Meet Hannah

Buy this book immediately!

I don’t think you need a picture of Hannah in her underclothes – at this point, dolls in chemises, underbodices, or drawers is just redundant, don’t you think? Suffice to say I used the underbodice & drawers patterns from the 1875 La Mode Illustree that I mentioned in my last post about Emma, and the underbodice fits Hannah much better than Emma’s does. A while back, I picked up a copy of Sewing Victorian Doll Clothes by Michelle Hamilton. This lovely book covers 1840 through 1910, and includes not only a study of the various doll styles available during that timespan, but also some well designed and detailed patterns. The tricky thing is that to make the patterns fit in the book, they have to be printed quite small, and then the user was intended to enlarge the pattern on a copy machine. Since I don’t have a copy machine handy, but I do have a scanner, I went with that method, heh. You can see in the picture all the tabs I have added to this resource – I have a lot of plans for my dolls!

It was really tricky to decide what to make for my latest doll, Hannah. I created her from another Tasha Tudor doll kit, and technically she is named Meg. But she doesn’t look like a “Meg” to me, hence the name change. She is quite short, only about 11 1/2″ tall, which creates some issues based on her diminutive size. The patterns in the book were intended for dolls closer to 20″. But, I’m clever and capable, so off we went.

The photo on the left is an original doll made during the 1870s and featured in the book. She is truly lovely and I loved her bustle dress. The photo on the right is an extant dress from the same time period and was another inspiration for me. I had this French blue silk that I had bought years ago. Literally, I have been toting it around for three houses now, so it’s about time I used it. I also recently acquired some gorgeous gold silk taffeta from FarmhouseFabrics.com. They have a great selection of heirloom quality goods, plus they have doll “kits” of fabric and trims in coordinated colors. The gold silk taffeta came from one of those kits.

Hannah is so beautiful!

I think I really need to step up my photo game because I don’t think these are going to do her any justice.

The dress is made in three parts: bodice, skirt and apron. Oh, and there is a bustled petticoat underneath. Each piece is made exactly as clothing in the 1870s was made, so the bodice is lined, darted, and opens in front. If Hannah were bigger, I could have made functional buttons and buttonholes. As it was, she is just too small to even use 1/4″ buttons for decoration, so I used some hematite beads here. The original dress had tiny pleated trims, but Hannah is so small I had difficulty with my patience on the pleated skirt trim, so I decided to forego that. Besides, I loved the cuffs on the extant gown above and wanted to replicate that look. The thing about this era is that you could trim and trim and trim some more, and it would all be ok!

Close up of bodice & watch

I even made her little hat – something I had never done before! It was tricky, but I’m pleased with the result for the most part. I had wanted a feather, but not having one and not wanting to go shopping for one feather, I decided to fray out some silk instead. Her little watch came from Dollspart.com. I don’t know if you can tell, but the original doll had a little watch which is where I got this idea. I was literally obsessed with finding a doll sized watch for about 24 hours, searching jewelry supply websites for something I could make into a pendant for her, so it was a massive relief to find this website.

I quite like the results of this dress project. There are a few things I could have done better or differently, but all in all, I’m pleased. Again, I know where the mistakes are and I have to try to forget them. My sister would tell me they create the character and personality of the doll, so that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

This project was the inspiration for a planning book. If you make doll clothes (or really any type of big project with a lot of parts or steps) I highly recommend doing this. I jot down different ideas for the various dolls I have on my project list. The list is getting long and really, I had forgotten about one doll, so I thought this would organize me better. I keep the book handy – since I work from home I can keep it right on my desk to grab when inspiration hits me. As I browse various photo galleries, I screen shot or save inspiration pictures and then paste them into the book with the doll I have in mind.

The book I am using is a Moleskin with the elastic band that keeps it closed – necessary since it is getting fat with all the added pictures – but any kind of blank book or journal would work.

This dress along with several others was also part of the impetus for me to redesign my office/sewing room and add a glass fronted cabinet. Now my dolls don’t have to stay in a drawer and I can look at them for inspiration or just satisfaction of my work.

Next time you visit, I will tell you all about Sunbonnet Sue, another interesting doll adopted off eBay with lots of issues that make her special. See you then!

Emma and the purple polyester

Hi, I’m Emma

Emma is another Tasha Tudor doll I acquired off eBay. Someone is selling a kit to make an Emma for something like $50 but I found this complete doll for only $20. Such a deal – I don’t have to build her!

Emma is dated 1974. I imagine she was made around that time based on this dress. It is polyester. Not today’s polyester- this IS your grandma’s polyester.

The outfit consists of the dress, a net underskirt, polyester drawers and a hat. None of the doll kits included much dress fashion – just basic patterns and sketchy instructions. I always wonder about the person who made the doll, her clothes and their knowledge. Did they have a book? And old doll to copy?

While it was sewn competently, it’s POLYESTER! 😆 there’s no way Emma can continue to wear this. But don’t worry, I have something in mind. Since Emma is styled as a youth doll (instead of a lady doll) I am working on a cute 1876 outfit styled from La Mode Illustree. Come back soon and I’ll tell you all about her new clothes from the muslin out.

