16 July 2015

White 18th Century Stockings

Although I have a perfectly serviceable pair of blue stockings, I really wanted a white pair to match the rest of my undergarments. I hated sewing the first pair, and I was happy to find that doing it a second time wasn't as painful. After bleaching it , I had enough cotton knit left over to make two white pairs. I have the second pair cut out and sitting in my stash, but no real reason to make them up any time soon.

18th century stockings with shoes

In the later half of the 1700's stockings became a little less gaudy and colourful, and I wanted some simple white on white embroidery. The embroidery floss I used wasn't quite white, but a slightly blueish white I picked up in a clearance sale. I like the subtle colour it adds, especially since the clocks are minimally decorated, but it doesn't show up in photos.

I did plan on doing a little monogram or some other embroidery at the top of the clock, similar to my other pair. I tried to do a monogram and it just wasn't working - I couldn't find the balance between simplicity for ease of stitching and a good design. I did a monogram on one clock but unpicked it...and managed to tear a hole in the fabric while I was at it. I patched it up with some white thread, and I don't think it's too noticable.

The cotton knit was much thinner than I remembered. I doubt the bleaching changed it, but the thinness is much more noticeable in this white pair than in the blue pair. If I ever need to make another pair i'd definitely look out for a thicker knit, I have a feeling it would be easier to embroider too.

After wearing my blue stockings for a while I noticed that the tops sagged quite badly. This could be a fitting issue, since there was a long gap between making the pattern and making the stockings, or something else. My garters do a great job of keeping them up, but the rest of the stocking ends up folded down over them. So for this pair I cheated and added some elastic to the top. It does the trick and stops them sagging and flapping around over my knees.

You might have noticed that the toe area doesn't fit quite as well as the blue pair. Usually i'd try them on, see where my toes end up and cut diagonally across from my big toe to my little toe to form the toe area. For this pair I guessed and just cut straight across. Although modern socks and stockings have a straight toe area, the amount of stretching they do means the toe area fits regardless. 18th century stockings are much more tailored, and rely on a precise fit to the wearers leg with a little bit of give. Let my example be a lesson - always measure and cut your toes!

Although plainer then I intended, i'm very happy with these stockings. They fit better than my last attempt, they're pretty, and they match the rest of my clothes (and my shoes!) much better. They were one hundred percent hand sewn too! If you want to make your own pair you can check out my construction post which details the fabric I used, the pattern I made and how I pieced them together.  

24 May 2015

Caramel Striped Robe à L'anglaise - Part One

I started this blog July of last year, and after spending so long making undergarments it felt like i'd never make progress. I'm now finally ready to start making dresses, along with a whole host of other fun things - like hats and fichus and aprons!

Although I have so many dream dresses (who doesn't?), there was one that I knew I wanted to make for my first dress. The concept has been pretty clear in my head since I started this blog, my shoes in particular were made to match it.

18th century Robe A L'Anglaise Retroussee concept art

Heavily inspired by the dress below from the 2008 movie The Duchess, I'm hoping for a froofy, poofy explosion of warm caramel colours and pretty accessories. As much as I adore the pastel colours of Marie Antoinette (2006), i'm much more drawn to the cream and blue dresses of The Duchess. The original Duchess dress has lots of olive tones which i'm not fond of, i'll be sticking to creams and browns with white or peachy accessories. The dress will be silk, as it's much easier to find passable striped silk in my price range than it is to find 18th century looking cottons or linens. The back won't be en fourreau, the bodice and skirt will be cut as one. This seems to be more accurate for the 1780's, and much less scary for me to attempt.

The Duchess 18th century movie dress display
I knew that I was going to need a pattern for this first dress, I don't have a dressform to drape on and I wanted the process to be as painless as possible. I rented Patterns of Fashion 1 by Janet Arnold and
Costume in Detail: Women's Dress, 1730-1930 by Nancy Bradfield from my library, and I highly recommend them. I'm not sure how easy they are to find copies of, but there is so much great information. If you want to make any sort of historical clothing they're a great place to start.

Janet Arnold Patterns of Fashion pattern scaling

From Patterns of Fashion I'm using the "Polonaise with detachable lawn ruffles c. 1770 - 1985" pattern on page 39, which is conveniently featured in Costume in Detail. The Costume in Detail version has no pattern, but it does have sketches of the dress from various angle and lots of detailed measurements and construction notes.

I photocopied the pattern pieces I needed (bodice and sleeves) on a 1:1 scale, then used these wonderful instructions from The Tudor Tailor to scale the patterns up on wrapping paper. Although the bodices of these dresses are very closely fitted, the pattern pieces are so simple you can fudge the measurements a little and just correct them with a muslin.

