There were many ways of sewing and finishing seams in the 18th and 19th centuries. This is by no means a comprehensive guide, and there are probably as many variations as there are people who have ever sewn a garment, but these are some that are relatively common, and which I have found useful.
Three of these seam types (Mantua Maker’s, English stitch, and the Stacked seam) exist to save time by allowing the stitcher to sew a seam and finish the raw edges all in one go. Before the sewing machine, techniques like these saved a ton of time over modern techniques like bag lining, because they allow the dressmaker to sew each seam only once, rather than twice (once for the fabric and once for the lining).
Flat Felled Seams
Best for seams with no linings
A flat felled seam is sewn along the seamline with running stitch or backstitch. One side of the seam allowance is then trimmed down; then the longer seam allowance is wrapped around the shorter seam allowance and hemmed to the fabric. This encases all the raw edges within the seam allowance, and keeps the allowances flat against the fabric. It gives the seam a nice, crisp appearance, but does leave a visible line of tiny stitches along the seamline on the outside. Flat-fells are particularly useful for trousers, breeches, shirts, and shifts, as they are strong and hard-wearing.
Mantua Maker’s Seams
Best for seams with no linings
In a mantua-maker’s seam, the two fabric edges are folded over together twice, and the seam is sewn along the inner edge of the fold. It comes out looking like a hem on the inside, and an ordinary seam on the outside. Best for long skirt seams. It is best done by hand, but can be done on a machine in a pinch.
Hem and Whip
Could be used with or without lining
This is a method by which the pieces are finished individually, and then joined together afterwards. I would recommend this method most for lightweight, lined pieces, but you could also use it in unlined areas, though the hemming would show as a very small row of stitching on the outside of the garment if you use it without a lining. It is especially good for dealing with fabrics that fray easily, as it allows you to eliminate the raw edges before assembling the garment.
Repeat the mitering process for all corners of your pattern piece, and fold in all of the long edges to match.
Best for flat-lined areas
This technique is by far the most common to be seen in Victorian era bodices, which are generally flatlined, with the seams pressed open and overcast to the lining. It is not the most beautiful finish, as the raw edges are left visible, though protected. It’s best not to let this bother you–our ancestors were not nearly so bothered about raw edges as we seem to be, and folding the seam allowances over in order to encase the raw edges would create unnecessary bulk in a tightly fitted bodice. This finish also makes it very easy to go in and make small fit adjustments if necessary.
Sews and finishes fabric and lining concurrently
I use quotes here because this stitch does not have a name that we know from the period as far as I have seen. It has come to be known as the English stitch in much of the historical costuming community. It is best known from this description in the Workwoman’s Guide from 1840:
The mode of sewing these four thicknesses so as to make them lie flatly when opened, is rather peculiar. Take up with your needle, three of the thicknesses, leaving the fourth unsewed. The next stitch, take again three folds, leaving the other outside one unsewed: continue alternately taking up one side and omitting the other, letting the stitches lie close together: when completed, open the seam, and flatten it with the finger and thumb.”
The Workwoman’s Guide, by a Lady, 1840
The edges of each piece (fabrics and linings) are turned under, and stitched in a way that sews all four together with raw edges between the layers. It is a very efficient way to sew fabric and lining, and is very useful for 18th and early 19th century gowns.
Sews and finishes fabric and lining concurrently
This one is in quotes because I have no idea whether this technique has a name. It is another one that is useful for lined 18th and early 19th century garments. I also use it for a lot of my cosplays and modern sewing. It again sews the seam at the same time as encasing the raw edges, with the extra advantage that (unlike the English stitch) it can be done by machine as well as by hand. It does leave all four seam allowances running in the same direction, rather than opened out, so consider that when choosing between it and the English stitch. All four fabric thicknesses are stacked in such a way that the seam can be sewn all in one, and the lining and fabric will open out, covering the raw edges and leaving a nice, finished seam. It’s amazing how fast a lined bodice or dress can go together when using this technique.
I was a little disappointed at first when I looked back at the posts from this year and realized how few there were, but it was a good time to remind myself that this was a crazy year, and that’s ok! I only completed three major projects, plus a few smaller ones, but all three are things I’m extremely proud of. Sometimes I forget that quality is better than quantity (and also fits better in my little house!). I think back to a few years ago, when it seemed like I was cranking something out every week or two, but then I remember that the things I’m making are becoming ever more complex and time consuming!
It was also a weird year for starting one project, and then having something else more urgent come up, so hopefully this year I will have time to go back and revisit some of the things that had to drop off the schedule in 2019.
So let me take a minute to look back at the things I made this year, and check in on a few UFOs (un-finished objects) that may pop up again in 2020!
Daenerys Dragonstone Dress
Actually, looking back, this is the reason I only got three big projects done! Meet the dress that, in my hubris, I thought I could crank out in a month or two, and which then took nearly half the year to make! That’s what I get for being an embroidery nut…
I started the corset for this outfit in January, and over the course of the next five-and-a-bit months made the dress, cape, boot covers, wig, ring, and hairpiece. I have also now made leggings to go under it. In this photo I was just wearing black jeans. As much as it frustrated me at times, and as many times as I was tempted to just throw in the towel, I’m really thrilled with how it turned out, and glad that I pushed through. You can read all about it here.
Checked Silk Waistcoat
This waistcoat is the only other thing that I managed to complete during the five month Daenerys marathon! I got Brandon the fabric from Burnley & Trowbridge for his birthday in December, and I wanted him to have a nice, new waistcoat to wear to the winter ball at Locust Grove in February. The waistcoat is all handsewn, and pairs great with our 1820s outfits! It’s one of too many things this year that haven’t gotten a write up on the blog.
