Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Late 18th Century Underthings

I had hoped to get my basic 18th century undergarments done before Thanksgiving but I didn't quite make that deadline. With some out of town (and some in town!) guests I ended up not finishing up a few little things until late this past weekend. While I now have to lay aside this project until after the New Year I am so glad to have a basic foundation to build upon when I can return to it. Always before I have cheated with borrowing petticoats and shifts from other eras but this time I won't have to!

I had almost no budget to dedicate to these foundation garments so most of it is repurposed material and supplies or taken from my stash. The only new thing I had to get was a chamois cloth to use for binding my stays but otherwise nothing was purchased. While I kind of wish I could have spent money on really nice fabrics, it does feel good to still be able to create perfectly serviceable things that only cost me my time.

I am going for an early to mid 1770's silhouette and want the impression to be fairly low class. I have been researching an ancestor of mine who served with the 6th Virginia in 1776 and from all I can find out about him, he was not an upper class kind of guy. My goal is to create a versatile ensemble that can be dressed up or down with different accessories and can be used throughout the later 1770s and into the early 80's. I know styles and silhouettes changed during that time but if I make my basic garments simple and conservative enough, I hope they work for about a 10 year span. We will see. This is all so new to me.

Speaking of which, thank goodness for the new book on 18th century dressmaking from American Duchess! I received my pre ordered copy last week and can already tell it will be such an enormous aid to me as I figure out how to build my dress. I also plan to make some mitts and a cap from the instructions in the book and maybe, just maybe, I can get those done in spare minutes here and there during December.

So anyway, I made three garments during the past few weeks, starting with:

The Shift ~

I made this shift based on the wonderfully indepth article and instructions from Sharon Burnston. Using her guidelines, I cut my shift to have a later-century neckline and the later-century square sleeves. While I did not have enough width to gather my sleeves at the shoulder and only lightly gather them at the cuff, they are square and are plenty roomy enough while still being narrower than earlier shift sleeves, to better fit into the narrow sleeves of the 1770's and 80's. My neckline came out a tad too big so I put a narrow tape into it, to draw it up just enough to fit nicely with the stays. I didn't want a drawstring, and they don't seem to have been common, but they did exist so, I have a drawstring.

My shift is made out of . . .an old sheet. I felt really bad about using an old cotton sheet rather than linen but it's what I had and although it was beastly to sew, it made up into a nice sturdy garment. It has a high thread count and is smooth and fine. From what I've read, the linen we have available to us today isn't really as nice as the linen they used for undergarments in the period. So a nice cotton sheet seemed an ok compromise. For me, a necessary one since my other option was just to not make a shift at all. So, it's a sheet.

The only unfortunate incident with the shift occurred when I was fitting my stays mock up and accidentally pinned the mock up to the shift. When I went to remove the mock up I found I had left a pin and it caught and tore a hole in the front body of the shift. After staring at it in dismay I decided to just patch it since I had put so much work into sewing the darn thing. So, it's patched. But it works and no one outside of the pictures here will ever see the mend anyway.

The Stays ~

I was so glad I kept the 1775 stays pattern from Corsets and Crinolines that I had made up about four years ago! It gave me a good place to start with these. I had to adjust them a bit and I shortened the waist about 1/2" since my last ones were a bit long and dug into my hips. I also redrew the neckline. But it saved me a lot of time to have that pattern!

Stays in this era are so different from the Victorian corsets I am used to.
Instead of nipping in the waist and creating an hourglass, they give more
of a conical shape. In fact, these stays not give any waist reduction while they do reduce the bust.
Sort of the opposite of Victorian styles!
The stays are half boned and only very lightly boned since I had a limited amount of zip ties to work with. They are boned in all the crucial areas, though and seem to hold up quite well to wearing. The stays are made with 3 layers; an interlining of heavy cotton twill, an outer layer of heavy linen and a lining of blue and white cotton. The interlining and outer layer have the casings for the bones and the lining was slip stitched in after the rest of the stays were complete.

For these, I tried leather to bind the edges since my previous attempts with fabric binding have been less than attractive. I was really pleased with how well the leather conformed to the curves, especially around the tabs, and how it was so easy to cut and stretch into shape. It was fairly easy to sew, too, but it was slow going since I had to use jewelry pliers to pull the needle through in some areas. The leather is top stitched onto the stays on the outside, then folded and slip stitched to the inside.

