Tuesday, May 21, 2013

An 1860's Cage Crinoline, Finished ~ And Historical Sew Fortnightly Challenge #10 "Literature"

I decided to plow ahead and finish my cage in time for the Historical Sew Fortnightly "Literature" challenge. But now that I finished it, I think I might have had my dates off, as I think it was due last Monday (?) - oh well. I have missed the last few challenges since I have been busy with other projects that didn't really fit in with the challenge themes. This one, though, reminded me of one of my favorite short stories:

This was written by Elizabeth Gaskell, famous 19th century authoress, who contributed the highly delightful novel Cranford to society and still delights readers today with timeless wit and power of description. The short story details the confusion a fashionable cage created in the humble, modest society of the genteel ladies of Cranford. 

"Mrs. Gordon wrote back to me, pleased, as she always was, with doing anything for her old friends. She told me she had been out for a day's shopping before going into the country, and had got a cage for herself, of the newest and most elegant description, and had thought that she could not do better than get another like it as my present for Miss Pole, as cages were so much better made in Paris than anywhere else. I was rather dismayed when I read this letter, for however pretty a cage might be, it was something for Miss Pole's own self, and not for her parrot, that I had intended to get."

The cage mentioned in the story appears to have been a covered cage, as it was described as hoops of steel "neatly covered over with calico".

Anyway, I finished my cage! Yeah! Go me. I came to hate it before it was done, just because it took so long and I was sick of seeing it every morning, unfinished and taunting. 

I finished sewing the steels into the tapes. After that, I set the grommets for the front lacing. This was difficult. I can't find small grommets anymore at the craft or sewing stores so I had to settle for larger grommets (I prefer 2 piece since they are much sturdier than the 1 piece "eyelets" you can easily get almost anywhere.) 

After that I realized that I really did need to cover all those steels with something besides just athletic tape. So, I sighed and despaired and resigned myself to my fate. I got 18 yards of twill tape and began stitching them around the steels. This would have been much easier if I had covered the steels BEFORE sewing them into the tapes. Note for next time. As it was, I had to cut small lengths of the twill tape and sew them to the steels that were exposed. It took forever. It really did. My fingers kept falling asleep. 

Once the steels were all covered, I cut a length of cotton twill and sewed it into a tube. I pressed the tube in half, wrong sides together, and pinned it around the bottom of the cage, covering the bottom 3 steels. I slip stitched it into place. 

The last thing to do was to attach a buckle to close the front opening. I think I need to take in the front waistband a bit as the buckle is not centered at all when I have it fastened once it is on. 

So, finally, it was done. While I am quite happy with how it came out I think I really feel attached to this cage for negative reasons - I just don't want to have to make one again anytime soon!

It gives a very good shape under my skirts. The finished circumference of the bottom is 102". Even though it is a smaller size, as far as reproduction cages go, it gives a rather large pouf to my skirts. I think this is because the 102" is just below my knee, and the petticoats cover and enlarge that frame, making it appear bigger than it is. If the 102" were positioned lower on my body (like right above the ankle) the visual silhouette of the skirts would be much narrower. 

Thanks to Judah for taking some pictures for me!

Next up: (I think anyway); a collar and cuff set of "clear muslin" for my black lawn dress. 


Here are the stats for the Historical Sew Fortnightly: 

The Challenge: # 10 Literature 
"The Cage at Cranford" by Elizabeth Gaskell

Fabric: Brown cotton twill for the tapes and the bottom "bag"; tan twill tape to cover the steels and 13 yards of 1/4" steel hooping from corsetmaking.com Metal grommets for th
e front lacing and black cord for the front lacing. 

Pattern: My own. I tried to approximate the look of original cage crinolines. Fairly straightforward construction, but it turned into a very lengthy project by the end. 

Year: 1860-1865. (or thereabouts).

Notions: Belt buckle, thread, twill tape. 

How historically accurate is it? It approximates the look of period cages, and the steel is the appropriate width. Construction was just guesswork since I have never had the opportunity to look at an original cage in person. 

Hours to complete: Too many! Probably at least 50. 

