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.
As all of us who study historical fashion know, our foremothers had all sorts of ways of changing the shapes of their bodies in keeping with the current trends. Of course, we all know about stays and corsets, and hoopskirts are all but notorious, but we can’t forget about all the ways that women have shaped their backsides over time! Bum rolls, false rumps, bustle pads and other forms of hip and rear padding have been coming in and out of fashion for centuries. Sometimes we forget that, if you’re looking for a small waist, padding out your hips goes a long way towards achieving that goal. The contrast of large hips makes the waist look even smaller.
There are many kinds of stuffing you can use in your padding, but I have a definite preference.
Fiberfill is always available, but it’s hot, gets lumpy and flat easily, and it’s basically a million pieces of microplastic, which I try to avoid putting into the environment whenever possible, especially for my hobby.
Wool roving is also a choice but has the same problem of eventual flattening. You’ll also have to buy either Fiberfill or roving (unless you have sheep), while my other options are free!
Fabric scraps are always around in any costumer’s studio. My first rump was stuffed with these, but it was very heavy, because you have to pack A LOT of fabric scraps in to get enough volume. It also, inevitably, will eventually deflate.
That leaves my favorite option: cork! Cork is lightweight for the amount of volume you get, and is much less prone to being slowly crushed by the weight of gowns and petticoats. Cork is also a very historically accurate material for this kind of padding. In the 18th and 19th century, the cork was generally carved into blocks of the right shape and size before being covered in fabric and attached to a waistband. Today, though this may still be possible, it’s a lot easier to repurpose the corks that many of us already have lying around!
Of course, whole wine corks would make for a very lumpy and uneven stuffing, so it’s necessary to process them down into something a bit more effective. You will need:
Lots of corks
A large pot
A serrated knife
A cutting board
Before you start, you’ll want to go through your corks and make sure that none of them are synthetic. It’s usually pretty easy to tell the difference. The synthetic ones are generally very smooth around the outside, and spongy on the ends. In these images, the two top corks are both real, the bottom one is fake. You can also see that the two real corks have cracks where the corkscrew went in, while the synthetic one has a clean, round hole.
Your cork should be larger than an un-boiled cork, and be squishy and pliable. In these photos, the cork on the left has been boiled. The one on the right has not.
Cut your cork in half lengthwise with a serrated knife. I found it was easier to cut it part way and then just tear it the rest of the way. You want to work pretty quickly, as the cork will become harder quickly once out of the hot water and steam. Don’t try to work so fast that you cut yourself!
I have read about people grinding whole corks in the food processor, but that didn’t work for me at all. There was always one cork that got caught on the blade, effectively capping it and rendering the whole thing useless. Go ahead and try that if you want, and I wish you better luck than I had!
Cut each half in half lengthwise again.
At this point, if you need smaller pieces, you might try the food processor again. For my purposes, these 16ths were just fine. (Remember, the smaller your pieces, the more cork you will need to stuff something, and therefore the heavier it will get. I would only go smaller than this to stuff quite a small pad.)
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!
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!
Throughout the 18th century, as well as in the end of the 17th, and beginning of the 19th, men’s shirts were fastened with clever little buttons made of thread. These were simple to make with basic thread that anyone would have around the house. They were also durable through washings, and comfortable enough to have pressed against one’s neck beneath a cravat.
You can buy your thread buttons if you like, but I’m here to show you how to make them yourself! They’re very simple to create. Chances are that once you’ve done it once or twice you’ll be able to knock one out in no time whenever you need it!
What you’ll need:
Heavy linen thread
A pencil, knitting needle, dowel, or other stick with a 1/4″ diameter
Step 1-Tie your thread around the sizing guide
Step 2-Wrap your thread
Step 3-Cut your thread
Step 4-Move the thread ring from the sizing guide to your needle
Step 5-Pull thread through
Step 7-Buttonhole stitch around the ring
Step 6-Create the shank
Step 7-Wrap the shank
You can now make quick and easy thread shirt buttons whenever you need them!
I hope you found this tutorial helpful! If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments, and I will answer as best I can.
