1830s Roller Print Pink Gown

Now that CoBloWriMo is officially underway and the first prompt (What are your goals for 2016?) has been issued, it’s time to put my bits of blog planning into action! For at least the next few days, I’ll be catching up on projects that have been completed but that I never took the time to write up.  First up… one of my favorites: the gigantically-enormously-sleeved roller-printed pink striped 1830s day dress!

Photo by Pearl White Studio, 2015.

Photo by Pearl White Studio, 2015.

Did I mention gi-normous sleeves? Why, yes… I am wearing pillows on my arms! (No, really I am! They’re tied to the inside of the dress, but more on that later…)

This gown was a two-year process to make and was started in time to wear for the annual street festival, Andover Day, in 2014 when I would be participating in a living history open house at the museum where I was working. In my haste to prepare for that event, there were many details that were left unfinished, including all the back closures, hemming & closures at the wrist, neckline inside binding, and basically anything that needed final tacking or topstitching. Let’s just say I was walking around very carefully that day – I had straight pins up and down the back of the dress, throughout piped areas on the bodice and even at my right wrist!

But I’m getting ahead of myself – let’s start with the basics. The fabric is a delicious warm pink and cream wavy stripe – a reproduction print cotton that I fell in love with and purchased locally at Quilter’s Common. They stock a rather stunning array of repro cottons and I usually dream of new gown ideas every time I stop in!


Truly Victorian’s pattern was inspired by an 1832 fashion plate.

The pattern is the 1830s Romantic Era Dress by Truly Victorian. I have to say that I love this pattern! I did fit the dress over my 1830s stays and with using those related measurements, I had only very minor tweaking at the shoulder area for a perfect fit. As is my usual habit, I did not make a muslin – I just dove in with the good fabric. I used 1/16″ cotton cording for all of the covered piping, picked up from the home dec section at Jo-Ann Fabrics. I have a note to myself to use Coats & Clark Knit-Cro-Sheen crochet cotton for the next time around but have yet to actually pick some up!

The bulk of the interior seams were sewn by machine, and the bodice and sleeves are fully interlined with another light cotton. I regret lining the sleeves as it makes them terribly warm when worn at any temperature over 70°F. Less than ideal for a gown likely to worn for spring/summer/fall outings. And back sleeve puffto the pillows… I used the short puff sleeve sleeve pattern to create a sleeve pouf – similar to this one from the Victoria & Albert Museum. I’m also betting that a down filling would be cooler than the cotton batting I used. Did I mention the sleeve were on the warm side?

To create the proper bell-shaped skirt, I wore three petticoats beneath the dress. First, and closest to my corset was a plain linen petticoat from my 1770’s wardrobe. It’s lighweight and starts to create some bulk at the hem. Over that was a corded organdy petticoat, made following Jennifer Rosborough’s excellent instructions. Lastly, I added a quilted petticoat to add some loft and soften the bell shape. And voila… a lovely 1830s silhouette!


1830s Roller Print Cotton Dress - Finis!

1830s Roller Print Cotton Dress – Finis!

As I sit here typing and trying to recall details so many months later, I’m reminded of the few finishing touches I added before wearing it for Andover Day 2015. I did manage to finish the neckline (self fabric binding to hold the piping to the inside) as well as add hooks and eyes at the center back and both wrists. Some vintage ribbon with paper flowers and leaves at the waist and in my hair were my go-to accessories both years. Maybe for the next wearing I’ll craft an actual belt!

Photo by Pearl White Studio, 2014.

While I did not use sleeve puffs in 2014, I did make and wear them in 2015 and you can see what a difference they make! Here’s my 2014 portrait as taken by Pearl White Studio. Not so gigantic, right?

As the midnight hour approaches and I wind down this entry, I’m still contemplating the initial prompt for CoBloWriMo: goals for 2016. This post, and this dress (even if it’s a past project), are well suited to that theme. One of the first things I did this January was reach out to some like-minded relatively-local costumers to see if we could try to coordinate outings and make some concrete event plans. One of the ideas (goals?) kicked around was a Wives & Daughter’s 1830s theme picnic. As the half-way point of the year approaches, I’m excited to say that those plans are underway and we’re looking forward to fabulous outing in September. And as I pour over old photos, costuming notes, and pinterest images, I’m still loving this gown so maybe I won’t be adding a whole new 1830s ensemble to my 2016 goal list after all.