I covered the seams in strips of leather. Probably not necessary, but I wanted to see how it would look. It was harder to sew these strips into place than it was to do the binding!

I love the finished stays. They are incredibly comfortable. The only thing I wish is that the lacing gap at the back was bigger. The stays came out a little larger than I would have liked.

Lastly, I made

The Petticoat ~

This took me only a day to make and was the easiest project out of all 3. Probably because the fabric was not so dense! This petticoat is made based on instructions from JP Ryan, the book Everyday Dress of Rural America 1783-1800, Katherine's petticoat tutorial, and illustrations in Costume in Detail. 

The petticoat is 2 rectangles of fabric, sewn together at the sides, leaving the top 10" open. The skirt is narrowly hemmed, the side slits hemmed and then the front and back waists pleated into just over half my waist measurement. Ties at the waistband edges finish the petticoat. It was the easiest, quickest petticoat I've ever made! I am so happy to be able to pleat a petticoat instead of gathering it by hand! So much easier!

The back ties come to the front to tie, and the front ones tie at the back. This makes the petticoat so adjustable. Love it. No worries about petticoat waistband slippage or little hooks falling off or having to work buttonholes.

The fabric for this came from a cotton/linen blend curtain panel. I had just enough for a petticoat 100" at the hem, with a little bit left over.

I have 5 yards of dark striped linen for a gown, which right now is tentatively planned with the back a la anglaise. I really want to do a round gown, but an open gown may be better with another petticoat in a contrast color to wear over the under-petti. I have a little time to think on it some more and decide, and, as always, research!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Victorian Slippers ~ Making a Wearable Mockup

One thing that has been difficult for me over the years is finding period appropriate footwear. I bought a pair of Fugawee Victoria boots about 10 years ago and have been wearing them ever since. They have needed regular maintenance and have been resoled by a shoe repairmen many times. It's just part of the upkeep required. I've had to sew on new buttons when the old ones have fallen off. They've done incredibly good service but over the last few seasons it has become really evident that they are getting too shabby and stretched out to be good for anything requiring a nice impression. Saddle soap and boot blacking work wonders but in the end can only do so much. I've fixed them up as best I can to save for active wear (and in the summer I usually go without shoes altogether) but I had absolutely nothing to wear for nicer or indoor events. In the past I've used "good enough" modern shoes in a passable shape but I don't feel comfortable making compromises like that anymore.

There are a few good places to get amazing reproduction shoes but even the most affordable ones are still out of my budget. With six kids and real life, plunking down over a hundred dollars on a pair of shoes just isn't happening! But I had some scraps and bits and bobs left over from other projects and with guidance from The Workwoman's Guide and several blog posts, like this one from The Pragmatic Costumer, I decided to try to make soft shoes of my own that could be used for gentle wear outdoors or normal indoor wear. 

What I ended up with are slippers that are definitely not perfect, but they are a good start and I know what to change to make the next pair better. These are still certainly wearable, though and I am happy to have them as an alternative to my shabby, sad looking boots. 

I made these over the course of a week or so during a period of dark, rainy days. So I apologize for the poor lighting in most of the photos. It's been a damp November so far!

The hardest part was coming up with a pattern shape that conformed to period shapes and still fit my foot without falling off. I have an average size foot (about a modern size 7) but a really high arch. I started by tracing my foot and drawing out pattern shapes based on my foot tracing. I went through five mock ups before finding a shape that worked with enough tightness to stay on my foot. 

I had some bits of black silk left over from making a belt earlier this year. I had to piece it so there is a seam at the toe but oh well, it is what it is. I was originally just going to line the slippers with some scrap silk but the layers seemed too light. Having never handled an original slipper I don't know if this flimsy-ness and lightness was usual but to me I felt like I wanted some more stability and shape. So I cut another layer in canvas, and then, at the end, another layer in light cotton batting. This made a still soft shoe but one that held its shape on its own much better. 

To make the shoes I sewed the outer silk and the canvas together as one layer, and the lining and batting together as the other. Then I put the two layers together, wrong sides together, and basted them all around. 

