Thursday, December 13, 2012

Little Mood Indigo

Just a little project I made for fun--a modern baby dress:

I haven't made as much in the way of baby clothes as I intended to--I've been a little busier than expected.  Imagine that.  But I had the itch and a drawer full of fabric, so I decided to give it a go.

The pattern was drafted from one of E's jumpers--I traced and tweaked.

The fabric was some blue silk charmeuse that I'd dyed and prepped to make a Roaring Twenties dress for a Bootlegger's Ball last winter.  By the time I was ready to make the dress I was pregnant and exhausted and not going to the party because of the two aforementioned.

Who makes baby clothes out of silk, anyway?  Yeah, seems like a poor idea from the washability standpoint, but it was what I had on hand that wasn't heavy wool or something equally unsuitable.

I lined the interior of the bodice with linen and added a band to the skirt of the same material to give the dress some oomph and support:

And added a silk organza pouf for funsies:

It's a touch small for my dress form, but still too big for E:

Maybe a New Year's Eve dress?  For someone who will be in bed well before midnight?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

18th Century Baby Clothes Close-Up

In some ways, this post might be entitled "Things not to do when making 18th century baby clothes."  Because you see, I made quite a few not-quite authentic decisions in order to get something done in time.

For great info on infant linen (aka layette, aka clothes for baby to poop in), see Sharon Burnston's excellent website and do what she says instead of what I did.

To be fair, I started with research.  And fabric I had on hand, and a couple of weeks with a newborn, which is not a lot of time for those of you who haven't had the experience of a newborn.  So I ended somewhere rather far away from what I'd researched, at least for me.  I'm picky like that.

First: Baby linen begins with an infant shirt, not a long shift or shirt like adult clothing.  This is the one I made Baby E:

So, first lesson if you decide to use the excellent gridded patterns on Burston's website.  They run a touch small.  Now, yes, babies are small.  But babies also grow--and what I imagine are newborn-sized grids ended up too small for even my one-month old.

That said, it was really fun to make--the pattern is really nifty in that it's cut all in one piece, and the shape is achieved by snipping a few spots and folding.  So very 18th century, using fabric as economically as possible.

Sadly, the shirt was completely unusable--I couldn't even get it on Baby E.  Lesson number two if you decide to make baby clothes--unlike modern clothing, linen clothing doesn't stretch.  It really does have to be on the larger side to get your wriggly infant into it.

I went rogue and made this instead:

I had my reasons.  First, though I could have sized up the pattern, I was, as mentioned, short on time.  Second, and more importantly, I wanted something long enough to cover Baby E's little feet since I didn't have time to make the petticoat that should go with the infant shirt.  It was going to be a touch chilly!

Shaped v-neck I made up to mimic the infant shirt neckline:

To go over the shirt (er, shift-esque thingy), I made an infant bedgown.  Again, ingenious one-piece fold and sew pattern.  Except that I wanted to make this out of wool.  And the only wool I had on hand was a scrap of blue left over from my short cloak which was not large enough to lay out the whole pattern on.

So I pieced it.  A lot:

Detail of side and back piecing with bottom triangular gore:

I added ties--because pinning this sounded like a nightmare for both of us:

 And that's that!  To make your own, check out 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Back, and with Baby Clothes!

So, I fell off the face of the earth for awhile--sorry about that!  Crazy thing about falling off the face of the earth--they have babies there!  I brought one back with me:

She's ok, we think we'll keep her.

Of course, if she was going to roll with me, she needed some 18th century clothing...and quick!  Because her first event was when she was just over a month old, at the end of October.

We did quickie projects out of linen I already had on hand, with flash-fast patterns drafted with a little help from Sharon Burnston's fabulous website.  If you need 18th century infant clothes, check out her site!  Free patterns and all the research you could want.

That said--we had to fudge because I didn't have time to do a full baby linen set.  Instead, Baby E got a long shirt (fudge alert--did this instead of the shorter shirt and separate petticoat), a cap, and a bedgown.  

Here she is wearing the shirt and cap:

Think she might be trying to gnaw on my mother's arm because she knows we fudged her outfit?  Nah, probably just hungry. Again.

Yeah, that's it.  Little imp.

 Better pics and construction notes to come, plus pics of the bedgown and (teaser alert!) photos of Baby E's gorgeous baby gift--an original embroidered baby cap.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Maternity Ensemble in Action

Just a quick pic showing that--yay!--clothing adjusted for maternity wearing continues to work.  The gestational stays allow the gowns and jackets I already owned to fit in the back and top of the bodice, and a generous stomacher covers the expanding portion of me.  You can see as well that the petticoats continue to hike upwards.

And what in the world am I holding?  A sponge-ram, for our cannon (sponge for cleaning out the bore at the top, ramrod for charging the piece at the bottom, like an oversized multitool).  The artillery piece was being moved and I was pitching in by holding onto some gear.  Yes, I'm being a good girl and not moving cannons while pregnant!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Talking Dirty : Should Your Impression be Unkempt?

