Tuesday, January 31, 2017

1883 Chemise with Small Sleeves HSM

What the item is: Chemise with Small Sleeves from Fashions of the Gilded Age by Frances Grimble.

The Challenge, and how the item fulfills: The challenge for January 2017 is "Firsts & Lasts" and the objective is to create a garment that completes an ensemble or one that is the first piece of a new. This chemise is meant to be worn with a late 1870's-early 1880's bustle dress planned for completion later this year.

Fabric/Materials: All recycled. The cotton fabric used for the chemise is from a sheet. The lace trim around the neck and arms once trimmed a dress and the front decoration is from a deconstructed cotton nightgown.

Pattern: From the cutting guide in Frances Grimbles book, attributed to Complete Guide to Ladies' Garment Cutting, 1883. 
Notions: Lace for trimming.

How historically accurate is it? The shape and fit are quite correct, I think. This is my first attempt at a bustle era chemise and is meant to be more fitted than earlier ones. The lace is not correct, but looks fairly decent.

Hours to complete: Less than 3.

First worn: Not yet. Meant for wear in fall of 2017.

Total Cost: Nothing, since it was all recycled. :)

Monday, January 30, 2017

Aqua and Brown Kaftan

It's been a busy week but I did find a little time to finish the aqua print kaftan. The sewing was very easy and quick but attaching the beads took a few evenings of tv time. (I hate that I always mention TV when I talk about sewing, but it's really almost the only time I have to sew after dinner and homework! haha.)

I love it! It's my favorite dress ever! It's definitely more of a summer dress since the fabric is almost sheer.

So the fabric came from the thrift store and I think, after working with it, that is it a poly/cotton blend. The threads that fray from the cut edge of the fabric have that sort of stretchy, plastic-y feel. It has almost no weight so to weigh down the hem I repurposed a beaded belt that I have had for a while.

Some of the belt I left intact and just sewed on to the edge of the neckline.

And the rest of the belt was disassembled so I could sew on the beads individually. This was really quite fun and relaxing. The hem has a nice weight now and won't blow up and billow in a breeze.

This kaftan is slightly narrower than my last one. As a result the sleeves are somewhat shorter. I sewed the side seams as a regular seam, leaving it open below the knee. To keep the inside tidy, all machined seams were french seamed. (For this kaftan, I had 4 seams - two at the shoulders and two at the sides).

I love this dress so much. I can't wait to wear it when the weather gets a little warmer.

For now, though, I need to really focus on getting us outfitted for our reenacting season. It was fun taking a little break to make a few modern things, though!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A Flowy Kaftan Dress

As I have time, I am slowly going through my sewing supplies, streamlining what I can and keeping only what I really love. Decluttering is a constant process in a house with six kiddos and even "my space" is not really mine - they like doing homework in the calm quiet of the tiny sewing room as it's one of the coziest places in the house. So I like to keep everything that can be put up, up.

On one of my organizing evenings I came across a few yards of some flowery rayon fabric that my friend Katherine gave me many years ago. I had kept it with me all those years, wanting to use it for something but never knowing quite what to make. The colors weren't the best for me (rust, gold and olive green) and the fabric itself wasn't suitable for any particular historic period. A modern dress, then? But I never made one.

When I pulled it off the shelf this last time I knew it was now or never. Use it or lose it! I held the length up around me and looked in the mirror and then I knew what it would be - a kaftan!

If any of you have ever watched the old 80's sitcom Three's Company, you probably remember Mrs. Roper, the landlords wife. Slightly eccentric, dramatic and just a little obnoxious she often wore colorful, flowing kaftans.

I knew almost nothing about the history of this style of loose fitting dress so I did a little digging. It's hard to say where the style originated, but it seems that the general consensus is that this type of garment has been worn for thousands of years in Africa, parts of Europe and Asia. It's basic form is a rectangle, with a hole cut for the head and openings left at the sides for the arms.
Vintage kaftan from pinterest
Morocco seems a likely place that the style flourished and it seems that its still part of traditional dress there. Although, the term "kaftan" or "caftan" appears to refer to several styles of loose dresses or tunics, some with cut on sleeves or sewn on sleeves and some opening down the front.
Moroccan Kaftan from Wikipedia

In America, the kaftan became popular in the mid 20th century along with the hippie movement. Patterns from the 1960's and 1970's include kaftans, like this one:
Vintage Pattern from Etsy

Vintage kaftans are very popular today. This absolutely stunning one is from etsy:
Vintage Kaftan from Etsy
I wanted my kaftan to be kinda hippie/boho inspired, kinda elvish/narnian inspired. I ended up making a rounded rectangle, adding a waist belt (placed slightly above the natural waist) and with a simple faced neck slit for a head opening. 