To finish the opening I cut bias strips of black cotton sateen, also from the scrap drawer, and bound the edges. 

Then I cut out two soles of the thickest leather I had on hand (this is what I usually use for cap brims or the ends of suspenders/braces) and pierced holes all around the edges. 

After sewing the uppers to the soles I turned the shoes and it looked. . .terrible. The uppers pulled weirdly and it seemed the soles had stretched so the shoe was much too large. 

The next day I went back to them and removed the uppers from the soles. I cut new soles out of several thicknesses of wool and sewed them on instead. The fit was once again good. I wanted leather soles so I could wear the shoes outdoors so I took the soles I had first tried, cut off about 1/4" all around (enough to shave off the holes I had pierced) and glued, yes, glued, the leather soles to the wool soles. I had no idea if this would work or not and is almost certainly NOT a period correct thing to do, but I figured it was worth a try so I could salvage the slippers so they could be worn. I used rubber cement to glue them on and left them under a few large heavy books for the glue to dry. After a few hours the leather was firmly adhered to the wool and I tried them on. They fit nicely. 

To decorate the toes I sewed on some beads I got at a local discount shop. I could have left them plain but oh well, I like beads. :) I also added a sole lining to the inside made of silk and a layer of batting. 

I had the chance to wear the slippers last week. I wore them all day outdoors, on pavement, grass and dirt. At the end of the day the soles were still firmly attached. So, I am cautiously optimistic that these will hold up to gentle wearing!

Next time I want to get thicker leather and make properly sewn and turned soles, but first I need to adjust my sole pattern to be a little tighter for leather. 

In the meantime, I'm happy to have these! 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Altering Regency Stays for a Smaller Bust

This is another of my recent makeover projects. I found myself wanting to make a new 1810's dress lately and although it will probably be a while before I make the dress, I need to get the undergarments in order. I knew I'd probably have to either redo my current regency undergarments or make new. For many months they've been buried beneath my 1860's things in the big wall trunk and I've put off getting them out and seeing what needs to be done.

I made my stays last summer and since then have adopted a ketogenic lifestyle (just passed the 1 year mark!) and lost the last bit of baby weight that stubbornly clung like a soggy donut to my mid section. During the past 11 years I've pretty much been in a constant state of pregnancy or breastfeeding and that changed my figure significantly. Now, my two and a half year old toddler is mostly weaned (she does still nurse, but infrequently and only for a few minutes before bed/napping) and I feel fairly confident this is the body size and shape I'll be dealing with for the foreseeable future. So the stays I made last summer were now 2 cup sizes too large and did not give the hoisted high and separated look that was so desirable in the early 19th century.

Normally I'd just make new stays but I put so much work and love into these that I wanted to fix them if I could. I found that I needed to take in each "cup" about an inch so I picked off the front binding, removed the gussets and cut them a little narrower. I sewed them back in, put the binding back on and evaluated. It still looked pretty bad and didn't give much lift.

I went a little crazy and got super frustrated with various attempts at fixing this problem. In the end, it was the simplest solution that worked best! I put a drawstring through the front binding as is sometimes seen in extant examples of stays, like these:
1820's Corset from V&A
Before I tried this I thought it would give a bumpy look to the bustline but I find the opposite is true! The drawstrings pull in the top of the gussets just enough to create a supportive cup for the lower part of the bosom to rest and my shift (which thankfully still fits and works without alterations!) contains the top of the bosom, which is just how it should be.
The gussets are maybe a teeny bit long for true early 19th century
fashion, but still give a passable shape and will work well
for 1820's and 30's too.

I still didn't get a lot of lift but eventually realized that I needed to shorten my straps to pull the bust up to the right height. I just took in a tuck at the back of each strap to shorten them. Another solution would have been to cut the straps off to the right length and rebind and rework eyelets in them but a tuck was way less work. :D

The stitching joining the bust gussets to the stays looked horrible after so many attempts at redo, so I covered up the stitching line with decorative embroidered chain stitch. Not perfect, but it looks a lot better.

My petticoat required taking in at the underarm to take in the bust but that was a quick and easy fix. Now I am ready to make a dress whenever I find decent fabric, time (always the hardest thing!) and get struck with inspiration.