First worn: Today, for pictures. It is meant to be worn for a mourning ensemble I am working on. Hopefully for an event next month. 

Total cost: The steel was about $20, the twill came from my stash and the twill tape and grommets were about $18 altogether. So about $38-$40 when all is said and done. Not too bad!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

An 1860's Cage Crinoline, Pt. 1

I've known for a while I need to make a new cage to go under my 1860's dresses. My first hoop skirt was one of those adjustable bridal hoop numbers, that I bought in Billie Creek Village, IN back in 1999. It was actually a not so bad hoop as far as cheapy sutler hoops go. It was cotton and had 6 buckram-covered bones and the only bit of polyester was the lace at the bottom. I was able to adjust the bones to get a tolerable bell shape for my skirts, though I had none of that desirable and ubiquitous "back thrust" that all original crinolines seemed to have. Here is an original 1860's crinoline from the Victoria and Albert museum. You can see how it is definitley *not* round, but with a very specific shape and back thrust:

That bridal hoop lasted me a few years until I wanted to upgrade, then I got the Originals-by-Kay kit. My dad helped me cut the steels and put the thing together. Here you can see the really nice shape that cage gave; this picture is from back in May of 2005 right after I turned 19 (actually the very same day I first met David when he came in to visit that historic site! He was wearing blue jeans and a Lynyrd Skynyrd t-shirt, had a great big bushy beard and was wearing, to my distaste, sandals. I just don't dig sandals on dudes. Needless to say, he doesn't wear them anymore.)

In various forms, (it was remade several times) that cage lasted me until last spring, when I made the little 5-steel covered crinoline from Costume in Detail, which worked well enough (and is still in fine almost-new condition) but did not really give me the shape I wanted. The loft it gives is quite small and low and although it works great for working-class impressions or for use when I need to have less restriction, it just isn't exactly pretty. It's a period correct shape, but not a fashionable one at all. It is quite utilitarian.

This year I decided I would make a new cage. I ordered 2 rolls of hoop steel from corsetmaking.com and then I thought about how I would actually go about making it. For some reason the math aspect scared me. I had no idea how I'd figure out how long to cut each steel and how to space the tapes that would hold the hoops in place. So for a few months I shelved the steel and worked on other projects.

After Grampie passed away and I began to research a mourning impression I realized I really needed to actually make this cage in order to have the right look. So last week I finally gained a foggy idea of how to construct a cage: Make the tapes that hang from the waist. Sew pockets into the tapes to hold the steels. Cut the steels. Sew the tapes to a waistband. Thread the steels through the tapes. Try on to adjust for fit and shape. Permanently stitch each steel to the tapes and voila! There's a cage.

It hasn't been as easy as that. I decided to use twill fabric for my tapes instead of buying a woven twill tape or ribbon to use as tapes. (What can I say, I'm cheap and I already had the twill on hand.) I decided to go with a 2" wide tape. It seems the width of tapes varies a lot from original to original, but the wider tapes appealed to me for some reason. I don't know why. Anyway, to make the tapes, I tore lengths of the twill 4" wide x about 68" long. I then pressed each strip in half to find the center:
Excuse the faded and stained ironing board cover in the background.  They don't last me long. I need to get a new one.

Then opened the strip back up, and folded each edge in towards the center and pressed:

Then, wrong sides together, I pressed the entire strip in half. This gave me a finished side on both sides and the raw edges are tucked within the strip.

I did this to 7 strips. I was going to do 9 strips but I figured that was overkill. If my tapes were narrower, then I think 9 strips would have been nice. But not necessary with the wider strips and with the rather modest size of my cage.

Then I carefully measured and marked the little pockets I would sew into the strips. This took a very long time to do. My steels measured just under 1/2" wide, so I sewed the pockets to be just over 1/2" wide. Sewing the pockets took a long time too! But finally they were done.

