Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Making an 1840s Fan Front Dress | Laughing Moon 114

I completed my first 1840s dress in February 2019, 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 (and loaned it to friends) that I lost count of how many times it was worn!

Materials & Design

For my first 1840s dress, I really wanted to try making the gathered fan front style that was so popular during that time. Learn more about the different types of 1840s bodice styles here!
I bought this cotton print from Hancock Fabrics for $4 in 2017. It has a dark blue ground overlaid with meandering yellow vines and a light blue trellis. To my surprise, I later found a few examples of extant 1840s dresses that had an extremely similar print! 


I used Laughing Moon #114 to create my fan front 1840s dress. This pattern can make several types of fan front (gathered, pleated) and dart front mid 19th century bodices. The pattern includes instructions for 3 types of bodices, 5 types of sleeves, a pelerine, and undersleeves!

I highly recommend Laughing Moon 114 for 1840s-1850s dressmaking! This pattern is easy to use, incredibly detailed, and wonderfully versatile - I even made an evening gown with this pattern by using the bodice flatlining pieces for View B! 

I used the bodice pieces from View B, the sleeve pieces from View A, and the back pieces from View C. All of the pieces in this pattern easily mix-and-match with each other!

Changes to the Pattern

The gathered "fan front" is a distinct feature in many 1840s dresses. I noticed that some original fan front dresses had a taller area of gathering, so I added an extra 8 rows of gathers to my bodice. Instead of sewing my gathers on a sewing machine (which, let's be honest, just scrunches up the fabric between stitches rather than actually gathering), I sewed them by hand like cartridge pleats, with parallel rows and perpendicular lines of stitching.

I also noticed that the pattern pieces for the front bodice create a rather wide curve at the center front waistline - like a duckbill shape. From a pattern drafting standpoint, it makes sense that there is extra allowance here; sewing up darts and gathers on a narrow, pointed piece of fabric would be tricky. To achieve the handsome, period appropriate pointed front waist, I trimmed [with a great deal of courage] the center front fabric to create more of a pointed, curved waistline AFTER I sewed the bodice gathers and attached the bodice to the flatlining.

Sewing It All Together

The instructions in Laughing Moon #114 are very easy to follow, with lots of illustrations. Additionally, I had Elizabeth Stewart Clark's amazingly comprehensive The Dressmaker's Guide at hand - I highly recommend perusing the free articles and tutorials on her blog and buying her book for in-depth, supplemental information for mid 19th century sewing.

The bodice of this dress is flatlined in white cotton muslin (although polished cotton would be more historically accurate for flatlining, it is extremely difficult to find these days). 

Darts are sewn into the flatlining muslin layer, and an additional line of stitching is made 1/4" away from the dart seamline so that a piece of boning (I used plastic zip ties) can be inserted into the dart. 

Additionally, two half-moon shapes were whip-stitched onto the bodice flatlining and lightly stuffed to create bust pads.

The sleeves are cut on the bias, which is necessary for the tight-fitting design. The sleeves are also flatlined in white cotton muslin. At the wrists, the sleeves are simply turned up 1/2" and whip stitched to the flatlining.

The back of the bodice is finished by folding down the fashion fabric to create a facing - I also trimmed down the muslin flatlining under the facing to reduce bulk. The bodice fastens with hooks and eyes, which are stitched to this facing.

Piping was an extremely common design element in mid 19th century dresses - apparently piping (made of strips of bias cut fabric wrapped around a length of cord) improves the durability and strength of the seams its applied to. I made self-fabric piping with Sugar n' Cream cotton yarn, which I also used in my corded petticoat

The bottom raw edges of the bodice have piping sewn to them; the seam allowances of the piping are then flipped up inside the bodice and stitched down to conceal the bodice raw edge! 

The top edge of the skirt is folded down (1" folded down at the back waist, almost 4" folded down at the front waist to accommodate the bodice point) and then cartridge pleated. Despite the amount of time the cartridge pleating consumed, the effort was worth it - those crisp, defined pleats are my favorite feature of this dress!

At the moment, the skirt hem is simply bound with black grosgrain ribbon. One day I'll replace that with an 8" deep cotton hem facing.

Final Thoughts

I made this dress without making a muslin and I think it shows in some places. In my next iteration of this dress, I'll shorten the back waist by about 1/2" - as it currently is, without any adjustments to the pattern, the fabric buckles a bit at the back waist. I'm short waisted, and honestly surprised that the back waist fit isn't worse!

The other fit issue is on the shoulders (I know I have narrow shoulders, so I should've known to adjust this!). You'll notice that the fabric gapes at the neckline and shoulder seams, even despite having the bust pads in the bodice. 