UFO: Yellow 1780s Stays
And here we come to the first un-finished object of the year. I had, of course, intended to start these stays much sooner than I did, but then my life was subsumed by the Mother of Dragons. I don’t care for my current 18th century stays at all–they’re too large and not very flattering. I made a valiant effort to complete these in order to wear them with the next project, but ran out of time. In the end, I had to drop the stays for the time being so that I could finish my new chemise à la Reine in time to wear it to Jane Austen Festival along with the other Custom Wig Company ladies.
I cannot wait to get these babies done this year! All the boning channels are sewn (by hand!), so really, the worst is over.
My old rump was looking pretty sad and deflated, so I really amped things up! Learn how to make your own stuffing out of used wine corks here:
Chemise à la Reine
This was a project I’ve been excited to make for a while! For years at Custom Wig Company we’ve talked about doing a set of coordinated chemise dresses to wear to the Jane Austen Festival, and this year we finally did it! I chose to do one with a fitted, pleated back and gathered front. It is entirely handsewn, and I enjoyed every second of it. It was really satisfying to combine a lot of handsewing skills and construction techniques that I’ve been picking up over the last few years. The other best thing about it after I’d just spent 5 months on a single project? It only took 9 days! Read about the construction here.
1850s Underpinnings (Corset, Hoops, and Petticoat)
It’s always a fun adventure to embark on a new period! I particularly like this corset (made from a Redthreaded pattern). The hoop and petticoat patterns came from Truly Victorian. Most of the materials came from my stash, too, which is always a joy. You can read about these three pieces here.
These pieces went to support the third big dress of the year:
1850s Cotton Day Dress
This dress hasn’t gotten a write up because I finished it up at four in the morning the night before I needed to wear it, and I still have some modifications to make, and trim to add, so I’ll wait until it’s fully complete to blog about it. 1850’s was a period I would never have gotten into if it wasn’t for my friend Amy playing Queen Victoria at events. I’ve taken on the roll of one of her Maids of Honour, and so I needed a dress to fit the roll! I’m so glad I made this one, because as soon as I put it on, I was in love! I can’t wait to bring more 1850s plans to fruition in the future!
UFO: Late 18th Century Frock Coat
This one barely rates a mention, really. But, I have cut it out and sewn the center back seam, so it’s technically a work-in-progress. I basically didn’t exist in October, because I was playing a costumed character at the zoo for their month-long Halloween festivities in addition to my regular job, and I hugely overestimated how much costuming I would be able to do while also doing that. Brandon was more in need of a new waistcoat than a new coat for our trip to Williamsburg in November, so the coat got set aside to make room for that.
18th Century Bits (Two Projects, Really)
Best laid plans… At the beginning of the year, I was planning to have so many lovely new things for our trip to Williamsburg, where I was teaching a tambour embroidery workshop. New stays, new dress, cloak, new hat, new full suit for Brandon. In the end, he got a new blue waistcoat, and I got a red short cloak, and we both had a wonderful time! All those projects are back on the slate for 2020, though!
And that’s all! After that, it was Christmas presents all the way for the rest of the year!
What’s coming in 2020?
That wraps up the journey of 2019, so what’s in store for 2020? Big plans, but also an exciting new pledge.
There are a lot of reasons to use up your stash. I’d like to save money to do something big for my 30th birthday next year. I’d also like to open up some space in our tiny house. Plus, it’s certainly better for the planet all around if we use the things we have instead of buying new ones.
So, in case you haven’t guessed yet: 2020 is the year of the stash! From today, I will not be buying any fabric for myself for at least a year. I am allowing myself to buy notions, trimmings, linings, etc… as necessary so that I don’t have to compromise the quality of my work, but all main fashion fabrics and as many other things as possible have to come from the stash.
I went through my stash a few months ago, and counted up 35 potential projects. Some are UFOs; some are projects that have been on the docket for ages, but keep getting delayed; some are re-makes of older things I’m not as happy with; some are just ideas for what to do with fabric I picked up just because I liked it; and some are ideas for leftover fabric from old projects. Considering I only finished 9 pieces total in 2019, I think I’ll have plenty to keep me busy and then some!
There are lots of plans, but here are the first few things on my list: Brandon’s new 18th century suit (UFO), my new 18th century stays (UFO), 1850s ball gown with fabric Brandon got me for Christmas, and the elusive multi-year project that is the tambour’d Regency ball gown (UFO).
I’m actually really excited for this. I’m sure I’ll be distracted and tempted by other things, but this will give me a chance to work on projects that I’ve been really looking forward to, but that keep getting pushed to the back of the queue.
Wish me luck, and I hope that your 2020 is bright!
I have been part of a Victorian court interpreting group since the beginning of the year, helping to support my amazing friend Amy as Queen Victoria by portraying one of her Maids of Honour. Since we were just getting started, I was stuck wearing my 1840s gear until I could get an 1850s outfit pulled together. We did several gigs this spring, and I had no time, as other projects were more pressing, but as a September gig approached, I was determined to make my newest decade happen!
Of course, no historical ensemble is complete without the full range of appropriate shapewear. For the 1850s, you’re looking to create the nipped-in waist and bell shaped skirt that is iconic for the decade.
This won’t be the most in-depth post I’ve ever done, because I was seriously racing against the clock to make this, but here is what I have:
To start with, I had some corseteering to do. I’ve never been very happy with my old corset. The fabric I used just wasn’t strong enough, and it was basically pulling itself apart from day one. It was also a later Victorian shape, so I decided I would pull it apart, reuse the bones and busk, and replace it with two new corsets, one later Victorian and one mid-Victorian. This is the mid-Victorian, and the later one will come some time in the next 2 years depending on what I end up needing it for!
The first step of any Victorian corset (or at least all the ones that I’ve made) is inserting the busk. For me, this meant first ripping said busk out of my old corset.
I must have marked all my lines on the wrong side of my fabric, because I ended up putting the busk with the hooks and loops on the wrong sides. This doesn’t actually matter functionally except that it still feels a bit weird to do up the busk.