One of the most common pieces of advice I see on how to better your impression for living history is "More dirt."  This is particularly true of military reenactment, where most women are assumed to be portraying campfollowers and most men are common soldiers.  "Put some deliberate tears in your clothes, or don't mend the ones that happen naturally."  "Get some dirt on your clothes and don't wash it off."  "Make sure your face is a little dirty." The logic goes that, without daily showers and our modern, comparatively inexhaustible wardrobes, we ought to look a bit bedraggled.

I question how bedraggled.

It's completely true that people in the 18th century (or earlier, or 19th...or, in fact, 20th up to a point) bathed less often than we did.  It's true as well that they had much smaller wardrobes on average.  And it's true as well that, in a military camp or on campaign, dirt and grime was unavoidable.

It's also, however, true that clothing was expensive.  Those smaller wardrobes had to last--and nothing is going to degrade clothing more quickly than not mending it.  I seriously doubt that, excepting extreme duress when mending would be impossible, that individuals in the 18th century didn't take the time to patch up holes and stitch down rips.  Perhaps a better way to add the realism of wear and tear on clothing is to spend time in camp mending something you own.

Even dirt can, over time, wear the fibers of clothing.  Remember that military camps employed laundresses--so laundry must have been done in some fashion.  As regularly as we do?  Certainly not.  As little as to have shirts that stand up on their own and clothing so black as to be unrecognizable?  Probably not that, either.  Laundering clothing isn't just a nicety--it's a way of protecting your fabric investment.  Of course, some items were made to get dirty--like aprons or fatigue shirts.  I say, use it properly and you won't need to "fake" the dirt!  Half a day of hauling cast iron and cooking and washing up, and my apron begins to show some extra color.  (Plus, it's also my napkin, and I want to save a few clean spots...)

Finally, soldiers were expected to look at least relatively clean and presentable while in garrison.  On campaign things may have gone south a little, but a soldier on the parade ground was not supposed to be unkempt.   So one must ask where one is intended to be located when deciding how dirty one should be.  In the midst of a forced march?  Perhaps a bit dirtier than at a relatively comfortable garrison.

But let's leave the speculations behind and take a look at what images from the time might have to say instead.  Apologies that these are so small!  However, both illustrate the range of "camp women" one could expect to find (both from English camps). 

This image shows a prostitute being drummed from camp.  The prostitute herself looks relatively bedraggled--I imagine she hasn't had the easiest last few hours of it.  However, the other women on he scene are not unkempt.  To the right, a camp follower seems to add her vocal displeasure to the scene, but does not appear to be very unclean or unmended.  Finally, the two women to the right are very well-dressed in high fashion.  What are *they* doing in camp?  Well, remember that not every woman in a military camp lived in a military camp.  Women would often pay visits to relatives or husbands while encamped--meaning that a lady wearing silks is not necessarily "wrong" in camp.

Here, a woman tidies up her children at the far right.  Neither she nor the kiddos look ragged--and note that she's taking time to get them ready and presentable in this morning scene.  Another woman looks to be washing up in the back left.  Her hair is neatly pulled back under a cap, and no dirt or tears to be seen.

(More great images online at Najecki Reproductions )

I do, by the way, assume that these images are not greatly idealized.  They seem to portray lifelike scenes in camp in a sketch format--not pastoral or imagined scenes that are typically idealized to some degree.

So, should we get dirty to accurately portray the past?  Maybe...and maybe not as dirty as we think we should.  Taking our recreated circumstances into consideration is key--whether *you* should be dirty may be a different story than whether *I* should be dirty, per our intended personas.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Gestational Stays

After much yammering about them, the stays!

I decided after researching gestational stays to use my trusty 1780 pattern and split the sides at a spot that made sense, rather than copying the Diderot or the pattern in Salen's book.  This was mostly as a potential time-saver--I needed to churn these out pretty quickly in order to make use of them when I needed them!

The green linen version I made earlier this year:

And the gestational version:

Spot the other difference?  Yeah, I ran out of time and skipped the straps.

The basics:  The innards are two layers of canvas-weight fabric with a layer of peach silk on the exterior.  To compensate for slightly flimsy silk, I used fusible web to give it some heft--not 18th century accurate, but neither is our modern flimsy silk.  The binding is cotton tape.

The concept is simple--it's the same pattern I've used before (based on Norah Waugh's 1780 stays), which I've discussed making twice already (for the green linen stays, in particular), except that the front piece is not attached to the side pieces except at the very top, and an additional set of lacing holes is added where the stays would normally attach.

Detail of the side lacing--this can lace closed or out far further than it is currently.  It can also, um, get those nasty metal grommets covered in pretty peach floss when I get around to it, too.

More like the back lacing:

In the classification of "fully boned," "half boned" and other definitions, I'd say that these fall in at "rather lightly boned end of half boned."  I was unsure how wearing stays while pregnant would go, so went easy on the boning.  Boning is all cable ties.

