Miss Croghan’s Accessories, Part 2: Tambour Time!

Lacemaking has always been one of those crafts that has interested me, but that I never seemed to have the time to pursue. Things like bobbin lacemaking and tatting are time consuming and complicated to learn. I decided I wanted to learn one of the methods that involves embroidering designs onto mesh, instead of arranging threads to create a strip of lace. Finally, earlier this year, I went and did some research into the myriad methods of making. There are several different methods involving embroidery, and of them all, I landed on tambour for my first attempt. Tambour turns up in England around the 1760s, when lightweight muslins from India became popular. It requires only two tools: an embroidery hoop on a stand, and a sharp hook, which is used to tie a series of chain stitches through fabric. Here are images of the hook, and a tambour shawl from the 19th c.

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The art was incredibly popular in the Regency, and can be used not only on mesh, but on fabric for dresses, cushions, and more. Tambour is easy to learn, and once you get comfortable with it, much faster than any other kind of embroidery. I picked it because of it’s speed, popularity, and the fact that the basic motion of it, using a hook to create interconnected loops, has similarities to both wigmaking and crochet, so I hoped to pick it up quickly.

*Edit–I’ve been doing tambour, and improving my technique for several years now, and if you are interested in starting to learn yourself, you can start right here on Fabric & Fiction, with my new Tambour Lace tutorial series!*

Brandon got me the things I needed to start doing tambour for my birthday in March, but then things go so busy that I never got the chance to start, though I had several projects planned. But in the past couple of weeks, I could put it off no longer, because guess what Ann Croghan needed for her wedding? A veil! Once again, these two lovely brides from 1820 and 1823 were my inspiration.


Both brides wear a lace veil attached behind their hairstyle with a triangular headpiece that sits on the top of the head. I set out to recreate the style.

First I scoured Ackermann’s Repository issues from 1821 and early 1822 for embroidery patterns I liked. I landed on this one from November 1821:


Since I was crunched for time, I decided to do only the border, and skip the allover pattern of smaller flowers and sprigs. I also skipped doing a more traditional marking method like sewing a running stitch around the design in favor of my trusty water-soluble marker. The event is coming up fast after all!

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For the first few motifs, I was afraid I’d never finish in time. Panicked thoughts ran through my head. “Oh God, I had so many projects planned. This is terrible! I’ve made a dreadful mistake!” But soon enough I got the hang of things: the tension, the way you have to vary stitch size around tight curves and at corners, and eventually I was zipping along at a pace I couldn’t have imagined at the beginning.

The pattern is made up of alternating leaf and flower motifs, so I thought I’d show you how each one of these motifs went together, starting with one of the leaves:

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The flowers definitely turned out to be the simpler, quicker part of the pattern:

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It was a stroke of luck that Jon Stewart’s Month of Zen was happening right now.
The piece contains 63 motifs total, so the final two were a welcome sight!
The piece contains 63 motifs total, so the final two were a welcome sight!

But while embroidering is fun, getting rid of all those pesky thread ends is not. Each thread starts with something called a waste knot, which you can see in the  third picture. The thread is tied to the mesh outside of the pattern, then brought through to the back so it’s in the right place for embroidering. Each of these knots had to be snipped, and both ends of the thread woven through the back of the embroidery to secure them (no knots in embroidery unless they’re part of the pattern!). I thought about counting how many thread ends there were, before deciding that that was insane. Suffice it to say, there were a lot!

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IMG_0506IMG_0518Finally, I trimmed the veil edges into  scallops following the shape of the pattern, and removed all of the blue marker. After a nice press the veil was ready to go.

Thread ends in and edges trimmed, there was nothing else between me and that silly little lacy triangle that perches on top of the bride’s head.

IMG_0494 IMG_0496I used a bit of spare buckram from my last bonnet to make the triangle. Luckily I’m working on a wig for myself as well, so I could test out the size using the wig head. (More to come on that later!)

I covered the triangle in white silk batiste, which would give it a smoother finish, while remaining translucent, as the headpieces of the fashion plate brides seem to be.

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And once again, what bride doesn’t need as much froofy lace as possible, so I attached two rows of gathered lace around the edges:


IMG_0520With veil and headpiece both ready, it was time to attach them. I gathered the top, un-embroidered edge of the veil, and arranged the gathers against the headpiece until I had enough space for a bun to poke through. I could have just sewn the ends together, but a few weeks ago I ordered some vintage silk orange blossoms (a very popular wedding flower) to wear in my hair, and the seller sent couple of cute little tiny roses on single wires with them.

IMG_0522 IMG_0523I slipped the wire through the mesh of the veil and the lace on the headpiece, and wrapped the wire around to secure it. This way, I can easily remove the veil and use it for something else, or adjust it if the bun works differently than expected.

Here’s the completed piece over my real hair. I’m excited to see what it looks like with the correct hairstyle!

I’m now in real crunch time trying to make sure I get my wig done in time, so back to work! Come see the whole outfit in action at Locust Grove on July 18th!