You can see how this dress is put on, and what undergarments I wear with it, in my video below: 

Monday, July 19, 2021

Handsewn Linen 18th Century Panniers/Pocket Hoops

As I expanded my 18th century costume wardrobe, the next item to try after making a bum pad was the ubiquitous pocket hoops or panniers.

I used a rough-textured, thick-fibered, open-weave linen in my stash for these. This linen was one of my first "historically accurate" fabric purchases, and again highlights my lack of understanding, at that time, of suitable historical reproduction fabrics. This linen has too much of an open weave to be a functional lining, it's too thick and scratchy to be a shift, and the threads are thick and chunky...ugh. Pocket hoops seemed like the only way to use this fabric in a mostly appropriate context.

The panniers are boned with two layers of reed boning in each channel. The channels are made from strips of the linen fabric.

I sewed these with linen thread which was prepared by lightly coating in beeswax before sewing. 

I used Simplicity 8579, which was released alongside their Robe a la Francaise sewing pattern. Simplicity 8579 also includes instructions for stays and a gored shift, which I made in 2020.  

The pattern is designed for machine sewing, but I chose to hand-sew these pocket hoops instead. Instead of using twill tape or ribbon for the boning channels, I cut strips of the linen fabric and sewed them down with a whip stitch. The other alteration I made was to add a rectangle shape of fabric to the side and a semi-circle shape of fabric to the bottom of the panniers, to truly make them pocket hoops! By closing off the sides and bottoms, I can now store items in my panniers. They still fold flat like an accordion with the addition of these pieces.

Instead of attaching the pocket hoops to one waistband, each "unit" has been sewn to its own twill tape waistband - this makes storage super easy and allows me to just wear one of the panniers as an 1880s bustle, should I ever need to!

The panniers give a lovely shape under silk petticoats

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

Monday, May 3, 2021

Examining Antique Edwardian Combinations | Corset Cover & Petticoat in One Undergarment!

A great way to learn more about historical fashion is to study original garments. I like to keep a few feelers out on eBay for damaged, stained, and otherwise far-from-pristine antique garments, because they're great for learning historic sewing techniques and taking patterns from!

Today I took a detailed look at this antique Edwardian corset-cover-petticoat combinations. I think it dates towards the later end of the Edwardian period, as its a mere 68" in circumference at its widest point. 

It's decorated with lace, pin tucks, and whitework embroidery. Surprisingly, it is entirely machine sewn - even the buttonholes and lace insertion! I wonder if the machine sewing and sloppy seams indicate that this was mass produced, maybe piecework in an immigrant home or made from exploited labor in a factory.

You can watch the full analysis and see all the details of this antique combination undergarment in my YouTube video, below:

Thursday, April 22, 2021

How to Sew a Victorian Petticoat with Tucks | Historically Accurate Method

After I completed my corded petticoat in 2019, I made a tucked petticoat to wear over it for additional floof. Below is a tutorial for my process of making this simple, easy, and versatile mid-19th century petticoat.

Step 1: Determine how wide and long your petticoat will be

Measure twice, cut once! I intended to wear this petticoat with my 1840s clothes, so I kept it simple.

I like my petticoats to be hemmed just above my ankles. I also make the waistbands on my innermost petticoats wider than the waistbands on my outermost petticoats/skirts so that I can "stack" them and reduce bulk at the waist. 

My petticoat is made of 3 rectangles of pima cotton that was 44" wide selvedge-to-selvedge. This gave me a total hem circumference of about 135 inches or 3.5 yards! Petticoat circumferences should fall between 120-140 inches in circumference for the 1830s-1860s. You can adjust the number of panels in your petticoat dependent on the width of your fabric (ex. use 2 panels of 50" wide fabric). 

Each rectangle was my desired length from waist to hem, plus one inch for seam allowances. If you're making tucks, add length to the petticoat (eg. for three 1/2" tucks, add 3" to the length of the panels). If you're adding lace or a ruffle, subtract length from panels. 

Step 2: Cut panels and sew them together

I cut off the selvedges from my panels, because the selvedges were bulky and punched with holes. If you're using fabric with a narrow, tightly woven selvedge, you don't even have to flat fell or finish off the seams - just stitch the fabric together at the selvedges! 

I sewed my panels together with flat felled seams that were a scant 1/4" wide. Upon examining some antique petticoats and undergarments, I determined that not only did undergarments from this period have very narrow seam allowances, they also had a small stitch length. I lowered the stitch length on my sewing machine, and pressed and trimmed my seam allowances carefully to recreate these narrow seams.

I left about 10" unstitched on one seam - this will become the placket opening on the petticoat.

(Optional) Sew tucks, lace trim, etc.