Next, boning channels! These are done using bone casing (this and the grommets came from Corsetmaking.com) on the inside of the corset, with contrast stitching showing on the outside. I think with my next one, I’ll try doing them in self-fabric on the outside.
Most of the boning channels do not intersect the corset’s waist seam, so those are all put in before attaching the hip gusset. This is a wide piece that allows the corset to flare dramatically at the hips. After all, while you might want a tiny waist, there’s no point in constricting your hips when you’re just going to put a big hoop over them!
There are two bones on each side that cross the waist seam and keep the sides under control. Otherwise, the hip gusset would be likely to crumple towards the waist when worn.
Next up: grommets! Always a satisfying pursuit, as it involves hitting things with a hammer.
Once all the bones were inside, I bound the edges with a strip of the same sateen.
Because the seam allowances at the point of the gusset are nearly non-existent, and it’s a point that’s likely to take strain, I reinforced that area with satin stitch in a cotton embroidery floss that matched my thread. You see this detail often on corsets from the 1850s, including the one in the photo at the beginning of this post.
Just one final step: flossing! This is decorative stitching, usually done in a contrasting color, which holds the ends of the bones in place and helps prevent them from tearing through the fabric.
And that’s done!
I love it. It’s amazing how much you learn just by making and wearing one of something. This is leaps and bounds above my old corset in terms of quality and comfort. I definitely highly recommend the RedThreaded pattern!
A fabric ‘bag’ encloses the bottom three hoops to prevent you from stepping though them by accident.
Oddly, the most stressful part of this project was keeping track of the different ribbons. Since the hoop is slightly shorter in front and longer in back, it was imperative to make sure I didn’t get the ribbons mixed up after they were cut! I did pinned a note to the top of each ribbon. The horizontal pins you can see are marking where the ribbons will attach at the top and bottom, and where the tops of each hoop will sit.
Attach the bottoms of the ribbons to the bag with nice, sturdy stitching!
The tops of the ribbons are sandwiched between two layers of a little corselet that goes around the waist. This has several bones in it to keep it from bunching up, and is bound at the top edge.
The bones and bone casings were also all very carefully labelled so as not to mix them up!
As I was attaching the bone casings to the ribbons, I made sure that the join in each bone casing is covered by the center back ribbon.
It is impossible not to swing back and forth like a bell while wearing this:
I also made a petticoat to go over the hoop, smooth the silhouette, and bulk up the skirts even more. I didn’t bother to photograph this process, since it’s just four rectangles sewn together. Truly Victorian has the instructions and diagram for this petticoat available for free!
I do want to add a corset cover to this set of underpinnings, but overall, I’m very pleased. The 1850s were a decade I probably never would have ventured into on my own, but now that I’m here, I’m loving them, and have so many more plans! It’s a crazy month for me, but as soon as I have a chance, I’ll write up a post about the first dress I’ve made to go over these underthings!
After taking forever over the Part 2 of my Dragonstone Landing post, it’s nice to be able to write about a construction that was both very simple and very satisfying. This is a gown with no embellishment: no embroidery, no ruffles, no lace, no anything! But, it was constructed entirely by hand using historical techniques that I’ve learned over the several Burnley & Trowbridge workshops I’ve been to (these workshops are so worth the money and the drive to Williamsburg! If you’re interested in jumping into full-on period garment construction, there’s nothing I would recommend more highly!). I loved every stitch of making this gown, and I didn’t want to take it off the day I wore it! After a long day in the booth in the KY heat, that’s saying something.
Chemises à la Reine are frothy confections of fine, usually (but not always!) white fabric, which came into fashion in the 1780s and began the slide from 18th century fashion to Empire/Regency fashion. They are lightweight and heavily gathered. Many have poofy, gathered sleeves unusual earlier in the 18th century. There is a lot of variety in the sleeves–some have a single row of gathering, some two, some three, some are gathered in at the bottom, some end in a ruffle. Some gowns have straight sleeves or shaped sleeves–some full length, some shorter. There are a huge variety of ruffles on the necklines and hems of these gowns as well. So, while the base of the gown: gathered, white cotton, can seem very repetitive, there is actually a huge variety of designs within the category of Chemise à la Reine.
For the Jane Austen Festival this year, we at Custom Wig Company wanted to have coordinating outfits to wear in the booth. We all loved the idea of showing off some fabulous hedgehog hair, so our uniforms became chemises à la Reine with colored sashes. We wanted to make sure that we weren’t all wearing exactly the same dress, though, so we played with different variations of the look.
I wasn’t sure exactly where I wanted to go with my chemise gown until I saw this one from the Musée de la Toile de Jouy. It was featured in episode 6 of A Stitch in Time with Amber Butchart.
Rather than being gathered all the way around, it has a pleated back, and flat sides, with an enormous gathered skirt and front, and plain straight sleeves. I liked the way that it took the airy, frothy chemise gown, and gave it a slightly sleeker look.
I really wanted to have my new 1780s stays done before I started the gown, but finally I had to accept that that wasn’t going to happen, and I started this with less than two weeks to go until Jane Austen Festival!
I started with the bodice pieces, which Brandon helped me drape. I used a technique wherein the pieces are hemmed around the lining before assembly, so all the seams get finished before they actually get sewn. The gorgeous sheer, checked cotton is from William Booth, Draper.
To make the pleated back, I cut the lining according to the pattern we draped, then cut a larger rectangle of my fashion fabric. I pleated the fashion fabric onto the lining and cut away the excess fashion fabric to leave just a hem allowance around the edges.
I made front pieces for the bodice out of two layers of plain linen. These will be pinned together at the front, underneath the gathered portion, which will give the gown structure that the gathered fabric alone couldn’t give.
The bodice pieces are then stitched together. This could be done with a whip stitch, but I went with something like an English stitch, except that I was only dealing with one edge on each piece, rather than a lining and a fabric edge for each. I found that this fishbone-like stitch allowed the pieces to open out flatter than a whip stitch would.
