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!


  1. Where did you buy the steel from? I would like to make a crinoline some day, but I keep finding that the steel is pretty expensive.


  2. Corsetmaking.com - A 12 yard length of 1/2" steel was about $18, but I cut it in half so got 24 yards from that 12 yard length! You could make a cage like this with a 12 yard roll, if you slice it in half. . .I did pull an old steel from my last cage to make the topmost steel, but, as I removed it anyway, I didn't really need it.

  3. I can't wait to see it under your dresses. And that last picture is so sweet, Judah is an excellent photographer :)

  4. This looks so amazing! I love the idea of cutting the steel in half to approximate the skinny steels of the day. I'm also impressed with the shape you got; figuring out an elliptical hoop is certainly not easy, but you've done it perfectly.

  5. Another quick question: how did you cut the steel?

  6. Regular wire cutters worked fine. David also has some heavier duty "bolt cutters" that cut through both steels (in the regular modern hooping) with one clip. The smaller wire cutters I had to clip each steel individually, then use scissors to cut through the buckram in between each. There is probably a better way to do this, but I had to use the tools I had on hand. It worked though!


Thank you for your lovely thoughts!