Sunday, January 19, 2020

Shoe Bow Tutorial - Make Your Shoes Look Victorian!

Ah, the struggle of acquiring a shoe collection that spans as many decades as your historical wardrobe! While I love all of the gorgeous historical shoes American Duchess designs, space (tiny NYC bedroom!) and funds limit me from having a comprehensive collection.

Despite that, I've discovered an easy, quick, and cheap (the crafting trifecta!) way to transform basic ballerina flats into passable mid-19th century shoes.

Just like us, the Victorians had a range of shoe types from which to choose from, each suited to a particular activity or purpose. I needed something to wear with my 1830s and 1840s ballgowns, and chose a delicate slipper style shoe that was worn for this purpose in the mid-19th century.

A quick examination of mid-19th century formal slippers reveals some common elements:

  • a long, straight tongue
  • a square or gently rounded toebox
  • flat soles
  • ribbons, fringe, bows, etc decorating the shoes
  • solid colors, especially neutrals like black and ivory

Evening Slippers, 1845-1865 
Evening Slippers, 1830s
Evening Slippers, 1835-50
Evening Slippers, 1835

You will need:
  • a pair of flat shoes in your size, preferably with a long tongue; I used a pair of black faux-velvet flats
  • 1 yard of 1" wide ribbon that coordinates with your shoes
  • scrap of 0.5" wide ribbon that coordinates with your shoes
  • matching thread
  • scissors
  • pins
  • 2-4 shoe clips

Take a length of the 1" wide ribbon and stack it in a figure 8 to make a 4-loop bow. The ends of the ribbon should be in the center of your bow. Baste through the center of the bow.

To add dimension to your bow, gently twist the 4 loops apart. When you're pleased with the shape of the bow, pin and baste the loops in place.

Take the 0.5" wide ribbon (or the 1" wide ribbon folded in half) and secure it to the back of the bow. Wrap the ribbon around the front of the bow, and overlap the raw edges of the ribbon at the back of the bow. Fold under the top raw edge and stitch down.

Place your completed bows on your shoes to determine the best placement for the shoe clips. I decided to sew 2 shoe clips onto each bow for extra security! Stitch the shoe clips to the bows, being careful not to sew through all the layers of the bow loops.

Friday, January 3, 2020

2019 Year In Review

Cheers to a new year, new decade, and new adventures!

Analyzing my work and identifying areas for improvement is one of the ways in which I constantly challenge myself. I'm starting off the new year by reviewing all the garments I made last year and their shortcomings (and working towards my goal of blogging more frequently). 

In my 21st century life, I'm a project manager at a financial company. I coach my peers to reflect on what they achieved and how they can do better, and I'm using the same model to analyze the garments I made in 2019.

First up is this 1940s reproduction dress, my first in this era, made out of soft, slinky blue rayon. I love the fabric and design, but neither worked well together -- the fabric stretched and distorted markings, darts, and slashes, which made the assembly of the gathered elements challenging at best. Despite that, this dress is a favorite and I wore it dozens of times last year!

Pattern: Simplicity 8249

What went well: all the seams were bound in vintage rayon tape

What needs improvement: the hem was a last-minute job (i.e. basted in place) and needs revisiting  

I completed my first 1840s dress (the 40s and blue were recurring themes this year!) in February, after working on it for over a year. This dress ended up being a great example of when taking it slow and steady pays off. It's great fun to wear and the hundreds of hours of hand sewing that went into it are well appreciated. I wore this dress so many times last year that I lost count!

What went well: all the cartridge pleating was definitely worth the time and effort

What needs improvement: another rush job on the hem... The hem braid needs to be removed so that I can add a proper facing to protect the dress

For my first try at 18th century stays, I used theatrical construction techniques (read: lots of exposed seam allowance!) so that I could become familiar with the shapes and fit. This was a great stash-busting project and the stays fit my short-waisted frame very well.

Pattern: Simplicity 8162

What went well: the binding, and using a thicker thread to stitch the boning channels by machine

What needs improvement: the underarm area of the stays is too high on me, so I'll need to remove the binding there and cut a lower underam curve

I made a cloak for a friend, but this project was not without its struggles! I accidentally cut the neck hole too large, messed up the hood, and broke down and cried a few days before he was supposed to wear it to a Tolkien party. Thanks to the helpful suggestions and support of the online sewing community, I figured out how to salvage the cloak and it ended up with a very hobbit-y folded round collar.