Miss Croghan’s Accessories, Part 1: Things Get Ruff

When I first started interpreting 1816, I loved pretty much every aspect of clothing (as I do in many eras) but there was one accessory I shook my head at. I laughed about it. I swore I would never wear it. You’ll see what I mean:

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The Ruff. (These are, in order, an 1815 fashion plate from Costume Parisien, an 1815 fashion plate by John Bell and an 1815 sketch by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, one of my favorite portrait painters.)

I thought it was silly. Why would anyone want to make their neck wider? Or look like a disgruntled chicken fluffing her feathers?

But it says something about how fashion works that the longer I’ve been doing Regency, and the more images I look at, the more I like the ruff. It’s frilly and feminine, and it’s one of those details that is so beautifully, distinctly a part of its era. It can really give a period outfit that finishing touch that makes it seem like more than a costume.

And ruffs like these, inspired by Elizabethan fashion, stuck around though the 18-teens and into the ’20s. In 1822, when Ann Croghan wed Thomas Jesup, they were still fashionable in all shapes and sizes:

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(Extant dress ca. 1818, 1822 La Belle Assemble Fashion Plate, 1822 Ackermann’s Repository Fashion Plate)

So I set out to make my  very own chemisette with attached ruff (a chemisette is a simple garment that fills in the neckline of a low-cut gown in order to make it more modest for use during the day). The nice part about this particular accessory is that when it has done its duty for the wedding, it can go into my regular 1816 wardrobe. I kept the ruff on the small side for 1822 in order to ensure that this is the case.

IMG_0382The basic structure of a chemisette is incredibly simple. The body has three pieces: one back piece and two front pieces (I believe they can also go the other way, with the opening in the back). The real fun and interest of a chemisette comes with the collar: plain, ruffled, lacy, embroidered, or full on ruff. Mine is made of cotton voile, so it is a bit sheer, but not overly so.

IMG_0383 IMG_0384The only seams in the body are at the shoulders. Since there’s no lining, I made these french seams, meaning that I sewed a narrow seam with the wrong sides together, then flipped it around with right sides together and sewed a second seam that encased the raw edges. I flipped back the fabric edge for the second photo so you can see both the finished edge and the raw edge it is enclosing.

IMG_0388 IMG_0389Then it’s time to hem, and hem, and hem. Every edge but the neck needs a hem. The bottom hem is slightly wider so that you can put a string though to secure it under the bustline.

IMG_0391 The collar is tall, so that it can fit plenty of lacy goodness, with overlapping points in the center where it comes together. Like most collars, it is made of two identical pieces sewn together, which makes neat edges all around, and gives a bit of extra stability for attaching those ruffles.


Since the collar needs to fit snugly around my neck, the body of the chemiette had to be gathered into it, which I think adds another level of pretty detail. With the collar attached, the only thing left to do was the lace. I got a pretty simple cotton lace with a pattern of dots for it, since all those layers meant the pattern wouldn’t be very visible anyway. Plus the dots imitate the dotted Swiss dress fabric, which I enjoy.

Now the fun part! (Look at me accidentally taking pictures going every which way)

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My chemisette and lace even got to come with me on a trip to my parent’s house in Michigan. (See that blue carpeting? Chicago O’Hare.)

Once the lace was all gathered and attached, I just had to add a couple of strategic hook and eyes and here it is:

IMG_0417 IMG_0418I took pictures first without the dress, so you can see how the whole thing works. Next time I do one of these, I’ll get more lace and gather it more so that it really wants to stand out, but I think this is a nice not-too-ostentatious start to my ruff-wearing experience.

Here it is with the dress on.
Bonus picture: I made a corded petticoat last week (no blog post about that because there’s only so many pictures you can take of sewing 25 pieces of cord between two layers of fabric before everyone falls asleep), so here’s a picture of the dress with all its corresponding underthings in place.

The event is coming up quickly (only three weeks!), so it’s good to see things coming together. There’s still a wig and veil to complete, though! Don’t forget to come see it at Locust Grove on July 18th!


The Wedding of Miss Croghan, Part 4: Finis

Deep breath. And. IT’S FINISHED! Exactly one month to the day after I started this crazy journey, Ann Croghan’s wedding gown is complete. As you could see in my last post, things were winding down last weekend. The skirt decoration was finished, the dress was shaped like a dress, the lining was in, but there was still a ways to go.

As you may remember from my first post about this project, the sleeves were inspired by these from an original 1822 wedding gown:

982b221e7324c6dab295108f5ca83308I had been putting them off for three weeks, but everything else was done, and and it was time to face the sleeves.

The first step was to cut out the pieces. The white piece is a bit larger than the blue so that it can get gathered in the center. I carefully drew and cut out the teardrop shapes so that the blue would show through.

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But, of course, when you cut a bunch of holes in your fabric, you have to do something to keep it from falling apart, so I bound the edges of the slashes in blue.


While that was a long and fiddly task, the tricky part was doing the little button loops that contain the excess fabric between each set of slashes.

First I used the extra bias strips that didn’t go into binding the slashes and made little flat cords, like spaghetti straps.
Then I covered some little buttons I had lying around with more of the blue fabric.
I attached each button to one of the fabric cords to make a loop.


Once those were done, I just wrapped them through the slashes, secured the button, arranged the extra fabric how I liked it, and stitched them in place.