Dressing Florence

A few weeks ago I told you about building the lovely Florence Nightengale doll from Yield House. Thankfully, Florence hasn’t been sitting in her underclothes since I completed her. I was very focused on the project and spent about a week making her dress.

I decided that since Florence was a known person I would do my best to recreate a dress she wore. A photo search resulted in this image, dated to 1857.

Florence, age 37

Although we don’t really know what color her dress was, I felt that an homage to the somber nurses dress might work well. I found some gorgeous lightweight charcoal wool from MiniMagic.com. They have tons of doll appropriate fabrics, trims and more.

Studying the dress, I figured the original velvet bands were probably 2 inch wide pieces. Of course in doll scale that would not work, so I purchased 3/8” velvet trim.

Secondly, I knew I would not be able to reproduce the turned back sleeves on such small scale. I would have to compromise on that.

And granted, the dress would be made to open in the back as a doll dress, so the sharp point on the waist would also not materialize.

But, I think I did a pretty good job.

Florence, dressed

Since 1/8” velvet trim doesn’t exist that I could find, I embroidered the bars in between the velvet bands on the skirt and on the bodice.

I made her undersleeves from a fine white batiste that I had and used some delicate lace. I am not thrilled with the black ribbon in the casings, but I’m not going to remake them. As was done in her day, the undersleeves tie on just above her elbow.

The lace for her collar I had left from another project. I used a tiny medallion for the center embellishment.

I’m quite pleased with Florence Nightengale! Come back again and I’ll tell you all about Emma and her purple polyester dress.

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.

So many things!

Princesses

Princesses

Dress Review Revisited

You may remember my pattern review of the Simplicity 2569 Princess Dress, which I made for Melody back in February this year. At the time I figured it would be fairly easy to make this in a 100% machine washable version. Since our summer vacation was planned coincidentally to fall right after Cassidy’s birthday I determined I would make the dress and the girls would wear their matching dresses during vacation.

Cassidy’s dress is made from a variety of pink cotton fabrics that Melody picked out, plus a poly lace overskirt and poly trims.  It was just as easy as I remembered.  The only real challenges were to my math skills.  The pattern calls for 60″ wide tulle, but we used 45″ wide lace, so I had to quickly calculate how much lace and then alter the cutting layout accordingly. Instead of 4 wide panels, it had 8 narrower ones. I also didn’t make it a three layer skirt since the cotton & lace were heavier than the tulle.

Even though the girls are different heights, they both have on a size 6/7 dress. Cassidy’s turned out to be a bit long once she tried it on, so I used some safety pins to create “panniers” on her hips. As she grows they can be taken out.

Vacation

The photo above was taken in Biltmore Village, NC. It was a humid evening but we walked around the village shopping and having a nice time. The girls got SO many compliments! They were truly the belles of the ball, so to speak. Tara and I were the wicked step mothers, lol.

The Biltmore estate is an amazing and beautiful house! If you ever get a chance, please go. It wasn’t even that expensive for the tour and the audio guides. The home was lived in until the 1950s I believe, so it really does feel like a home, rather than a museum. Most fascinating about the home was the restoration process, because since it was a home there was normal wear and tear on certain things. Just think about the normal wear and tear on your own home, then consider you have a home filled with priceless antiques and expensive fabrics. Just wow. I highly recommend this tour of an American “castle.”

The rest of our vacation was too darn short! Melody loved playing in the backyard with Burke & Cassidy, going to Wonderworks – a kids hands on museum, and just hanging with the kids at home. These are the times the miles feel so great, but the wonderful memories shorten them.

Swimming Lessons

Melody has been taking swimming lessons and has gone from not leaving the side of the pool to jumping in, over and over and over, with the water above her head! We are so proud of her accomplishment of overcoming her fears. This is a big step for a child to own their own safety in a pool. Great job Melody! And thank you to Gramma A for taking her every day!

Girl Scouts

Mom has been trained to be a coleader of the Daisy troop this year. I’m excited and we are going to have a great time! I hope to blog more about this as we go along in the year.

Claire

Some of you understand the concept of an online Mom’s group. We met virtually when we were all pregnant 8 years ago, and we have stayed tight. Lots of us have met in person and we are now just like a great big international mom’s group. I think of these ladies as some of my closest friends. Well, one lady who I dearly love has been diagnosed with cervical cancer. All I can say is that we are praying every day that the treatment beats it into remission and it never ever comes back! When something like this strikes your group of friends, the immediate reaction is “no way, not in our group!” but it’s real and we have to face it. The very hardest, most difficult part of all of this is the inability to pop by and sit with Claire, make dinner for the kids, do the wash, pick up the groceries, whatever. The normal things you do when a friend or family member is in need. This is another time the miles really stretch.

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We are with you Claire!

That’s about it for now. Melody is back to school next Tuesday and she will be a FIRST GRADER! Yahooo!!!!!

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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