On the other hand… A belt? A reticule? A pelerine? Now those are some costuming goals I can get behind… and maybe even get ahead of! What a list – I’m off to get some sleep and start dreaming of big-sleeved parties…


Back on the (blogging) bandwagon

Isn’t it funny how a small coincidence can have a big impact? After not being particularly active or following the Historical Sew Monthly very closely on facebook, I was in binge reading mode when I saw the following post:

facebook post suggesting idea of coblowrimo

What? An excuse to get back to writing? An excuse to write about costumes? An excuse to meet other like-minded sewists? Yes, please and thank you!

So, here we are on the very eve of day one of CoBloWriMo, or rather a moment into it, and I actually have some plans in place to carry me through at least the next week of writing. Please stay tuned dear readers… it may be a bumpy ride, but at least we’re headed in a forward direction! The next few posts will see me catching up on details from some 2015 and early 2016 completed projects but I’m also hoping to finally get some patterns drafted for sharing, too. Fingers crossed that this motivation continues ;o)

In the meantime, here’s a few sneak peeks of some favorite finished pieces… with details to follow of the related shenanigans in the coming days!

1830s Night Gown

And a most desirable night-gown at that! I’m working with one of my favorite books again, The workwoman’s guide, and although I’m referring to the 1840 imprint, it had been available for several years prior and these are generally not the most up-to-date high-fashion styles being illustrated. Therefore I’m tagging this one with a general 1830s timeframe!

Here’s the full description from the book:

PLATE 8. FIG. 5.

1830s Nightgown

This shape is not so much worn as that of Fig. 4, nor perhaps has it so neat and finished an appearance, but on many accounts it is the most desirable, being in the first place, more economical ; it also washes more easily, and above all, is particularly convenient in time of sickness, when it is very essential to a weak or suffering person to be able to draw open the gown at the neck and wrists, so as to have full play for the arms in changing her linen, or having blisters, leeches, &c. applied; whereas those night dresses confined at the neck in collars are very irksome, and cause much unnecessary suffering in being removed. The scale and plans so clearly explain the size, shape, &c. that nothing remains to be said, except that a band is sometimes worn round the waist, with a narrow frill sewn round the ends, which are sloped off, according to fancy.

It is better economy to cut three or six gowns together, as the gussets, binders, &c. take about the third of a breadth, so that in cutting out one, there in an unavoidable waster of the other two-thirds of a breadth. The two sleeves cut in the width, and are, for the largest size, 9 nails (20.25”) long.

While I’m neither weak nor suffering, I do appreciate having my neck free and the illustration was a bit more delicate looking than the other options.

For measuring and cutting, I re-calculated the table printed in the book to equal inches.  To doublecheck my math (or try other patterns from this book), a nail = 2.25.” Here’s the original:

1830s nightgown, measurement chart

And here’s my updated table:

Woman Girl of 18 yrs. Girl of 14 yrs.
Width of material, if gored 33.75″ 14 12
Width of gore to be cut off each side at the top  3.9375″  3.9375″  4.5″
Width of the bottom will be 41.625″ 39.375″ 36
Width across the top will be 25.875″ 23.625″ 18″
Quantity required for one 4 yds 2.25″ 3 yds 18″ 3 yds
Quantity required for two 7 yds 29.25″ 6 yds 18″ 5 yds 24.75″
Length of skirt 1½ yds 1 yard 1 yard
Depth of slit in front 13.5″ 13.5″ 11.25″
Space to leave for shoulders 5.625″ 5.625″ 4.5″
Slope of shoulders 2.25″ 2.25″ 1.6875″
Width of binders 4.5″ 3.375″ 3.375″
Length of ditto down selvage 18” 18″ 18″
Width of sleeves or two in the breadth 16.875” 15.75″ 13.5″
Width of wristband (if required) 4.5” 4.5″ 4.5″
Length of wristband down the selvage 9” 7.875″ 6.75″
Size of sleeve gusset 6.75” 6.75″ 6.75″
Depth of frill 2.8125” 2.25″ 1.6875″