When the sleeve pieces were sitting on the table after I’d cut them out, Brandon walked by and asked “What are those football things?”


“No they’re not.”

“Seriously. I promise. They will one day look like sleeves!”

IMG_0321IMG_0323So I set out to prove that they would indeed, someday look like sleeeves. The first step was to gather the lower part of the sleeve into the sleeve band, then to sew the underarm seam to form a ring. (No picture of that since I figured you’d seen enough pictures of me sewing a seam that could or could not be the one I was talking about).

IMG_0325IMG_0326And then to fold under the sleeve binding and stitch it in place to create a nice edge. See? Now they look like sleeves (sort of). It’s easy to forget how bizarre pattern pieces look unless you know what you’re looking at.

IMG_0327 IMG_0329Here’s what I get for doing things out of the natural order. I had to wrestle with the entire heavy dress while I gathered the sleeves onto the bodice and stitched them in place. But look how pretty! The puffs are longer and the extra fabric in the center a bit less than in the inspiration, but I’ll take it!

But puffs weren’t the only part of the sleeves! I used the white fabric with no blue underneath to create the rest of the sleeve, so that it would be a little sheer, and stitched it to the inside of the sleeve band on the puff.

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As we all know, every wedding dress could use more lace! So I added some at the cuff and sleeve band.

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We’re down to the smallest finishing touches now!

Buttons and buttonholes.
Hemming the blue underskirt.
Hemming the blue underskirt.

That’s it! With that final anticlimactic and interminable seam, I was finished! The height of the skirt back may need a bit of adjustment once I’ve completed my corded petticoat and tried it on, but here it is!




Once again, I couldn’t have done this without help from some fantastic ladies! I can’t wait to show you all the rest of the outfit as it comes together (or maybe I’ll make you wait until July to see it all together!). If you possibly can, don’t forget to come to the Locust Grove Historic Picnic on July 18th. You’ll get to see the dress in action at a period ceremony, plus lots of other fun stuff including dancing, a reading by the Kentucky Shakespeare Company and much more!

You can also read about the making of the chemisette! And the veil!

Thanks for watching!


To see the entire finished ensemble, click here!

The Wedding of Miss Croghan, Part 3: Poof? Puff? Pouf?

Welcome back to the story of the 1822 wedding dress for the wedding of Ann Croghan and Thomas Jesup at Historic Locust Grove–if you haven’t read parts 1 & 2, please check them out!

My big triumph for the beginning of the week was getting all of those pintucks done!

IMG_0271Once I was down to the final cluster, I took a pintuck vacation to sew the waistband onto the bodice. It was important to do this before I completed the last few pintucks, because I could then hem the skirt, pin it to the bodice and try it on to test the length. Good thing I did, too, because I ended up only needing two more pintucks, instead of four! (After another look at my research images, I realized it should be a bit longer than I had originally planned for).

Getting closer! It’s pretending to be all one piece!

But an end to pintucks didn’t mean an end to skirt decoration. I still had an uphill slog before the skirt was ready to go. What more fiddly bits could it possible need, you ask? Why the poofs of course! Every bride needs her fair share of over-the-top accents.

IMG_0273Like all ruffle-related accents, they took up more time than seemed necessary, but I gave myself three days, including an entire Saturday, to work on them. Each one started with a band of fabric nearly twice as big around as the actual skirt. The worst part about ordinary ruffles is that you have to hem the darn things, and hemming 145 inches of fabric for each ruffle is no picnic. Luckily, no hems were needed here. Instead, each piece had to be creased under, then get a gathering stitch along both edges. Thank you again to Judy and Heather, who got two thirds of that pain in the butt done for me!

IMG_0275IMG_0274I divided each poof into quarters to make it easier to gather evenly, and put them on the skirt one quarter at a time. Each quarter was pinned into its section of skirt, gathered to fit, pinned to within an inch of its life and stitched. The real majesty of the poof doesn’t show until you pull out the gathering stitches.

Finished poof on the left, next prepared section on the right.

Saturday morning, Brandon and I went on a great hike (the first one since his surgery, and he says he wants to keep doing it!), rewarded ourselves with ice cream, and then I settled down to this for the rest of the day:

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Okay, okay, I tell a lie, I actually settled down to this:

No, this is not the first time I’ve watched the whole thing in one sitting.
Two down, one to go.

After sixteen hours (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday) of gathering, pinning and sewing, all three poofs were present and accounted for:


Removing all of the blue marks. Scared the cats to death.

Finally, finally, finally, the skirt is finished!!! Time to move on to more exciting things!

IMG_0305 IMG_0306Lest you were afraid there wasn’t enough lace going on with this wedding dress, here I am tacking some all around the neckline so that it will form an adorable ruffle once the lining is sewn in.

IMG_0307IMG_0308I spent a lot of my lining-sewing time holding the project up to the light to make sure the lace was laying correctly. The last thing I wanted was to have to tear part of it out to fix something. Huzzah for sheer fabrics!

IMG_03171822 bodice 2And this is why you check and check and check… because when you turn everything around and press it, the lace is all pretty and perfect! And guess what? This is the LAST photo of the bodice all by itself!