Janet Arnold Patterns of Fashion pattern scaling
Janet Arnold Patterns of Fashion pattern scaling

The original owner of the dress i'm patterning from was a Miss Massey of County Limerick, Ireland. Aside from the frickin' awesome fact that i'm remaking a dress worn by a woman over 200 years ago, the original has lots of notes and details made about it. Costume in Detail said that the waist of the original was 30", which conveniently matches me perfectly. The sleeves and bust needed adjusting though, and I used the side seam, centre front and centre back measurements to figure out where other adjustments might be needed.

Janet Arnold Patterns of Fashion pattern scaling

 I made another wrapping paper copy of the master pattern, and set about adding the extra inches or taking them off where they were needed. I wasn't too fussed about cutting up the master sleeve pattern piece, but I kept the rest of the bodice intact.

Janet Arnold Patterns of Fashion pattern scaling

Janet Arnold Patterns of Fashion pattern scaling

Now I have a nice pattern to transfer to a muslin, and with any luck it will need minimal adjustments. Since silk is expensive and scary, i've resolved to make as many muslins as I need to so that I can be confident my silk version will fit nicely straight away.

After I had all my adjusted pattern pieces done, I was about to start cutting and sewing when I remembered that the bodice will be boned, most likely with cable ties. I decided not to make and try on the muslin without the boning in, to try and get an accurate fit. So my next step is to find some big white cable ties and time to work with the mockup properly. Getting into my stays and all my skirts then trying to sew is a hassle, to say the least. Oh the joys of a dressform-less sewer. 

Janet Arnold Patterns of Fashion pattern scaling

In the meantime my silk samples arrived. After much research I decided to buy from Puresilks, who also operate under B.R. Exports and have an eBay store. I ordered two samples, and they sent me four instead! The two samples in the middle where the ones I ordered, and thank goodness they sent me extras as those wouldn't work at all.

Silk stripe taffeta dupioni 18th century

The far right taffeta is some sort of 1970's wallpaper pattern, let's just not talk about it. The olive and gold stripe is a taffeta, and I can see it working nicely as a dress but the colours aren't to my taste at all. The bold stripe second from the left is a dupioni, it's nice but the stripe is too wide for clothing. Finally, the dupioni on the far left is nearly perfect - the colours are what I wanted and the stripe is nicely proportional. Since it's a dupioni instead of a taffeta it's not that historically accurate, but it's much prettier and cheaper!

Hopefully i'll be able to find some time to work on my muslin in the near future, just writing this post has made me excited to continue working on it!

13 April 2015

The Art of Bleach

With a practice pair of stockings made, I had lots of blue knit fabric left over for another two pairs. I'd planned on bleaching the remaining fabric ever since I bought it and it turned out to be blue instead of white.

This was my first time bleaching anything, however, and I was quite nervous about it. I envisioned patchy, damaged fabric and my hands burned by the evil bleach. I knew I had lots of fabric to do, so I cut out my pattern first to save on the amount of ground that needed to be covered. I'm not sure if this was the right thing to do, but it didn't have any major adverse effects down the line.

I did a test on a small scrap of fabric. The blue colour was already quite pale (pale enough to photograph white) so I knew I wouldn't need industrial amounts of bleach. I mixed four parts water with one part household bleach in a small tub I use for hand-washing garments. I left the scrap in there for thirty minutes before going back to check.

It was pure white! I hadn't expected it to work so quickly or so well. The test piece wasn't patchy at all, and it hadn't disintegrated away into nothing. I rinsed it well in cold water and hung it up to dry.

The test successful, I filled my bathtub with the same ratio of bleach and water. I used up all of my remaining bleach, but only managed to fill up the very bottom of the bathtub. Luckily the stocking pieces were covered completely by the solution, and I sat diligently using a chopstick to push all the fabric underwater and getting rid of any air pockets.

I left it for half an hour, and came back to some very white pieces of fabric. After checking that the bleach had worked on everything evenly, I rinsed the fabric in the bath before moving it back to my small tub.

(This is simultaneously the hardest to edit and least useful picture I have on this blog.)

Now, in all of the instructions I read I was told that I needed some sort of bleach stopper. This makes a lot of sense, bleach is vicious enough to keep working on fabric after you've rinsed it off. From what I can tell, there are a few products in American supermarkets that are sold to stop bleach, as well as hydrogen peroxide in pharmacies.

