Thursday, February 11, 2021

Making a Black Silk Edwardian Shirtwaist w/ Lace Yoke


My recent motivation for finishing up long-abandoned sewing projects manifested itself in this stunning (I'm so proud of it!) black silk Edwardian shirtwaist. I've discovered that my sewing projects age like fine cheese, and turn out best when left to be forgotten in a dark box for several years. My finished shirtwaist captures fashionable details from the years 1905-1908.

Pintucked Yokes & Plans Gone Awry

My initial plan for the black silk Edwardian shirtwaist I made was to copy the below shirtwaist that I found on eBay a few years ago. I was absolutely enchanted by the pintucked yoke and trailing lace appliques. 

Silk crepe shirtwaist with pintucked yoke, sold on eBay

This style of shirtwaist is easy to approximate with the Folkwear 205 Gibson Girl Blouse pattern, a favorite pattern of mine that I recommend for its great bones and opportunities for customization. 

I ordered black silk crepe when I finally found it online, as true silk crepe seems hard to find. However, the delicate, slinky nature of the fabric made it nearly impossible to stitch all those little pintucks, and my sewing machine expressed its disdain for this textile at every step. At that point, the half-assembled, half-pintucked silk crepe shirtwaist was stuffed into a box to be forgotten about for three years.

Salvation from the Stash

I knew that I couldn't put myself through Crepe Pintuck Hell any longer, but I really wanted to finish this shirtwaist - after all, I only had to finish the yoke, collar, sleeves, and finishings at this point. Easy, right?

I turned to my stash to see what I could do for the yoke of the shirtwaist. Extant garments show evidence of black lace overlays on beige silk yokes and collars. I catalogued the examples I found here.

Thankfully, I found a yard of black lace in a design that looked passable for the turn of the century. I also had several yards of beige silk, which I got at an extreme discount because it was dotted with stains. The stains will be covered by the lace, so I didn't mind using the stained silk. Both the lace and beige silk came from Fabric Mart Fabrics, which regularly has sales on luxury textiles.

Getting the Details Right

To show off this lovely lace, I increased the height of the collar by about 3/4 of an inch. 

I was determined to make use of the pintucks I had already made, and figured that I had just enough of the pintucked fabric to make cuffs. Folkwear 205 includes pieces for very narrow cuffs, so I drafted my own to be as long as the 6 inches or so of pintucked fabric.

I found The American System of Dressmaking, published in 1907, to be extraordinarily helpful in getting the details of my shirtwaist as close to period-accurate as possible. 

Regarding cuffs: 

"Plain shirt waists have plain sleeves finished with a cuff, while more elaborate waists have the sleeves... finished with a deep cuff of fancy design." pg. 68

"The cuff is usually made with an interlining of white linen or muslin and sewed to the sleeve after it has been gathered.” pg. 70

I basted cotton muslin to my pintucked cuff pieces to interline them. I also finished off my cuffs with a scrap of silk twill piping. I carefully trimmed the seam allowances to reduce bulk and then whip stitched the seam allowances to the muslin interlining. Then, hooks and eyes were sewn onto the cuff openings. A black silk crepe facing was whip stitched to the cuff, concealing the messy stitching of the hooks and eyes. 

The sleeves and body panels of the shirtwaist are assembled with French seams. The seams where the yoke is attached to the gathered body of the shirtwaist are normal seams, with the seam allowances trimmed and whip stitched to the beige silk of the yoke.

The shirtwaist is fastened with a combination of hooks and eyes and snaps (on the lace parts) along the back placket. A black ribbon is tied around the waist to create the popular "pigeon breasted" effect.

Regarding waist ties: 

"Gather the fullness of the waistline in the back, two rows being sufficient…some shirtwaists are not gathered at the waist line in the fronts at all, but allowed to fall free from the neck and shoulders…the tape is stitched on the outside at the back, over the gathers, and tied in front each time the waist is worn, and the fullness adjusted to suit the wearer." pg. 69

These passages from an original Edwardian era dressmaking book confirm that the methods Folkwear 205 recommends for sewing up the garment are historically correct. Bravo, Folkwear!

Video Diary

You can watch my entire process for making my shirtwaist on my YouTube channel:

I achieved a nearly invisible back placket on this slippery fabric!

Dear readers, what is your favorite detail on this shirtwaist? I'm most fond of the touch of texture from the piping at the cuffs!

Edwardian Shirtwaists with Black Lace Yokes

I have a particular fascination with Edwardian era (1901-1914) bodices and shirtwaists due to the seemingly limitless possibilities for design and ornamentation. How can one not marvel at meticulous lace insertion, sharply pressed pleats, and layers of frothy ruffles?

My interest in early 19th century shirtwaists (and to an extent, bodices, which differ from shirtwaists due to their structured, boned lining) has recently extended to casually cataloguing examples of these garments with yokes and/or collars of beige silk layered with contrasting black lace.

As usual, auction sites like eBay and Etsy are my first step in searching for original examples. For the most part, sellers post lots of photos of garment details, and there consistently seems to be a wide variety of these garments for sale on the internet at any given time. You can see more examples of Edwardian shirtwaists and bodices on my extensive Pinterest board, here.

Example 1:

In addition to the superbly textured bodice fabric covered in swirls of black silk appliques, this bodice has a prominent yoke and collar that illustrate the effect of black lace on beige silk. And the hot-pink velvet binding on the collar is certainly noteworthy as well!

Edwardian black bodice, sold on Ebay

Example 2:

Another bodice (with a structured, boned lining) featuring a bold black lace with an interestingly large motif. The sleeves and pigeon breasted front likely date this piece to 1901-1903. The front of the bodice and yoke fasten over the right shoulder!

Black wool gabardine bodice with boned foundation and pintucks, sold on Etsy

Example 3:

I'm not exactly sure on the date of this waist, but the lavender (?) and silver (?) lace yoke and collar overlay are lovely. This waist is lined, but not boned.

This interesting piece has notably elaborate sleeve cuffs that match the collar and yoke. Both are additionally trimmed with black seed beads and net frills. The elaborate sleeves and short garment length make me wonder if this piece was meant to be worn under a dress...

Photographic Examples from Portuguese Photography

I'm also interested in how popular garments styles from the 19th and early 20th centuries influenced Portuguese fashions!

Shirtwaists with black lace yoke overlays appear in examples of early 20th century Portuguese studio photography (I found these photos in this amazing online archive). This means that my finished shirtwaist is also appropriate for portraying a Portuguese middle class woman of the early 20th century!

Retrato de familia Meadela/Minho