...I'm honored to be the recipient and to call her my friend - thank you so much, Kristen! ❤️

January 4, 2021

Year in Review: Goodbye 2020, Hello 2021!

We made it, everyone, 2020 is over and done, and here's to another trip around the sun!

To say that the last year was difficult would be an understatement.  Uncertainty is uncomfortable, frustrating, and even frightening; but our continued hopes, dreams, and the possibilities in the new year ahead are unstoppable! 

There is no magic wand to free us from these trying times, (believe me, I'd be the first to wave one if I could), and, unfortunately, the turn of a calendar page may have little immediate effect on the state of the current pandemic.  I write this not to discourage, but to encourage us to reflect - to admit to deep disappointment, feel sadness, and grieve - and to celebrate the victories, both big and small.  More important than ever, in the upcoming year, let's set reasonable expectations, and be kind to ourselves and to others.  My mantra for 2021: expect nothing, appreciate everything.  

Speaking of appreciation, I'm so grateful for the continued encouragement of my sewing, weaving, education, and living history adventures.  To my friends, family, patrons, and all of you lovely followers on this blog, on the Facebook page, and on Instagram - thank you!  It's only because of your generous support that I'm able to create this content, which brings me and, hopefully, others so much joy.  

So to kick off the blogging for 2021, here's a look at last year's favorite memories:

Year in Review: 2020 Highlights

An interview with the National Geographic! 

Find the full article, here: "Historic Interpreters Share Their Sides of the Story"

This was an opportunity of a lifetime, and the greatest honor to be included with so many powerful voices, including Cheyney McKnight of Not Your Momma's History.  To tell the story - of their history, our history, American history - and to be a part of a more diverse and inclusive future at living history sites and museums.  Many thanks to the journalists, Jennifer Barger and Heather Greenwood Davis, for their important work, and to my friend, Cheyney, for leading the path forward.  

If you haven't already, read the article, here: "Historic Interpreters Share Their Sides of the Story

Speaking at Costume On 2: Tailored, an international online conference!

The biannual, international online conference, Costume On, connects costumers and historical fashion enthusiasts from all over the world for a weekend of virtually-hosted seminars and workshops.  (Make sure to visit their website at: for upcoming conferences, master classes throughout the year, historical patterns, and more!)

During the Fall 2020 conference, I had the great privilege and pleasure of teaching two classes!  I wrote a blog post about those classes, here: Online Conference - Costume On 2: Tailored.   The first lecture presented Chinese-American history through the lens of the Civil War, giving background on early Chinese immigration, stories from both sides of the war, and post-war discrimination and lasting legacy.  In fact, through this conference, thanks to several steps of connections, I was able to correspond with a long-time hero of mine, Irving Moy, author of An American Journey, living historian, and expert on Chinese-American participation in the Civil War.  We've since kept in touch, and his continued encouragement and the wealth of information he's shared are truly invaluable. 

The second lecture was on Orientalism, defined by centuries of complex, cross-cultural borrowing, imitation, and appropriation, with a particular emphasis on the textiles, garments, and accessories that have shaped menswear from the late-16th through 19th centuries.  I've become enamored with this extensive area of dress history, and it has endless possibilities for presentations (so keep an eye out for more on this subject to come in 2021...)

I learned so much, personally and professionally, about presenting through this debut into (online) public speaking, and I'm so grateful to Chantal Filson, the founder and dean of the conference, for the opportunity - thank you! 

Launching a Patreon!

This was somewhat of a surprise endeavor this year, and never would have been possible without the support of my good friend, social media guru, and personal champion, Kristen.  Launched during the summer quarantine, it's been amazing to connect with an online costuming community through zoom meetings, our monthly, "sip-and-sew" live chants, and other virtual events. 

On Patreon, several membership levels or tiers allow patrons to directly assist individual artists and makers in their creative endeavors.  In exchange, patrons unlock exclusive contents, live chats, personalized gifts, and more, funding the hopes and dreams of many creators, including yours truly! 

In fact, I have four, lovely patrons to thank today!  Their support and belief in me actively transforms current and future projects from dreams to reality.  And I look forward to developing my Patreon throughout this upcoming year, and beyond! 

Completing my college thesis & dress project!

A model of a period-correct costume for a historical interpreter.

After three semesters of research, writing, and sewing (and additional complications during the pandemic), my senior thesis - Wearing History: The Value in Costuming Historical Interpreters at Living History Sites & Museums - and the accompanying dress project (depicted above) are finished!  

In total, I wrote a 46-page research paper, exploring the potential in adequately-funded, period-accurate costuming programs for improving visitor engagement, staff performance, and institutional credibility and outreach.  For the project component, I assembled a model of a period-correct costume for a historical interpreter, constructing everything from the undergarments, to the day dress, accessories, and outerwear.  I also composed a series of appendixes to document the construction process, quantify the costs, and justify each design choice with descriptions from the chosen time period.  All in all, handing the massive project in was a relief, and I'd love to publish it in some form in the future.  