Finding something like this is New Zealand was near impossible, so I ended up with a teeny tiny bottle of hydrogen peroxide. I'm not sure what you'd do with this amount of hydrogen peroxide but here we are. I filled my tub a quarter of the way up with water and poured my precious peroxide in. I made sure to mix it up well, and checked it every ten minutes to stir the fabric around. In total I left it soaking for almost an hour. I rinsed out the peroxide and washed the pieces with some gentle handwash soap, then left them to dry.

The next day I inspected my results. All the pattern pieces were evenly bleached and were a bright white colour. There was a slightly slick feeling to the pattern pieces that the test piece didn't have. I'm not sure if this was the peroxide or the handwashing, but it wasn't too noticeable. The fabric wasn't as soft as it has been, and the edges were slightly frayed. I ironed all the pieces as the edges had rolled up, and my first attempt at bleaching was finished!

I'm really happy with how it turned out. Even with limited resources I ended up with some beautiful white stockings (or I will when I get around to making them). Although I won't be doing more bleaching anytime soon, it's a new skill I have in my creative arsenal.

29 March 2015

1770's Cream Shoes

18th century shoes

From the very beginning of this shoe project I had a clear picture of how I wanted them to turn out, and i'm so happy that they're pretty much identical to what i'd imagined!

american duchess buckle 18th century shoes

I'm planning for my first robe Robe L'anglaise to be creamy and coppery colours, and I wanted a nice neutral pair of shoes to match. The buckle needed to work with lots of different shoes though, so I chose a nice silver pair from American Duchess. I was happy to see that the finish on the buckles gives them a warm look, instead of a cool silver tone.

18th century shoes and american duchess buckles

I was terrified to try them on for the first time. The original shoes had been sightly too big for me, but with the added binding and general reconstruction, the finished shoes were a snug fit. Luckily nothing came undone or broke as I was wearing them, but i'd be hesitant to go walking around outside.

1700's shoes and stockings

I didn't really cover it in my construction posts, but gluing the sole on was by far the worst part. It required lots and lots of glue, getting very messy and holding it down for a long time. It feels sturdy enough, but i'm worried lots of walking will make it peel off.

18th century shoes and stockings

Despite the lack of a true Louis heel, they still look very mid 18th century. The rest of my wardrobe is currently aimed at the 1780's, but not every lady would have been dressed head to toe in the very latest fashions.

I'm glad I chose the plainest of American Duchess's buckles. I think it looks perfect with the simple colours and lines of the shoe, and can be re-used on other shoes easily. I still like the bejeweled buckles, but i'd want to make a specific shoe to go with them.

1700's shoes and stockings

I'm happy I left the trim off. The contrasting cream binding really brings out the pattern in the  jacquard and looks very period. As much as i'd love an over the top shoe with piles of ruffles and trim, it will have to wait.

This is the first item for my wardrobe i've made that isn't blue or white, surprisingly. I personally think the shoes clash with the light turquoise stockings, I really need a couple of white pairs.  

1700's shoes

Putting the buckles on was quite a challenge, as the straps were pretty thick. The weave of the  jacquard was loose enough, but combined with interfacing and a cotton duck lining it was just too much. The buckle on my left shoe sits perfectly, but the one on the right is wonky and not centered. If I went back and re-holed the straps I might be able to get it sitting properly.

18th century shoes american duchess buckles

The fact that both shoes have left facing straps doesn't help either! For my next pair i'll definitely pay closer attention when making the straps, and maybe skip the interfacing. 

I'm pretty darn proud of these shoes, and pleasantly surprised at how well they came together. I've learnt so much I can apply to future shoe projects...and yes, there will be future shoe projects. I have a very battered pair of shoes with a proper Louis heel waiting for their time to shine...

14 March 2015

Blue 18th Century Stockings

Firstly, i'd like to apologize for my absence. Going back for my final year of university means I have almost no free time - let alone time to sew large, time consuming relics of the past! I will make an effort to start sewing again in a month or so, when my schedule is less hectic.

In the meantime, I have a couple of finished pieces I still haven't gotten around to sharing!

If you can recall from my construction post, I hated making these stockings. Knit fabric, a fiddly pattern and terrible embroidery does not make a happy Victoria.

When I first tried them on I was terrified something would come apart or stretch in the wrong place and all my work would be ruined. I'm very pleased to say that they are quite robust, and despite the thin fabric they're warm too.

The toes are cut on a slight angle, so there is a left stocking and a right stocking. I'm not sure how accurate this is, I haven't seen or found any sources talking about it. Since shoes weren't made with a left and a right, I would make an educated guess that stockings wouldn't have been either. If you have any more information on this don't hesitate to tell me!