I used the ‘woman’ scale and cut my pieces as follows from 45″ wide fabric:

  • Cut 2 body/skirt, 54″ x 45″
  • Cut 2 binders: 4.5″ x 18″
  • Cut 2 sleeves: 16.875″ x 20.5″
  • Cut 2 wristbands: 4.5″ x 9″
  • Cut 2 sleeve gussets: 6.75″ x 6.75″

1830s nightgown - cutting the gored bodyAfter cutting those pieces, I shaped the body/skirt pieces by folding both pieces in half, lengthwise, and marking half of the top width (25.875/2=12.9735) and half of the bottom width (41.625/2=20.8125). I used a piece of painters tape to connect the markings and give me a line to cut along. This step saved me from piecing my gores – a major bonus since my fabric was wider than needed anyway!

Next I marked the shoulder area with a pin, measuring 5.625″ along the top of the body from the gored/side edge. To give the shoulder seam the recommended slope, I measured down the side gore 2.25″ from the top and marked the location with a pin. Then a cut a straight line from pin to pin – this creates the shoulder seam.

This was one of the steps and measurements I fussed over a few times – mostly because I’m not accustomed to having shoulder seams on most early 19th and 18th century garments. Earlier garments are often cut with the body as one piece over the shoulder but this book is written just as that’s beginning to change. In the end, it was what the directions and illustration indicated so that’s what I went with!

The final shaping for the body/skirt piece is the neckline. I picked one of the pieces and cut down the center front 13.5″ to create the neck slit. And I must say, that’s a mighty long slit.. perfect for getting to the chest and for applying leeches and blisters to invalids. For us non-invalids – it could probably be shortened to 8-10″ and still allow for easy dressing.

I scooped the back neckline about 1″ deep and scooped the front neckline about 3″ deep. This was a random guess on my part, based on the sole illustration from Plate 8. That said, it worked out pretty well and came out looking similar enough that I’d use the same measurement in the future. Once I had the neckline shaping in place, I measured the distance around so that I would know how long to cut the fabric for the frill or neck ruffle. In this example, my neckline measured roughly 31″ and I wanted a frill that was roughly double that width. I was able to cut my frill/ruffle piece from the extra material left over from cutting the side gores – this meant the ruffle could be one long piece. Mine was cut 2.8125″ x 68.”

Hemming the frill was the first actual sewing I completed, and that was done with an itty bitty whipstitch to create a 1/8″ hem. Ah – the joys of working with tightly woven fabric! I think I almost could have managed a 1/16″ hem – it was great fabric to work with!

Next up was seaming the shoulder. In most cases, the interior seams were stitched by machine with 1/4″ seam allowances and 12 stitches per inch. The gussets (we’ll get there soon) and all of the felled edges and hems were sewn by hand, also with 1/4″ seam allowance although I usually only manage about 10 stitches per inch by hand. Although this won’t ever be worn for display or museum or other educational purposes, so I didn’t really have to hand-sew, but it does turn out so much better that way – plus I was doing some typical late night sewing and didn’t want the noisy machine to wake anyone up!

So, back to sewing… Shoulder seams – stitched and felled. The neckline slit was hemmed and reinforced with extra whipstitches at the bottom of the slit. The unhemmed edge of the neck frill was gathered by machine and pinned in place to the neckline, right sides together. The gathering strings were pulled up to match the edges and then very slowly stitched in place by machine. I did not want to have to do this part again! You can see my gathering stitches in the photo below – I stitched them in black to make it easy to remove them after I finished assembling the night-gown.

White on white stitching… not so excellent photo – but the ruffle did turn out well. The felling was easier to do with the black gathering stitches in place. They were removed after it was finished.

As with all the other seams, the ruffle seam was felled down to the night-gown. Having the gathering stitches in place helped keep the bulk of the ruffle together while I was doing the felling. The black thread was only caught in the felling in two or three places, otherwise it pulled right out when I was done.

