Friday, February 28, 2014

I live! (And the Nankeen boot is now available!)

Just way too busy to post much, alas. I have big plans for this year, including a number of late 1700s items, my first foray into the 1910s, and a beaded 1920s robe de style.  Currently I'm hand-sewing some 1780s stays. They're white/off white wool on the outside, stitched in blue. Very pretty! And very much needed before I can continue with the rest of my plans.

Right now, though, I'm eying the new American Duchess boots, the "Nankeen."  These are cloth boots, very commonly worn from 1800-1820. I've been longing for cloth boots so I can be just like the heroines of Georgette Heyer's books - they're all well-equipped with "jean" boots!  

I particularly like the slimmer ankle on these, compared even to the Hartfield, the American Duchess leather Regency boots.

A famous pair of surviving original boots is trimmed with ribbon on the seams, and cute little bows. 

Source: Museum of London. Dated 1815.

Nankeen is a yellowish/tan cotton material from China, from which these common type of boots were made. I'm very excited to see this addition to reproduction footwear.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Historical Sew Fortnightly #8: By the Sea: 1860s Hat Veil of Spotted Net

The By the Sea challenge was indeed a challenge for me. I have no immediate use for any period swimwear, alas, and those projects aren't quick ones, either.  Additionally, I'm over 300 miles from the nearest sea; and there are no natural lakes in my entire state!  (Plenty of reservoirs for water, but nothing natural. Well, except for one, and it's on the border with Louisiana.)  In addition, the next challenge, Flora and Fauna, I planned a more ambitious project.  So like the collar for Accessorize, this challenge entrant is also relatively simple: a makeover of an 1860s hat veil.

Several years ago, I ordered a yard of English cotton bobbinette (fine hexagonal mesh) to make a couple of veils for my mother and I.  In Texas the sun's glare is unrelenting, and lasts about 8 months of the year, so it was a good opportunity for my first try at a veil.  I ordered one yard, and cut into half-yard lengths for two veils: 17" deep and about 40" wide.


The theory worked very well: Sun shade! Less squinting!  But the length tended to grab onto the shoulders of my dress.  I finished my mother's with ribbon, which both looked pretty and weighted down the hem.  So when pondering suitable accessories for a By the Sea challenge, I decided to remake my veil.  That meant doing some more serious research on them.

This is what happens when you bundle up a too-long veil to get it out of the way. Bad veil day!


Mid-Victorian veils are hard to research; they are one of those things that everyone knew how and when to use, so they are rarely discussed in fashion magazines or shown in fashion plates.  However, I know they were typical for use when riding or traveling, to protect the face from sun, wind, dust and cinders, as well as for privacy or anonymity.  In many ways, they were to the mid-Victorians what sunglasses are to us today.  In color, black and white were the most common, with occasional mentions of blue, green, and brown.  Looking through a dark-colored mesh is very similar to using sunglasses.

June 1864

Another use for veils was for seaside wear, which is why I chose a veil for the By the Sea challenge.  A good number of summertime fashion plates in the 1850s and after show figures by the sea or lake, in brightly-colored and white ultra-fashionable outfits.  These are the "resort" fashions of 150 years ago.  Like sunglasses, a veil is ideal for these situations, which are are usually bright and breezy.

August, 1865

In museums, I mostly found bonnet veils.  Veils from the 1830s and 1840s are long and nearly square, and often made with big lace patterns.  50s and 60s bonnet veils are smaller, usually wide half-ovals, or occasionally distorted diamond shapes; the straight edge is pinned around the bonnet brim, so the curved edge falls more or less evenly.  These veils are machine-made of net, embroidered with wide lace patterns, borders, and "spots" and/or sprigs. Rectangular veils continued to be worn on bonnets as well, but the round shape was very popular and tended to survive. It's hard to re-purpose something like this:


Hats, defined as headwear with a brim all around, first re-appeared in fashion magazines in the 1840s, but remained very much a fringe headwear style until the mid-1860s.  Throughout the 1850s they tended to have large brims and be worn only in the "garden," or perhaps by the seaside.  Although still vastly outnumbered by bonnets, hats with smaller brims appear more commonly in photographs by the early 1860s.  They show up in fashion plates in all seasons and settings.  A handful of written fashion notes talk about both gauze and lace veils.