I love adding a few tucks to my petticoats. They allow me to adjust the length of the petticoat at a later date, add a bit of stiffness to the petticoat hem, and just look cute! Sewing tucks is easier than it looks, especially on a crisp fabric like cotton broadcloth. Determine how many tucks you'd like; I made a total of 6 tucks, each 1/2" wide (so each tuck took up 1" of fabric). I (arbitrarily) picked a location for my lowest tuck, then folded the fabric, pressed, and stitched 1/2" away from the fold. That's it! The next tucks are measured from the first tuck; the space between the tuck is entirely up to you. I also show this process on my 1860s drawers video tutorial.

For some reason, I prefer an even number of tucks; there's just something pleasing about it. I sewed my tucks in groups of 3, with a big gap between each group, just because I liked it. Choose your own adventure! 

You can also add lace trim or a ruffled flounce to your petticoat hem.

Step 3: Hem your petticoat

This one is easy: I usually press up 1/2" on the bottom edge of my petticoat, then press up 1/2" again to enclose the raw edge. The hem can be stitched by machine or by hand. 

Step 4: Placket opening

Sewing plackets is always tricky for me. I made it extra challenging this time by putting the placket opening in a flat felled seam!

I started by cutting a slit in the seam allowance where the side seam stitching ended. This slit will allow me later to flat fell the side seam allowance and have extra fabric for the placket turnover.

Next, I trimmed the seam allowances so that I could create my tiny flat felled seams (why did I make this so challenging for myself!). The 1/8" seam allowance will be covered by the 1/4" seam allowance. 

Plackets have an overlap and an underlap. On the side that would become the underlap (covered by the overlap), I trimmed the seam allowance to 1/4". Then, I flat felled the side seam and underlap seam. Whew!

After a good press, fold under the seam allowance on the overlap side of the placket. You'll start to see how everything lines up! Stitch down the overlap seam allowance and rejoice in your itty-bitty flat felled seam placket! I also added a few hand stitches at the base of the placket to help keep things secure.

Step 5: Gather top of petticoat

You can gather the top edge of the petticoat by machine, but I find that machine-sewn gathers are nothing more than the fabric scrunched up between stitches. It takes a long time to do, but hand-sewn cartridge pleats/gauging has several benefits:
I use graph paper to help mark the dots for where the stitches will go. Then it's just a matter of stitching, and stitching, and stitching until you can pull up your gathers to fit your waistband!

Step 6: Attach waistband and add closures
I cut my waistband as follows:
Waist measurement - 26"
+ 1" length for seam allowance 
+ 2" height for waistband
+ 1" seam allowance for waistband

For a final waistband rectangle of: 27" x  3"

Press the waistband seam allowances to the inside, and press the waistband in half along its length. Line up the seam allowance of the top of the (gauged) petticoat with the folded edge of the bottom of the waistband. Divide the skirt into halves, then quarters, then eights, etc, and match it up to the waistband at its half, quarter, eight points. I find it really difficult to pin at this stage, so I use a few tacking stitches instead!

Sew a whip stitch through each "hill" of the gathers. There's a great tutorial on this technique here. Flip the petticoat to the inside and fold the waistband down to fully encase the gathers. Now whip stitch through each "hill" of the gathers from this side!

I hemmed the short edges of the waistband by turning the seam allowances inward and whip stitching along the edge.

Finally, I marked the placement of the button and buttonhole. I drew the shape of my buttonhole with a heat-soluble pen to make my stitches neater! Then I sewed a buttonhole stitch around the slit, using 1 strand of waxed cotton embroidery floss. The petticoat fastens with an antique porcelain button. 

If you found this tutorial helpful, or have any questions, please leave a comment below!

Recreating an Extant Regency-Era Short Gown

In February, the Museum of the American Revolution hosted a sewing workshop to recreate an extant short gown that belonged to Elizabeth "Betty" Dorn, a free black woman who lived in New Jersey in the early 1800s. 

The original short gown was made of a printed cotton fabric and meticulously stitched with near-invisible seams! It had a tuck sewn around the waist to create a drawstring channel. Note that the sleeves of the original have gone missing at some point in time!

As part of the workshop, the MOAR provided us with a sewing pattern traced off the original, striped linen fabric, detailed pictures of the short gown, and documentation on other late 18th century and early 19th century short gowns. The skilled Kirsten Hammerstrom of Kitty Calash guided us through the project.

I highly recommend their Artisan Workshops if you're looking for fun and interesting historical sewing projects!

Monmouth County Historical Society, Freehold, NJ. Gift of Mrs. Charles G. Bennet and Miss Louise Hartshorne, 1935

Nearly by accident, the side seams and gores on the striped linen short gown I made created a pleasing chevron pattern! I sewed the short gown by hand with waxed linen thread. This is the first time I was able to get my seams between 1/8" and 1/4" in width. Finger pressing the linen fabric certainly helped achieve these tiny seams!

Side seam and gore chevrons

The side seams and gore seams from the inside

Near invisible shoulder seam

Tiny 1/8" hem along the front of the short gown!