Most of the rest of the night-gown went together similar to a shift or shirt construction – pleating the sleeve to fit the shoulder, adding sleeve gussets to the sleeve, and attaching the sleeve to the body. I will say the sleeve pleating was probably the only place where I’m questioning my steps. Without a reference to  how narrow to pleat the sleeve, I had to guess based on the illustration and its markings. The sleeve looks right, but fits a bit more narrow than I would like under the arm. I pleated the top of the sleeve to measure 6.5.”

1830s nightgown - sleeve pleating

That’s the interior with the ruffle and shoulder seam in the upper left corner. I would definitely use fewer or smaller pleats in the shoulder in version two.

Next time around… I’d probably increase that to 10.” The pleating wouldn’t be as pretty, but I think the fit would be more comfortable. (A key feature for something you’re sleeping in!)

1830s nightgown - shoulder binders

Interior of shoulder & binder on left and the finished area as seen from the outside on the right.

With the sleeves and gussets sewn in place, the rest of my weekend sewing was taken up with felling all those seams and hemming the bottom. This nightgown also specified binders, which are rectangular pieces sewn in place to reinforce the shoulders – and save them from wear & tear.

Because of the shaped shoulder seam, this was trickier than usual. I ultimately ended up just adding a dart at the shoulder to compensate for the odd shaping. The rest of the binder was turned under 1/4″ around all edges and pinned to the inside of the night-gown. The sewing was done as a teeny running stitch from the right side. The idea is that as the binders wear out, they can be replaced so it doesn’t make sense to sew them in as securely as the other parts of the garment.

I saved the wristband for last. Had I read the instructions more closely, I might have skipped the wristbands entirely, but since I already had them cut out, I did go ahead and add them. (I still haven’t added the buttons or buttonholes though…. shhh!)

The wristbands are basic shirt-making 101 – sleeves pleated to fit, band stitched to sleeve, folded in half towards the inside and all edges whipped together and/or to the shirt to create a wristband or cuff. (And then you’re supposed to add buttons and buttonholes but umm, yeah… I’ll get to that later!) I did find it surprising that wristbands were optional – but then again, considering this was ideal clothing for invalids, it makes sense not have any constricting closures.  I’m also considering adding some silk ribbons to the neckline, just to keep it close if I so choose. It actually stays pretty well without any closure but could be a bit more exposing than I would prefer over morning coffee.

1830s nightgown

Not the best photo, but still my favorite! The night-gown looks both like it’s trying to photobomb by Christmas tree and like it’s about to catch on fire at the same time. Couldn’t have planned that if I tried…

1830 stays – Part 4

Amazing what a little snowstorm (or a big blizzard) and a few snow days will do for your productivity! An expected snowfall last Saturday led to the museum being closed for the day and I managed to get a fair amount done on the stays – enough to even do a quick try-on. Not an ideal fit, but good enough to proceed!


Yay to finishing all fourteen eyelets without an awl! Hopefully the symmetrical lacing will work – it’s the same on my original pair but I sense they will never feel as secure as the single lacing on my 1770s stays.

When I originally traced the pattern pieces, only one of the linen layers was marked so I decided to thread-trace all the marking and cutting lines with red thread from the front side of the garment. This made it much easier to begin inserting the gussets. You’ll see that I traced both the cutting and stitching lines – there’s not much room for error there.

Since my other half was out plowing several towns away, I managed to get this on myself and reasonably snug-laced. I had thread-traced the cutting lines for the hip gussets and cut them open about halfway up while I was wearing them. I just wanted to give some ease around my hips and try to determine if the bust area was going to work and a rough placement for the straps in front.

Once this mess was on and the lacing tied off, I determined the following:

  • The bust cups are workable but will need a slight bit of gathering as the binding is applied
  • Overall the bust is a bit large but I think someone else lacing them and shortening the straps will help
  • The length was perfect but the hip gussets will start about 1 1/4″ below where currently marked. Not surprising since that’s about the same amount I add to most patterns to adjust for my height
  • And lastly, I’ll probably machine sew the next pair….

Once all that was behind me (and I managed to get them back off of my body) I set to work re-marking and thread-tracing the new lines for the hip gussets. Those have been a work in progress – one done, three to go. I did finish all the stitching on the bust gussets, though. And earlier this evening I pulled any excess marking threads and got the iron heated up to remove the pen markings. I have the say – they are starting to look awfully pretty!