IMG_0319 IMG_0320Yes, indeed! Time at last to add a placket to the skirt and gather the skirt into the waistband! There was so much fabric to gather into just a couple of inches on each side of the skirt back, I was almost afraid it wasn’t going to fit. But I crammed it all in there and managed to get a needle through it and, at long last, the dress is all one piece!

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The short sleeves in the picture are just my shift sleeves showing, they’ll be all covered up when I get the real sleeves in. I’m thrilled with how the color looks. It’s hard to tell in the pictures, but you can really see the blue through the white, and it makes a really nice effect on the ruched front and between the poofs on the skirt.

Now just to make those lovely sleeves and add a few finishing touches–see you next week for (fingers crossed) the final installment!

There’s a light at the end of the tunnel!


You can read all about finishing the wedding gown in The Wedding of Miss Croghan, Part 4!

The Wedding of Miss Croghan, Part 2: It Takes a Village

Brandon and I have been talking this weekend about how glad we are that we moved to Louisville (nearly two years ago–I can hardly believe that!). Since we got down here, we’ve found a wonderful circle of friends, we both have jobs we enjoy, and we’ve discovered a hobby that takes up much of our free time. The friends and the hobby really go together a lot of the time, as was shown last Saturday, when the ladies of Locust Grove’s costumed interpreter corps (and a few others besides) rallied at my house for a tea party/day of stitching on Ann Croghan’s wedding dress. I couldn’t have done this without them. The dress is still a work in progress, but I can’t believe how much we’ve gotten done.

I spent last Friday night and Saturday morning preparing snacks and making sure everything was ready to be sewn, then threw my doors open to all and sundry. This including cutting each piece of the dress out of both white Swiss and light blue lawn. In the finished dress, the Swiss will be layered over the lawn so that just the barest blush of blue shows through.

Amy creating the incredible ruched, lacy panel for the bodice front:IMG_0254IMG_0257IMG_0262

Amy spent most of the day working on this, and it’s so stunning. I should have kept track of how much time she spent carefully arranging those gathers so that they fell perfectly (the white piece of the front had to gather down onto a blue piece that was cut to the actual pattern specs).

Brandon’s mom, Judy, even came down from Michigan to help–and brought the most delicious lemon bars I’ve ever tasted. Seriously. Be jealous. She also gets brownie points (or are they lemon bar points?) for her nonstop help in the kitchen Saturday morning, and her insistence on doing the dishes throughout the day. My house would have been such a disaster without her. Here are she and Heather working on basting each white bodice piece to the corresponding blue bodice piece, and assembling as much of the bodice as could be assembled before the front panel was finished. (Wish I’d gotten a less glare-y picture of them, but hey, the Sun, what can you do?)


Here’s Heather gathering lace for the front (her daughter Jos helped too, and got to practice her hand sewing, but I somehow missed getting of a picture of her with a needle in her hand):

Photo Credit on this one to Amy Liebert! Jos and I also got to chat about books, which was awesome. One of the things I miss most about working at a bookstore is getting to talk about books with awesome kids like her!

Despite her avowed lack of ability to sew, Marrie created my test poof for the skirt, so that we could figure out how wide they needed to be and how much gathering was required:


Once we had measurements for the poofs, Judy cut them out, and she and Heather (with help from Jos) assembled them–there will be three big rows of poof on the skirt, and each one had to be sewn together from several shorter strips, creased along the long edges, and gathered.IMG_0258 (Better)Amy being the pressing queen:

Don't forget, boys and girls, always press your seams as you go!
Don’t forget, boys and girls, always press your seams as you go!

On Saturday morning, we had nothing but a bunch of pieces of fabric and at the end of the day:

1822 bodice

I know it doesn’t look very blue there, but here it is next to a white piece of the skirt:


Lest you think I spent the whole day telling minions what to do while eating bonbons, here’s my project for the day (and beyond)–miles and miles of hand-sewn tucks on the skirt. Ok, so it’s not really miles, but it is over 100 feet total. I still have the last group of four to do before I’m done and get to start stitching the poofs into those empty spaces between them!


Basically, what I’m saying is that I have some awesome people in my life. I had so much fun on Saturday, and I’m inexpressibly grateful to everybody who came and helped! I can’t even describe the tortured mental state that I would have been in without them. I can’t wait to see the finished product!

Now, back to work,


Read about the beginning of this project, and the research that goes into creating a period costume in The Wedding of Miss Croghan, Part 1.

Or continue on to The Wedding of Miss Croghan, Part 3!

The Wedding of Miss Croghan, Part 1: Research and Patterning

Sometimes you get to be part of a project so incredible that it just takes multiple blog posts to do it justice.

The Costumed Interpreter corps at Locust Grove is growing and growing, and this year we’re trying out something new. At the Historic Timeline Picnic each July, we will be presenting a reenactment outside of our normal 1816 scope–something really interesting that happened at Locust Grove that we wouldn’t usually get to show people. For the first year, we settled on Ann Croghan’s wedding to Thomas Jesup in 1822. Working outside of 1816 presents plenty of challenges, first and foremost, that people playing central roles need new clothing for the new time period, and have to be willing to spend time and money on an outfit that they may not get another chance to wear.