I started with a rectangle of fabric that was twice as long as I wanted my finished dress to be, and as wide as the fabric was, minus a 4" strip I tore off one selvedge to use for the belt. I made a neck slit and faced it with dark grey fabric reused from an old skirt.
I have the best helper!
This old grey skirt was one of those tiered peasant style ones, with a drawstring elasticized waist. It had served me through many pregnancies and beyond and I was ready to finally get rid of it. But it had the prettiest embroidered trim along the bottom edge and I wanted to find a use for it, somehow. It worked well for edging the neckline of the kaftan and the embroidered trim went down the front, just under the empire waist. The dark trim also helps tone down the fabric a bit. 
I had to sew all the trim on by hand since the main fabric is so heavy and slinky! It
took a while but it was worth it! The belts are attached at the sides of the "waistband".
Once I got the trim sewn on I had to finish the edges. Some kaftans are sewn up the sides with a regular seam, allowance towards the inside, leaving just an opening for the arms. I wanted mine to have the side seams sewn in from the edge a few inches so I decided to hem all the edges of the dress. The heavy rayon slinky fabric did NOT agree to this at all. So I ended up tearing up the rest of the old grey skirt into strips and binding the edge instead. This took so long, but at last was done. I shaped the hem into a U shape instead of leaving it rectangular. This is so the sides of the dress won't drag the ground when its being worn. Shorter length kaftans can be left rectangular but my dress is made to be quite long.
Kaftan almost done! Just have to sew up the sides.
I made four faced slits at the waistline, through which to thread the belts so they
can tie at the center back.
I didn't want the kaftan to be sewn all the way down since that could potentially restrict the movement of my legs. So, the side seam starts 12" down from the shoulder and goes for 20". I sewed it 5" in from the edge.
The last thing to do was to thread the belt through the holes on the front and back. Then try on time!

It slips on over the head easily. . .
The fabric feels cool, smooth, heavy and luxurious. It does! 
I do feel very elvish-y and Narnian-y. And Mrs. Roper-y.

I was so happy with how it came out that I considered it the most beautiful thing I have ever made. It's not, of course, (although beauty is very relative), but I do love it and I have been and will be wearing this a LOT. It's a fabulous alternative to my usual around-the-house outfit of yoga pants and a t shirt and hoodie.

I've already started the next one, with another piece of fabric I've had for a while. (I had JUST enough - just about 3 yards of fabric, which cost me 75 cents at a thrift shop awhile ago.) This one will have a visible neck facing of brown linen, which will be edged with beads. I may go for some fringe round the edges; since the fabric is so very lightweight it will help give the dress some drape. 

Here's my notes about making mine:

Sunday, January 22, 2017



Goal was to get it done before the new season of Mercy Street and it's done. I finished it last week but didn't get around to taking pictures for a blog post until today. Mostly because I've been obsessing over caftans lately and I am sick of the 1860's at present. And it's a pain to put on all those undergarments. Ugh. I couldn't find my civil war chemise so had to use my regency one for these photos.

It's about 110" around the bottom, which is about the maximum I'd ever want for a cage. My little covered hoop is around 90", I think, so this is a big jump up for me. It fills out the skirts of my blue dress quite nicely and definitely supports better than the little hoop. I still like the little hoop, though. It's perfect for active wear and takes the place of multiple plain petticoats quite nicely.

The new cage is made of two kinds of wire. One kind was left over from the rolls of hooping steel I bought a few years ago. One kind was heavier and thicker. I used the heavier wire at the bottom and the lighter at the top. I sewed casings for each wire out of a heavish blue-grey cotton upcycled from a curtain. The casings are suspended from seven 2.5" wide straps and placed about every 2". It took a lot of both math and eyeballing to get the shape right but I am happy with the final result. 

I kinda want it more boufy in the back. For that, a cloth bustle would work quite well. The WWG has instructions for a few different kinds of bustles, the simplest being a double flounce gathered and sewn to a waistband. I may make one before our first event, and I'd like to make some new petticoats, too.

Yay for a new cage! I never want to make one again! So glad this is finished. Now, back to caftans. . .

Monday, January 16, 2017

Heavy Winter Mantle

It's done! It was made with bits of leftover materials so ended up costing nothing. It's a great feeling to be able to make something useful from what otherwise may have been waste.

One layer of lightweight grey wool, one layer of pieced cotton batting scraps, one layer of black cotton sateen lining pieced from scraps and quilted closely to the batting. The silk flounce and trim are made from a piece of fabric I bought at a going-out-of-business sale last summer for $1 a yard! Talk about a great deal. . .

It is very warm, rather heavy and the colors work well with the two dresses I have and are likely to go just as well with any future gowns. I hope to have a chance to wear it soon and take proper pictures but for now, these will do. WHY IS OUR WINTER SO WEIRD? One day it's 9 degrees and the next it's 75. No, I'm not joking. It really happened. And there is no sun, and everything is either frozen mud and grey skies or sticky, thick mud and grey skies.

I'm currently almost done with my new cage, which is being worn beneath the dress on the dressform here. I hope to finish that up this week. It's another free project, made with found and recycled items! So far it is turning out quite nicely! I don't want to have to ever make another one though, at least not for a while! So much work!

1860's Mantles

Here is a basic illustration of how to make a simple mantle. I used these instructions to create the  mantle pictured below, which was made with a lining and a flounce. Following are some examples of original mantles. These are wonderful, versatile garments that are easy to make, wear and care for. 

1850's Silk Mantle from the Met
1850's Silk Mantle from the Met
1857-1860 Mantle from the Met
1840-1860 Fringed Silk Mantle from Tasha Tudor Auction
1830-1860 Fringed Silk Mantle from Tasha Tudor Auction
1860's fringed silk mantle with quilted lining from Bustle Dress
1850-1890 fringed silk mantle from Augusta Auctions