Sunday, August 31, 2014

Museum Mystery Boxes: 19th Century Drawers


Found among the treasures of the Kearny Museum's mystery boxes, these 19th century drawers were a pleasant surprise. There is a nightgown on display that matches the drawers, so they were likely once a set and perhaps the grape motif that decorates the embroidered trim signifies fertility, marriage, and union--making the nightgown and drawers part of a bride's wedding trousseau.

It was difficult to date the drawers; their long, straight, full legs lead me to believe that they are pre-Edwardian but as early as 1860. All seams have been made on a sewing machine and the lace is also machine-made. These are split-crotch drawers. They are gathered to a narrow waistband which fastens with an interesting purple button--it appears that the top layer of paint or lacquer or whatever has crumbled away.

These cotton drawers are decorate with 6 rows of 1/4 inch wide tucks and trimmed with 2 inch wide cotton scalloped lace that is machine-embroidered with a grape motif. I describe my process of patching a torn area of this lace here. These drawers are also decorated with an interesting vertical arrangement of 1 x 2 inch wide sections of floral-embroidered cotton and gathered lengths of cotton.


In terms of cleaniness, these drawers were in pretty bad shape. There were mysterious stains of nearly every shade of beige/brown splattered all over the drawers, and the entire garment had a dingy beige hue. Remember that this is the time before tampons...and I don't WANT to know what caused those stains (shiver!).


First, I soaked the drawers in cold water. After just a few minutes soaking, the water turned a very murky brown. Yuck! In total I gave the drawers 2 2-hour soaks and 1 4-hour soak; I wanted to let the water do as much of the work as possible before bringing in a light detergent.



Of course, just water isn't strong enough to dissolve all of those stains, but there is a noticeable improvement. Overall, the drawers are a lighter shade of beige, but still not white, like their matching nightgown. The darkest blotches have considerably lightened, too. On the left is the before, and to the right, after!


Have you ever encountered a nasty or mysterious stain on an antique garment?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Patching a Pair of 19th Century Drawers

These 19th century drawers were one of my Museum Mystery Box finds at the Kearny Museum. They are long and very full but straight-legged, which leads me to believe that they could be as early as the 1860's. There is a matching nightgown already on display, and these drawers will be added to that vignette.

First things first: the lace edging along the bottom of the legs, in a lovely grape motif, had an odd, squarish slice. It wasn't the kind of rip that occurs if the sturdy lace had caught on something; rather, it appeared that someone was trying to cut around a grape motif and didn't finish the job (thank goodness!). The cut lace was flopping down and had frayed badly over the years.


To remedy this, I decided to patch the cut using unbleached cotton muslin. Not only is unbleached cotton muslin an archival quality material, its texture and color is very similar to the beige cotton of the drawers. I made a little patch, securing the raw edges with blanket stitches. I pinned the patch to the lace and, using much care and very small stitches, sewed the lace down to the patch. By placing stitches very close to the floral, vine, and grape designs of the lace, I was able to camouflage the stitches in the design of the lace.


I'm very proud of the finished result. As you can see in the finished photos, including the first and last photo of this post (the leg of the drawers on the right side), the patch and tear are nearly invisible. On several occasions, I have attempted to show others the patch but am unable to find it after the first try!


My next post will discuss these drawers in greater detail, including their cleaning process.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Summer Sewing Plans...Interrupted

Before my college education really sped up, I would spend summers sewing--filling baskets and boxes and hangers with UFOs and self drafted patterns and toiles and whatnot. My grand plans for Summer Sewing 2014 included a Female Hobbit Costume, a Daenerys Astapor Dress, a ruffed skirt for my mother and completing the Raspberry Smocked Dress and Edwardian Pintucked Shirtwaist...yeah right! 

(My camera cord has decided to hibernate in some undisclosed location so unfortunately pictures for this post will be lacking).

I was starting to feel burnt out from the Edwardian Shirtwaist, which I worked on in May; since I had no event or deadline, I set it aside and worked on my Raspberry Smocked Dress, which ended up being its own can of worms.

McCall's 6503 had a gross amount of excess ease. When I started the dress over a year ago, I took in the back darts and side seams, and replaced the front gathers with honeycomb smocking. I let the back darts out a bit in June and redid the smocking, and everything was going fine until it was time to attach the waistband and the skirt. The waistband front was too small and the back too large -- of course -- and the side seams were not matching up. One new waistband later and then I agonized for days because it appeared that my perfectly edgestitched waistband was on UPSIDE DOWN. After several nervous fits and many opinions from neighbors and family, I realized that it wasn't upside down but that somehow the front waistband was cut a smidge longer than the back....sigh. Simple snips with the scissor fixed that, but then the skirt...THE SKIRT! Like the waistband, the skirt was not matching up with the side seams. After fiddling for another week with the side seams (which, for the first time, I had finished with handmade bias tape from a remnant of vintage cotton...you can see where the agony is coming from) and the pleats, the skirt was hopeless. I cut another skirt out of whatever fabric was left -- to accommodate the short amount I reduced the length of the skirt by 4 inches. 

Most of these alterations stem from my figure -- though I'm not complaining, my very narrow back is significantly smaller than my tummy. For the new skirt, I cut a size 14 for the front (the largest in the pattern envelope) and a 6 for the back (the smallest size in the envelope). The straight size 10 I had cut the first time around wouldn't work no matter how much I finagled with it.

By this time I was very burnt out with my sewing, having spent nearly a month trying to complete the supposedly quick and easy Smocked Dress. I had planned to have the Hobbit and Daenerys costumes completed by July, but by that point the deadline for the ruffled skirt I had promised my mother was nearing.

Some days of frantic sewing the ruffled skirt for my mother -- I drafted the pattern from a previous ruffled cotton miniskirt of hers -- and I realized I could not finish it in time without sacrificing other work obligations. Sigh...the material came from Wal-Mart, a lovely blue cotton shot with silvery green, creating a subtle shimmery olive color, for about $1 a yard. Unfortunately it appeared that this Wal-Mart hadn't replenished their fabric stock in months and the bolt only had 1 yard and 20 inches, just enough for the ruffles and waistband. The lining fabric was originally destined to be grey polycotton, but when I realized I didn't have enough I sent my boyfriend out on an emergency fabric run--he came back with an even nicer (though much more expensive) dark grey polycotton (presumably). I'm really excited to finish this and at this point have only to hem the ruffles, attach it to the waistband, and add the zipper.

And the Daenerys and Hobbit costumes? Those will be a scramble to complete during September as they are destined for ComicCon in early October.  Though it will be overwhelming, I'm sure I can do it and am glad I chose a very easy Halloween costume for myself this year. I will be [hopefully] be wearing  an embroidered ionic chiton and dressed as the goddess Demeter -- if that falls through I do have the Bronzino Gown from last year, which I love wearing!

I hope your summer sewing plans are going much better than mine this year!