I was asked to play Ann back in January, and, being me, jumped at the chance to create a dress in a not-often-done period. And after several months of searching for a willing Jesup, guess who’s pretending to marry me in July? Brandon. Several people have threatened to become ordained ministers in order to turn our fake wedding into a real one in a romantic-comedy-like switch.

But back to the dress. Wedding dresses in the early nineteenth century weren’t the bedazzled evening gowns we often think of today, but they were special. White, while a common color, was not compulsory. I spent the first few months after being cast doing research and planning what I wanted my outfit to look like.

One of the most noticeable differences between 1816 and 1822 are the waistlines–in 1816, the empire waist had reached its highest point, which dropped rapidly over the next five years until it settled about halfway between the natural waist and the underbust. Skirts became more bell-shaped, and sleeves and hem decoration continued to grow. This is the transitional aesthetic between the Regency period and the Romantic. I looked at all sorts of dresses, but kept my biggest influences to actual wedding dresses and wedding fashion plates.

The wedding dress of Mrs. Peder Hjort, 1822, Denmark.
The wedding dress of Mrs. Peder Hjort, 1822, Denmark.

This dress was my single biggest influence, I took the hem decoration and bodice front directly from it. I did want to tweak the shape a bit, though, to really highlight the differences between strictly Regency fashion, and this transitional period. I added a waistband to emphasize the lower waistline, and widened the hem to be more bell-like. It’s very likely that the dress above would have a better shape if it had been displayed with a petticoat or two underneath, which Mrs. Hjort would have worn.

This 1822 dress from the Musées Royeaux des Art et Histoire is closer to the shape I'm hoping to achieve.
This 1822 dress from the Musées Royeaux des Art et Histoire shows the shape I’m hoping to achieve.


The only other thing about Mrs. Hjort’s wedding dress that I wanted to change was those sleeves. I mean come on. I like some froof, but those were a bit much. I used the sleeve cap detail, but made the design more streamlined by adding plain long sleeves underneath.


To get the idea of what a full wedding ensemble might have looked like, I turned to fashion plates.  These two from the Journals des Dames et des Modes were very helpful, the first is from 1820, the second from 1823. I would not normally use any resource from after 1822, but you can see that the basic ensemble doesn’t change much. I wish I could have found a wedding plate from 1822, but no luck there. These two plates are a great illustration of how quickly the hems were widening and waistlines dropping, because the two outfits are very similar except those minor changes in shape. The only other major difference is that the 1823 fashion called for long sleeves, and the 1820 for short. I wish I knew which was most fashionable in 1822, but I have seen extant examples with both. These plates were a bit of a sigh of relief, because they show that veils styled around elaborate hairstyles were the fashion which means I don’t have to build a new bonnet for the event!

So once I had all this research done, it was time to put it all together, and I came up with this sketch. I know it’s a bit hard to see, but you can get the basic idea.

IMG_0267To turn this vision into a reality, I started with my Sensibility Regency Dress Pattern (as I so often do), and then changed everything about it. I find that it’s easier to start with a jumping off pattern, even if almost nothing about the dress will remain the same. At least I know that pattern fits me.

IMG_0243Dropping the waistline was no big deal, I just needed to lengthen each piece following the shape of my body. The biggest alteration was in the bodice front. I had to turn the single-piece front that gathers into the waist into a three-piece front in order to create that lovely ruched and ruffled detail in the center. This involved making a mockup of the longer bodice, then putting it on, pinning and marking where the new seam would go, and removing the extra fabric that would have been gathered in. This picture shows what the shapes of the new pattern pieces would be.

IMG_0242The back also needed some tweaking. I wanted a flat back, not a gathered one like in Mrs. Hjort’s dress at the beginning of this post. I was able to look at pictures of the backs of several 1822 gowns and spencers, and the center back pieces were much narrower at the bottom than my pattern was, creating almost a V-shape from shoulder to center-back. I had to adjust the shapes of the back and side-back pieces in order to achieve this look, then make a new mockup to check the fit of all my new pattern pieces. Poor Brandon got to pin me in and help adjust the fit where I couldn’t reach, but I think he’s gotten over the trauma (I can be a bit particular about my sewing…). I didn’t take pictures of the skirt adjustments because frankly, adding extra width to a hem is not terribly exciting.

Here are the final bodice pieces, plus a cat tail for good measure. (I did make a few more small adjustments after I made the lining, but nothing major.)

Construction on the dress has now begun, and more posts will follow soon! (Did I mention it’s all being done by hand?) Time to dive in to glorious period detail and hours and hours worth of pin-tucks.

Stay tuned!


P.S. Here’s a sneak peek of what’s to come–I have amazing friends! You can read part two here.

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Accio Costume!

I got to take a break from historical for the past week and a half because I have the coolest job ever. We at Custom Wig Company are working hard (and succeeding!) at expanding our cosplay market, which is thrilling, because it makes my job even cooler to be able to create pieces based on some of my favorite characters. Our cosplay roster has really exploded this year as we slowly prove to people that yes, our pieces really are worth the money. Why spend all that time and effort crafting an exquisite costume just to cheapen the look by topping it off with a clunky plastic wig that doesn’t fit?