The shoulder straps on this gown are unusual. Rather than simply going from shoulder front to shoulder back, with a gap between, these ones come around the neck in the back and meet in the middle. I though it was an interesting element on the original dress, and decided to replicate it.
A lot of the work on the skirt was done during the Independence Day event at Locust Grove. The skirt is made in three panels: two back/side panels, and one front panel that includes the gathered portion of the bodice. On the 4th of July, I finished the side edges of the back skirt panels, hemmed them, and put the gathering stitches in half of the top.
I pulled up the gathers and stroked them to get them to line up nicely, then put the finished bottom edge of the bodice over the seamline. Then I stitched the skirt to the bodice, being careful to put a stitch through each gather. The two back skirt panels go from the front/side front seam on one side to the same seam on the other side.
Next, it was time to deal with the large panel that forms the front of the skirt and bodice. This is just a large rectangle with a slight dip in the top to make the shape of the neckline.
The sides are both selvedges, so they just got turned and stitched down. There is a slit cut in the center from neck to about hip level. This slit is what allows me to get in and out of the dress. It is finished with a narrow hem. The bottom of the slit is re-enforced with buttonhole stitches and a bar tack to prevent it from tearing.
The top edge of the front piece is hemmed to make a drawstring casing, with a piece of narrow cotton tape from Burnley & Trowbridge tacked to the shoulder strap seam for the drawstring. The bottom of the piece also got a hem, though apparently not a picture.
The front piece is then whip stitched to the skirt back, and blind stitched along the front/side front bodice seam so that it will cover the plain linen, fitted portion of the bodice.
The back sleeve seams are open at the wrist to leave room for the hand to get through. These adorable flower-shaped mother-of-pearl buttons were left over from another project.
I was attaching the sleeves on Friday night at the Jane Austen Festival! Down to the wire for a dress I planned to wear on Saturday!
The final step when I got home Friday night was to stitch the fabric shoulder straps over the top–blind stitched along the seams, and prick stitched at the neckline edge.
I’m head over heels with this dress; I really am. It really reminded me why I love hand sewing, and why I try to do it on any garment from before sewing machines were widely available. I just enjoy hand construction so much more than machine. Machine sewing is all about the end goal for me, but when hand sewing I love the process as well. Loving the outcome is just the cherry on the cake! The jewelry in these photos is from Dames à la Mode, the wig from Custom Wig Company, and the makeup from LBCC Historical.
Here are some comparisons of the original dress from the Musée de la Toile de Jouy and mine. I didn’t have enough fabric (or enough time!) to do the skirt ruffle, and Wm. Booth is sold out of this fabric now! But, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to do it anyway, so that’s okay.
And here are a couple of photos by Fox & Rose Photography, which show me at work netting the cap for an 18th century men’s wig.
It’s been a wild five months, y’all. In January, I embarked on what I thought would be a 2-3 month project, and here at the beginning of June, I’m still putting the finishing touches in place. It’s been a long, inspiring, frustrating, and all-consuming project. It has pushed two months worth of other projects back, and has been the reason you haven’t heard from me here in more than three months.
But, the other day I put on the completed pieces. I’m still working out the details: jewelry, and wig, but the main part of the costume is done. I’ll be honest with you all, I was terrified when I put this costume on. I hadn’t actually tried it on for several months, not since I started working on the major embroidery. I had never tried it with the sleeves, I wasn’t sure how much things would weigh, and how that weight might affect the way the dress hung. I was afraid the whole thing might fall off my shoulders and be a disaster that I had to waste another several months fixing. Honestly, if that had been the case, I might have just thrown out the last five months and tried to forget that I ever attempted Daenerys Targaryen’s Dragonstone Landing dress from the first episode of Game of Thrones Season 7.
Luckily for my sanity, it wasn’t a disaster. Much to my delight (and somewhat to my surprise), I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so proud looking at myself in a costume. Even with no wig on (not to mention no pants, since I was just testing the fit of the dress and cape) I felt so. utterly. badass.
I’m not going to show you the finished product on me just yet–hopefully it will be photographed soon in all it’s glory by someone with more skill and a much better camera than my iPhone 7. But, here is the beginning of my saga of making a replica of this incredible costume, originally designed by Michele Clapton, and embroidered by Michele Carragher.
I have been wanting to make another Daenerys dress for quite a while now (you can see my first one here), and as soon as the promo images from Season 7 started to appear, I knew that this was the one. I loved, the structure, the cape (those shoulders! This was the first of Dany’s costumes to feature this silhouette, which she rocked through the final two seasons), and I especially loved the idea of attempting to replicate some of Michele Carragher’s embroidery.
But, before I could think about that, I had to think about understructure. Looking at the above photos, you can see that her torso is very smooth and stiff looking–the fabric fits closely with no bunching at the waist. You just don’t get lines like that without a corseted body and boned bodice. In this case, we also know from interviews that Emilia Clarke did wear a corset under her costumes. Because the waist is smoothed out, but the bust still has a natural roundness, I went with an underbust corset. I used Laughing Moon #113 to get the silhouette I wanted. (Now that I have this Late 19th century underbust corset lying around, I’m feeling the urge to add an 1890s riding habit or bicycling outfit to my wardrobe!) I’ll just go over the corset quickly before I get to the good stuff.
I made a very quick mockup of the corset out of heavy linen. This was mostly to check the length, since I have a very short torso, and have to shorten most commercial patterns. I wasn’t looking for a ton of waist reduction with this corset–I’m wearing it more for structure than anything else.
This corset is made with a single layer of coutil, no lining. The first step of the actual construction is to put a facing at each center back, which gives a nice double-layer to put the eyelets through.
The center fronts also get a facing, both for strength, and to give you somewhere to put the busk. In the left hand photo, the breaks in the seam that holds the facing to the front are where the loops of the busk will stick out. The posts of the busk come out through holes in the front made with an awl. Once the busk is in place, with the posts and loops through their holes, you stitch along the edge of the busk to hold it in place.