I did, however, include one little variation that I didn't see on any gestational stays but put my mind at ease about bridging the gap between keeping a nice silhouette but being able to go lighter-boned if comfort became an issue.  I made a fully-boned inset piece that's attached to the interior back--it can be clipped out easily if it becomes uncomfortable:

Interior shot, showing the individual pieces joined and the interior of the side-lacing:

And the stays in action on my dress form.  Clearly, on a person, they don't lie flat on the front, but, rather, the front "hovers" over the bump.

So far, wearing these is a dream!  I could have actually made them a smidge tighter--the back laces fully closed and I could stand to "cinch" a touch more for back support.  The side lacing makes them extremely flexible in this regard--you can maintain a more rigid silhouette and give yourself support at the back without putting any pressure on the front at all.

I can confidently say that I can see why women wouldn't have balked at wearing stays while pregnant--they're no more confining than modern maternity pants and give excellent back support.  Plus, they've allowed me to keep wearing my "normal" wardrobe and I'm approaching the third trimester--I would have had to abandon all my fitted gowns, caracos, and jackets before now had I gone unstayed.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Gestational Stays: The Research

You would think, what with women spending so much of their time pregnant and with stays being such commonly preserved extant items (compared to, say, non-quilted petticoats), that finding images and extants would be, if not easy, not exactly difficult.

Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot out there to go on when it comes to researching how to make gestational stays.  There is, however, ample enough evidence to show that they existed.

First--there's really no good way you can wear clothes like this unless you're wearing some type of stays:

"The Man of Business" from the Lewis Walpole Library.  More on this print here.

The, ahem, busy gentleman on the left is of less interest here than the bevy of pregnant ladies on the right, all of whom are wearing gowns.  Aside from protruding bellies, the gowns have the characteristic 18th century shape--meaning the women must have been stayed to wear them.  Plus, to make your pre-pregnancy gown wearable, you need the back and sides to fit--which means wearing it over stays.  There were other options (see this fun article from Historical Williamsburg) but from what I've seen and what common sense tells me, continuing to wear stays for all or most of pregnancy was probably the norm.  The other options--for instance, quilted support garments--are interesting, but even less prevalent than gestational stays among images, written snippets, and extants for me to assume that they were common.

Then there are a few examples living out there of gestational stays.  First, the Kyoto museum used to have a great example of stays with side-lacing up, but it's since disappeared--and of course before I managed to swipe an image for my research file.  Second, there's a great image and breakdown of an extant garment in Jill Salen's Corsets.  I've been unable to find digital images to link to, but it's a pretty widely available book via library loan (and is also relatively inexpensive, and has tons of other great corsets to study/swoon over).  Basically--it's a c.1780 pair with some fun vertical and horizontal boning detail that has an additional set of lacing at either side.

Finally, there's the famous image from Diderot:
Figure Three shows "Bodies for pregnant women laced by the two sides at A"
So it's almost impossible to see in the dainty little illustration, but the stays are pretty much identical to Diderot's two other pages of stays variations, except that they have an additional lacing along the side.

What did all these examples have in common?  They seemed to take the predominant shape of the era they were made in (Salen's example is later than the Diderot) and split them at the sides with an additional set of lacing.  After much deliberation--do I try to model my stays after a particular example?--I decided to use my own pattern, but split them at a point that made sense.  This was, after all, pretty much what all the original examples seemed to do.

Let's also kick a misconception to the curb real quickly, too--despite medical doctors at the end of the 18th century decrying how awful stays were to a developing fetus, there is no reason to assume that most women were tight-lacing over pregnant bellies and putting their health and their babies at risk.  In fact, the way gestational stays are constructed makes them no more constricting than modern maternity jeans if worn correctly, and the support granted to the lower back is probably an advantage.  So why did doctors bring it up?  In my opinion they were either arguing against tight-lacing in general, or jumping on the "no stays is healthier" bandwagon that changed right along with fashion (and, ahem, didn't really change before...).

Next time: my gestational stays and how they're put together.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Maternity 18th Century Clothing in Action

So far my plans for accommodating a growing belly with my current 18th century wardrobe are working!  I've been to two events so far this year (one this weekend--holy cannoli, but it was hot!) and the garments are all holding their own:

Gestational Stays: Best thing ever.  Seriously.  They allow me to continue to wear my fitted gowns and jackets because the back is still shaped 18th century style, while allowing for expansion in front.  Plus, a little back support is actually really nice.  Will post pics as soon as I have my sanity back from this weekend.

Current Fitted Garments: Still working, though becoming problematic.  I made a printed cotton stomacher that matches my caraco and coordinates with my linen gown, and though it's currently workable and even kind of cute, it's probably going to be outgrown.  Will have to keep adjusting and trying new options as we continue!  I wear an apron to cover the hilariously splayed-out bottom portion of the gown bodice.

Everything Else:  It's so awesome how shifts and petticoats are so adjustable!  It is funny though--I've already developed the characteristic "shortened front" that happens when your petticoats have more ground to cover in front than in back.  It's actually kind of nifty to share this with women who lived centuries ago!