Part of this means that we are attending several cons this year. What I’m saying is: I have to cosplay for my job. No big deal or anything. We’ve decided to start out with a group Harry Potter cosplay. Basically we’re getting paid to dress up as Harry Potter characters and hang out at cons (and sell wigs, obviously). And I get to be one of my favorite characters…Luna Lovegood! So a few weeks ago I constructed my wig, and this past week and a half I’ve been working on this dress:

This is the dress Luna wears to Bill and Fleur’s wedding, because Xenophilius thinks you should wear sun colors to a wedding.

I landed on this one because 1) It won’t be as hot as some of her other costumes, 2) It involved one piece that I could make, instead of a bunch of pieces that I might have to try and find, and 3) I love yellow.

IMG_0205I adapted the bodice pattern from the one for my Regency dress (that thing sure comes in handy) after spending thirty seconds looking for a modern Empire dress pattern that I liked (there were none that came even close). I had to bring up the neckline, and drop the waist and move things around a bit to make up for the fact that I’ll be wearing a bra, not stays.

IMG_0206 IMG_0207Once I had the mockup/lining the way I wanted it, I had to go through the terrifying ordeal of cutting the pattern up into pieces to make the colorblocked sun on the front of the dress. I double checked so many times to make sure I’d added seam allowance in all the right places.

All the bodice pieces cut out.
All the bodice pieces cut out.

And I did! Thank goodness it worked the first time, because I definitely didn’t have enough fabric to do it over again.


Here's the bodice all put together. I pressed it better after this shot, so it's not nearly as wonky looking in real life!
Here’s the bodice all put together. I pressed it better after this shot, so it’s not nearly as wonky looking in real life!

IMG_0214Unsurprisingly, I miscalculated how much fabric I would need for all those ruffles, so I didn’t have enough to make the skirt base out of the main fabric. Instead, I used some maroon broadcloth that I had lying around. This was probably for the best, since that rayon has a bit of stretch to it, and the broadcloth provided a much more stable backing. I very carefully measured and marked where each ruffle would go, because I had really limited amounts of fabric, and had to get the number and width of the ruffles right first time, or start all over again with a new fabric order. Then I set in to hem and attach all of those ruffles… Since this was Luna Lovegood, that could mean only one thing–time to watch Harry Potter!!!

Yer a wizard, Harry
Yer a wizard, Harry!

I attached each ruffle as I went along, since I can only do hem stitch for so long before my left hand is in agony.

Wingardium Leviosa!
Wingardium Leviosa!

It took three Harry Potter movies to hem, gather, and attach all of those ruffles, including the one that goes around the neckline. As long as I was doing all that gathering, might as well gather the bodice and skirt into that skinny little red waistband too. The dress is just pinned to the front of the dress form in the picture, because I couldn’t get it over her shoulders. Don’t worry, it fits me!


IMG_0235 IMG_0236Putting in zippers is about my least favorite thing to do, but I beat this one into submission! I spent Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire stitching the lining in, and making that funny little decoration with the hanging cords, and voilà!


It’s not perfect, but I think it’s a pretty good attempt, and all my complaints are pretty nit-picky. I can’t wait to see what it looks like combined with wig, shoes, wand and radish earrings! My boss’s husband is a photographer, and once I have all the accessories, we’ll do some real studio photos.

Until then, beware of Nargles!


Edit: Here’s a photo of me in the full getup. The wig (of course) is by Custom Wig Company. The wand is from Wizard Wands Emporium, and the earrings are from Fantastical Fun Shop, both of which are on Etsy. The gorgeous photo is by Benjamin Marcum Photography, who is an incredible portrait and headshot photographer, who also does all of the cosplay shoots for CWC. The eyebrows, unfortunately in this case, are all mine, and refuse to be covered no matter what trick I used. The only thing I have left in my idea bank is blonde mascara, but I keep forgetting to pick some up.


Hannah’s Adventures in Bonnetland

Like many girls who grew up in the ’90s, I first heard the word ‘milliner’ in Felicity’s Surprise, the third book associated with the colonial American Girl doll. Right around the time I was reading those books, my family took a spring break vacation to Colonial Williamsburg. Being, at 8, just as much of a nerd as I am now, I read everything I could get my hands on about colonial America. As if my encyclopaedic knowledge (as in, I’m sure I literally read any related encyclopaedia articles in my spare time), wasn’t enough, my mother also dressed my four-year-old sister and I in lovely handmade colonial dresses for the trip. I was in heaven. I couldn’t even wrap my brain around how amazing it was that there was a place in the world where everyone acted like it was 1775.

We strolled the streets of Williamsburg, eating rock candy and dressing up my two-year-old brother in a tiny tricorn hat, until we reached THE MILLINER. I knew all about milliners–I had read Felicity’s Surprise! I chatted away with the reenactors, thrilled beyond my wildest dreams. I would be totally embarrassed, except that as a reenactor myself today, I know how much fun it is to interact with people who are really excited about history, especially kids (if you’ve never taught four thrilled seven-year-olds an English Country Dance, you’re missing out). So, I talked all about sewing to the ladies there and they told me how maybe one day I could be an apprentice, and I wish I could find them and thank them, because they made one little girls year that day. In fact, I pretty much forgot that this wasn’t real, and when I realized I wasn’t actually going to move to Williamsburg and become a milliner’s apprentice, I was crushed. Like I said. Big nerd.