Pieces of bone casing get placed, first covering each of the seam allowances.
The top and bottom are bound with bias tape.
Well, that’s the understructure out of the way, now on to the main event. With my dressform padded out, I was able to start draping my pattern.
Working on the front.
I am am always way too focused to remember to take photos during fittings, but rest assured that I did sew this up into a mockup, try it on, and make lots of adjustments (I think that’s the third iteration of the bodice front you see there, and I actually ended up altering it to have a princess seam instead of darts after this photo was taken) before I went ahead and did this:
I did the first round of bodice embellishment while the front was still in two halves. This started with making a section of smocking to look like dragon scales. Mine is done in silk habotai. Michele Carragher (the embroiderer from the show), has a useful tutorial on how to do this.
Here is a little video of the smocking process:
When the pieces were finished and pressed, I stitched them to the sides of the bodice.
The rest of the fronts are filled in with variations on fly stitch and feather stitch in grey and black silk thread.
This costume is particularly interesting in that it was actually used twice in the show. The dress was originally created for the finale of Season 6, and the cape, long undersleeves, and some details of the embroidery were added for the first episode of Season 7.
The red fly and feather stitch along the neckline and center front was one of the additions for the later appearance.
At this point, I decided that my grey thread was too light, so markers to the rescue!
The next stitch was an interesting one to undertake. There is hardly any information about lock stitch online at all. I had to base my entire process on observing the finished stitch, and seeing what other cosplayers had done. The key to the lock stitch in this costume is to make it irregular and organic, so that it gives the effect of reptilian skin.
The stitch is formed by wrapping thread in alternating directions around long stitches. In this case I worked the stitch in two different threads: black silk, and a silver and black metallic.
With that preliminary embellishment done, I went ahead and put the dress together. It is grey corduroy lined with grey linen. The construction itself is not the most exciting, but the edge finishing is a nice little detail. The edges of the fabric and lining are turned under, and finished with prick stitching in metallic thread. There is also a row of metallic prick stitching where the skirt front attaches to the bodice. I love it when costumes incorporate period handsewing techniques that are rarely used in modern sewing!
Adding the side backs:
Constructing the back:
I made the sleeve drapes separately, and stitched them to the dress afterwards. They will tie at the center back.
At this point, it was time to finish the remaining edges. They are all prick stitched together with metallic thread.
The sleeve drapes are stitched to the dress along the top of the shoulder, and left to hang free in the back, where they will be tied together. These ties are what will bear a lot of the weight of the major embroidery later.
And with that, the dress is made and ready for the major embroidery!
I’m going to stop here, because this next bit definitely deserves its very own post, but here’s a sneak peek of what will be happening in the next installment! You can now read Part 2 here!
If you’re just getting into historical crafts, and you need a little something to do with your hands while at an event that is cheap, portable, and easy to pick up, lucet cord may be a great option for you!
There is some controversy about when exactly throughout the course of history lucets were used: if you are interpreting in the medieval period, or in the 19th century, you’re probably pretty safe–between those two periods you may want to do a bit of your own research or check with the site or group that you are interpreting with before you demonstrate it at an event.
That said, lucet cord is simple to make, and makes a nice, strong cord that can be used for drawstrings, lacing, trimming, and any other use you can find for a nice bit of string.
What You Need
Here’s the great thing about luceting: you only need two things!
A lucet. This is the shaped wood that you will use to hold your loops of thread as you work. You can buy a basic one for $5-$10, or spend a bit more if you want one with some pretty fretwork or other ornamentation. Just search the word ‘lucet’ and you’ll come up with plenty of options, and you can also usually see them around at events from vendors that sell basic sewing supplies.
Thread or yarn. Exactly what you want to use will depend on the final use and look you are going for. Basic heavy linen thread will make a nice strong cord. Making a cord from yarn can make a great accent for knitting or crochet projects. In these photos I am using a green size 10 crochet thread because I was looking to match the color of a particular fabric. Experiment away!
I will go through the process in pictures first–there will be a video of the process lower down!
These next few steps can get a bit frustrating until you have built up a little cord. Because there are no knots yet, there is nothing to hold everything in place, which makes things a bit delicate. Be gentle and try not to get frustrated–it will get easier soon! You will be repeating these steps over and over again to create your cord, but I will go through them a couple of times so that you can see how it works as you begin to build up a bit of cord. It will seem complicated at first, but as the cord begins to build up, the process becomes simple and feels more natural.
Continue to work slowly and carefully until you have a little tail of cord built up, at which point you will be able to speed up a bit.
This is the point at which the process really solidifies and feels the same as it will through the rest of the cord.
You can see the tightening process in more detail in this video:
If you enjoyed this, it is just the beginning! This is a very basic lucet cord. There are many other variations on the art, including multicolored variations using different colored threads. Go out into the world and use more things, and perhaps I will add more tutorials here later!
I’ve been a bit slow about publishing recently, and there’s a good reason for that! This project has been taking up my whole life! I think it was worth it, though.
This project is the culmination of a couple of things I’ve been thinking about trying for a while. First: I wanted to make a spencer and petticoat set that hooks together at the waist, like this one circa 1815.
In the soggy heat of a Kentucky summer, a little trick like this can save me a layer on my upper body, plus it’s a fun little teaching moment at events, as most people don’t realize that women wore separates like this during this period.
Second: I wanted to make an outer garment trimmed with rouleaux (thin tubes of fabric). Rouleaux trim was a little journey of discovery for me, and you can read my tutorial on how I did it here.
This is a selection of the inspiration for my spencer. I copied much of the rouleaux pattern from the spencer at bottom right because there are lovely clear pictures of it, and it had a similar feel to the fashion plate at the top left, which I particularly liked. I went with back details from another spencer, combined with the same motifs as the front and my shoulder caps were inspired by the fashion plate on the upper right. My spencer will someday soon have a tasseled belt as in the center fashion plate, but I haven’t had a chance to finish it!