Leading up to Christmastide 1816 at Locust Grove in December, Brandon finally got something he’s been needing for a while: a new shirt. Yes indeed, he has only had one shirt in the entire four+ years that we’ve been reenacting. Yikes. That sounds really bad when I actually think about it.
So, his old shirt, which was made in a rush out of cheap cotton, was in bad shape. Like, really bad shape. It was literally disintegrating.
It was definitely time for a new one. I had fabric ready and everything, I’d just been putting it off for a loooong time.
The new shirt is made with a lovely 4.7 oz. 100% linen from Dharma Trading Co. The Locust Grove ladies went in on a big order so that we could get a bulk discount. The lovely thing about square-cut shirts is that they are exactly that. Square cut. Every piece is a square, a rectangle, or a square cut in half corner-to-corner to make two triangles. This was done for several reasons.
It makes fabric usage very efficient. A good housekeeper could cut several shirts out at once by filling in all the gaps like a game of tetris, with yardage wasted in the square inches. (This is trickier today with our wider fabric widths.)
The large, gathered, square bodies make for a garment that fits even if the wearer gains or loses weight.
Shirts were generally made at home, rather than by professionals, and the formulaic process was much easier to learn and perfect than a more demanding fitted garment.
Shirts for men functioned much like shifts for women–they were an undergarment that was less valuable and more easily laundered than a person’s outer garments. They helped protect those expensive outer garments from sweat and wear. The only parts of a man’s shirt that would generally show were the crisp white collar and cuffs.
There are period cutting guides available so that you can make a shirt as accurately as possible, but since I was in a rush (as per usual) I used the Kannik’s Korner pattern, which comes with excellent documentation and instructions. I highly recommend it if you are in the market for a shirt pattern.
Traditionally, a square cut shirt is cut by measuring out pieces, then pulling out threads of the fabric to mark where to cut. This ensures that each piece is perfectly square. I attempted it, but the threads must have been a bit too flimsy, because they would break after a couple of inches, and I eventually gave it up as a bad job. Hopefully next time I try, the fabric will be a bit more obliging.
The first step in sewing is to finish the edges of the big slit in the shirt front that allows the man enough room to get his head through (and then some). The slit edges are hemmed as narrowly as possible, and then the bottom of the slit is re-enforced with buttonhole stitch, and a bar tack. You’re going to see the word re-enforced a lot in this post. A lot of work goes into making sure it’s as difficult as possible for the wearer to destroy his shirt quickly.
Before the shirt can be put together, the side slits and bottom edge also need hemming. This happens before the side seams are sewn.
The front and back of the shirt are all one enormous rectangle, with a T-shaped slit in the center for the head. You already saw me finishing the stick part of of the T (the chest slit). Now it’s time to deal with the crossbar. The shoulders and neck slit will take the most strain when the shirt is put on, worn, and taken off, so these areas get a lot of re-enforcement.
First, each end of the neck slit gets a gusset to prevent the fabric from ripping farther.
The gussets are only the beginning. The entire shoulder line is re-enforced with shoulder straps–long rectangles of fabric that cover the gusset and go from the neck edge to should edge.
The shoulder preparation is complete at this point, and it’s time to get the collar ready.
The collar is one large rectangle. Each of the short ends is folded in, then the whole thing is folded in half and the edges are whip-stitched together, leaving the seam allowance free at the bottom.
The collar is ready to be attached! This is pretty basic–the neckline is gathered up and stitched between the layers of collar.
The collar buttons shut with clever little shirt buttons made of linen thread. I will be putting up a tutorial on how to make these next week. They quick, and simple, and make a great little demonstration!
The sleeves of the shirt are–you guessed it–rectangles! The cuffs are prepared and go on just like the collar. There is also a square gusset in the armpits, which gives the wearer plenty of extra room to move his arms. Above the gussets, the sleeves are gathered onto the shoulder of the shirt. At this point, the sides of the shirt are still open.
Each of the gusset sides is stitched and flat-felled. The gusset is oriented like a diamond, with the top point opening up the sleeve seam, and the bottom point opening up the side seam. This gives the extra room in the armpit, so that the sleeve and side of the shirt don’t just create a corner under the arm, which could be binding and lead to the shirt getting torn when the wearer strains the seam.
