Well hi there!

Yes, it’s been over a year since I wrote on this site. Finally I have something fun to write about – microblogging on Facebook just barely scratches the itch, but time has been a constraint too. So, here we go.

I never finished that “girls midcentury” dress project, because well, my girl has grown out of the chemise and drawers I made her, and is not really interested in history events any more (boo). She will go if I make her, but would prefer not to.

To fill the void, I have made another “child” to dress. Everyone, meet Emalie!

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Emalie is based on a mid nineteenth century doll style and the pattern is a digital download from the amazing Sewing Academy by Elizabeth Stewart Clark. You can get the pattern at her website and it is easy to follow. There is also a lady sized doll that I’ll probably get next. Emalie is about 13″ tall, made from all cotton and sewn 100% by hand.

Before I was able to make her dress, I had to start at the beginning and make her! She is made from cotton muslin and stuffed with cotton. I chose to paint her face and hair as well as her little Mary Jane style shoes. Her hair is a red brown and her eyes are green. I could have done a better job at stuffing her, but since she is my first, I will have to accept the flaws. I also think I might have put her arms on upside down. The pattern was a bit unclear exactly how to position them and she just holds her arms out wide for a hug. Otherwise, making the doll body was super easy! I used cotton balls to stuff her, and just mangled them up a little bit to make them more flexible.

Next, I made her undergarments. I used a very lightweight cotton for her chemise and a stiffer cotton for her drawers. I’m not thrilled about the tucks on her left leg of the drawers as they got a little messed up. The scale is so small that even a minor mistake can take the whole seam off kilter pretty quickly. I used the same stiffer cotton for her stays.

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Like how I painted a bun on the back of her head? :-)

The chemise, drawers and petticoat are edged with some vintage lace whitework that a friend of my mother’s gave to me. For the stays, I stitched in the appearance of boning channels but there aren’t actually any bones or cord in them. I didn’t want to get “too” carried away, and I knew I would be hand sewing the eyelets for the lacing. I think I spent more time on the stays than on the rest of the clothing! The stays are laced with a narrow cord. Luckily for me, I had made the actual child sized stays for my kiddo a while back so I understood the process. The pattern has mistakenly forgotten to include the construction notes on the stays. I will forgive Ms Clark because she is awesome in so many other areas!

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Here is her pretty petticoat with a wide 1/2″ tuck. If you ever want to fine tune or refine your hand sewing skill, a doll is a good way to do it. The pieces are small and there is almost instant gratification. I have found I can take very tiny stitches that look almost like machine stitching. It does cause some eye strain however.

Finally, I made her a pretty green dress. I selected this fabric to make a dress for Melody when she was a baby. She grew so fast, she outgrew the pattern I had! IMG_1259.jpeg

Here you can see the tiny piping at the neckline and waist. This is how dresses were made in the mid century, so I chose to do that here. The piping is made on the bias and I used the same cord that I used on the stays. It was the perfect size.

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Here’s the back of the dress and you can just see the green stitching where I made the tucks in the skirt. Fortunately the thread sort of disappears in the floral pattern of the fabric. The dress, drawers and petticoat all close with a tiny hook and thread bar.

So there you have it! Miss Emalie will be visiting with us at events from now on and I’ll probably make her a pinafore at some point. She just looks so pretty, I couldn’t wait to share!

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Pattern Review: TV 447 1863 Sheer Dress

I have been sitting on this pattern for several years, all while sweltering in the summer heat. I purchased my fabric easily three years ago and have been wanting a sheer dress for probably five years. Summer in multiple layers of clothing is definitely more warm than it has to be! So, this past spring, I finally decided to just do it! I have researched various patterns available on the market, including some Big Three patterns, Peachtree Mercantile, and others, but I know that Truly Victorian makes beautiful, accurate, and easy to follow patterns, which is why I settled on this one.

Truly Victorian TV447 1863 Sheer Dress

Truly Victorian TV447 1863 Sheer Dress

I chose a lovely sheer cotton in blue and white stripes that I found on clearance at a chain store. I know of more than one person who has made a sheer of this fabric. Hopefully we won’t all be at the same event together!

