Friday, February 20, 2015

Ethics: Using Antique Materials to Recreate Antique Fashions?

I've posted on this blog a discussion about the mistreat/misuse of antique textiles; today's blog will reflect similar ethical themes.

I tried my hand at beading with the 1920's pink polyester satin dress I made a few months ago. I feel like the beading really makes the dress: it provides a touch of quintessential 1920's glamour, but was fun to do and the design wasn't overwhelming.

Adding iridescent black seed beads to the design
I used silver bugle beads and iridescent black/brown seed beads on my dress. I got the bead hanks (a hank is a bundle of beads), along with a few other bead hanks, at a garage sale a few summers ago. The lady running the sale actually gave them to me for free! She had acquired them at an estate sale a long time ago and had been unable to sell them--by this point, she was eager to get them off her hands.

These beads are remarkably beautiful and unusual compared to beads available in big-name stores. In addition, the hank strings were discolored and beige-y rather than white. My hanks are really tangled.

The silver bugle beads have a hint of black on the edges of the inner tube.

The seed beads are a metallic, iridescent black/brown/gunmetal, catching the light and changing color. The seed beads are hexagonal, but the height and length varies wildly and several were imperfectly formed. This was a much larger hank of beads, about 4 times the size of the silver bugles.

Based on the unusual quality and inconsistent size of these beads, I believe they are antique or at least vintage. My hanks, especially the black seed bead hank, look very similar to these vintage hanks below:

Vintage Czech Hematite Seed Beads from A Grain of Sand
Vintage Blue Czech bead hank from French Steel Bead Shop
And the beads look similar to those on this Victorian (looks about 1880s to me but I could be wrong) bodice from Ancient Point :

I realized my beads were vintage (or possibly antique) halfway through beading. At once a cloud of guilt felt upon me... these beads are probably rare and I should save them. I almost ripped out all the beads with the intention of replacing them with new, store-bought ones.

But then I thought: why save these beads? No museum is going to want a tangled and dirty hank of beads. There seem to be many vintage bead hanks available online. In the end, the beads are being used for what they were probably created for--a 1920s dress. I would have felt worse about using the beads on a modern garment, but using them on a recreation of a historic garment, using a period pattern/diagram and sewing techniques, made me feel better. In a way, the life of these beads has finally come "full circle."

Still, it brings up the ethical question: should we use vintage/antique notions or materials in the recreation of historic garments? I think this is absolutely appropriate. Use an antique lace collar on your next Edwardian dress. Use cut-steel buttons for your Victorian mourning dress. What better way to honor the history and provenance of these pieces than to put them where they've been waiting their whole lives to belong?

But please, cutting up that collar or working the buttons into your DIY wind chime will be where I start to cry.

I want to know YOUR opinion! Do you think historical sewers should use vintage or antique notions, trims, etc. on their historical sewing projects?

Friday, February 13, 2015

2015 Re-Sew-Lutions

I had meant to post my sewing resolutions for this year in January, but became swept up in a rush of essays and assignments from college. With this year's resolutions, I'm really trying to push myself out of my comfort zone and incorporate sewing into my busy life instead of waiting for my vacations.

My 2015 Re-Sew-Lutions

1. Complete at least 1 project every month
These can be as simple as a petticoat or embroidered pillowcase, or as extravagant as a gown! I have a huge list of projects I want to complete this year, including my 1920s lingerie, another 1920s dress, a Waterhouse "Ophelia" gown, a Medieval linen cote, and a Portuguese folkloric costume.

2. Write at least 3 blog posts every month
I think this is a pretty reasonable goal, especially if I consider that at least one of those posts will be about my monthly projects! So far, in January, I published 3 posts and I think this is a pretty good blogging rhythm for me.

3. Participate in at least 6 Historical Sew Monthly challenges 
Though I'm striving for 12 completed projects this year, not all of those projects fit into the Historical Sew Monthly challenges. Half-participation is still better than my sporadic participation in past years, though!

I really feel like I got this year off to a great start with my beaded 1920s gown. I'm really excited about all the other projects I want to complete this year, and have already started planning and gathering materials for them!

On my blog this week, look out for posts about the vintage beads I used in my 1920s dress (with an ethics discussion!) and my progress with my 1920s lingerie set.

Have you set any special sewing resolutions for yourself this year?

Friday, January 16, 2015

Historical Sew Fortnightly Challenge #24 "All That Glitters"

All of the details on the design and construction of this dress can be found in my previous post!