Taking a break from the monotony of straight gusset stitching, I decided to start marking and sewing some of the quilted details. And yes, I really did use cinnamon and a sock to transfer the pattern.


For the record, I hate wearing socks so I was happy to sacrifice half a pair to the costuming process. The pattern was copied onto white paper and pricked with a pin to create holes for the cinnamon powder to transfer the design through

I was skeptical that this would work but lo and behold….

Score one for historical accuracy… I was just perusing one the earliest issues of The Lady’s Book (aka Godey’s) and sure enough pouncing with cinnamon through pricked paper was the method recommended for transferring embroidery patterns. Go figure!

1830 Stays – Part 3

I have a Johnny Cash song stuck in my head… 25 Minutes to Go. I heard it recently and for some reason it’s still buzzing around my exhausted brain.

No prison sentence for me but after working on eyelets for the past two hours, I’m definitely in countdown mode! Normally I love sewing eyelets… buttonholes, no way… but eyelets – something about their round little perfect circles time after time makes me smile. However, this damn corset is doing its best to change my outlook!

This only works with small & narrow sharp scissors and there's a lot of twisting involved to form a circle

This only works with small & narrow sharp scissors and there’s a lot of twisting involved to form a circle

First of all, some of my favorite supplies were AWOL when I started on the eyelets – namely my favorite awl and my silver thimble. Instead I had to resort to sharp embroidery scissors as a tool to separate the fibers to make a hole followed by a round chopstick to even it out.

Because there are eight layers of fabric at the eyeleted area (something I would avoid in the future), I was definitely missing my thimble by the second eyelet. Trying to push the needle through all those layers became harder with each hole. Plus the rhythm is broken when you need to reopen the hole with the chopstick after every stitch or every other stitch. And with 16-20 stitches around each eyelet… well, perhaps you can see why I’m in countdown mentality! And I’m only working on one side of the back – the seven eyelets on the back left to be specific.

The threads on the right are still attached to the eyelet. Threads are carried from eyelet to eyelet on the inside. The chopstick is acting as a placeholder for the first stitch in the second eyelet here.

The chopstick is acting as a reference point for the first stitch in the second eyelet.

The photo at right shows the second eyelet in progress. The threads on the right side are still attached to the first eyelet and are then carried to the second eyelet on the inside. This is my own carry over from 18th century stays making when those carried threads would be covered with the lining. In this case, I’m being lazy and don’t want to stop and restart at each eyelet. Or bury threads. Apparently I’m just resorting to what I remember from another project!

My fingers are sore (again) but I’m happy to report that the left center back has been completed with its seven eyelets, three corded channels, and back edge lining and outer fabric combined.

The cording saga will have to wait until a later post… but the short version is that I ended up using a doubled strand of 3/32″ cotton cording in each of the channels. How it got there is the real story!

Now for one last photograph – and be sure to ignore the bits of blue ink. I wasn’t working near an iron so erasing all those Frixion pen markings didn’t happen before camera time.


Tools of the trade… for tonight anyway! Finished left back plus linen thread, beeswax, needle, chopstick, and scissors/awl! (Oh and a fuzzy blanket to keep me warm while sewing all evening…




Being Sophia Thoreau

My fingers took an extended break from sewing today – not necessarily planned, but that was the end result! So instead of an update on the 1830 stays, I though I’d reach further into the past and pull some photos and details on a long-ago-completed 19th century project. Behold the Sophia Thoreau 1845ish gown…

Huge thanks to fabulous J.S. for taking the photo... and then letting me steal a copy!

Huge thanks to fabulous J.S. for taking the photo… and then letting me steal a copy!

Title page of Henry D. Thoreau, Walden; or life in the woods, 1854, showing Thoreau's hut at Walden Pond, Massachusetts at the Library of Congress

Title page of Henry D. Thoreau’s Walden; or life in the woods, 1854, showing Thoreau’s hut at Walden Pond, Massachusetts at the Library of Congress

Umm, yeah… so she probably wasn’t quite as pouty! For those that don’t recognize the name, Sophia Thoreau was the youngest sister of 19th century transcendentalist and author Henry David Thoreau of nearby Concord, Massachusetts. You know – the guy that wrote Walden and Civil Disobedience and made lots of people think it was noble to go off and live in the woods by himself  to simplify and be closer to nature for a year or two. (I’m not a huge fan of Henry, in care you didn’t pick up on the sarcasm.)