I started the process with the Period Impressions 1809 spencer pattern, which I have long since modified until I have a basic spencer that fits me nicely. It’s a great base pattern for making Regency outerwear.
The pieces are put together using a technique I love, where the lining and fashion fabric are sewn together simultaneously. You put the two lining pieces you want to sew together right side to right side, and the two fabric pieces right side to right side, and then put them all together so that one matching pair of fabric and lining pieces are together, and the other matching pair are on the outsides. Then you sew all four pieces together, and when you open up the fabric and the lining, the seam allowances are sandwiched between.
You can find lots of pictures and information on how the rouleaux were made and applied in my tutorial, so here is a little gallery of the process.
And here are a few of the back rouleaux details.
Just in case there weren’t enough little tubes of fabric involved in this project already, there is also quite a bit of piping: on the edge of the color, on the center front edges, and between the bodice and the waistband.
The shoulder decorations are just petal shapes with piping around the edges, which are appliquéed onto the top of the sleeve. There is a rouleaux bow at the bottom, and I’m planning to add some little tassels hanging from it when I get the chance!
Some of the trickiest bits of decoration were the rouleaux designs on the cuffs. It took a while of staring at a photo to realize that every other loop is made while laying out the pattern in one direction, and then the gaps are filled in as you work your way back up, so that both ends of the piece end up at the top. This also got topped with a rouleaux bow, and like the shoulders will one day have some dangling tassels. I had to lay out the design in kitchen twine first (first photo) so I would know exactly how to proportion it and how long each rouleaux piece needed to be.
The waistband has a row of piping along the seam.
To finish the front edges, I sewed on a piece of piping with an extra long seam allowance, and used that allowance to encase all the other raw edges on the inside.
Finally–closures! The front of the spencer closes with hooks and eyes. There are also 9 hooks inside the waistband for attaching the separate petticoat.
Petticoats are a nice, quick little project–if you’re deperate for an extra outfit for an event, but don’t think you have time for a new dress, try adding hooks to a spencer and whipping up one of these! I plan to make a couple of these, and put waistband hooks in all my spencers, because it’s just such a nice little trick to have a walking outfit without any added heat or bulk.
The petticoat is made the way I make most of my 1816 skirts–the back piece is a rectangle the width of my fabric, and the front piece is narrow at the top to fit my front underbust measurement, and as wide at the hem as I can make it. The front waist edge is slightly shaped to help the skirt stand out in a nice bell shape without too much pulling at the sides or awkward clinging.
The whole thing is gathered onto a matching waistband.
I worked eyelets in the waistband to correspond to the hooks on the spencer. There are two at center front, one in each side front, one at each side, one in each side back, and two at the center back. These two overlap on a single hook at the center back of the spencer, which keeps the petticoat closed without the need for any additional closures.
I wore this outfit during the day at Christmastide, and just about died of happiness. I’ve been working on the spencer since August, and it took so much longer than I anticipated. I gave up on a couple of other things I wanted to do in order to get it done, and I have no regrets! I am totally, completely in love with this outfit!
Sorry I won’t have a separate post about the bonnet–I started it ages ago and didn’t take any photos of that part of the process, and then it languished for a long time because I wasn’t happy with the brim. I finally pulled the brim off and drafted a new one, which I love! All the decorations came out of my stash, too, which made me happy! The veil is a scrap of lace left over from my wedding dress!
Here are a few progress photos of covering the bonnet.
And here are photos of the full ensemble at Christmastide at Locust Grove!
And here’s a little video that Brandon took, which shows everything really nicely! I’ve never felt more like I stepped out of a period movie! (In case I haven’t made it clear, I’m REALLY excited about this outfit!) I can’t wait to wear it again!
Happy New Year, everyone! I hope your 2019 is full of things that bring you as much joy as this project has brought me!
Since I started building 18th century wigs using period techniques at work, I’ve been doing more and more 18th century events. And you know what that means: I need more 18th century clothes!
In preparation for 18th Century Market Fair at Locust Grove this year, I set other projects aside to give myself time to build a new jacket and petticoat so that I wouldn’t have to wear the same outfit both days. When I bought this jacket fabric, I had hoped to get enough for a gown, but sadly by the time I bought it there were only two yards left, so I could only make a jacket. But I do love a smart 18th century jacket, so no real harm done!
This was a quick project, and I didn’t take as many photos as usual, so this will be a bit of a short post for me, but I love the way my new outfit turned out!
I started with the petticoat while at a cabin getaway with some friends. It is made from a lovely dark red wool from 96 District Fabrics.
And now, the fun bit: my new jacket! This is made from white linen with a woven yellow stripe from Renaissance Fabrics.
I was a dingus, and completely forgot to take photos of cutting and putting the main pieces together. Luckily, the body is basically the same as this jacket, except that I modified the back to a swallowtail, and sewed it all by hand.
My first photo is of the sleeves, all sewn together with their lining, and ready to be set. Since my other striped jacket has vertical stripes on the sleeves, I went with horizontal on these ones just to shake things up.
Setting 18th century sleeves is a fascinating process, in which you sew the bottom of the sleeve to the body, and then sandwich the top of the sleeve between the fabric and lining of the shoulder straps. This lets you really play with the pleats on the shoulder until you get a look you really like.
Brandon helped me drape the shoulder straps for this, and you can see his sense of humor in the notes to tell me which strap is for which side.
The edges are finished by pressing the fabric and lining towards each other and topstitching.
I pleated some lovely blue ribbon from Wm. Booth Draper to trim the neckline and sleeves, accented with bows.
And here’s the finished product in action at Market Fair!
Due to an overwhelming amount of demand on my social media as I’ve been posting process photos of my new green Spencer, I went ahead and put together a little tutorial on the style of trim I’m using.