Yes, I always fail to do real photo shoots and have to rely on what friends snap over the course of a weekend!  But here's the caraco in action, with the apron tied higher than usual to accommodate the bump (classic 18th century move--I think some have claimed it's a deliberate camouflage technique, but honestly, there's no other comfortable way to tie it!):

Seated shot...not as great at showing how the clothing works, but it shows how shade works.  Shade works really well when it's 95 degrees.

Hope everyone had a lovely Memorial Day weekend!  Despite the heat, it's always a privilege to celebrate the weekend by actively remembering those who came before us.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Moving...New Writing Blog!

When I started blogging, I wanted to write about two main topics: sewing/history/living history and writing.  I still want to write about those two things--but I've realized it makes a lot more sense to do it in two different places.

I love the communities I interact with on both sides, so if you're a writer-friend who'd rather not read about all these sewing shenanigans, come over to the new place:  If you're a stitchy-friend who'd rather skip the writing musings, stick with me here.  And of course, if you're a rare bird who wants to read about both--I'll see you even more often!

One more thing--thanks so much for stopping by!  Keep creating!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Moved! And a New Apron

First--Hi! I'm back! It looks like I missed some interesting stuff out there--catch me up on what you're up to!

So, in my world. Moving. That was fun.

So was finagling getting internet service moved. Fun.

You know what's also fun? Discovering that your apron is buried in a box in storage. Ooops.

But every cloud has a silver lining, sometimes one that involves scrap fabric and sewing challenges. This one? Whip up an apron from the scrap fabric I'd used to pack my sewing machine.

See, I brought only a few projects with me to our temporary digs, and the rest of my fabric and supplies went into storage. But I had just a little bit of fun cotton broadcloth leavings that I'd used to pad my sewing machine in its box for the move. And thus the Apron Challenge.

Felicity models how I intended for the apron to be worn:

Now she shows you how someone with a baby bump has to wear it:

Whoops, should have thought of that when I put this thing together--at least it's flexible! I kind of like it this way, to be honest--it reminds me of a Regency-era Empire-waisted bib-front gown.

As you can see, it's a very basic style, and I just kind of winged the design--no genius pattern drafting skills needed here. The curved top? Because the fabric already had part of a curve cut in and I kind of liked it. The box pleats? Because box pleats are pretty--so why not? The polka dot straps? I ran out of stripes...
Box pleats are pretty.  I'd add them to everything, but that might get a little goofy...

Lots of sewing coming up--including (finally) pics, research, discussion and general yappiness on the gestational stays, a cocktail dress to accomodate my ever-increasing bulk, and--perhaps--the start of the Regency gown I've been planning for over a year--wearing my new apron has inspired me to get back to it! Also--fingers crossed for a new Rather Old House as Relocation 2012 continues!

Monday, April 16, 2012


I have the gestational stays almost finished (and a good thing, too--I need them this weekend!), but wanted to share, instead of pictures and a project rundown, an apology that I've been absent and will continue to be spotty. About two weeks ago my husband got a job out of state, and in about two weeks we're moving. Yeah. Apparently doing "one thing at a time" isn't our operational mode, so yep--new job, interstate move, buying a house, and having a baby all at once. I think it's like ripping off a bandaid, change is...might as well have it all done at onec! I might be a touch checked out for a couple weeks--but I'll be back, and around when I can!

Because spring is pretty, timely, and represents change for the positive:

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Nothing to Wear: The Story of My 18th Century Maternity Wardrobe

So, what did pregnant 18th century ladies wear? In deciding how to outfit myself at events for the next six months (and believe you me, I have no intention of not participating fully in events, swollen ankles, giant belly, crankiness or no! Sorry about the potential crankiness, rest of my unit...), my first question must be, "what is correct for me to wear?"

Good news--for the most part, women in the 18th century didn't have maternity clothing. Their everyday clothes were adjusted--and built to adjust--to accomodate the weight gain and loss associated with pregnancy. Fitted gowns and jackets would lace or pin, ever-wider, over stomachers--perhaps made extra-wide. Bedgowns and shortgowns, which are looser-fitting clothes, could just be wrapped around and pinned or belted with an apron. And petticoats--you have to love the genius of petticoats, which just tie looser or tighter depending on the current state of affairs. Stays were either built with additional side lacing or, in some cases, eventually discarded in favor of quilted support garments.

Bad news--I've been building my wardrobe since I was 16 or so and really wasn't thinking "baby-bump adaptability" at that point.

So, I have in my current wardrobe no loose bedgowns or shortgowns, and several perfectly fitted and--let's sigh together--non-stomachered gowns and caracos.

What to do?

First, the things that shan't need adjustment--my shifts and petticoats will be good to go.

Second, the things that might work for a while--I have one jacket with a stomacher that I can squeak by with for a while, and a caraco with a lot of extra room in the front.

Third, the brand new--the peachy pink stays. More on those soon, and what makes them pregnancy-adaptable.

