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.

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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!

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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