 August, 1862
But I needed specific information on hat veils, not veils in general.  What does a hat veil look like? Is it different from a bonnet veil?  Here are most of the examples I've found online in the last month or so.


Real Women
* Large veil draped on hat; visible only because of wide two-color border. This may be a very big round or half-circle veil pinned only to the front of the hat.
* Sheer veil, turned back over the hat. Looks to be unpatterned, with no visible lace or border, but the definition isn't good. It's not very long.
* Long sheer veil with woven ribbon borders. Looks rectangular, of a crisp fabric, gathered to the front of the hat and laid over the trim.
* Sheer, light-colored, all around the hat. May be either white or blue, because blue photographs light or white with period techniques. Appears to be about chin length; no pattern visible, but the quality of the scan is very low.
* Lace/net veil, at least halfway around the hat. About chin length, and attached at the base of the crown.
* Actual wartime photo, taken in camp. Looks dark, soft, and plain. The length is obscured, but it's hanging as if it does have some length; probably more than chin-length.
* All-over lace veil, shorter than the chin, all around the hat. Fixed to the hat over the front trim. Source from Germany.
* Lower right-hand corner: Long, sheer, with wide ribbon/woven border. 
* Long spotted veil with lace border. Probably worn over the front decoration.
* Long sheer veil, light-colored, with deep hem. Sheer, unpatterned, slightly shiny material.


Fashion Plates
* 1859, April. For riding. Green, plain woven, long.
* 1862, August. Black lace, just short of the chin; all around.
* 1863, January.  Long and white; plain woven.
* 1863, July. Black lace, about nose length. All around.
* 1863, September. For riding. Brown, plain woven, long.
* 1863, October. For traveling. Chin length, spotted veil with edging, semi-circle attached to front half of brim, possibly gathered at outside edge.
* 1864, June. Chin length, spotted veil with edging (lace or beads), all around.
* 1864, June. Long and rectangular, spotted with gold edging. Only in front.
* 1864, September. Black spotted net with what looks like beaded fringe. Short and shaped; front and sides only.
* 1865, July.  Long and white; spotted.
* 1865, August. For the seaside. Long and white, plain woven.
* 1865, August. Long and white; plain woven. Attached at the front.


A borderline "veil" that appeared in the 1850s (I didn't go further back than 1857) is a fringe of lace, usually black, running all around the brim of the hat. It is usually about 2" long, and I would consider it more a hat trim instead of a separate veil. It does not look easily removable as with regular veils. Most of the plates showing it are from the mid/late 1850s, but I still have two from 1862 and one from 1864. Nonetheless, I haven't found any actual photographs showing this type of veil or trim.


This isn't a large sample for research, so I'm leery of drawing any hard conclusions. Still, these seem to be the general types of hat veils:

*  Specialty: Riding (long and sheer, probably plain woven) or traveling (only one picture, but otherwise widely recommended in text, without much elaboration).
* All-over lace: Short to medium length, no longer than the chin.
* Spotted and/or edged: Medium length to long. Probably from the same net that lace is worked on.
* Plain: Long and square. Plain short hem, a deep hem, or with woven/applied ribbons at hem. Probably the ones called "gauze" in fashion magazines.

Original bonnet veil, collection of Pam Robles. Source

Verdict:  I didn't find evidence of a long, plain net veil. I found various medium-length and short net veils, and one long one, but they were all "spotted" with woven dots, sprigs, or rings, and edged with a woven-in or embroidered pattern, or with beaded or gilt fringe (from fashion magazines).

Obviously I don't have a machine for creating specially-made 1860s hat veils. :) So the next best solution was to create my own edging, or apply another one already made, and embroider my own dots. Fun!