With the gussets in place, the sides are ready to come together. They get stitched together, then flat-felled to finish the raw edges.
There are still some raw edges left on the shoulder seam, plus the whole thing could use some extra re-enforcement, so a sleeve binder (another long rectangle like the shoulder strap) gets whipstitched all around the armscye seam and gusset, and carefully hemstitched to the shirt body. The stitches barely show on the outside, and it gives extra strength to the seam.
We’re nearly there! The side slits get their own bit of extra oomph with small gussets. These are little triangles like the neckline gussets, but only the smallest part of their point is sewn onto the top of the slit, then the rest of the triangle is folded up inside the shirt and stitched down.
There’s one last adorable step before the shirt is officially finished. Each shirt gets marked with the wearers initials and an inventory number, so that the household can keep track of a bunch of shirts that look basically identical. Since this is the first shirt I’ve properly handsewn for Brandon, it is marked with ‘BV’ and a number ‘1’. I’m excited to do another one just so I can number it ‘2’!
This kind of plain sewing may look a bit dull, but it’s incredibly satisfying. Linen is a joy to handsew in the first place, and add to that all the little details like the finish on the neck slit, the flat-fells, the gussets, and the initials, and there’s just enough spice to keep things interesting.
Here’s Brandon looking much better (and happier) in his new shirt! Good riddance to the old rag!
When I left off, the dress still needed a collar and sleeves. The collar is a simple standing collar, which was very popular in the 1890s. It is lined with the same red fabric as the rest of the dress, and interfaced with canvas to keep it stiff.
The sleeves are two-part with bent elbows. They are fitted through most of the arm, with a puff at the shoulder that gives them an almost spiky appearance.
They have false cuffs–meaning that an extra piece of fabric was superimposed onto the end of each sleeve piece before construction. This is merely decorative–the cuffs can’t fold down or anything, as they are permanently attached to the piece, and sewn into the sleeve seams.
The sleeve lining is cut to fit smoothly into the armscye, while the fashion fabric is cut to create the large poof. There is a piece of wadded up stiff netting inside the puff between fabric and lining to keep it, well, puffy.
I ended up having to tear out and re-pleat, reshape, and otherwise adjust the sleeves seven different times before I was satisfied with the look, but it turned out worth it!
With all the pieces attached, it was time for lots of finishing touches. That started with finishing off the raw edges of the crossover pieces. The neckline and armscye edges are simply turned under and overcast, but the shoulder seam edge has a piece of heavy cotton facing to give the buttonholes more stability.
At this point, I remembered that I wanted to add a pocket to this dress–never underestimate the importance of having a pocket in any costume you’re planning to wear at an all-day event!
The pocket sits flat inside the bulk at the back of the skirt, with an opening in the center back seam. It is just under the bum-pad, so that any bulk from items is completely hidden in the extra volume. It is made of three pieces–one back piece, and two front pieces, joined above and below a slit that matches up with the slit in the skirt.
Here is the pocket on the inside of the skirt. The ties keep the bulk of the skirt contained in a nice tail, so that it doesn’t just flop all over the place.
I swear I also hemmed the dress, though I seem to have forgotten to photograph that part. There is a cotton hem facing out of the same material as the one on the shoulder.
The final task was also one of the most daunting: buttonholes and buttons. I don’t normally have an issue with buttonholes, but this particular dress required 47 of them. I did have a contingency plan whereby if I drove myself mad doing buttonholes before they were finished, I would close the lower half of the skirt with hooks and eyes, and simply sew buttons over the top, but I really liked the look of a row of silk-bound buttonholes marching down the skirt, so I pressed on. Adora Belle is a character whose clothes should be a pain to get off.
It was so satisfying to get the last few on!
I wrestled and fought with this costume a lot as I was building it, but I am so thrilled with how it turned out! The fit is great, the crazy closure worked out properly, and the way it moves makes me want to turn in little circles with joy! (You can see it moving in a video on my Instagram, which is also linked on the right.)
Disclaimer: I do not smoke, but you can find New Rule FX’s fantastically realistic cigarette prop (available in filter or non-filter varieties), here.