Pretty pretty

Pretty pretty

The fabric is 54″ wide, but since at the time I didn’t know what pattern I would be using I purchased 10 yards. Lucky for me, this overestimation was a good one. The sleeves on this dress are full and wide, plus since my fabric was directional, I was able to cut the stripes going from shoulder to wrist. Anyway, before any of that, I calculated my measurements and pattern size following the instructions on the pattern. The thing about the TV patterns is they allow you to custom fit your garment before you even start sewing. And once you do that, you can easily make up a muslin for a better idea on fit.

Dark image of my muslin

Dark image of my muslin

Sorry this is not better quality, but almost all the mirrors in my house that are big enough are impacted by light diffusion. What I learned here is that the waist of the under bodice was a little too full but the bust was a pretty good fit. So I took in the darts a bit and retested it. I did not do this all by myself, by the way. I submitted my questions to the Civilian Civil War Closet group on Facebook for hints and help – there are clothing historians, professional seamstresses and experienced clothiers there who are willing to help for free. I just couldn’t overlook that knowledge base. I also asked my friend Shelley Peters for real world tips as she has made this pattern a lot. Had I needed it, the amazing Heather McNaughten at Truly Victorian would have helped too. As an aside, this just confirms for me that this community really wants its members to succeed!

Anyway, after the changes to the muslin, I traced that as my new under bodice pattern piece and went forth to sew! This is the first time I have made my own bias and bias piping, which was used on the neckline facing and armscyes. I found the instructions sufficient, but had used better instructions on a Simplicity costume pattern and did that instead. They just made a bit more sense to my thinking, the result is the same.

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Piped facing to finish the raw edges of the under bodice.

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Piped armscye

The construction of the garment is for the most part very easy. I found the TV method of inserting the sleeve into the armscye backwards to what I am used to so I just adapted and made notes on the pattern.

Hand buttonholes

Hand buttonholes

I sewed this in a combination of machine and hand sewing. My fabric was so very delicate that even though I have a high quality machine, it sometimes would bunch up in the feed dogs. I wound up hand sewing much of the finishing stitching, such as on the piped facings, and also hand sewed all the button holes. My reasoning here was twofold – I wanted historically accurate buttonholes and since the fabric was so delicate it was impossible for me to machine sew them to the standard I desired. I used silk thread for the buttonholes. The buttons are vintage shell buttons, much higher quality than the cheap flaked mother of pearl available these days. They were purchased through Farmhouse Fabrics.

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Sleeve band

For visual interest I cut the sleeve band on the bias. Maybe there is a chance of this stretching over time, but the band is so generous around the wrist that I don’t expect that to happen.

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Finished bodice

At this point, I went back to the Civilian Civil War Closet for help. The pattern does not include a collar pattern. I don’t care for my look without a collar, so I googled for tutorials. The best suggested laying the pattern pieces for the bodice front and back together as though they were sewn, then tracing the curve from center front to center back, next extending that to a simple collar width. I did that, but found mine to be fluttery and off. The amazing Liz Clark of the Sewing Academy helped me immensely with tips on how to correct this and redraft the collar. I’m delighted to say that I was successful!

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Finished collar

I added the fine tatted lace which I purchased at Farmhouse Fabrics.

Next, waistband finishing. Since my fabric is 54″ wide, I didn’t want to cut it down to  four 40″ panels to follow the TV skirt instructions. I retained the selvages as was done in historical garments, and used three panels instead of four. The skirt has a very deep pocket at the center left where the skirt pieces overlap with the waistband. Each panel was cut to the same length, but since your skirt front and skirt back are different lengths, there has to be a way to do this without cutting your fabric. Again, drawing on the Closet knowledge, I did as was suggested and folded over the waist edge of the fabric. This gave added stability to the fabric as well as achieving the lengths needed. The pattern instructions have you cut your fabric at the waist to the desired angle which will give you your length. I don’t recommend that on a sheer just because of the off chance of it tearing.