The Challenge:  HSF #8, By the Sea

Fabric:  Black English cotton bobbinette from

Pattern:  None. I looked at museum sites and pictures, and draped on my hat.

Year:  c. 1860-1864

Notions:  Black alençon lace, unknown content, probably synthetic. Lightweight black thread. Narrow black silk ribbon.

How historically accurate is it?  0% in one way of looking at it, because it's a hand-made approximation of something that was not made by hand.  But overall, maybe 75%, losing major points because of the lace. It also needs a lot more spots!

Hours to complete:  6.

First worn:  Just for some silly pictures, and briefly on the back porch to see how it behaves in a strong breeze. (Just fine!) I hope to take some real pictures once the Flora & Fauna challenge is done, however.

Total cost:  $7 for the lace, of which I used about $1/worth, and about $2.50 for the thread. This was a remake, though, and originally the bobbinette cost over $30/yd; now it's $40. I could get four veils this size out of a yard. So call it $12 for materials. If I started over, the cost for one would be close to $50. I could make 4 out of that amount, however.


I pinned up the veil on my hat to an approximate chin length, and double-checked to make sure it didn't feel silly. Well, super silly.


The pattern of spots took a little thinking. Most originals have a fairly tight pattern, but it would take a long time to embroider that much. Since I really want to get the Flora and Fauna challenge done on time, I just couldn't justify spending a lot of time on the veil. So I settled for a very wide apart pattern of plain dots, in a diamond pattern about 3" apart.  This pattern I can fill in at a future time, at 1.5", 1", or even .5" intervals. That would be very pretty.


Bobbinette is not nearly as slithery as some sheer fabrics, but it does stretch. Furthermore, it shrugs off chalk markings like nobody's business. The only way I could mark the spots was to put in pins and work directly on my cutting table.


The dots weren't very visible on the grid, but they show up better with white behind them. I kept them small, because I plan to add a lot more.


Eventually my back and neck sent urgent warnings, so I rearranged my work station. No more bending over! The dots were tedious, especially since I did have to keep within a pattern of the mesh, but they still went very fast individually.  When finished, I attached the lace, overlapping the net just slightly. It was unexpectedly tricky to attach the lace, because the net stretches and the lace doesn't.


I left the original sewn casing and ribbon. In the future I might tat, crochet, or net a fine row of beading to run the ribbon through, similar to original veils.


In these pictures I carefully pinned the veil to the edge of the brim, but I don't think I'll bother with that when I wear it. It's surprisingly difficult to do, and doesn't seem to be as common a way to attach the veil to a hat.



I like the effect when it's pulled back over the hat. A kind of graceful disorder. ;)


In this one, I tried putting it on just the front/sides of the brim.  In some ways it doesn't look different, and in others it looks silly. I think this method of attachment is best for one of the long veils.

Monday, April 15, 2013

My Turn - the Highbury Shoes!

I get to promote some American Duchess shoes: the Highbury Regency flat!

These are far and away my favorite American Duchess so far.  That mostly because I'm not heavily into the bulk of 1770s costuming, and so far I haven't really done anything after 1865.

I like the Highbury slippers because they have the pointed toe, fairly high vamp, and low heel that's characteristic of shoes from c. 1795-1810.


In addition, they have tiny little loops inside that can be used to lace a ribbon through. You can use all of the loops, as in the model picture, or use fewer loops for a different look.

Costume Parisien, c. 1798


Right now, I'm dreaming about a pair dyed a nice, bright yellow.


I think I'd also trim them with white ribbon at the seams and around the front of the vamp, and add a strip of white leather to imitate this common look at the heel.


I can't wait!

Historical Sew Fortnightly #7: Accessorize: 1860s Embroidered & Edged Collar

I had big plans for this challenge. I've done 1860s reenacting for quite some a very long time, but my wardrobe is a bit scattered in completeness and accuracy. Take personal linens. I have a couple of chemisettes (one of which had a supporting role in The Paisley Pixie), one set of very plain undersleeves, a couple of plain collars, and one nicer collar that is in dire need of Oxy-Clean.