What the item is: Beaded Dress

The Challenge: #24 All That Glitters

Fabric: Polyester Satin

Pattern: "Back Drapery in Cascade Effect Trims This Graceful Costume," by Ruth Wyeth Spears. Illustration found in The Midvale Cottage Post blog.

Year: Mid-1920s

Notions: Thread, 3 beaded appliques cut from beaded trim, vintage seed beads, bugle beads, self-fabric bias binding

How historically accurate is it? 95%  Very, aside from the polyester fabric. The neckline and armhole facings are self-fabric bias binding and were handstitched to the dress. The hem was also handstitched. The french seams on the shoulders and side of the dress are supported by instructions in period sewing manuals. The drape is finished with a handstitched rolled hem, and all beads were applied by hand. The seed beads are vintage and I believe they could date to the 1920s.

Hours to complete: Approximately 5 days

First worn: On January 9th for the filming of a video tour of Hobart Manor, a historic building on my college's campus

Total cost: Nothing! The satin was from the stash, and I think I only payed $2 or $3 per yard. The beaded appliques were also in the stash, and the bugle and seed beads were given to me for free at a yard sale!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Making a 1920s Dress: Pattern, Construction, and Embellisment

In my last post about my handmade 1920s dress, I left off with the fabric and pattern I was using. The pattern, an illustration by Ruth Wyeth Spears that, along with other articles and illustrations made by her, was published by Illustrated Home Sewing Magazine in 1927. The Midvale Cottage Post blog has published these articles and illustrations.


"Back Drapery in Cascade Effect Trims this Graceful Costume"
Blogger and sewist Loran of Loran's World also made this exact frock, which she describes in her blog post here.

"The body of the costume is cut by a straight sleeveless pattern."
Here, Loran recommends using the Collete free Sorbetto pattern as a starting point for drafting a straight dress. I already had made a toile for Festive Attyre's Downton-esque One-Hour Dress, and so just adjusted it to be totally straight, without the hip gathering.

Here is where I ran into my first problem: my bust is 31.5 inches, my waist is 25, and my hips are 36. This meant that in order for the dress to be loose enough around my hips and butt, it would be far too large for my very narrow shoulders and back. To fix this, I narrowed the dress at the top by 1.5 inches, tapering it above my hips.

Ruth Wyeth Spears doesn't give any other details about the dress's construction, so I scoured through period sewing manuals available for free from the Library of Congress and the Antique Pattern Library. The side and shoulder seams are sewn with a french seam. The neckline and armholes are bound with self-fabric bias tape, sewn, then understitched, and then handsewn with a slipstitch to the dress. Though I was aiming for .5-inch-wide binding, I miscalculated and added .5 inches for seam allowance and ended up with large binding for the neck.

I also ended up cutting the armholes too high, afraid that a too-loose armhole would bag and crease (as they usually do from the Big 3 commercial patterns...the narrow shoulder strikes again!). The height of the armhole is not uncomfortable, however, and I wore the dress from 10 am to 5 pm for a video shoot with no wardrobe malfunctions!

The hem is also sewn by hand with a slipstitch. I tried marking the hem as I was wearing the dress, and intended for the hem to hit just below the knee. The hem ended up at the top of my knee, but I don't think this is glaringly inappropriate for the era. It's a deep hem and I didn't cut any material from it, so I could always go back and lengthen it.

"The cascade drapery that falls from the left shoulder in the back is shaped as I have shown here in the diagram sketch. The drapery is cut six inches longer than the dress from shoulder to hem. It is twenty-five inches wide at the top and is gradually sloped to the lower edge. At a point halfway between the upper and lower edges it should be about twenty inches wide as indicated in the diagram."

I followed Spears' instructions exactly here. Like Loran suggested, I cut the long, straight edge of the drape on the selvedge.

I finished the two other edges of the drape by doing a mock rolled hem; that is, when I tried doing a normal rolled hem, the fabric would bunch rather than roll, or not roll at all. Instead, I sewed a line of stitching 1/4 inch from the edge, trimmed it to 1/8 of an inch, folded and ironed it just past the stitching line so the stitching wouldn't show, folded and ironed again and then sewed it with a slipstitch. Time consuming, but easy and it achieved the desired effect!

"When the edges of this piece are finished it is pinned and sewn loosely to the costume and stitched from the shoulder to the hipline as indicated in the draping chart."