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Waist inside

You can see in this very amateurly photoshopped picture the angle of the folded-over fabric. This is center back where the skirt is a bit longer than in the front.

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Double box pleats

For the skirt attachment, the pattern gives you liberty to choose your preferred pleating or gathering method. Here I am showing you the double box pleats I used to pleat the skirt onto the waistband. Originally I had knife pleated the front and cartridge pleated the back, but I didn’t get enough fabric taken up in the front. So I went to the double box pleats in front and cartridge pleats in back. I’m quite happy with this look as it’s smooth and polished.

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Yes that hem is hand stitched

I wanted to make sure that the hem folded straight up so the lines didn’t go off kilter, so I ended up hand sewing the hem. I used a single thread and every fourth stitch went through all layers. Every 8th stitch was taken twice to keep the thread from coming undone if it were to break for any reason. If you kept up with my thinking on the skirt width, you will realize that’s a 178″ hem. It took me a couple hours to do it.

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Picture taken by an 8 year old

This is the finished dress, although it’s not the best picture of me lol. I’m looking down toward my daughter haha. Also, I realize that I must not have been laced as tightly in my corset as usual because I couldn’t fasten the waistband correctly. I wasn’t going to mess with it today and I’m certainly not taking the dress apart, so I’ll have to lace better next time.

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Side image

Here you can see the under sleeve just below my shoulder. This makes the dress very cool and airy. I had considered adding a silk stripe down the sleeve for interest, but I decided against it as it might weigh down the fabric. I may make a belt, as the silk I have is the exact color of the darkest stripe in the fabric.

You can also see the shadow of my petticoat under the skirt. I have an eyelet petticoat with two large pleats in it. This isn’t an historically accurate petticoat and someday I will make a plain cotton one, but for now this is quite pretty.

Overall I am thrilled with the result of the Truly Victorian TV447 Sheer Dress pattern. The instructions were easy, but true to the sewing techniques available to our ancestresses. It is not a pattern for a beginner, certainly, but if you have some knowledge of sewing, you can make this pattern truly customized to your preferences. If at times the instructions don’t make sense, just take them one sentence at a time. My mother told me when in doubt just do what the instructions say. These patterns will not take you down the wrong path, trust them and you will get something incredibly beautiful. And of course, email them, ask your friends who have made the pattern, or google for help. Truly Victorian patterns are very popular due to them being among the best on the market today, so lots of people make them! I am eager to wear this dress to one of our hottest events coming up soon, Huntington Beach Civil War Days.

Links & Resources

Truly Victorian

Farmhouse Fabrics

Civilian Civil War Closet

Sewing Academy

Huntington Beach Civil War Days

Mid Century Drawers

No, not drawers, drawers!

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They fit – whew!

Undergarments in the past, the sort of thing that covers your backside, were called drawers. While I can’t find a definitive source, most people are speculating that long underwear type garments were called drawers because they were drawn up the body (as in drawing the curtains closed, drawing up your chonies). At least since the later 1500s, drawers referred to what we now call interchangeably pantaloons, bloomers*, underwear, pantalettes, underpinnings, unmentionables, linens, etc. During the mid 19th century, they were called drawers, and so that is what I will be calling them here. The item was designed to keep a person’s legs covered, both for modesty as well as cleanliness. Typical drawers for girls reached to the mid calf.

For my Mid Century Sewing Project, previously I made the child’s chemise, and almost immediately went onto the drawers. The pattern consists of one piece cut twice on a fold, and then a small portion is cut away from only half of it, creating a distinct left and right leg. Since I had surprised myself in enjoying the hand sewing so much making the chemise, I decided to make the drawers in a combination of hand and machine sewing. Around the crotch area, I hand sewed the seams and felled them so they would not ravel. I chose to make closed crotch drawers for Melody’s modesty. The legs came together so easily, I hardly need to explain anything. My only caveat is that if your child has hips wider than the waist, you will want to cut the pattern to the hip measurement, not the waist measurement. You can see in the picture above that although these drawers fit Melody, a bit more ease in the hips might serve her nicely.