If you are interested in the wig I’m wearing, which is hand-tied human hair, and can be styled in almost any way you can imagine (I have so far used it for Snow White from Once Upon a Time, 1840s, and Adora Belle/1890s, and plan to use it in many more ways in the future), check out my day job at Custom Wig Company!
You can see pictures of this wig in action in other styles on my Facebook page or Instagram. You can also read more about the process of making one of these versatile beauties in my post To Make a Wig.
Slideshow of detail shots, including me being very excited about my pocket! Also my super awesome black and red clocked stockings from Amazon Drygoods.
Only ten days left, so I’ll be fully immersed in Brandon’s golden jacket until we leave. I am so excited!!! In ten days, I depart for a city I’ve always wanted to go to (New Orleans), to attend an event celebrating my absolute favorite book series (Discworld), and just as an extra bonus, it’s my first anniversary! What could be better?
Edit to add a few photos from outside our hotel in New Orleans! (Including Brandon in his Moist Von Lipwig suit!)
If you read this blog, you’ve probably noticed that I’m a bit of a geek. You’ve seen me build Harry Potter cosplays, Game of Thrones cosplays, Once Upon a Time cosplays. You’ve heard me geek out about the wonders of historical garment construction techniques, and apply both sides of that geekery to the beginnings of a Hogwarts-themed 1870s bustle gown.
Well, I’m doing it again. No kind of costume makes me happier than when I get to combine my love of historical costume with the fun of cosplay, and I am now working on another one of these ultimate mash-ups. More than that, it’s a character from my all-time favorite fandom: Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.
The first four days of September this year will be the North American Discworld Convention in New Orleans–since that Sunday will be our first wedding anniversary, Brandon and I are splurging on a trip to celebrate our favorite fantasy world. Of course a big part of this venture is the costumes! We will be dressing as two of our favorite characters: Moist Von Lipwig and Adora Belle Dearheart.
Brandon’s golden suit will be coming along shortly, but today I’m here to talk about Adora Belle. Miss Dearheart was played to snarky perfection by Claire Foy in the 2010 adaption.
But while I absolutely adore this movie, I didn’t actually want to use their Adora Belle design. With Discworld, I’d rather work straight from the source.
Like all of the Discworld books, Going Postal is a brilliant piece of satire: engaging, thought-provoking, and hysterically funny. It features the adventures of Moist Von Lipwig, the unfortunately-named con-man-turned-postmaster-general, after the ruler of the disc’s largest city, Ankh-Morpork, resurrects him from the noose in order to revive the collapsed and out-of-date postal service. Just as Lord Vetinari suspected, Moist’s endless bag of huxter’s tricks and boundless charisma are just the shock the system needed, but it turns out there’s much more to reviving the post office than delivering some letters, and Moist is soon at war with some deadly competition.
Adora Belle Dearheart (a name that will surgically remove any woman’s sense of humor), is Moist’s sardonic love interest. The daughter of the inventor of the clacks system (a telegraph-ish method of communication using towers mounted with semaphore arms or, later, light boxes that flash a coded grid), Adora Belle has even more of a bone to pick with the post office’s main competition than Moist does. The current owners of the clacks swindled her family out of their property and worse.
Terry Pratchett’s character descriptions tend to be short, but vivid. In Going Postal, Adora Belle is described as having “coal black hair plastered down and forced into a tight bun at the back, so that she looked like a peg doll.” Her clothing is very consistent. Unlike in the movie, where she wears black velvet, the Adora Belle of the books always wears grey. Moist comments in Raising Steam (the third book to feature these characters) “She had bought a most attractive and therefore expensive gown for the evening. It was still grey, of course, but with a kind of luster to it that made it seem almost festive” (Emphasis mine). In her first appearance in Going Postal, she wears a “tight, grey, woolen dress,” prompting Moist to realize “how well some women could look in a severely plain dress”. Which brings us to one of the most illuminating descriptions of Adora Belle’s general appearance. This one is from the second book about Moist and Adora Belle, Making Money, “The heels helped, of course, but Spike [Adora Belle] could move like a snake trying to sashay, and the severe, tight, and ostensibly modest dresses she wore left everything to the imagination, which is much more inflammatory than leaving nothing. Speculation is always more interesting than facts.”