Again, I followed Spears' instructions exactly. The drapery would move and reveal the selvedge, though, so I tacked the top few inches of the cascade down over the selvedge to disguise it. At this point, the selvedge was really visible at the bottom of the cascade as well, so I just folded over and ironed down the selvedge and secured it with a slipstitch up to the hipline.

The finished cascade DOES NOT look exactly like Spears' drawing, even though I followed her directions exactly. In her drawing, the cascade effect of the drape begins just a few inches below the elbow. In reality, the cascade begins at the butt.

The cascade effect, though, is worth the effort. It looks very beautiful and could easily be added to any dress. Note, however, that the finished cascade is heavy. Mine was so heavy that it kept tilting the dress back, even on the hanger!

"The girdle is a band of self material cut about fifteen inches wide and slightly on the bias so that it will fall in soft folds. It is draped high on the left hip where it fastens under the cascade."

The girdle DID NOT work for me. I suspect this is because my satin was too think; had it been a crepe or chiffon, the effect of the draped girdle would have been stunning. The girdle drew more attention to my already large hips, and made me look more triangular. I felt that it also interfered with the fluidity of the dress with its thick horizontal lines. I removed the girdle from the dress and moved to other methods of decorating it.


With just the cascade, the dress was very plain. Since it was to be used for the filming of a tour of historic Hobart Manor, I wanted it to be recognizable as a 1920s dress but not stand out as a costume. Beading looked like the best option: beaded dresses are quintessential 1920s evening fashion, and the beads would catch the dim light of the Manor.

The neckline is beaded 1/4 of an inch away with iridescent bronze/black seed beads that were sewn 1/4 of an inch from each other. The edges of the drape were also beaded every 1/4 of an inch.

The front of the dress is decorated with 3 vertical panels of beading, using seed beads and bugle beads. I wanted a geometric design that could easily be mapped out on the fabric; I didn't have time to figure out how to transfer a beading design onto satin. My linear beading design was inspired by the illustration on the left, from 20th Century Fashion by John Peacock.

The shoulders and bottom tip of the cascade are also decorated with beaded motifs left over from my prom dress. All the beads were resewn onto the motifs to secure them, and more beads were added to fill in empty spots.

White silk beaded dress, 1926

Though time consuming, this beading was VERY easy!! My trick for beading straight lines? Use a piece of twill tape or ribbon basted into place to help you align the beadwork!


I am very proud of this dress! This was my first time making a garment entirely in satin; this fabric in particular had a tendency to snag on pins so I worked very slowly and carefully. This was also my first time sewing beads! I learned that the beading part itself is pretty easy and relaxing, but threading that tiny needle requires patience, tweezers, and a magnifying glass! Including the beading and handsewing, the dress took only 5 days to make!

The dress looked amazing on camera, and moved like it was silk instead of $2/yard polyester satin. The drape, just like Ruth Wyeth Spears says, is simple but really "makes" this dress. It was such a pleasure seeing it flutter behind me as I went up the spiral staircase or turned a corner!

This was my first foray into the 1920s, and now I think I'm hooked! Once you get the basic straight and sleeveless dress shape down, it's very easy to add embellishment or interest. And if you've always wanted to add a little extra to your dresses, consider beading! It is a special and unique touch.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Making a 1920s Dress: Designing a Simple, Elegant, and Easy Gown

I work in Hobart Manor, a national registered historic landmark that was built in 1877 (and later remodeled in 1915) on William Paterson University's campus. The Manor was home to the widow and descendents of Garret A. Hobart, the 24th Vice President of the United States. The front rooms of the Manor, including the foyer, reception room, gallery, library, drawing room, dining room, and billiards room, are restored and decorated with period pieces (our offices are in the less exciting places, like the kitchen, playroom, and servants' rooms).

I am also on the Hobart Manor Revitalization Committee, where we work to maintain and improve the Manor. Our latest project is a video tour, and I was chosen to star in the video tour because I researched and wrote the material for our regular tours. And, what could be more fun, than wearing a historically accurate dress in a historic mansion?

I had just a few weeks to prepare, and knew that a Victorian or Edwardian outfit would be impossible during that time. I chose to make a 1920s evening dress, to capture the atmosphere of the Manor on a night it was entertaining. I also wanted to submit this dress as a late entry to the Historical Sew Fortnightly All That Glitters Challenge.

I wanted something quick and easy, and started by looking at Festive Attyre's 1920's one-hour dress pattern. I love Jen Thompson's dress, but felt bad for wanting to recreate it exactly. I searched my 1920s Fashion Pinterest board for inspiration, looking to modify her pattern. I then looked through several auction sites, and found what I thought was the dress.