Finally, the creative solutions. I may rework one gown with robing and a stomacher to make it adjustable. I'm afraid that just pinning or lacing what I've got over a stomacher will look incredibly wonky, and while that might be forgiveable, it's not ideal. I may finally make a bedgown, even though I kind of hate how they look. Don't judge. They're a great garment. They're adaptable. I know. They're just so...schlumpfy. At least on me. Some people look adorable. I look like a schlumpf. I've never done schlumpfy and I'd rather not start now, but it may be unavoidable.

My final creative idea: I've been hankering after a chemise a la reine for a long while, and from examining Norah Waugh's cutting diagrams and others' finished products, I think it could be quite adaptable. The only issue--it falls just at the tail end of what I can document for our period (through 1783) and definitely falls outside the range of dates for my current portrayal (1777). Still, I may just throw caution to the wind, make it, wear it happily, and claim pregnancy exemption from criticism.

The current priority is getting the stays done by mid-April for my first event of the year--it's going to be a bit rushed, but after trying on my "normal" stays to get the fit of the new ones right, I think it's a necessity. Not comfortable!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Mystery Fabric, Solved! And the Winners Are...

Apologies for leaving you in suspense so long (well, perhaps not in so much suspense as all that...) I have some exciting new things going on that stole some time last week, and will keep on doing so for the next couple months, but let's get on to the point!

What is that fabric becoming?

I'll tell you--some of the ideas put forth by the guesses really got me thinking! Brooke's idea for a pale pink cocktail dress, complete with accessories, might have to go on the to-make list. And Taylor and MrsC are both spot-on that I'm in love with 1912 and want to make a gown from the era soon (and peachy pink would be lovely for an evening gown, in my opinion). Cassidy is correct that 1920s is on the (cutting) table for me--just not for this project.

Someone, however, did guess 100% correctly.

And that person guessed that I'm making a set of stays.

But wait! I said this was going to be different! A new project, a departure! So it must be a different era, right? Maybe Regency? Maybe early 18th century?

Nope. Still late 1770s/early 1780s.

OK, that's just cheating.

Except. A certain Anonymous (and please feel free to id yourself in the comments and claim your prize!) was correct in the slight difference. I'm making gestational, or maternity, stays.

Which means that, yes, the next departure will be baby clothes.

Hopefully by September.

Yikes. That's a lot of work on a lot of fronts :)

Wish me luck! And I'll be posting my progress and the fun stuff I find on clothes for mothers and babies in the eighteenth century along the way!

And the winner of the prize, chosen at random (and with quite a good guess of her own) is Caroline! You've got my email, Caroline--drop me a line to claim your prize :)

Photos soon of the stays in progress, and my research on stays for expanding waistlines soon!

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Mystery Fabric, Henceforth Known as PeachXsplosion

A little bit about the Mystery Fabric--guess what it's for here to win!

So--two yards of white silk, a little tub of salmon dye, and me.

We did what we were supposed to do, the three of us--we got our dye going and we did testers. And we followed the instructions quite to the T.

And then something terrible happened, which I can't explain.

My salmon dye, tried and tested, dyed my silk traffic-cone orange.

This was quite distressing. I was aiming for a pink, peach, salmon, heck--even calomine colored final product. Anything in that range would have made me happy. And then I saw the fabric inching closer and closer in the dye pot toward something that I would make a safety vest out of.

I pulled the plug. That is to say, I pulled the fabric from the pot and just started rinsing. And rinsing. And rinsing some more. Fortunately, as the dye hadn't steeped for too long yet, it wasn't completely set, and quite a bit came out.


And then I washed it, and more color came out.

Phew again.

And then when it dried, it came out a light, unassuming peach.

Giant sigh of relief.

After all the rinsing and washing, it looks about like this, except a touch warmer and less pink (no photos yet, but this is the thread color I'm using swiped from the webbernets(:

And it's not really a hint, but I will say--the peachy pink is perfect for the project I have in mind for this fabric!

Contest open until 3-28 here--just wager a guess what this fabric is for, and be entered to win prizes!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Green Linen Stays: Finished!

Don't forget to enter the Guess the Fabric Contest!

It's a very green evening here in Indiana, with the day's last evening sunshine following a deluge of rain and hail. Ever notice how much greener everything looks after a storm? Seems a perfect time to unveil the completed green linen stays!

The basics: Based on Norah Waugh's 1780s stays with some help from Butterick B4254 in getting a pattern together.

Materials: Two layers of cotton canvas-ish weight fabric inside, with green linen outside. Green cotton thread. Boning is cable ties. Metal eyelets covered in embroidery floss. Gold silk ribbon (will be replaced on back lacing with proper lacing materials, but this was pretty for a photo shoot!).

The things I did 18th century style:

The pattern is based on an extant (or multiple extants, but I can trace this one pretty precisely to one in the V&A museum). The construction was 18th century to the best of my limited knowledge, with each piece constructed and boned and then joined together.

The entire piece is bound with self-fabric, which you do find in extants, but the really 18th century thing about that choice was that I used a large fabric scrap for this project and was left with, no joke, a piece of fabric the size of two postage stamps. Waste not, want not.

Spiral back lacing--the 18th century way.