I graduated summa cum laude! 

It's official, I hold a Bachelor's of Integrated Studies (with two minors) from Kent State University!

Somehow I managed to survive art school - with double concentrations in costume construction and textile arts.  (The 4.0, however, comes at the cost of three years without sleep...there was the weekly all-nighter or two, late nights and weekends in the studios, and finals weeks we will never speak of again, #stilltramatized).  Two decades as a career student are over, and onto the next history museums here I come!

Social Media Milestones

I try not to get caught up with the numbers game, but I did want to mention the social media milestones of 2020:

  • Our Facebook page broke 500+ "likes" and followers.  
  • On the blog, I managed to write 18 blog posts, which, though modest in number, is up from the previous year...we also rebranded as The Sewphisticate, a name which better reflects my growth not only as a seamstress, but as a textile artist, educator and living historian.

What will 2021 bring?

Since there's no telling when in-person events may resume, I'd like to draw your attention to the fabulous Virtual Regency Retreat, hosted by the Historic Joseph Teel House!  (Registration is open until January 28th, with the virtual retreat running January 29th through the 31st)  According to their website, the event will feature an entire weekend of guest speakers, performances, and other activities, including a virtual fashion show, which I have the honor of being a participant:

Virtual fashion show at the Joseph Teel House - 
Visit their website to see all of the participants!

I'm also looking forward to more public speaking engagements in the future (plans are already in the works!), as well as continuing to build and maintain an online presence in the New Year.  While I feel some uncertainty, there's also excitement for what's to come next...

Cheers 2021, and may we make every minute count!

October 21, 2020

Inside & Out: 1830s Striped Dress

Before dust starts collecting on this dress hung in the back of the costume closet, I thought I'd feature it one last time on the blog.  This inside & out post completes the series on the red striped dress, detailing its construction and all of the fun, self-fabric trimmings.  The completed project appears in two previous posts, including the official photoshoot: Wake the Heart & Stir the Soul - 1830s Photoshoot, and was worn for the Historical Fashion Program: 1830s Get Ready With Me + 4 Antique Pelerines.  

Inside & Out: 1830s Striped Dress Construction
Here are the completed bodice and skirt ready to be attached!

Historical Inspiration

When designing my historical costumes, I first look to period sources, including fashion plates, paintings (and photographs when they become available), and extant examples from museum collections.  The main inspiration for my 1830s striped dress was this favorite from the Snowshill Wade Costume Collection, via the National Trust.  I've always admired the use of the roller print and playing with the direction of the stripes, as some are on the bias and others on the straight of grain.  

Dress, c.1825-30
Snowshill Wade Costume Collection
Source: National Trust Collections (NT 1349130)

Here's another example of bias cut trim on the skirt from a November 1827 issue of Ackermann's Repository (Series no. 3, volume 10):

Morning Dress from Ackermann's Repository, November 1827.
(Source: "Regency Era Fashions," EKDuncan and My Fanciful Muse)

Rather than gathering the front of the bodice, I wanted to make use of the bias again and create this period chevron effect.  Here's an example from the Susan Greene Collection that I liked, notice how strategically changing the direction of the stripes on the belt creates a lovely, decorative effect.

Dress with gigot sleeves, c.1825-1830.
Susan Greene Costume Collection.
(Source: image via pinterest)

Construction Details

The journey from design and sourcing the fabric to making and finally finishing the dress was a long, complicated one.  In fact, it languished incomplete in the stash for so long, that the initial bodice no longer fit, and required the assistance of my very talented, seamstress friend, Kaela, to refit the shoulders and back.  (My guess is that my original pattern did not account for the weight and pull of the sleeves, so the next time I make an 1830s dress, I definitely won't skip the mockup with a sleeve over the proper supports.)  Anyways, fitting issues aside, the dress was eventually completed, and I'm really happy with some of the construction techniques and design details that I'll highlight below:

First, a look at the front of the bodice from the outside.  The front features the period bateau or boat neckline often seen in daywear, and is finished with a narrow, piped facing.  The "chevron" effect is created by cutting each side on the bias and joining them at the center with piping at the seam (piping serves both a decorative and functional purpose by ensuring the sides won't stretch and stabilizing the seam).  Two darts on each side provide fitting, and the waistline is finished with a band cut on the straight of grain.  

Front view of the bodice from the outside.

Here's a close up of the center front, notice how the darts distort the print further creating an illusion of a smaller waist.  I love the play between the directions on the bodice, waistband, and skirt! 