The fit is quite good, the measurements seem to be accurate even if the toe area wasn't when I was making them. Having a fitted ankle felt very different from the stretchy tubes of fabric we call stockings nowadays.

My one fit complaint is that the tops are to big. My garters are great at holding them up, but the tops of the stockings ended up too big and sag down to my knees. I'll probably cheat and add some elastic to the inside to keep them up, as it's very annoying when you're trying to walk.

The embroidered clocks are a pretty touch, although they go so far up I doubt you'd see a flash of them underneath all my petticoats. Maybe if I make a walking length dress in the future they'll have their time to shine. Either way i'm not going to stop monogramming various pieces of underwear.

Despite how horrible these were to make, i'm happy I have them. It's the little details like this that I enjoy adding to my wardrobe, and I can avoid the classic costumer panic of "But what am I going to wear on my feet?!".

I have all the things I need to bleach the remaining knit fabric and make one or two white pairs, which will hopefully be finished faster and with less tears than these. Speaking of footwear, i'll also be posting my finished 1770's cream shoes sometime in the near future, so keep checking back!

18 February 2015

1770's Cream Shoes - Construction Part Two

 After finishing the heel and front of each shoe, I bound the edges of the tongue. I had originally left a small piece of elastic at the base of the tongue, but I trimmed it down as far as I could. I wasn't quite sure how far to go with the binding, but I reasoned that most of it would get covered with the buckle flaps.

I glued the binding on with Shoe Goo, but I could have probably used a hot glue gun or other craft glue. I glued it one side at a time in small sections, holding them in place with pin curl clips. The binding wasn' bias binding, so it was tricky to get around corners. Not impossible though.

After the binding was finished on both shoes, I made a pattern for the straps. I made the pattern in two sections, then stitched them together to get a back seam. It could probably have been made as one piece, but I liked the look of the heel seam. Cutting them as two pieces does allows you to control the bias on either side of the shoe though, and save fabric.

I tried the pieces over the shoe, pinning them on at the sides and centre back. I marked the lower seam that would go over the heel and towards the front of the shoe, then folded it over and stitched it down, I did a bit of a messy job, but the white thread blended in quite nicely.

Then I started gluing the straps down, starting from the centre back and going along the seam line. I let the glue set a little in between sections, as I really wanted to get the heavy seam stuck down well. 

Even though it was cut on the bias, the fabric was tricky to stretch around the back of the shoe. I focused on getting the seam straight, as I could cover the edge of the shoe with binding or trim any excess if it didn't fit.

Here is a good picture showing one side of the seam glued down securely, and another that is loose. I used a broken sewing machine needle to poke glue into the gap, then held it down.

I glued the entire back of he shoe on, right up to the start of the tongue. I tea dyed some leftover cotton duck from my stays to a nice cream colour, then cut them to fit the inside of the straps. I covered the entirety of the straps with the lining, to make it easier to cut down later.

 I used Shoe Goo to glue the fabric to the straps, which made it a little thick and stiff. Fabric glue would have been a better choice, but I didn't have any. I deliberately left the base of the straps unglued to make it easier to attach the binding.

I did the binding in one continuous piece, starting from the base of the straps, going around the ends of the straps, over the back of the shoe and then covering the other strap. Like the tongue binding, I glued it on a small section at a time and held it in place with clips.

I did buy some trim for these shoes, and now would have been the time to glue it on over the binding. However, when I compared the trim next to my buckles it was a very cool silver, where my buckles were a warm silver. I could have tried to dye it slightly to match, but I quite liked how the shoe looked without trim. There are lots of extant examples of shoes with contrasting binding and no trim.

After finishing the binding on my first shoe and gluing the base of the straps down, I tried it on. It was only then that I realized my straps were far too wide for my buckles. I could only fit them through the chape by folding them in half!

I let my shoes sit unfinished while I thought of what to do. I still had the straps on the second shoe to finish, which I could cut down to the right size.

I glued and bound the straps of the second shoe, and it fit almost perfectly with my buckles.

When I went to re-cut the straps on my first shoe, my camera ran out of battery, but it was a simple process. I peeled back the base of the straps, just far enough for the binding to come loose. I then cut the binding off up to the tip of the strap, and rebound the skinnier strap.

All I had left to do was glue down a bit of black ribbon on the back of the shoe to hide where the heel fabric had been folded over. Using leather or some sort of vinyl would have been better, but I had ribbon on hand. I glued the sole back on a small amount at a time, removing any Goo that seeped out of the edges.

Then I was done! I'll be posting photos of the finished shoes soon, along with my finished stockings.