Next I added the growth tucks. I put in three tucks, and it should be noted, I lengthened the pattern by 3 inches in order to have the tucks! This girl is tall. :-) I did not add any embellishment to the hem of the drawers. The pattern suggests white embroidery in between the tucks, but my embroidery is laughable at best! Auntie might be playing with this at the next event we do together haha.

Once the side seams and plackets were prepared, I attached the waist bands. The drawers have two bands – a front and a back – which button together at the sides. For the front treatment, I pleated the drawer body onto the waistband for a more flat front. On the back I gathered the fabric and also decided on a semi-adjustable waistband. The semi-adjustable waistband is made with a short drawstring inside so the band lays relatively flat, but can allow for a bit of ease. Although the pattern called for cotton tape as the drawstring, I didn’t have any so I used cotton cord. Also, I learned how to make hand stitched eyelets! These were easy and look so nice.

Hand stitched eyelets

Hand stitched eyelets

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Untied drawstrings

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Bound ends of the cords

Here I chose to bind the ends of the cords with thread. Since it is cotton cord, it can’t be warmed to create an aglet. But also since it is cotton cord, I didn’t want it to unravel.

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Finished semi-adjustable waistband

Once this was finished I went on to learn how to sew a buttonhole. Mine are not quite attractive yet, but they are functional, heh.

Button button

Button button

I found in my stash two nice 1/2″ shell buttons. Perfect! Modern mother of pearl is so thin, but these will be sturdy for use by a busy little girl. Around about this point, I was asked to give Melody her first sewing lesson. I am delighted that she is interested, and she did a great job for her first attempt!

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Finally, the drawers are finished. Here they are paired with the chemise and a child’s cage that I picked up second hand from another reenactor. The cage is from the Originals by Kay line and are known to be historically accurate. I have to make a minor alteration to it. The previous owner added a button & buttonhole, but it’s a bit snug for Melody’s waist. So, I’m adding a short extension to cover and strengthen the previous buttonhole and give us another inch on the waistband.

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Altogether now

Next up will be the stays. Melody asked for them specifically, and I figure if I’m going to do this, I better do it right and how she wants it!

* Bloomers in the 19th century were a type of pants, not drawers or undergarments, that were worn underneath skirts, and touted as a progressive manner of dressing. They were originally introduced in the 1850s by Elizabeth Smith Miller, and based on the harem pants and other types of loose trousers worn in Asian countries. Mrs Amelia Bloomer popularized the garment through her own wearing of them as well as advertising and writing about them in her newspaper. She was also known as a “radical” because she believed women should have the right to vote in national elections and that alcohol should be outlawed. And she was radical for her time! She owned a newspaper specifically for women; she served on the Iowa Suffrage Committee; she was friends with other reformers, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Mrs Bloomer helped women take on the rights we all enjoy today.

Mid Century Child’s Chemise

I have finished the first installation of practice on the Mid Century Sewing Project as I referenced a couple posts back! The first item I decided to try was the child’s chemise from the Elizabeth Stewart Clark’s Historic Moments Girls Linens 1840-1865 pattern. While the pattern comes with a 30 page booklet, do not let this intimidate you, as it did me at first. It is packed full of helpful tips on making your garment as period correct as you want or can, plus complete instructions for three garments with a variety of options.

I am glad I made this as a practice run because I made a few mistakes and some decisions on construction about half way through the project. First off, I learned how to make the run and fell seam, an historic technique that encases raw edges inside a seam and adds greater strength to seams. In the armscye area, I hand stitched the seam on one side and machine stitched it on the other. I must admit that I prefer the hand stitched side. There is a little more forgiveness in hand sewing that you don’t get on a machine. I also found it easier to maneuver in the small area by hand.