Things I did not do 18th century? No, these are not hand-sewn. I hand sew plenty of items, but stays channels by hand...well, not this time. Also, metal eyelets and cable ties were used. For the first time, I used metal eyelets and covered them with fabric-colored emroidery floss. This made the eyelet creation go more quickly and produced very even and uniform eyelets, which makes me happy. But even more important, they'll hold up for longer without repairs, which, since these aren't for me, is important--the recipient won't want to do eyelet touch-ups like she would need to do with my amateurish hand-done ones!

My favorite part of this style of stays is adding a cute little bow to the front of the strap tabs.

My other unauthentic move was using plastic cable ties. The best bet for authentic boning material, since coming by baleen is a little tricky, is reed boning, but...I confess. I didn't wanna. I don't particularly like how it ends up sort of three dimensional and sometimes knobbly-looking, for lack of a better word, and everyone I know who's used it says it's kind of a pain.

Cable ties are not a pain. They are awesome and a half. Cutting them to size? Easy. Just a little sanding on the edges to buff down the cut jagged bits. The flexibility to sturdiness ratio is perfect--unlike metal, they conform to the body, and unlike flimsy modern featherweight boning, they hold their shape. So I'm rather sold--unless I want to try whaling, I'll stick with cable ties.

Detail of eyelets--it may have been cheating, but seeing those perfect, uniform eyelets makes me happy.

My favorite angle on the stays--the part where the side piece joins the front, really the spot where the fashionable shape of the body is created.

What's next? Well, check out the Contest! post for your chance to win prizes while you guess my next move!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Contest! Guess What the Fabric is For and Win a Prize!

I feel like having a bit of fun today and playing a game--must be the onset of spring.

I received:
  • 2 yards of plain white silk, 45" width
  • 1 packet salmon dye
  • But what is it going to become? That's your challenge, friends--and anyone who hazards a guess is entered in a giveaway to win:

    A tube of my favorite beauty product, Burt's Bees tinted lip balm in Rose (perfect for ever-so-historical pouts and modern looks, as well).
    A randomly selected, lightly read historical fiction title from my library (requests welcome).


    • I will be using additional materials already in my stash--possiblities include notions, additional fabric, trims, etc.
    • I may or may not have discussed this project before--that is, it could be in a "hopes and dreams" post somewhere, or it might be an utterly new invention.
    • And the big hint: This project marks a major departure for me, but I shan't say if it's in terms of time period, persona portrayed, style choices, or something else. I will say--think outside the box! And--this if you guess the departure's nature, you'll *probably* guess or come close to guessing the project!

    Bonus! If anyone guesses 100% correctly, he or she shall receive the same prize as the randomly drawn winner. The first correct guess wins, so enter early if you think you've got it!

    Ye Rules:

    All you need to do is enter your guess in the comments below. Please enter only once, to be fair :) However, I'd appreciate it if:

    1) You follow the blog if you enter. This isn't for a follower-collection goal--rather, it's just because I've run giveaways before and haven't been able to track winners down! Help me out--follow so when I announce that You've Won! you'll see the post in your feed.

    2) You feel free to spread the word! If I have tons of entries, I *may* just need to add a runner-up prize :)

    The contest runs for one week--comments open now and will be closed Wednesday, March 28.

    Good Luck! Have Fun!

    Tuesday, March 13, 2012

    Blustery Days and Eighteenth Century Prints

    March has come in like a lion in my part of the world, which means lots of roaring wind and blustery days. Turns out, Marilyn wasn't the first to have a wardrobe malfunction from a sudden gust of wind (subway induced or natural). A few 18th century prints paying homage to the mischevious wind.

    First, from 1751, a young couple steps off a skiff and is greeted by a gust.

    The boatman takes the opportunity to try for a glimpse up the lady's skirt, but he's not safe, either--his wig is blown off leaving him with shorn head. Must be a pretty stiff breeze--look at how the lady's hat, likely felt, is plastered against the side of her head. I love her simple gown and lightly trimmed petticoat. And her huge feet. You never see huge feet in 18th century prints. Hello, giant-footed sister!

    No mishaps here, but relaying the benefits of the wind in 1764:

    The young lady, wearing an ermine-trimmed cloak against the brisk breeze, gestures to a windmill to illustrate Air and its beneficial functions. She has heavily-trimmed sleeves ending in filmy engageantes, is wearing either her cloak's hood or a separate hood (looks to me to be separate) under her beautifully trimmed hat. Note to self--you can have warm ears and avoid squinting in the sun!

    Finally, an embarassing incident in 1771 on account of the breeze:

    Not only is the lady having some petticoat issues from the wind, but she's lost her hat..and her cap...and her wig. The fellow behind her has collected her lost items with some amusement, but the folks in the background are really having a laugh. Possibly the print is not only making light of a funny scene, but also commenting on the impracticality of our lady's fine clothing and wig--note that the woman in the background, probably of a lower class or at least dressing with less panache, is dressed much more sensibly and her hat is remaining firmly affixed to her head. (You really can keep a hat on in the wind--you just have to tie it on, perhaps, a bit less fashionably.) Plus, she doesn't appear to be attempting to wear a wig in high winds--let's let her have her chuckle at the foolish young lady who didn't check the weather before traipsing out in her finery, shall we?