BUT. Now I am a grown-up! It’s my turn to millin (I really wish that was a verb)! So after completing my spencer, it was time to create my very first bonnet (because who doesn’t like a matched set?).

I used Lynn McMaster’s Regency Hard Crown Bonnet Pattern (view B). There are places where the instructions could be a bit more explicit, but I doubt this is an issue for anyone who’s made a buckram hat before. Even as a newcomer, it didn’t take too much head-scratching to figure it out. I’d definitely recommend it.

The first step was to create a poster board mockup, which made me feel like I was back in kindergarten making paper bag hats. When I was sure that the mockup fit, it was time to cut into the buckram. This made me pretty nervous, until I realized I had enough of the stuff to make a whole second bonnet if everything went really wahoonie-shaped (Terry Pratchett, anyone?).

IMG_0144With buckram pieces in hand, I settled down to wire them. It’s oddly satisfying to stitch millinery wire around the edges of this heavily stiffened fabric. This step also included sewing the back seams of the brim and the crown side piece, and stitching the top of the crown to the sides. The buckram was a little unruly until I had it stitched about a quarter of the way around, and it’s tricky to find a good way to hold something so 3-dimensional while you’re sewing, but soon I had a funny-looking mesh fez. I definitely tried on pieces of the bonnet at every stage of the process. I’d lie and say it was to check the fit, but let’s be real. It’s because it looks hilarious. I realize now that this might have been the time for selfies…oh well. Guess I’ll have to make another bonnet.


Once the form was wired, both both pieces got bias binding, and then covered with flannel, which smooths the silhouette of the bonnet and protects the outer fabric from the scratchy buckram and wires.

Finally, the bonnet got to start looking pretty as I stretched taffeta over the crown:


Somehow I missed taking pictures when I covered the brim, so I’ll skip straight to the fun part: decorating!

IMG_0159IMG_0160Okay, so I lied a little. I did have to sew the brim to the crown before I could start decorating–but now it looks like a bonnet! What a relief when the two pieces actually fit together without too much drama, beyond the inherent struggle of shoving a needle through all those layers.

IMG_0163IMG_0165At this point I started straying from the pattern. Instead of binding the raw brim edge with more of the taffeta, I edged it with that lovely velvet ribbon from Renaissance Fabrics (I bought the taffeta there too). Unfortunately, I took this picture late at night, and the flash made everything look magenta. Just for good measure, I put a strip of velvet ribbon around the top of the crown as well.

IMG_0156 IMG_0158 When I was at Joann picking up fabric glue and other sundries, fate led me to walk past these adorable little felt roses, in the perfect color to match the bonnet! I made some of the green ribbon into flowers using this tutorial from What A Beautiful Mess, et voilà! The rest is history.

IMG_0166 IMG_0167IMG_0169IMG_0171

The only thing left was to line the inside, which is a bit of a letdown from the fun of decorating.

There’s definitely some ripples and bumps, but sometimes even a perfectionist likes me has to admit that this is just my first try, and I’m really pretty thrilled with the results. Can’t wait to show you pictures of the whole ensemble in action at Indiana Frontier Experience!


P.S. The next bonnet won’t be until this summer sometime, but I’ve decided I’m going to leave the beaten path and try to recreate this gorgeous thing:


My First Spencer

Let me tell you about the beginning of my Regency wardrobe.

Almost two years ago, on the first of July, 2013, I moved from my childhood home in Petoskey, MI to Louisville, KY. I was moving down to become the second full-time employee at Custom Wig Company (as in, just me and the owner, Heather). It was a big jump. I had been doing contract work for Heather for a few years, business was growing, and she decided it was time to have four hands working all year round. I was lucky enough to have a bit of extra cash for the move and a wonderful boyfriend who was willing to take the leap with me, move to a new city, and take our chances on this job.

Not long before we moved down, Heather sent me an email: some relatives were taking her and her husband on a vacation to the Caribbean, and she was going to be gone the week of the Louisville Jane Austen Festival. It was happening only three weeks after my move, so it was up to me, but could I please, please, pretty please man a table, all by myself, in a new city, for a company I’d only really worked for for a few weeks. I agreed. Oh, she told me, and you’ll need Regency clothing.

Great. I love Jane Austen, and I had worked in the costume shop at my university’s Theatre department. I knew my way around garment construction, and had a solid background in fashion history. How bad could it be? Well. I ordered patterns and fabric for both Brandon (yes, he likes Jane Austen too, how lucky am I?) and myself, trying to time the orders so they would be delivered right around our arrival in Louisville.

Nothing went quite as planned. First, half of the patterns never turned up. Whether they were delivered to the wrong house or taken from the porch before we arrived, I’ll never know. Then, the fabric came, and instead of the lovely cotton lawn I’d ordered for my dress, they’d sent a horrible striped waterproof canvas. By the time I’d borrowed some patterns and gotten the right fabric, I had only a week to make chemise, short stays, dress, breeches, shirt, cravat, waistcoat and frock coat. After almost no sleep, very little food, and a lot of mental support from Brandon, I got everything but the shirt done in time (Brandon had a shirt he’d used for Renaissance Faire that wasn’t perfect, but was good enough once the waistcoat and cravat were on).