After that, I cut the steels. It was late at night when I started cutting the steels. I was tired but I wanted to see how the cage would look. I decided to go with a bottom circumference of right around 100" (smaller than my Originals-by-Kay cage, but larger than the Costume in Detail covered hoop I made last year) and then decrease in 5" increments from that til I reached the top hoop. I decided to make the top 4 hoops partial hoops, leaving an opening in front. This method enables one to have hoop support springing almost from the waist, while giving you enough room to actually put the cage on. If I made full hoops, the hoops would have to start lower down on the body to enable the lady to step into the cage and pull it up to the waist. You can see the partial hoops at the top of an original cage at Ruby Lane, Here: c, 1863 Hoop Skirt, and in the photograph below:
This was my "main inspiration" cage. And when all the steels were in, mine did look a lot like this one. I wanted more of a bell shape than an A line shape, though. 

After cutting the steels I began to insert them into the pockets. Or, at least, I tried. The steels would *not* go through the pockets. The pockets were just a tad too narrow! I kept trying to force them through, to pull them through with needle nose pliers and to wiggle and tug the pockets over the hoops. The buckram covering on the steel started to peel away and I had not got a single hoop through a pocket. I was about to cry when David, who had idly been pursuing various online activities, suggested I cut the steels into two narrower steels. Modern steels are made by encasing two narrow steels into a glue and paper covering, and the whole thing is covered again with a layer of glue and cotton buckram. So it is possible to slice down the middle of a steel strip and separate the two steels that are inside. I had previously considered doing this, even before sewing the pockets, because narrower steels are more accurate for the 1860's period and seen in almost all examples of cages from then. However, doing so requires having to cover the bare steels with fabric or twill tape or *something* to prevent them from rusting, and I didn't want to have to do that.

David suggested using medical tape, also known as athletic tape, to cover the steels. He brought me a roll and I tried it. It worked! I wrapped a strip of the tape very tightly around the steels, rubbing it down smoothly and here is the result:

I was delighted. I had a sudden renewal of energy, so I covered 3 more steels before going to bed. David let me use his forceps from his medical kit to pull the steels easily through the pockets.

The next day I covered the rest of the steels and put them through the pockets. Here is the cage, with all the steels in, but still unshaped. I am building it on my much-shortened dressform, so I can sit on the floor and work on it easily. That is why the cage looks so long here! In general cages should be about mid calf length. This picture shows the side view, which has some back thrust already. From the front, the look is much more A line.

I made a quick waistband based on the crinoline on. p. 202 in Costume in Detail. The same kind of waistband is on this original 1860-1870 cage from The National Trust Collections.

This waistband has a little  half-oval shaped extension sewn at the center back, to allow for the greater length of the back measurement. From the waist to the ground in the front the length can be several inches shorter than the length from the waist to the ground in the back! This is because of the back thrust. I pinned the tapes to the waistband and tried the hoop on. It wasn't bad! But I was disappointed it was so A-line in shape in the front. The top steel barely encircled my hips. I wanted a more rounded shape at the hips, instead of skirts flatly hanging in a dreadful "lampshade" effect.

Now, it is true that the A-line-from-the-front shape is very appropriate for the 1860's. If you look at cdv's you can easily see many women who have the A-line shape to their skirts:
I have no idea who or where to credit this image. If it is yours please contact me ! I will gladly remove it or give you proper credit, whichever you desire. 
But then there are also images that show a much more rounded shape, with a back thrust that is very nice. (and even hoop skirts that are A line in front can have a great back thrust too, and some that are rounded may have very little back thrust. And it depends too on if you wear a bustle or bum pad underneath, and if your skirts are pushing against anything at the time a picture is being taken. There is a lot to take into account.) But I like the look of the skirts in this image:
Same notation as above - if this is yours let me know! It is one of those  "floating around on the internet" images.
I adore the skirts in this picture. It is A-line, to some extent, in the front, but see how it springs away from her waist just a tad? I like that. It gives much better waist definition! (not that she needs her waist to look narrower in the first place - she is very slender!)