Velvet and chiffon dress (left), via Augusta Auctions
Simple shape? Yes. Light beading? Yes, along the neckline and hem. Feasible? Surely!

I had a lovely dark, mauve-ish pink polyester satin in my stash, which could be the underdress. I ordered this Black Rose Burnout Velvet from for $5.75 a yard, what I thought to be a bargain. However, after receiving it, I realized that the pile of the velvet flowers was very short and shiny, and the ground of the fabric was like an open mesh. I purchased a polyester black satin to line this piece.

Black Rose Burnout Velvet,
Mauve poly satin, from the stash
I drafted and fitted the pattern, and then unfolded my lovely satin and realized that it's drape was too beautiful to be wasted underneath a heavy velvet. I went back to the drawing board, to look for an easy dress with draping. By this point, I had about 4 days to make the dress.

I tried searching through period sewing manuals, assuming they would contain easy dress designs for the home sewer. Midvale Cottage Post has a series of posts taken from a period book by Ruth Wyeth Spears. Seriously, there are embroidery and beading designs, tutorials for silk flowers, appliques, and cloche hats, and many ways to easily embellish a straight, "one-hour" style dress! Perfect!

"Back Drapery in Cascade Effect Trims this Graceful Costume"
This design has it all, from the straight, one-hour base dress, to the elegant and easy drapery!

My next posts will show my experience with Ruth Wyeth Spears' pattern, and my final beaded 1920s dress!

Have you ever used simple drapery as the focal point of a garment?

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Most Popular Posts of 2014

My sewing resolutions for 2014 were grand: participation in the 2014 Historical Sew Fortnightly, 18th century undergarments, an Edwardian corset and shirtwaist, the beginnings of a Portuguese Folkloric costume. Alas, maintaining straight A's with an 18 credit courseload, two jobs, and an internship wasn't easy, and sewing fell to the back burner. I worked on many small projects, some of which haven't made it onto the blog yet. I did a lot of embroidery this year, such as the Scarlet Letter embroidery, which I'm very proud of.

Let's see what you most enjoyed on my blog this year!

Most Popular Posts of 2014:
I had no idea this post would be my most popular post of the year, with more than 500 page views! I was disappointed in the outfit I quickly threw together, but all the fun I had at the NYRF definitely made up for it. Big plans for next year's NYRF costume!

I had so much fun making this tutorial and I'm glad you enjoyed reading it! I still get a lot of wear out of this belt and plan to make more.

This was my least favorite make of the year! It was a long and fussy project, and my difficulty comprehending the instructions resulted in a wonky bustle. It is very much functional, though, and was donated to the Kearny Museum for the display of an extant 1870s gown.

As I researched and prepared to make my own Portuguese Folkloric Costume Traje Domingar, I realized that resources on construction were pretty limited on the internet. Most websites I found with information were quoting the same passage from a book, and it was really difficult to find details on the construction of these costumes. I am privileged to have my own (now severely outgrown!) purchased costume, and wanted to provide others with whatever construction details I gleaned from my costume.

Here was another instance where I wanted to assist historical costumers by providing a detailed look at extant clothing. This Edwardian petticoat is in the Kearny Museum.

Most Popular Post of All Time:
I never expected this labor of love--and one of my most extensive and time-consuming projects--to gain over 10,000 page views! Though the group retains none of its original dancers, the routine remains performed with the same energy and passion. Even four years, and a set of four vests and sashes for the boys, later, these costumes continue to help people around the world research and create their own!
What were your favorite projects of 2014?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Les Modes Parisiennes, October 1864

Les Modes Parisiennes, October 1864
I was very surprised to receive this Les Modes Parisiennes, October 1864 fashion plate as a gift from the Kearny Museum Committee. Its story is even more surprising: apparently, a committee member was at a flea market and one vendor had chucked this fashion plate into the trash, "because it had torn edges."

This so clearly demonstrates our modern "throw away" state of mind. Forget the provenance, historical significance, and aesthetic value, it has a ripped corner so therefore it's trash! Consider that, in the first place, the damage to the plate could've been the result of mishandling or overuse. It all comes down to care and consideration when handling antique pieces!

I'm keeping the fashion plate in the plastic slip I received it in until my archival quality acid-free slips arrive!

Now, back to the fashion plate:

The fashion plate is a bit faded; the "October, 1864" is barely legible at the bottom of the plate. It has a few chunks missing from the edge.