Fondness aside, back in 1999 or 2000, I happened to be working for a museum in Henry & Sophia’s hometown. R.S., one of my then-colleagues was (and I believe still is) a magnificent living historian who particularly excelled at bringing dear ol’ Henry to life. Somehow or other I was convinced to portray sister Sophia during a 30 minute performance/afternoon tea at the museum – along with my friend as Henry and another colleague portraying a third local personality that I can’t remember. (I do remember which co-worker she was – just not who she was acting as.)

Sad to say, the totality of what I recall about Sophia is that she was Henry’s sister, apparently idolized him, sometimes brought him meals to his cabin near the pond, helped do his laundry when he brought it home, and perhaps most notably, is especially responsible for making his name a household one by driving the continued publication of his books and essays after his death. At least that’s how I remember it… Wikipedia and local museums may differ on that subject so feel free to do your own research ;o) I’m pretty sure I didn’t allude to any of those ideas while I was pretending to be her, but after 15 years I’m a bit fuzzy on what I actually did say!

Lucky for me, I haven’t changed size too much since then, so the pictures presented here are far more recent – taken at the 2013 Dress University in eastern Pennsylvania.  The dress itself is a loose copy of one from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion and was made up in a woven black and white plaid with a heavier white cotton as the bodice foundation.

I mentioned it's a loose copy, right? Apparently I never added the sleeve frills or the center front placket. Oops!

I mentioned it’s a loose copy, right? Apparently I never added the sleeve frills or the center front placket. Oops!

The pleated detail on the front was created on pieces of pink medium-weight linen. I didn’t originally make it to fit over stays/corset, but it looks much better when I do. The bodice is also a bit too long, but one thing I do remember is cartridge pleating the entire skirt waist too the bodice…. and I’d need a REALLY good reason to do that over again.

Another shot courtesy of J.S. Thanks!!

Another shot courtesy of J.S. Thanks J!!

The shoulders and front pleating don’t fall exactly where I would like them to but an artfully arranged shawl does a great job of camouflaging decade and half old costuming sins. All in all it’s a nice piece to have on hand in the closet for the odd early Victorian event or as a loaner costume!

On a side note… this makes me really miss the Dress U. crowd, classes, and events! Here’s hoping that 2015 is the year plans start getting made for another east coast costume conference!

1830 Stays – Part 2

Whoa! Two days in a row of sewing and writing… what is the world coming to?

Mostly very tired fingers as it turns out! When I was sewing full time for my business (i.e. 8-10 hours a day of handsewing – often staysmaking or en foureau pleating) I ended up developing muscles in my fingers that I had been previously unaware of. Well, guess what? After two straight days of handsewing with linen thread through 6 layers of linen and canvas, those small itty bitty muscles have announced themselves with a vengeance!

My right hand started to hurt so much I even resorted to a secret weapon… needle nose pliers for pulling the needle through the fabric layers!

Needle nose pliers were also especially handy for creating a cording puller for those narrow channels

Needle nose pliers were also especially handy for creating a cording puller for those narrow channels

Truth be told, they just sort of ended up in my workspace after making the cording loop above – but they really did come in handy for that last hour or so.

The back facing has been folded to the inside, clipped for ease at waistline, and pressed to keep its shape

The back facing has been folded to the inside, clipped (slightly) for ease at waistline, and pressed to keep its shape. And no idea why this photo is so yellow!

Today’s progress was mostly along one of the back lacing edges, in addition to discovering that I’d made some poor decisions in yesterday’s work.The biggest problem I discovered was that I should have put the lining in place before channeling the busk area at the center front. I’ve come up with a work-around but I should have read the instructions more closely in the first place.

So… on to the back. I did a quick test fit to make sure the stays would be in the realm of fitting – or at least not way too big to start with. I then cut away all the extra fabric along the center back edges – down to the original cut lines of the pattern.

I retraced most of the pattern markings with pencil on the interlining so that I didn’t have to worry about the Frixion pen ink disappearing during pressing.