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Making an 18th Century Wool & Velvet Riding Habit Jacket

In October 2020, I committed to making my first ever 18th century riding habit ensemble. I've long dreamed of having a few riding habits in my historical clothing wardrobe, including a blingy velvet one and tailored wool one with a contrasting waistcoat. Since this kind of garment is new territory for me, I decided to start by making a wearable mockup with the Mill Farm Riding Habit sewing pattern.

Fabrics & Design

For this project, I decided to use this pink wool that I've had in my stash for years...It was one of the first fabrics I purchased when I started sewing historic clothes. In my naivety, I thought that all wools were...appropriate for every historical sewing project. The wool I bought was rough, scratchy, and a bit loosely woven. I think it will live its best life as a coat! 

To contrast with the dusty rose color of the wool fabric, I'm made the color and cuffs from scraps of black cotton velvet in my stash. It feels like no matter how much of this black velvet I use up, scraps keep spawning!

I also made buttons by covering up old plastic buttons with gathered circles of black silk crepe, which was leftover from my Edwardian shirtwaist project. I showed how to make these buttons in my Youtube video, linked below.

The jacket is decorated with black velvet ribbons on the bodice, with the topmost row of trim covering the bust dart.

Fit Issues

To be honest, I really struggled with this pattern. The instructions were rudimentary and assumed the maker had previous riding habit construction knowledge. The way the cuffs and sleeves went together was particularly puzzling and I had to make a few tacking stitches to keep the cuffs in place.

The Mill Farm Riding Habit pattern is available with 2 sizes per pattern pack. I bought the smallest size pack, sizes 8-10, with my measurements matching the size 10 measurements. Yet the mockup was quite large on me! I took out almost 3 inches from the bodice, raised the waist by nearly two inches, and narrowed the sleeves by about 2 inches.

The Finished Riding Habit

I'm wearing my wool riding habit jacket over my Simplicity 8162 stays and a handsewn cotton (yes, cotton!) men's 18th century style shirt. To mimic the look of wearing a cravat, I overlapped and pinned the collar. I'm wearing the shirt in place of a shift because wearing both at the same time seemed redundant. I'm also wearing my handsewn linen pocket hoops and handsewn silk petticoat.

Video Diary

You can follow my trials and triumphs of making my 18th century riding habit jacket on my YouTube channel:

I'd like to make a coordinating waistcoat to go with this ensemble! Let me know in the comments below what color you'd make the waistcoat for this outfit!

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Handsewn Linen 18th Century Cap | Kannik's Korner Caps Pattern View A

In 2019, I identified a need for an 18th century cap to cover up my horrific attempts at 18th century hairstyling. Making this cap was a quick, rewarding project, and I've since worn it dozens of times.

I used a scrap of lightweight, white linen from Fabric Mart Fabrics - my favorite fabric site which regularly has sales on high-quality linen, wool, and silk. I used some 1/8" cotton tape. I'm so glad I bought a roll of this years ago, as it works wonderfully for corset lacing, ties, drawstring, and even mask ties.

The rolled whipped gathers viewed from the inside

I used the Kannik's Korner "Women's and Girl's Caps 1740-1820" pattern. I really appreciate that this pattern includes a wide range of (not often reproduced) cap styles! I made View A, the round eared cap, with the split ruffle (rather than continuous ruffle) option. However, hemming the pointy ends of the split ruffle and joining those two ends together was tricky and I'm not keen on doing it again. The finished seam of the split ruffle is front-and-center right over my forehead, and I feel quite conscious of the clunky stitching. I recommend that a less confident sewist make the continuous ruffle version to save themselves much swearing and poking.

The pattern instructions required a few thorough read-throughs for me to understand them; I felt like the instructions were lacking in images at some key points and I'm a visual learner. For the rolled whipped gather in particular, I had to consult the more visual instructions in the American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking book and test the stitches on a scrap of fabric prior to working on the cap. Overall, I would recommend this pattern.

I did find, oddly, that after two years (most of that time spent in storage with my other 18th century garments) my cap had visibly yellowed. It was easy to wash by swishing it in a bowl of lukewarm water and using some mild laundry detergent. 

The round eared cap is brilliantly designed with an adjustable drawstring on the caul that allows you to flatten the caul for easy ironing! I simply untied the drawstring, flattened the gathers, and I was able to press the caul back into a pleasing shape. 

I'm satisfied with the finished cap, and mostly just glad that I have something to cover up my half-a**ed hair when I dress up. I appreciate that this cap design allows you to tie a ribbon around it and I enjoy selecting ribbons that coordinate with my outfits (I find it helpful to use small sewing pins to fasten the ribbon to my cap and hair). I really enjoyed making the rolled whipped gathers (whipped rolled gathers??) and am looking forward to trying that technique again.