The lady on the left is wearing what appears to be a red Zouave jacket with pom-pom trim and a pale blue or white skirt with a subtle stripe. She wears a delicate snood and a flower or bow atop her hair.

Zouave jackets were very popular in the 1850s and 1860s. These jackets are characterized by their short length, open front, large sleeves, bright colors and braided trim. Their name derives from their similarity to the military uniform worn by Zouave infantry regiment of the French Army.

The lady on the right is wearing a gown made of crisp and stunning blue silk. The jacket features a cut-away front and is worn over a light blue button-up vest. The jacket is trimmed with vandyke trim and some sort of black braid, and a lace collar is visible at the neckline. She wears a wristwatch (according to this article, wristwatches were more commonly worn by women and pocket watches worn by men) and a large, delicate lace cap. In my opinion, the whole outfit is reminiscent of 18th century styles, such as the riding habit.

The New York Public Library actually has this fashion plate in their Digital Collections. It appears that they have the rest of the 1864 Les Modes Parisiennes as well. The colors in my plate are much more vivid and bright.

Photo courtesy of the New York Public Library Digital Collections

Of the two outfits in the above plate, which would you rather wear?

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Historical Sew Monthly 2015

It's been nearly a month since my last post, but I have been so wrapped up in final exams and papers, two part-time jobs and an internship, that blogging was wordlessly pushed to the back burner. Now that I'm on a long and hopefully relaxing winter break, I can pick up where I left off with sewing and blogging!

My participation in the previous two Historical Sew Fortnightlies  has been minimal. With my packed schedule, a garment as simple as an apron can take a month, rather than two weeks! I have longed to participate in the past challenges. Because Leimomi changed the challenges from biweekly to monthly, I will be able to participate in them!

I was absolutely delighted to read the challenges Leimomi selected for the Historical Sew Monthly 2015; many of them fit in with sewing plans I already had. My plan is to participate in at least 6 challenges this year, and use the challenges to complete PHDs (Projects Half Done) and garments I've been meaning to make for a while.

January Challenge - Foundations
Plan: 1920s bandeau brassiere
Details: I'm in the process of making my first 1920s dress, and thought that making undergarments would be fun, too. The mauve pink satin is already cut out and lace motifs selected for this project!

1920s Brassiere, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

February Challenge - Color Challenge: Blue
Plan: Skip challenge
Details: If I have time, I might begin to make the blue dress in John William Waterhouse's painting Ophelia, which I plan to wear Halloween 2015.

Ophelia by John William Waterhouse, 1910
March Challenge - Stashbusting
Plan: 1920s tap pants
Details: To wear with the matching bandeau brassiere, of course! I plan on using Folkwear's Intimacies pattern; if I have time, I may also make the slip from that pattern.

Folkwear #219 Intimacies
April Challenge - War & Peace
Plan: Skip challenge

May Challenge - Practicality
Plan: Honeycomb Smocked Apron
Details: I have experience from the smocked apron I made for the Female Hobbit Costume. I anticipate making Italian Renaissance working class and Medieval outfits in the future, with which this apron could be worn.

June Challenge - Out of Your Comfort Zone
Plan: Skip challenge

July Challenge - Accessorize
Plan: Portuguese Folkloric Rodilha
Details: This is a little fabric donut that was traditionally worn on women's heads to support and balance baskets, barrels, and clay jars. It's also a nice project to use up scraps of woven fabrics.

Modern handmade rodilhas from Hortensia Rosa
August Challenge - Heirlooms & Heritage
Plan: Portuguese Folkloric Embroidered Blouse, or Bodice, or Petticoats
Details: I will begin making my Portuguese Traje Domingar in 2015. The embroidered blouse will be an ongoing project that I can complete during lectures. If the embroidery isn't finished in time, I could also work on the bodice or petticoats for this outfit.

I LOVE the colors of this Traje Domingar. Romarias d'Agonia 2014. Photo courtesy of Jornal TVS
September Challenge - Color Challenge: Brown
Plan: To be Determined

October Challenge - Sewing Secrets
Plan: To be Determined
Details: Perhaps embroidering my initial in a hidden place?

November Challenge - Silver Screen
Plan: Skip challenge

December Challenge - Re-Do
Plan: To be Determined

There are about 6 challenges that I have definite plans for. For the challenges later in the year, I'll see what I'm able to complete, or if there are any PHDs lying around that qualify.

Even though I may only do half of the challenges, I am very excited to participate in the Historical Sew Monthly 2015! Will you be participating this year?