Here ends the scholarly portion of this post, so let’s get to the actual design I went with. The “industrial revolution” period on the Disc is generally depicted with a late 19th century aesthetic. But, of course there are lots of different looks to choose from in the late 19th century. Sir Terry does give us one clue though. Earlier in Going Postal, Moist observes that “Bustles were back in fashion in the city for some inexplicable reason.” And if we follow Roundworld fashion history, that one sentence narrows us down to one period of less than ten years. It can’t be the 1870s, because bustles have already been in fashion at least once, so it must be somewhere in the second bustle period, about 1883-1890. I couldn’t really see Adora Belle in the full-on centaur bustles of the mid-1880s, so I decided to focus my research right around 1889-90, when most would still have been wearing bustles, but the more fashion-forward were beginning to deflate their rears into the sweeping A-line shape of the 1890s. It was perfect: I could keep the narrow, severe front of an 1880s gown, but lose the massive bustle for a more graceful volume supported only by a small bum pad to give my backside a bit of extra oomph.
Once I had that image in my head, I knew when to focus my research:
But it wasn’t until I found this gown, that everything really came together:
It was perfect! The sleek silhouette, the slinky train, the power shoulders. I loved that it was one piece, instead of a bodice and skirt–I didn’t want to break up the line of the dress. Without the embellishment, it was everything the books describe–tight, plain, severe, but still unbelievably sexy. I couldn’t have asked for a better piece of inspiration.
I was slightly tripped up about the mysterious closure–the only hint to it is a slight rippling on the left-hand side. Luckily, Janet Arnold breaks down a jacket that closes the same way in Patterns of Fashion 2. The dress is from the Fashion Museum in Bath.
It gave me a couple more little details that I think are perfect for Adora Belle. I like the idea of having her dress be very plain from afar, and then, as you get closer, little details start to jump out. This dress, instead of closing with invisible hook and eyes, has a row of little buttons along the shoulder and down the side–what could be more severe yet scintillating? It also has a little row of feathered embroidery along each dart to hold the extra fabric still. In tone-on-tone, this will be invisible until someone is standing near it, but give a nice bit of depth to an otherwise plain ensemble.
The Janet Arnold pattern was a godsend. I was able to use the jacket as a jumping-off point to draft the pattern for the full dress.
I sewed the grid interfacing into a mockup I could try on, and made further adjustments from there, but I didn’t take any photos of that fitting.
After much searching, a picked out a charcoal grey linen/wool twill from Fashion Fabrics Club. It took me a long time to find a fabric I was happy with, because I wanted as dark a grey as I could find, and I wanted it to have some texture to it–twill, herringbone, pinstripe, anything to add a bit of depth. I was very pleased to find the linen/wool blend because it looks and feels like wool, but will hopefully breathe as much as possible in the New Orleans heat.
The pieces are flat-lined with a plain red cotton, which helps support the twill. I didn’t line the skirt portion of the center back, though, because I wanted it to keep its fluid drape.
Testing out the drape on the back.
The front lining is done in two pieces, with a piece of hook and eye tape between them. This will attach to an overlapping lining from the other side to help keep everything in place.
There are two darts on either side of the front to help it shape around my waist. These will be accented with tone-on-tone embroidery later.
This is the ‘underlap’ for lack of a better word. It is a glorified piece of lining that gives the left sleeve and collar something to attach to when the dress is open, and is hidden by the front piece when the dress is closed. It is made of lining material, with a facing of the grey twill only where it is possible that it will peek out from behind the actual front.
Once the underlap was attached, we did a quick fitting, and I had to adjust the waist and darts a bit.
Conveniently, I had some vintage seam binding sitting around in my stash. I used it to finish the raw, open left side of the skirt. It will give some nice stability where the buttons are attached.
A piece of twill tape around the inside waistline of the gown helps support the fabric. The waist will be taking strain both because it is so tight, and because of the weight of the skirt, so it needs all the help it can get from the inflexible twill tape.
And then it was time for another fitting–this time to check my adjustments were right, test the placement of the closure, pin up the hem, and test a collar.
I’ll be back soon with sleeves, buttons, and other embellishments!