HSF #7, Accessorize, sounded like a great opportunity to fill in some gaps.  I decided I needed fancy undersleeves. 1860s undersleeves can be works of art, all fluffy, frilly, lacey, ribbon-y goodness. The problem was deciding exactly what design to make up or copy.

The HSF challenge has been very good for me in several ways. One way is how it forces me to make a decision and get moving.  When I don't have a close deadline, I will take a long time on deciding exactly what to make, and take lots of breaks during construction to research certain elements. (Like the issue I had with the pleat pattern on the back of the red wool dress.)  But when a countdown clock is ticking, whether for an event or a challenge, I'm forced to research quickly and efficiently.  In this case, however, costuming the early 1860s is where I have my personal* highest standards.  So not only are there literally thousands of inspiration images to choose from, I was more hyper than usual about choice of materials.

* Personal: Meaning these are my own standards for what I do, not for how I judge anyone else's work.

All that to say: I didn't start researching this until the first few days of the challenge. Once I found an image, I studied it a lot, asked for advice, studied more, played with my stash, and eventually had the world's ugliest mock-up and a decent pattern. By day 8.  Out of the remaining 6 days, 3 would be away from home and 1 was otherwise fully occupied.  I worked hard even on my trip, but I knew they wouldn't get done without an all-nighter. And that was not the point of the challenge.

So I didn't finish my undersleeves! But day 14, I came up with an alternativee plan that was way easier, fits both the challenge and another wardrobe gap, and goes with the undersleeves perfectly. A collar from the same fabric:


The Challenge:  HSF #7, Accessorize

Fabric:  Machine-embroidered sheer cotton, vintage curtains, from the Benbrook Antique Mall

Pattern:  Laughing Moon #111

Year:  c. 1860-1864

Notions:  Narrow cotton machine-made valenciennes lace; probably from an antique mall somewhere in Texas. 1/4" cotton "galon" twill tape from India; extra lightweight/thin, from ebay, the last the seller had.

How historically accurate is it?  As close to 100% as I can get without documenting lace or machine-made embroidery patterns. Bias tape was more common than twill tape in these collars, but it was used. Oh, and I used poly thread, because it's the only fine thread I have. Say 95%.

Hours to complete:  No more than 3.

First worn:  Not yet. Probably at Gettysburg in late June.

Total cost:  None, or pennies at most. The collar fabric was scraps from the undersleeves, and the lace and tape were bought for the stash.

With very few exceptions, no mid-19th-century dress was complete without a collar. In most cases they were finished with a bias or twill tape that was basted to the inside of the dress neckline, thus protecting the edge of the dress from oil and dirt.  Sometimes they were plain, but often they were of very fine fabrics, which could be embroidered and/or edged with lace, or completely of lace.  By the early 1860s they were also fairly narrow, 1 - 1.5" wide.  The width of a collar is an easy way to date an image, by the way; 15-20 years earlier, collars could be 3 - 4" wide.

With a basic bodice pattern, no separate collar pattern is usually needed. Except that I've had wretched luck with collars in the past, always ending up with them too short, or too long, or with the ends wonky, and always crooked when I baste them on.  My one success has come with the Laughing Moon pattern, which was recommended by a lady who had a business making beautiful and accurate 1860s clothing.  So I had no hesitation in pulling out this pattern and going for it.

Laying out the pattern was one of the trickiest parts. Like most sheers, the cotton was wiggly. And the embroidery was not done consistently with the grain. (Look at the first picture. See four dots on the left, and three on the right? I didn't even see that until I was nearly finished.)  Once I found a fairly pleasing position for the motifs, I pinned the pattern down. But instead of cutting, I traced around it.


It's easy to distort sheer fabrics when stitching on them. So I took a cue from 18th century embroidery techniques, and applied my embellishment before cutting out.


With fine thread, I sewed the lace down flat, just covering the cutting line.


I did the same with the galloon tape, sewing one edge to the collar about 1/4" (the seam allowance) away from the cutting edge.


I hope you can see how thin the tape is.