This is where things got a bit more tricky. Or I should say that I got a bit lazy. Had I added more basting stitches along the folded back facing and/or properly basted the interfacing strip that was applied to that edge, I probably wouldn’t have had to work so hard to keep everything in place while sewing the cording channels along the back edge. But best laid plans…

Although I’m using a heavier canvas for the center front and back facing interfacing, I was surprised at how well the back piece were able to mold to the necessary curve even though they are cut on the straight grain. I sprayed them pretty well with water and just kept smooshing them with a hot iron until the right curve was achieved.

Center back interfacing will primarily support the eyelets for lacing but it makes for difficult channel sewing along the way

Center back interfacing will primarily support the eyelet holes for lacing at the center back but it makes for difficult channel sewing along the way

I’m pretty sure I’ve made myself about six pair of c.1770 stays over the years so I think it’s safe to assume this won’t be my last foray into early 19th century stay making. I’m enjoying the process for now but taking lots of notes so I’ll know how to ‘do it right’ when I eventually decide to make the ultimate 1830ish corset!

In the meantime – here’s where I left off this evening:

Left back edge with lining attached, interfacing secured, and the first two of five rows of stitching to form cording channels

Left back edge with lining attached, interfacing secured, and the first two of five rows of stitching to form cording channels

1830 Stays – Part 1

Don’t judge…. 2014 was a rough year! Not that I didn’t get any sewing done… quite the contrary, but somehow mixing sewing and blogging never seemed to happen. In any case, the new year is already keeping my fingers busy flying through an long-suffering pair of unfinished 1770 stays, a new pair of 1830 sleeve puffs, and as of yesterday… some marvelous 1830 stays.


Past Patterns 1820s-1840s Corded Stay Pattern

To get the basics out of the way – I’m using the Past Patterns 1820-1840 stays pattern, view A (the wedding stays) with a few modifications. I liked the idea of working with stays that had a single pattern piece (plus gussets and straps of course) and the back curved lacing band intrigued me as well. I own an antique pair of stays that dates to about 1820 and they are cut similarly. Due to their petite size, there is far less cording – they probably would have fit a slender 11-12 year old girl.

But moving on to the ones that are now in progress… I was anxious to get started so I scavenged some medium-weight white linen and some cream twill from my stash to use for outer fabric, interlining, and lining. The instructions only call for two layers but I felt my choices were lacking a bit of heft so added one more.

I do have a wearable pair of 1820ish stays but since I’m not thrilled with them and I’ll be doing a lot more 1820-1835 costume wearing, it was time to start anew!

The fully traced stays - folded in half at center front

The fully traced stays – folded in half at center front

Rather than cut out a particular size, I traced the size 14 onto my linen but lengthened it to the size 20 length markings. All of the gusset markings were placed at the size 14 locations and lengthened if needed. I’m using a Frixion pen which erases with heat… second day in and I haven’t managed to press away any critical markings!

My plan is to complete the front busk area and the back lacing area and then fit in the gussets last to get the torso sitting exactly where I want it. If you’re familiar with this pattern, you’ll notice that I haven’t cut on the marked lined. I’m giving myself a generous 1.5″ seam allowance around the entire piece, just so I have some room to play with. I know this was common practice in 18th century stay-making so I think I just resorted to old habits!

Most of the time I find hand-sewing very relaxing – particularly if it’s just endless straight lines like the ones needed on these stays. I started creating the busk pocket and adjacent cording channels and was moving along rather quickly until…. for the life of me, I could not get the cording through the channels! So backed up (and yes, undid some stitches) and decided to sew the cording into its individual channel rather than try to thread it through later. That method worked much better! I’m sure my earlier failure had a lot to do with not having the right tools or correct width cording but either way, I’m happy with my solution!


The second or third attempt to thread cording through the already sewn channels. Eventually a new solution was found!

The tally so far:

  • Cost: $0 (all supplies & patterns from stash)
  • Construction time: 6 hours – mostly handsewing

Tomorrow I tackle the back and those lacing eyelets!