I decided that the final steel at the top of my cage was too small and the whole cage was just a bit long. I ended up cutting off the tapes at the top and removing that smallest steel. The cage shifted up; I had more circumference of steel around my hips and the shape was immediately much, much better. In this front view, it looks more "hippie" that it will when finished. The partial steels want to naturally bow out, but when I add lacing to draw them closer together and keep them flat in front the look will be less hippie.
In-progress. The front is just temporarily taped for now and I need to clip the front partial steels on the left. (or, well, the readers right. The wearers left. :P)

I spent a while after that arranging the tapes. The creation of the back thrust is achieved through the placement of the tapes. If the tapes are equally spaced then the shape will be pretty much round. If you have tapes spaced wider in the back and narrower in the front, you will get more back thrust with a flatter front.

Many original cages I looked at seem to have tapes that start at almost center back then angle to the sides. This "pulls" the steels towards the back, creating even more back thrust. I had fun playing around with it. It was totally un scientific and when I got a shape I was happy with, I tried the cage on again. Love!!

To attach the tapes to the steels I decided to whip stitch the edges of the tapes together, wrapping the thread tightly around the steels when I reached one, then continuing on with the whip stitching up to the next steel. So, all up and down each side of the tape I need to sew. I'm still working on it. It will take a while. I only have one tape sewn to the steels and have six more to go!

After the steels are all secured to the tapes I plan to work eyelets along the edge of the tapes at the ends of the front partial steels, then have lacing in that area to draw the steels flatly and evenly across the front. This technique is seen on the Costume in Detail cage crinoline. I also plan to enclose the bottom steels in a bag, to prevent my feet from catching up in the steels when I walk. This isn't always a problem, but I did experience it a few times when I wore my Originals-by-Kay cage. You can see a similar bag on this original 1860's cage from Bonhams:

I may go over and paint the exposed steels (the parts that are not in the pockets) with glue afterwards, to more firmly secure the tape to the steels. Or, I may cover them in twill tape or something. The tape is working fine at the moment but has seemed to loosen a bit over the last few days. I am afraid of it "sliding" around the steels eventually. At least it was a temporary fix that gave me back my motivation to keep working on this thing.

It's an on going project and is taking a lot longer than I anticipated but I think I will be pleased with the end result.


Monday, May 13, 2013


Apologies for taking a bit of a blogging break. I meant to post after our Civil War event last weekend, but my dear Grampie passed from the world last Monday evening and in the whirl and flutter of various emotions since that time I have not been settled enough to write a blog post.

Now, as time goes on, I can take it all in. I can reconcile myself to it. I am still very sad, but now it is a methodical sadness. Not the wild burst of grief that has come in the night, sometimes. Not the tears that swell unbidden when I look at the faces of my children and know that they will never know their great grandfather, at least like I did.

It was not altogether unexpected. He was diagnosed with cancer a little over a month ago. And he was eighty-five. Still, I had hoped to be able to visit him this summer. To let my children meet the man who first showed me the world, barefooted on the beach, watching the waves fall over each other and wondering what lay beyond them. Thrilling to the idea that the ocean connected me to a completely different continent.  The doctor gave him 4-12 months. So his passing so soon was a bit of a shock.
Me and Grampie during his last visit to Illinois, over ten years ago. I think I'm 15 in this picture!

I am preparing a mourning impression for my dear Grampie for the remainder of the reenacting year. It may seem strange, but it does help to have something to *do*. Now that Grampie is gone and his memorial service is over and life seemingly must go on, it is nice to know that I have a job to do; I have things to research and make and I can outwardly show my respect for him, at least in some small way. It is relieving and comforting. Mourning is a process. I think the Victorians had it right; death seems such a quick thing anymore.

Since a woman in full mourning would not have gone into public beyond a very few occasions, I am researching a second mourning impression. The items I am making are not really very different than anything I might wear for "normal" wear, but they will reflect the mourning stage and will be appropriate for normal wear after mourning is over, although perhaps a bit more somber in color and more conservative regarding cut and trim.

I will update as I have things to update on. I'm working on my cage crinoline right now, since I do not have a suitable one to wear with my black dress (I will be using my black lawn for the summer.)
You can see David and his red flag here, and his litter-bearers. 

As for the Civil War reenactment, it was fun! We all had a lovely time and I am looking forward to going to more events as the season gets off to a start. It's nice to enjoy reenacting again! You can see more pictures here: Delevan Civil War Days 2013


Friday, May 3, 2013

1860's Boys Button Suit and Coat

Dear Father, hear and bless

Thy beasts and singing birds

And guard with tenderness

Small things that have no words. 