Pattern: self-drafted

What went well: the color of the fabric, the revised collar

What needs improvement: clearly, my ability to draft functional hoods is lacking... And I shouldn't break down so quickly the next time my project doesn't work out

During most of May, I worked on an entirely hand sewn 18th century jacket out of the most vibrant reproduction cotton print from Colonial Williamsburg. I used the techniques in the American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking -- I highly recommend this book! This ensemble is a joy to wear, and I can easily get dressed by myself.

Pattern: JP Ryan Jackets

What went well: setting the sleeves and customizing the stomacher 

What needs improvement: I shortened the pattern at the waist by half an inch, as I'm short-waisted, but I should've left it alone as now the waist seems to short! Also, I still hadn't figured out how to properly style my hair

June was the month of petticoats! I started off the month by whipping up a handsewn 18th century petticoat (seriously, whip stitches are so fast!). I also made a corded petticoat and a tucked petticoat to layer underneath my mid-19th dresses.

Pattern: for the 18th century petticoat, I used the instructions in the American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking; for the corded and tucked petticoats, I used the instructions in The Dressmaker's Guide

What went well: taking my time on the cording and not rushing (I had been working on it for a few months)

What needs improvement: I think my 18th century petticoat is too long and needs to be re-hemmed

Once I realized my attempts at 18th century hair looked atrocious from the back, I decided to make a cap to hide any future crimes against fashion. I chose the round-eared cap from the Kannik's Korner pattern, using linen from Fabric Mart Fabrics (I'm ashamed to admit I bought maybe a hundred yards of fabric from them in 2019...).

What went well: The linen was SO easy to work with; I was amazed that I could press it with my finger!

What needs improvement: I chose to make the split ruffle, but my execution was quite poor here and the join looks...chunky. Next time, I'll make the single ruffle

Ooof...this 1840s ballgown gave me equal amounts pleasure and pain. The fabric, a gorgeous silk, was an absolute nightmare to work with: it shredded and snagged, and was so sheer that the tucks of my petticoat were visible underneath! I struggled for a daunting 2 weeks to get the fabric to cooperate, and, in the end, I settled with dissatisfaction. I enjoy wearing it, even though I feel like the silk will just fall apart one day.

Pattern: modified Laughing Moon 114 - I used the bodice lining pieces from View C

What went well: the finished dress is a visual treat, and I wore it 5 times within the span of 4 months!

What needs improvement: Where do I start? I mucked up the skirt pleats somehow and there was too much fabric in the back to gather down, so there are enormous 6" pleats tacked to the inside of the skirt. In its first iteration, the bodice was too loose on me; it would benefit from bust padding, rather than me shoving in a kitchen towel on my way to an event. It also needs a pocket slit.

I finished up 2019 with a quick DIY fur muff I made in the car on the way to an event. It's two faux fur cuffs (removed from a thrifted coat) whip stitched together.

Pattern: none

What went well: this was a delightful fast, easy, and useful project

What needs improvement: the muff could use a thick, padded lining, and maybe an inner pocket

Overall, I'm very proud of what I was able to achieve in 2019. I made useful, interchangeable, and easily alterable pieces (I covered my 1840s gown in gauze for a ghostly look!) that I wore several times and look forward to wearing again. I challenged myself and learned many new techniques, and with discipline, learned from every failure.

What was your biggest achievement of 2019? What was your biggest lesson?

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Simplicity 8162 18th Century Bum Pad

This year, I finally committed to building a historically accurate 18th century ensemble after having been obsessed with the fashions from this time period for years! After finishing my stays, my next step was to create a bum pad.

I used cotton damask sheets for the bum pad. I purchased this gorgeous sheet set years ago, only to realize large areas of the sheet set were discolored - into the mock up fabric pile it went! The tone-on-tone damask pattern is subtle, but pretty, and the fabric was very easy to work with.

I used cotton twill tape that I'd bought on a large spool from bay for the waist ties. The bum pad is lightly stuffed with polyfill from an old pillow. Yay for creative reuse!

I used Simplicity 8162, the first 18th century undergarments pattern by American Duchess. The pattern was easy to follow. I made the bum pad to the smallest size, without adjustments or a mock up.

This bum pad made up so quickly! The entire process, from cutting out the pattern pieces to hemming the ruffle, took less than 2 hours. I sewed this by machine as I had already taken shortcuts with the materials.

Note: stuff the bum pad less than you initially estimate. Too much volume in the bum pad may create a caricature-esque look! I ended up removing nearly half of the stuffing and I'm really pleased with the gentle roundness of the final shape.

Many thanks to the American Duchess team for creating a great, easy to use, easy to fit pattern.

As always, I'd be happy to hear from you if you have any questions or comments about my sewing methods. Happy stitching!