The tape stands up because it's a straight strip, being forced to fit a curve. This should allow it to fold under the neckline of the dress.


Then I carefully cut the collar out, roughly 1/8" from the stitching line of the tape...


... and underneath the lace.


Finished collar!


There are raw edges, but this type of collar is not intended to be washed roughly.  Before taking the pictures I hit it with spray starch and an iron.

More to come on the Saga of the Undersleeves! They may make an appearance as a later challenge.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Paisley Pixie: The Hair

The Hair

Several weeks ago I did an informal hairstyle survey for my own benefit. I need to write up the results, similarly to the posing article, but most of my analysis is already on Pinterest: Hairstyles 1800-1810, and Hairstyles 1810-1820.  I stuck mostly to portraits for this analysis, attempting to see what Real Women Wore.  Fashion plates have very clear diagrams, but the styles tend to the extreme.  They also presuppose things like a very low hairline/forehead, super thick front hair, or very precise curls, which isn't helpful for everyone.

Preliminary conclusions of the most common style:
* Hair pulled back straight and up high in back (showing for 1-2" above the crown of the head), in curls, soft loops, and/or braid.
* Crosswise part, sometimes ear-to-ear, often further forward (some less than 1" deep).
* Front hair parted center, side, or diagonally.
* Front hair in short curls, usually tight and defined, sometimes loose and fluffy, and (in this survey) never longer than the lobes of the ears/corner of the jaw.  (Only exceptions were the "extreme Classical" style with lots of loose, stringy curls, or the soft, longer hair of the late 1790s. I didn't find any examples of long "sausage" curls in front of the ears.)
* Often the center hair, or "bangs," is shorter than the rest of the front hair, and curled inward like spit curls instead of in ringlets.

This is a very limited survey, but it really helped me to focus on what I wanted. Instead of throwing my hair in hot sticks, trying to pin the messy curls up in "artless disorder," and doing something random with my bangs. ;)

I started with day-old hair that had already been set in pincurls. I re-set the very front, but I had some excellent tight curls that made the back hair a snap to arrange and keep up.

I did a crosswise part that framed my face and ended at the hairline in front of the ears.

Then I set pincurls, using setting lotion and making them quite small. The longer side curls I curled forward and down. My shorter bangs I curled forward and up, to get a spit curl shape.

I brushed the rest of my hair straight back and put it in a fairly high ponytail. My head is somewhat sloping and flat right there, so I need to work extra hard to get the proper height.

I wrapped my long braid hairpiece in a wide, loose loop around the ponytail.

I pinned the loop forward to make sure it stayed high enough. I could have pulled it even further forward. Plan for gravity!

As best I could, I separated my ponytail into big ringlets, fluffed them, and pulled them around the braid.

I pinned them here and there.

I tried to pull some forward, too, so they were visible from the front.

Then I brushed out the pincurls. The magic about pincurls is that they can be brushed into a particular shape. On this side, I brushed them over my fingers into a soft but still tight sort of ringlet-roll.

On the other side, I ended up with some better ringlets and fluff. The bangs I didn't brush much; they curled nicely.

Ta-da! Pre humidity and wind!

Wet and wind are enemies of curl, but wet sets and setting lotion go a long way. No hairspray!

I really like the style.  Even with the extreme humidity, my curls relaxed only slightly. (Wet sets all the way!) Wind would have blown them out, but that's something they would have dealt with back then, too.


I actually kept the hairstyle for that evening (without the bandeau!), when I sang in a choir concert.  Even with the front curls it wasn't too far from a modern formal updo.

What I would do differently:

1. Pull the ponytail even further forward; maybe an inch. Gravity pulls it back, but it could have started higher.

2. For the side front curls, use tiny rollers instead of pincurls. Flat pincurls are best for waves, but they're not so good at ringlets. Rollers or standing pincurls are how to make ringlets. I can't sleep on standing pincurls at the side of my head, so I'll use either small foam rollers (1/2") or, more likely, the smaller vintage metal ones.

Even with pincurls, though, the look is pretty good and it stays. Yay!