My little son is growing up. I love him so.


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

New 1860's Corset and Chemise

Every time I finish a corset and then put it on, I think to myself that there really isn't anything happier to sew than a corset. It's so thrilling to see how it changes your natural shape and makes you look suitable for a period of history. Corsets and other underwear is what really makes the silhouette. The dresses are just icing on the cake.

Anyway, two years ago I made this grey linen corset. I made it from the popular Simplicity 2890 pattern, from famous corsetiere Kay Gnagey. I made it exactly according to the pattern and purchased a kit from Kay Gnagey that came with the necessary supplies and it came out really nice; I really liked the hip flare since it made my waist look smaller by comparison and the cut of it, with gussets, was extremely comfortable. 

However. As I wore it, the less I liked it. Sure, from the waist down it was great. But the bust support (or lack thereof) became more of a problem. The spiral steels that supported the front bust seemed to collapse a bit; the whole front of the corset seemed to sort of wrinkle downwards and by the end of the day I often took my dress off to discover my bust was happily flopping over the top of the corset and the corset had done nothing to support me at all. 
In this pic from two years ago you can see the problem I am talking about - a very low bustline that, probably, was spilling over the edge of the corset when this picture was taken. 

Last year I was pregnant so I didn't bother making a new corset. This year, though, I really need a new one. I thought I'd go back to the Laughing Moon Dore Corset since it was so good for me in the past. However, the mock ups I made I just didn't like. There just wasn't much shaping. I didn't want to fool with that pattern anymore. I tried the Light French Corset from Corsets and Crinolines and had similar results (maybe the gored pattern shape just isn't good for me anymore? But strictly speaking there really is no difference in finished shape between a gored and a gusseted corset; you can fit a gored corset to fit exactly like a gusseted one.) 

I decided to go back to Simplicity 2890. The hip and waist were perfect already; I just needed to do some major reworking of the bust! In the end, it was a very simple adjustment. I cut up my grey linen corset and traced it anew to get the pattern (since I could not find my old copy of the pattern) and slashed across the midriff area and spread it 1.5". I then added another 3/4" to the top edge of the front of the corset, tapering to the original top edge at the side seams. I ordered a busk 2" longer than the original bust (14" instead of 12") and made up the corset in white cotton twill, double layered, with zip ties for boning. This time, I just put the boning where I thought I'd need it instead of following the original lines of boning on the grey corset. 

I also decreased the width of the bust gussets to give a firmer, tidier line to the bust instead of having big bust cups that let the bosom spill into each armpit! 

And so, the finished result: 

I am SO happy with how it came out. It is just as comfortable as the grey linen corset but it gives really good bust support and I won't have to worry about my bosom flopping out over the top of it! 

The odd thing is, it doesn't really decrease my waist measurement that much. It does, a little. But you can see from the side that the view  from that angle is quite thick. If I put on one of my 1860's dresses I can easily fasten the waistband but putting it on over the corset it just barely hooks. I think this has to do with flesh displacement and the fact that the corset firms up your waist so you can't "squish" it when you are putting something on over it. 

I also made a new chemise from the pattern included in Simplicity 2890. I used a cotton sheet to make it so I think it will last quite a long time. I have needed a new 1860's style chemise for a few years now. My old ones were literally falling apart! Quick thought on the chemise pattern: If you have normal shoulders it will be very off-the-shoulder. I made it up exactly according to the pattern and the yoke was enormously wide. I had to take a tuck at the center back neckline, bringing in the width about 2", to make it fit. Even so, it is still very, very off-the-shoulder. 

Today I think I will start my cage crinoline. I need to play around with the dimensions before actually constructing it but I don't think it should take too long. I'll leave you with this picture of Baby Anne and The Violet. 

Oh, and a thank-you to Judah for all the pictures of the new corset. (he has decided it is fun to take photos for Mommy and then asks for money afterwards. Right now he is happy with 50 cents but I am afraid as the years progress he'll decide his skills are worth more monetary reward.)