Hand stitched run and fell seam

Hand stitched run and fell seam

Machine stitched run and full seam

Machine stitched run and full seam

I stitched the side seams on the machine and they are very neat and tidy. I like that.

Sleeve finishing

Sleeve finishing

On the sleeve, I chose to add a whitework border. Pictured is the “cheap” eyelet from a local chain store. Even though I measured the opening carefully, I still found my eyelet border to be a tad smaller than the opening of the sleeve. I ended up taking some ease stitches over the top of the sleeve. I don’t like how that puckers there, and on the “official” garment I will measure even more carefully.

Sleeve placement

Sleeve seam placement

Once the sleeves are attached and the side seams stitched, the neckline is ready to be bound. I chose the fixed band option, which is a simple process of basically gathering everything and then binding it. There are no notches or dots on these patterns – something I really hate on Big Three patterns but which I could have seen the benefit of here. Once the band was placed at the correct location on the center of the sleeve, I wasn’t sure where the seams of the sleeve should fall. I took a reasonable guess placed the seam about 2 1/2″ to either side of the center point.

Center back

Center back

Here is where my hand stitching really kicked in. Once the binding has been stitched to the outside, it is turned and then stitched inside. I took as small of stitches as I could and every fifth stitch I took another stitch right on top to prevent the work from slipping. I added the 3 x marks because the chemise is identical front and back except for a small line on the neck band.

Hem inside

Hem inside

Hem outside

Hem outside

Here is the hand stitched hem.  I took a very deep hem because Melody tends to grow up but not out. I expect she will wear this for several years. By the time I started sewing this hem, I had received my order of sewing wax. I used a single thread, waxed it, and again took an extra stitch every fifth stitch. While I can’t say that my running stitch is of very high quality yet, it is even and straight. :-)

Finished neckline with whitework

Finished neckline with whitework

Finished chemise

Finished chemise

This will be Melody’s “every day” chemise, which she will use as early as the Vista Reenactment coming up in March! As you can see, this is a generous garment that should fit nearly any child comfortably. I am looking forward to making the drawers next. In fact, I want to go cut them out right now!

Mid Century Party Dress

Last year, my family went to the local county fair. Of course, I always take a look at the sewing entries, and the costume entires. The items in last year’s display were……interesting, to say it politely. I’m a dedicated admirer of historical clothing and sewing techniques. Some of the “historical costumes” submitted last year were exactly that – costumes. There is a huge difference between historical garments used in a modern stage play about the Antebellum South and actual reproduction garments worn by history enthusiasts. To most people, the two types of clothing look identical, but to those of us who know, the disparity is drastic. It was at that moment, as I gazed on a silk child’s dress made by a competent seamstress in a completely inaccurate manner to replicate the look of a Colonial child’s dress, that I decided I would like to make and submit to the county fair a full set of clothing in period accurate materials with period accurate construction techniques.

Um, what did I just say?

I’m taking on a project to create a mid-century (19th century for those who don’t know me well) party dress for my seven-year-old, made as though it came out of great-great-great-granny’s trunk after having been put away after the last big party, and then forgotten for 150 years.

Girls Dresses (c) Elizabeth Stewart Clark & Co.

To do this, I will be following the techniques in Elizabeth Stewart Clark’s Historic Moments Patterns, Girls Linens 1840-1865 and Girls Dresses 1840-1865. These two patterns were carefully researched by Ms. Clark to best represent the home sewing techniques used by most women of the era. There are various options for sleeves, necklines and trims that allow for styles across the classes – from poor to upper class.

Girls Linens (c) Elizabeth Stewart Clark & Co.

Now, I have been thinking about this project since last August. I have purchased white bleached muslin for the undergarments and two cuts of silk for the dress. Today I ordered fancy imported Swiss embroidered edging. I got out the pattern and read through the booklet. It’s a tiny bit intimidating when your pattern comes with a 30 page booklet of construction tips and instructions. But, this is one of the best patterns on the market, and I hear wonderful things about it, so I’m going to roll with it.