Since then, the two of us have become Costumed Interpreters at Locust Grove, a local historical site, and I’m constantly adding to our 1816 wardrobes, working for ever-more historical accuracy (for example, I no longer walk around during the day with chest, arms and hands uncovered, as in the picture above). My most recent addition was a spencer (short jacket) made from maroon cotton twill, with military detailing. It wasn’t based on one specific piece of research, but was inspired by many extant examples and fashion plates like these:

British, ca. 1815, at the Met.
La Belle Assemblée, November 1816

IMG_0107I started with maroon cotton twill for the body and black silk batiste for the piping, both from Farmhouse Fabrics. The velvet ribbon is from Renaissance Fabrics. I originally intended to do all the trimming with the ribbon, but ended up buying a maroon braid to do the bulk of it instead, since that was easier to support with research.

I used the Period Impressions 1809 Spencer Pattern, which I modified to make it more appropriate for 1816. I removed the peplum, which was overly large, made a waistband that went all the way around and added some simple sleeve caps and a more interesting cuff to dress things up a bit. I got lucky and a size ten fit me almost perfectly right off the bat, I only took in the curved side back seams a tiny bit at the bottom to prevent unsightly gapping.

IMG_0110Once the lining was sewn and fitted, it was time to start with the main fabric, which means–decorating! I very carefully measured and marked where the braid would go on the fronts to make sure it would line up in the end, and I’m really happy with how it turned out! Since I’d already done the lining, putting the rest of the bodice together was a piece of cake. This sturdy twill sews like a dream!

IMG_0112In order to put off the moment when I would have to make the sleeves, I piped the collar next. I had never made piping before, but I got out my handy-dandy rotary cutter and went for it. I overshot the yardage I would need a little (ok, a lot–there’s enough silk left to make Brandon a new cravat). I got the cord stuck in the seam in a few places, but I managed to take out those stitches and fix it without too much trouble. There’s a few lumps and bumps, but I can live with them.

IMG_0114But now the sleeves, the dreaded sleeves. It isn’t as if there weren’t plenty of plain-sleeved spencers in 1816, but I had to go and decide I wanted sleeve caps. I made another copy of the sleeve pattern, cut it up and modified it to make the puff. I went through several mock-ups before I got a shape and size I really liked (my first try was enormous!). When I was finally satisfied with the muslin version, I used it as a pattern and cut into the twill with baited breath. After the obligatory left-sleeve-in-the-right-armhole debacle and a lot of shuffling the gathers around, everything turned out all right!


After that, the cuff was no big deal. Just a rectangle of fabric, sewn in half lengthwise, then pleated to fit the wrist opening, basted in place and attached. I wanted to at least use some of that lovely velvet ribbon, so I added a strip of it to mask the join.

Now, it was just a matter of finishing. I sewed the lining to the fabric (with piping down the front–that was the scariest bit of piping), cut a waistband and sewed that on (with more piping, ’cause I was on a roll!), added hooks and eyes, and I was finished!

IMG_0119I’ve decided I like making spencers. It’s a fun item to tweak and play with. Since the bodice is such a basic shape, you can make pieces that look very different by altering parts of the pattern. I’ll look forward to making my next one, but that won’t be for a while. So many things to do! My next project will be (drum roll) a bonnet! All the supplies have arrived and I should be starting it this weekend.

IMG_0142I was bad and didn’t order a swatch of the taffeta first, but miracle of miracles, it matches the spencer fabric exactly (thanks, Renaissance Fabrics!)! The green is a double sided silk satin ribbon that is even more beautiful in person, and look–the velvet ribbon gets to join the party! Hopefully this doesn’t end up looking too Christmas-y, as I’ll be wearing it for the first time at the end of April. Whatever happens, you can see it here.

Until then, yours from bonnet-land,



Hi there, Everybody. This is Hannah. I’ve been toying with the idea of starting this blog for a while. Enough people have told me they enjoyed my sewing updates on Facebook, and people keep asking my how they can keep up on my writing life as well. So, I’ve been toying with names and ideas for a blog for months, and finally last week I landed on this one.

I was sitting at the Cactus Heart table at AWP (the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference) last week with my friends Sara and Killian (they were doing the fabulous work with Cactus Press, and I was pretty much just taking a load off and mooching on their chairs). Anyway, a woman came up and asked about the magazine, and introduced herself to us, going down the row and asking us what genre we wrote in.

“Fiction and Poetry.”

“Fiction and Comics.”

She got to me. “Fiction,” I said, and as she walked away I mumbled, “and fabric,” with a shrug. I looked at Killian, Killian looked at me.

“Fiction and Fabric. Fiction and Fabric. Fabric and Fiction,” I said. “That would be a good name for a blog.”

Simple. Informative. Not trying too hard to be cool or snappy. (Believe me, I’d come up with plenty over-the-top-look-how-clever/adorable-I-am titles already.) So here it is. Look out soon for an overview of my recent spencer, and an announcement of my next big project (millinery, here I come!)