The chevron effect is created by cutting two, front sides on the bias and joining them at the center front.
Even the piping in the seam is pattern matched - it's the little details that make me happy!

And the same view, from the inside showing the center seam, darts, and finishing with both a piped facing at the neckline and folded waistband.  Neat and tidy interiors also make me happy! 

Detail of the front bodice from the inside.

The dress closes in the back with each side constructed in the same way - two pieces with a curved seam and turned under facing.  It's attached to the front at the shoulder, with piping at both seams and armscyes for added stability.  Seven metal hooks - five down the back and two on the waistband - with corresponding thread eyes were used for closures. 

Back view of the bodice from the outside.

Back view of the bodice from the inside.
Seven metal hooks and thread eyes serve as closures.

Detail of the piping in the shoulder seam, armscye, center front seam, and neckline facing. 

If I haven't already mentioned it, I like neatly finished interiors.  Modern garments tend to use a technique called "bag lining," where the fashion fabric and lining are assembled individually and then stitched together afterwards.  Period garments, however, tend to be flat lined - that is treating the fashion fabric and lining as one.  (Here my fashion fabric is the red stripe, and the lining is cotton muslin).  I prefer flat lining (because it's faster!), and if the raw edges start to ravel, they can be overcast by hand, pinked, or even overlocked using a modern serger.  

Another detail worth mentioning is how the sleeve supports are attached.  As seen in period examples, mine are simply tied in place at the armsyces using cotton tapes.  This makes them somewhat adjustable as they can be raised or lowered to sit correctly off the shoulder.  It's also a convenient solution for storage and reuse with other dresses! 

Interior view of the bodice.
Cotton tape ties hold the sleeve supports in place.

Once the bodice was assembled, it was time to shift the focus onto the sleeves!  The side seams were finished with piping, and the wrists with a narrow piped facing.  Basically, in the 1830s, if there was seam, they piped it!  I also echoed the trim of the skirt, applying both a bias cut and horizontal band at the wrists.  Unfortunately, I think these details tend to get lost in the business of the print when worn...but here's a picture to prove they're there:

Detail of the sleeve hems - notice the piping along the side seams, piped wrist facings,
and both bias cut and horizontal bands of trim.

Moving along to the skirt, after some debate, I ended up pleating the front panels into large, double-stacked box pleats (which were not fun to stitch through), and gauging the back panels.  I really liked the effect this had, both in playing with the print at the front, and they way it distributed all of the fullness.  The skirt is balanced so that the back is longer than the front (for an even hem over the skirt supports and petticoats), and is finished with a contrasting hem facing.  

Skirt detail featuring double-stacked box pleats in the front and gauging in the back.
Tiny whip stitches secure the skirt to the bodice waistband.

Making skirt trim!  To save time, I did use a machine to construct the trim, stacking bands of bias-cut strips to those following the horizontal stripe, which were cut on the grain.  Once these were assembled and pressed, I used a machine to stitch the upper edge to the skirt hem following my 1/2" allowance as marked in pencil.  The trim was then pressed down and top stitched by hand using tiny running stitches.  Of course, in the period, every stitch would have been done by hand; however, in my historical garments, I use a combination of machine and hand stitching.  Any and all stitching that might be visible from the outside (as well as techniques that are just not possible by machine like gauging and attaching a skirt) are done by hand.  Though, I will use a machine for convenience and time saving on interior seams or, again, details that won't be visible from the outside. 

Assembling the skirt trim.

Attaching the top edge of the trim by machine to save time.
The lower edge was pressed under a 1/2" and top stitched by hand using tiny running stitches.
When constructing my personal historical costumes, I do use a combination of machine and hand stitching -
it's just faster for me to machine interior seams, though any and all stitching
that could be visible on the outside is done exclusively by hand.

The finished skirt trim.

Contrasting hem facing.

And I think that's it as far as construction notes - if I missed anything or if you have questions, feel free to write them in the comments below!

Since this is an inside & out post, I'll include a picture of the new chemise & drawers set I made specifically for the second wearing, which was for that historical get-ready-with-me program.  I won't go into the details of all of the layers (as there's a whole video on getting dressed in the 1830s in the last post), but for my own sewing documentation purposes, these were the new pieces:

In the true spirit of inside & out...
New chemise & drawers + my favorite boots!

Completed Project Pictures

Here's a look at the finished striped dress worn over the proper undergarments.  I think it's pretty even without all of the extra accessories.  The self-fabric trim and directional print seems to provide enough contrast to keep visual interest.  Though, if you're interested in seeing the entire outfit with all of the finishing touches, do check out the official photoshoot: Wake the Heart & Stir the Soul - 1830s Photoshoot, and the Historical Fashion Program: 1830s Get Ready With Me posts. 

Fully accessorized & seated in the front parlor at the Foster-Tufts House: 

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