I took Melody’s measurements tonight. I have always said she is tall and lean! Her measurements fluctuate between three of the sizes in the pattern and one measurement isn’t even on the chart it is so small.

Chest 25″

Waist 21″

Back Neck Length 12″

Neck 11″

Arm Length 19″

Hip to floor 27″

Inseam 22″

Hips 27″

Her chest is between size A-B, waist is not even on the chart for A, BNL between B-C, Neck between A-B and arm between B-C. Sigh…I will have to make a muslin and do some alterations, I suppose. I expect I will start working on this soon as I’ve only got a few months before it must be turned in to the fair committee. Watch for updates as I proceed!

And wish me luck. Lots of it!

Making an easy blanket for your pet

Even your smallest members of the house need a lovey, right? I have been making these blankets for my cats and dogs for many years. My mother made them for the family dog when I was growing up. They can be placed around the house where your pet likes to sleep, they protect your light colored carpets and linens from dark colored hair deposits and pet “gunk”, and can make it so your pet can sleep on the bed without being right up in your face.

Browser likes to hang out on the stairs

Browser likes to hang out on the stairs

To make your pet a warm bed that is also machine washable, you will need:

1 yard of cotton flannel or regular cotton

1 package of Warm & Natural batting, 34×45″ size (or any low loft batting, I just like the weight of this type)

Cozy to be

Cozy to be

Step One

Lay out the fabric to make sure the edges are even and straight. Trim where necessary.

Trim edges

Trim edges

Step Two

Lay the batting on your table, then lay the fabric on top. Match the edge of the batting to the folded edge of your flannel. The flannel is going to be your guide for cutting. Cut out the batting.

Cut batting to the edge of the fabric

Cut batting to the edge of the fabric

Step Three

You should now have one yard of flannel folded inside out and then layered on top of the batting. Keeping everything configured exactly like that, stitch around the open edges, leaving yourself a 6″ opening where you will turn the fabric. Backstitch to anchor your stitching.

Before turning, trim any edges.

Cut out extra bulk before turning

Cut out extra bulk before turning

Step Four

Turn your project by reaching in through the hole and grasping the other end. Pull everything through the hole. Once it’s right side out, reach back in and pop out the corners. Next, turn in the raw edges at the opening, pin closed, then stitch.

Pin and stitch

Pin and stitch

You can either just stitch it straight down the side, or you can stitch all the way around the entire project to make a more finished look. I stitch this about 1/8″ from the edge. Finally, stitch a straight line from edge to edge in the center of the blanket. This will keep the batting from drifting around and getting lumpy in the washer or when Fido digs around in his bed for the perfect spot to settle. If you are feeling really motivated you can stitch an X from corner to corner or other designs. I find that I am not precise enough to do this and I always wind up taking a tuck in the fabric, and that makes a pucker, and that bugs me. :-)

Step Five

Present to Fluffy and collect the furry gratitude you are owed for your efforts. Start to finish this project should take about 15 minutes.

Heavy sigh....

Heavy sigh….

If your pet is bigger than medium size, you can make a similar blanket using 1 yard of flannel backed with 1 yard of cotton or flannel cut into a square, and the batting sandwiched in the middle. Follow the same steps, just stitching around four sides instead of three. I suppose you could also make a kid blanket this way too.  :-)

Extending the life of a dress

Here’s a little project I did last week…

Mrs Brewer's Parlour

Our 19th century counterparts were very good at using every resource until it was completely used up. They didn’t have a local Walmart or Target available to run over and buy a replacement. Stores were sometimes a full days ride away from home, and so they stocked up on certain things, and used and reused things diligently. In their day, it was called “being frugal.” These days we have rebranded it for school kids and we call it recycling.

In a woman’s repertoire was the ability to remake dresses from one fashion to another, or to update a look with new trims and decoration. In particular with children’s clothing, it was important to make them last as long as possible because children grow! If you ever read Laura Ingalls Wilder, she refers to Ma “turning” hers and Mary’s dresses. This involved removing the skirt from the bodice and turning it…

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