    Are the days blustery where you are? Ever found yourself in a situation like these poor victims of fashion and wind?

    All images from Years in post linked to larger image and more information.

    Wednesday, March 7, 2012

    The Magic of Dye Applied to Shoes

    I've been a touch obsessed with dyeing things lately (ooh, imagine how weird that typo would make me sound--obsessed with dying things...anywho).

    Next up on the docket of Things to Dye, after getting some fabric taken care of, were my wedding shoes. I loved my wedding shoes. One problem--when, other than a wedding in which one is the bride, can one really wear white shoes?

    So I decided to dye them.

    I used the ineffable Dreamstress's tutorial on shoe-dyeing, which I recommend reading in lieu of or in addition to my thoughts if you plan to dye shoes.

    You need:

    Your shoes
    A dye pot (I recommend having a cheap stock pot--enamel or stainless--that you use ONLY for dyeing, never cooking. The chemicals in dye are nasty.)
    Newspaper or other scrap paper to cover a work surface
    Paintbrush (I would buy a cheap one, new, knowing that you might permanently scar it with dye. I bought the second-cheapest thing at the hardware store and it worked fine.)
    Plain white tissue paper

    Step one is selecting your dye, and vital step one of step one is knowing your shoes' fabric content. Many commercially-produced shoes are polyester, so don't assume that natural-fabric dyes will work--and remember that satin is a type of fabric weave, not a fabric content. Hint: You can usually find the manufacturer online and look up the content from there.

    Get your dye a'simmering per the dye manufacturer's instructions for tub dyeing. You are not tub dyeing your shoes, but you are creating a vat of dye to use like thin paint, so this step will be the same as tub dyeing. Except the "add fabric" part. Don't dump your shoes in the dye pot.

    Cover your work surface with scrap paper and stuff the shoes with plain white tissue paper (or other plain, undyed paper). You don't want to use any paper with ink to stuff the shoes--it might bleed.

    When the dye is ready, you're ready to paint!

    I'd think of painting the shoes with a very thin, watery paint more than anything. I pulled the pot from the stove to have it close to me while I dyed, then popped it back on to stay simmering between coats.

    Apply the dye using your painbrush as evenly as possible. It will bleed out, so "chase" the dye with your painbrush and blend it as you go. Sounds tricky, but it's not too complicated.

    Applying the dye:

    I painted two coats of dye, then let the shoes dry completely. The color will dry lighter than it looks when wet, so judge how many coats you want to do off of dry shoes, not wet ones.

    I noticed that the color also looked splotchier when the shoes were not dry, probably because the dye was actually in varying stages of drying.

    Now you get to enter the "lather, rinse, repeat" section of the shoe dyeing process. The shoe on your left has gotten an extra coat of dye. The shoe on the right just has the initial two (notice how much lighter it dried?). Keep painting, drying, repeating, until you are happy with the color. Or really, really bored.

    Another round of dyeing later, the shoe on the left is ready to go, and the shoe on the right needs another coat. You can really see the change in intensity--but remember, this is both from another coat and wet vs dry dye.

    Let them dry completely, then put them away or wear them!

    Words to the wise: I was not planning on EVER wearing these white shoes again, so was willing to risk a dodgy dye job. If you're not willing to risk it, I wouldn't recommend home dyeing. If, however, you're flexible, you can end up with a revamped pair of shoes for barely any cost.

    I was very careful in my application, but there was still a tiny bit of unevenness, mostly around places that the dye pooled, like at the very tips of the toes and in the seams of the bow-fluff decoration. Careful application can cut down on this, but may not eliminate it completely. If perfection is important to you, this may not be the way to go. Also, these shoes were a little complicated with all the extra stuff on the front--totally doable, but it did cause the unevenness to be more pronounced than, say, plain pumps would have been.

    The color selection may not be great, and even with testing swatches, you may not get the color you intend. This is especially true of synthetic fabrics, where you simply do not have the range of dye choices you have for natural fabrics. If color matching is very important to you (for instance, matching a bridesmaid's gown) you may want to go with a professional.

    Finally, those coats take time to dry. Have another project going in tandem--preferably not in the same room if the dye smell bothers you. (Note: dyes for natural fabrics don't bug me, but this dye for synthetics did.)

    Overall, a fun and easy weekend afternoon project!

    Wednesday, February 29, 2012

    Historical Clothing and Book Cover Pet Peeve Part Deux

    Last year I ran a post where I kvetched about the inaccuracy of art on historical fiction book covers. A year has passed and another crop of "what were they thinking" has arrived.

    As I mentioned in the first post, this is not at all meant to bash the writers--who often have little to no say over the choice of art selected for their covers. Which may be half the problem--an educated reader *ought* to be able to tell from the cover if the book is well-researched, but (dare I say uneducated?) art departments make that difficult. It's a disservice to the writers who spend tons of time researching when poor art choices make the first impression of the book a sorely inaccurate one.