Rouleaux are, quite simply, thin, bias-cut strips of fabric sewn into tubes. You probably have quite a few bits of rouleaux in your wardrobe without even realizing it in the form of spaghetti straps, coat hanging loops, and other utilitarian elements. However, these tubes aren’t just useful, they can also be beautiful.
Rouleaux trim is simply taking a rouleaux tube and stitching it down to a garment in the shape of a design, creating a beautiful, wearable piece of 3-dimensional art. While it is relatively uncommon (though not unheard of) today, rouleaux trim is was very popular in the early 19th century, particularly in the 18-teens and ’20s. I would not be at all surprised to see it crop up throughout the 19th century, but until I have examples of that, I will withhold a verdict. Similar techniques, however, were certainly employed though the 1800s and early 1900s using soutache braid, cord, or other thin, flexible items to create a design. If you want your pattern to match your fabric however, rouleaux is truly the way to go. All the early 19th century examples of rouleaux I have seen have been made with matching fabric to the main garment. They have also all been outer garments like spencers and pelisses, rather than gowns. That doesn’t mean those aren’t out there, just that I haven’t seen them–always keep an eye out for examples, don’t just take my word for it!
I’m going to show you how I do this technique. It’s the sort of thing that there are probably many ways to do, but this is the one that works for me.
You can read all about the spencer featured in the tutorial photos here.
Preparing the Bias Strips
Before you can make beautiful, rouleaux-trimmed garments, you’ll need to start with a whole lot of thin, bias-cut strips of fabric. It’s possible that some in the 19th century were done with strips cut on the straight grain as well, since it is a more efficient use of expensive fabric. I haven’t had a chance to examine any of these garments up close enough to be able to see the grain of the fabric, but based on how neatly the extant examples of rouleaux trim go around curves and tight corners, I would guess that many, if not all, are cut on the bias.
Note: What is the bias, you may be asking yourself? Bias cut pieces are cut diagonally across the grain of the fabric, rather than parallel to the selvedge edge (the finished, uncut edge of a length of fabric).
You can find the bias of a fabric using a marked cutting mat, a set square, or any other device that will show you a 45° angle to the selvedge of the fabric.
From there, you can simply cut parallel strips based on your first angled cut. The width that you cut your strips is entirely up to you (within reason), depending on how thick you would like your rouleaux to be. If you’re unsure, do a test piece a few inches long first, just to get an idea of what size you’ll get. I ended up going with half-inch strips, which got me a nice tube about 1/8″ wide out of my lightweight cotton twill fabric. Your mileage may vary depending on the thickness of your fabric.
I used a rotary cutter along my ruler to get strips. You can also use your ruler to draw lines and cut with scissors, whatever floats your boat and gets your some bias strips.
Next, you’ll need to sew your lovely bias strips into one very long bias strip. (Of course this depends on exactly what you are doing. If one bias strip is enough to do your entire design, obviously feel free to skip this part.
In order to keep your bias flexible, and your tube thin, you will need to sew the pieces together with the grain of the fabric, rather than across the bias. To do this, line up your two strips, right side to right side, at a right angle. At this point, you may have edges that line up nicely because they were the selvedge edges of your fabric, and are therefore already little 45° angles. If not, you will need to trim the ends to 45° angles so that they line up as in the photo above.
You will notice that the corners of each piece hang over the edges. This is exactly what you want. Stitch from one inner corner to the other. You want a nice, small seam allowance for this. This angled seam with keep the bulk of the seam allowance distributed along the strip, rather than all piled up in one place.
When you have finished sewing all your pieces together, press the seams open very well. You want the extra fabric from the seam allowance to be distributed as much as possible, so the last thing you want is for it to fold up on itself.
Sewing the Rouleaux
If you like, and if your fabric is light enough, you can bypass this entire method by sewing a narrow seam allowance on your machine, and turning the strip right-side out using a rouleaux turner (these little tools look like a thin piece of wire with a loop at one end, and a little latch hook on the other, and can be found at most fabric/craft stores).
HOWEVER, there are several reasons why you may want to/be forced to make your rouleaux by hand. First of all, you may prefer to hand sew for the sake of historical accuracy. Second, your fabric (like mine), may be a bit too thick to turn right-side out once you’ve sewn your desired size of tube, even with the seam allowance trimmed very tiny. I nearly cried when I realized the several yards of rouleaux I had sewn wouldn’t turn the right way out, no matter how hard I tried. I had already trimmed the seam allowance down to 1/16″, and every effort to turn the tube shredded the seam allowance until the piece was useless. If I wanted to use this technique, I would have needed to make my rouleaux much wider, which would have completely destroyed the delicate finished look I was going for.
Luckily, I put on my thinking cap, and came up with this technique inspired by the rolled hem in order to keep all of you from pulling your hair out the same way I did.
Start yourself off by pressing the edges of the very end of your strip into the center on the wrong side of the fabric, like so:
At this point, I like to hand the end of my strip to my sewing bird in order to take some of the tension out of my left hand. Using a sewing bird or clamp to hold your fabric in place is a great way to help yourself if you experience pain while hand sewing, or if you want to avoid pain in the future, or just generally want to make your life easier. If you don’t have a sewing bird or clamp, don’t worry. You can put the end under something heavy, use a regular old clamp to clamp in to the table, pin it to the knee of your pants, pin it to the arm of a chair or couch. Basically you have lots of options, but I do recommend that you find a way to hold one end still while you work. It will allow your to work much faster.
Here is a video illustrating the whole process of holding the folds in place, stitching, and pulling tight:
Attaching the Rouleaux
Before you can attach your rouleaux, you will need to draw or trace a design on your fabric. You can draw it out with a pencil or water-soluble marker, trace it with tracing paper and a wheel, prick and pounce, or use whatever other transfer method may strike your fancy. I based my design on the pink spencer shown above.