Francaise Dinner Gown – Part 2

This should probably be parts 2,3,4, and 5 due to all the sewing that’s been happening but, as usual, my blogging hasn’t kept up! I have had more needle time lately and it’s been surprisingly nice doing so much hand-sewing. No machines to set up, no ironing boards, no noise.

Why I’ve ended up sewing the whole thing by hand is beyond me… I think it might be muscle memory! I’ve almost always sewn and trimmed 18th century gowns by hand so it just sort of happened this time too.

Anyway, the petticoat is more or less down – just a few more tacking stitches are needed on the trim but I’m thinking I’ll leave those for some evening sewing once I get to the Inn on Friday night.


Those pocket hoops really create such a flattering skinny shape, eh?

The next step was assembling and pleating the sleeves. They ended up pretty snug around my arms but the fit perfectly over my shoulder. Guess I’ll just have to be extra ladylike and not flex my muscles too much while wearing the gown!


Pretty sleeves! They're based on ones in Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion

It hasn’t shown much in the photos but linen has been used for the lining – an apple green for the bodice, and a tighter weave natural for the sleeves. Everything from the stash! I was especially lucky after taking a close-up look at the Kyoto gown sleeves and realizing that they were originally trimmed with pleated and ruched gauze. Flashback ten years to making a gauze-trimmed 18th century wedding gown. I must have bought 10-15 yards at the time…. and sure enough, I still had some tucked away in the silk box!
(Admittedly I might not get to adding that trim before the dinner but I’m ready when I do have time!)


Not so interesting... The left bodice front and back pleats.

Last weekend was spent sewing the back pleats down and finishing all the front bodice edges. Boring (and slightly painful) sewing but it had to get done. Ten straight hours of sewing through 4-10 layers… My fingers were so sore the next day!

That’s all the updates for now as the midnight hour is striking again. Up next… Details on the pocket hoops and stomacher!

Francaise Dinner Gown – Part 1

After the lengthy and sad winter thus far, I’m looking forward to some merry-making later in a few short weeks. With friends planning a fabulous Francaise Dinner for March 1st, I’ve pulled out a long neglected project and have spent the evening stitching away.

kyoto blue dress

Kyoto Costume Institute: AC7621 92-34-2AB

I’ve admired this particular dress in the collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute ever since spying it in one of their books close to a decade ago. I had a color copy of the book page pinned to my bulletin board for years and somewhere along the way I picked up ten or so yards of a similar looking Waverly print. Bits and pieces had been cut and prepped – enough so that when I pulled some of it out tonight, I found a completely finished petticoat! Hemmed, waist bound with tape, and even the waist ties are hemmed at their narrow little ends!

The next pleasant surprise was finding that the self-fabric petticoat trim (pleats of two depths) had been cut to size, joined, and all edges pressed under. All that was lovely (and probably accounted for 3 hours sometime in the past) but it did mean that I was able to get straight to pleating and attaching trim tonight.

Here’s the first go round!close up of pinned pleats

The photo is quite yellow but one can see the deeper of the two pleated bands starting to take shape. The pleated band is 14″ tall and the first step was creating repeating box pleats about 1″ wide with an equal amount of space between pleats. Since I was doing this while sitting in bed and watching Bleak House, nothing has been pressed and looks much puffier than the inspiration gown. That aside, the proportions seem pretty close for my height. The top 3″ are pleated, then the next 4″ are ruched all over, and then the bottom 7″ are pleated. I stitched the panel to the petticoat at the lower level of the ruching to create an attachment point. Next I just went crazy stitching the ruched section down in random patterns. It didn’t start to look right until most of it was done and a pressing should improve it even further.

The upper and lower edges were sewn down to the petticoat with a running backstitch. I’m hoping to find some appropriate edging  and that will cover any stitching that shows and add a beautiful finish. Once the base trim was on, I started pinning the lower level of trim in place. This was simpler – just 1/2″ box pleats with equal space between. I’ve only pinned it in place as I was getting pretty tired of stitching!

I finally called it a night and gave it one quick try-on and lo & behold it actually looked the way I wanted it to!!

2014-01-29 22.00.34

Sadly the photo of a reflection doesn’t do much justice to my efforts but it is looking like a proper trimmed petticoat!

Now to get some sleep and start the next batch of sewing tomorrow!