    All images are from Please note--I have not read any of these books (yet) so all comments are purely on the cover art.

    First up, a book that looks like an interesting read about a well-known name but little-discussed historical figure, Mme. Tussaud. And to be honest, I like the concept of the cover--it's not a decapitated head, which is nice (ever notice *how many* book covers feature headless women?). But yet again, we have a costume that lacks understanding of eighteenth century underpinnings.

    Please, artists, if you learn nothing else about historical clothing, learn this--women did not wear bras in the 18th century. Or the 19th. Stop putting fascimiles of historical clothing on top of modern underwear. It does not work.

    A warning--I am going to briefly discuss female anatomy. If you don't like to read about that, please skip down.

    OK, here's the thing--Mme Tussaud's breasts should not be protruding into the center front of her gown. They should be riding high, supported by a pair of stays that, well, lift and compress. This makes the front of the gown bodice flat.

    Anatomy discussion complete, there's one other irking issue with the lack of stays--she's got something akin to an hourglass, rather than a cone figure going on. Wrongsies, folks. And don't get me started on the weird faux-stomacher thing with the goshdarn ubiquitious bows. Why bows? Why ALWAYS bows?

    And finally. Her neckline is Urkeling. That's what I call the annoying thing that happens when an 18th century neckline is too high. It looks as absurd as Urkel's pants. Did I do that? Yes, yes, you did.

    Ok, moving on.

    Another book I really want to like, even though I don't read much Christian fiction--because it's loosely based on George Rogers Clark (GRC is my Rev War hero), and the author says she got her inspiration after visiting The Happiest Place on Earth (ok, it's only the happiest place on earth to me--historic Locust Grove).

    And the dress is actually quite lovely.

    I just never would have guessed it's 18th century. The shape is, as above, not properly stayed, and moreover, the construction reminds me more of a 1950s cockatil dress than an 18th century gown. Tacking engageantes on three-quarter sleeves does not an 18th century ensemble make.

    There seems to be a general trend of nondescript but pretty clothes on historical fiction covers, especially in young adult works. This makes me particularly sad, because it a) assumes young adult readers aren't savvy enough to notice or care and b) does a disservice to the YA writers who I'm sure are researching just as much as their adult histfic counterparts.

    I had no idea that the following two books were historicals until I read reviews of them.

    The first, now that I *know* it's set in the 1920s, I kind of get.

    I mean, that's kind of like a bob, even though it's clear the artist didn't feel inclined to go 100% 1920s on it (I mean, that would, like, make the girl look less attractive, right?). The dress has some flapper vibes--the slip-like cut, perhaps--but it should be cut with a boyish figure, not a gown that follows her slim waistline and shows off her figure (which, honestly, gives it a sort of 930s vibe).

    What I think threw me entirely was the makeup--1920s makeup looks pretty different from this, and speaks to a deeper issue: What was considered aesthetically pleasing 100 years ago is different from today. The hair would be a less natural, less "sexy" wave, and more structured. Lillian Gish (1920s actress and absolute beauty) once said that you weren't considered photogenic in "her day" unless one of your eyes looked larger than your lips--an homage, perhaps to silent film where facial expression, not digalogue, carried the scene--and makeup helped to create that illusion. I'd like to see more art of today intended to look historical take the aesthetics of the time into account instead of time-warping modern sensibilities into (somewhat) historical clothing.

    Props on the Art Deco-ish lettering, though.

    Unlike our previous example, this next one has absolutely no excuses.

    Let's have a few guesses when this historical young adult novel might be set, shall we?

    Did you guess 19th century? You'd be right! But you're also a genius, because I had no idea. I guess it's supposed to be a bustle gown. Yeeeaaah. Also--is she smuggling Snuffleupagus in that skirt?

    One last one--again, this book looks like one I'd read. It's about campfollowers in the American Revolution, a subject I much enjoy.

    I do not enjoy that...umm...what is she wearing? Ok, props on the cloak, it looks reasonable. But what the HECK is that dress supposed to be? Laura Ingalls circa the 1970s television program? The print? It looks like 1960s upholstery fabric--seriously, I have a friend with a vintage set that pretty much matches this. And though you might find something similar somewhere in the 18th century textile canon, it's hardly representative. The cut? Wrong. It's just a dress, and therein, again, lies the problem--it takes no account for the undergarments of the period. See above for stays discussion, and add in an addendum on needing proper petticoat-age. It also doesn't consider the construction of gowns at the time, doing that super-annoying thing where the bodice is just tacked on the skirt--not an open gown or a round gown, but, umm, a prairie dress?

    It's shame, too, because Blevins discusses her research at length and makes note of the fact that it's a misnomer to assume that all campfollowers were prostitutes. Unfortunately, with her unstayed figure and hair blowing--capless--in the wind, her heroine looks like a loose woman.

    Now that I've been negative for about ten paragraphs--read any good books lately?