Note: I stitched my rouleaux to both the fabric and lining. Since the fabric is a light twill and therefore has a slight stretch, I wanted to make sure it had the structure of the linen lining to support the heavy trim. Your fabric may be sturdy enough to hold the trim by itself.
Note: these instructions are for a pattern that allows the ends of the rouleaux to disappear into a seam allowance. If your design is in the middle of a piece, far from a seam allowance, you will need to begin making your rouleaux by folding up the short end of the bias strip so that your tube has a finished end, and doing the same at the other end of the tube.
From now on, your stitch pattern will be as follows:
This process of moving the rouleaux above and below the stitching line as your sew will help keep tension even along the rouleaux, and ensure that it sits directly on top of the line, rather than leaning to one side or the other. Be careful not to pull your stitches too tight, or you could end up puckering and shrinking your entire garment piece!
Continue to stitch in this pattern. Here is a video to help you:
Now that you have the basic process down, here are a couple more tips to help you at tricky parts of your design.
Tip #1: Tight curves
When going around tight curves, take smaller stitches through the fabric to help the rouleaux follow the pattern smoothly.
Tip #2: Sharp corners
When making sharp corners, make sure your last stitch in the fabric before the corner comes up precisely at the point of the corner in your design.
Tip #3: Close parallel lines
When sewing rouleaux designs, you will often find yourself travelling back along a line to create a double thickness of rouleaux. When this happens, it can become tricky to maintain the stitching pattern we’ve established above.
In this case, use the thumb of your off hand to press the working rouleaux up against the first line of rouleaux. Stitch down into the fabric, and then up through the rouleaux like so:
The first rouleaux will help support the second and keep it standing upright. Once the two lines diverge again, continue in the usual stitch pattern.
Once you have completed your design finish off your rouleaux and thread just inside the seam allowance of your garment piece.
Ok! You’re all ready to go and create beautiful designs using rouleaux trim!
As always, if your have any questions, or if your would like to request a future tutorial, feel free to comment below.
There’s nothing like a time crunch to make me productive. This time around, it was the crunch leading up to author Sarah Vowell’s visit to Locust Grove, where the interpreters were appearing in the 1820s to celebrate General Lafayette’s tour of the United States.
I was already well supplied with an elegant 1820s gown, but Brandon was in desperate need of a civilian coat, since his character, Dr. John Croghan, was acting as host for the evening.
By the time we got back from a lovely vacation back home in Northern MI, I only had ten days left to make the jacket.
The first parts of jacket tailoring are my favorites: my love of precise handsewing means padstitching is right up my alley. I find it so satisfying to watch the fold and curve of a collar or lapel becoming more defined the more you stitch.
Padstitching is followed by another favorite of mine–catchstitching, which is an (ideally) invisible way to attach non-padstitched areas of the interfacing to the fabric, while still allowing a bit of flexibility to the piece.
The trick to catchstitching is not to pull things too tight. The purpose of the stitch is not to nail the interfacing in place, only to prevent it from folding up inside the coat. It’s much better to leave things a little loose than to pull your stitches too tight and pucker the outer fabric. I usually try to leave a sliver of daylight between the thread and the interfacing, just so I know for sure that I haven’t messed things up.
The lovely thing about jackets of the early Romantic era, as opposed to the Regency, is the existence of a waist seam. The decorative pocket flaps on this coat just get basted onto the tail piece, and the raw edges are hidden away in the seam. It also allows for some much needed waist shaping that doesn’t exist in earlier cuts. Amusingly, since they are false flaps (i.e. there are no pockets inside of them), you then baste through the tails and the bottom layer of the flap to ensure your decorative flaps stay perfectly placed and never actually, you know, flap.
I also want to take this moment to shout out Renaissance Fabrics–this herringbone striped wool is so gorgeous. That sheen you can see in the light is in no way exaggerated by the photos, it has an almost satiny finish. Extremely elegant!
The pockets themselves have nothing to do with the flaps. Their openings are hidden in the seam between the back and tail pieces, which itself is hidden inside of a decorative pleat.
On the Saturday before the event the next Friday, Brandon helped me out by jumping on his 1898 Wheeler & Wilson treadle machine to construct the sleeves and sleeve linings while I worked on the tails and the front facings.
These photos show the tail overlap in the center back from the inside and outside before I put in the tail facings, which I apparently forgot to photograph. That’s what happens when you’re steaming though a project!
In order to help it keeps it’s shape, a jacket like this gets two layers of front interfacing: one inside the actual front piece, and one in the front facing (the piece of matching fabric that is sewn in the inside of the front so that it can come around and make the outside of the lapel.) In this case the front facing lines most of the front, and comes all the way around to help stabilize the upper back as well.
Although it was not called for in the pattern, I supplemented the chest area facing interfacing with two layers of cotton batting to help facilitate the “pigeon-breast” shape that was fashionable for men in the Romantic era. Basically, the more you can get your torso to be shaped like a cone, the better. Some men even wore corsets to help create the large-chested, small-waisted shape.
Since Brandon made the sleeves, I don’t have a lot of photos of the process, but rest assured that they did go in, and get lined! Due to the fashionable shape, the sleeves also have a good bit of gathering and poof at the top to help add to the wide-chested illusion.
The final hurdle on Thursday night were buttons and buttonholes. Luckily, I only needed to make 3 functioning buttonholes. Since we were using brass shank buttons, I tried out a technique I’ve never actually used before, but definitely like. You poke holes with an awl where the buttons need to go, put the shanks through the holes, and pass something (tape, ribbon, in my case yarn because it was all I had that fit through the tiny shanks) though the shanks on the wrong side of the fabric. Then you stitch your tape down to the fabric, and that holds the buttons in place, and keeps them from flopping around as much as they would if you just sewed them to the front of the coat. It’s a technique I’ll certainly employ in the future.
And that was it! I even got done in time to finish hemming a white cravat that I’ve had in my workbasket forever.
Here’s the finished look, I think he looks pretty sharp!