Dec 16, 2014

HSF 14 - Challenge # 22 - Gentlemen = Making an 18th century "Darcy" Shirt

Happy Jane Austen Day! 239 years ago today on the 16th of December 1775, Jane Austen was born.

Since today (nearly) co-insides with the Historical Sew Fortnightly 2014 challenge #22, I wanted to share a "Darcy" shirt I made.
18th century men's "Darcy" shirt - Front view

I made the shirt using instructions from "A Typical Eighteenth Century Military Shirt: A practical construction guide by Judith Wicker". The guide is very easy to follow, and I believe historically accurate. 

[You can find a copy of this pattern by doing a Google search, I 'm not posting the link because I couldn't find the original source, but I think it came via the NWTA. ]

Historical Sew Fortnightly 2014
The Challenge: # 22 - Gentlemen
Fabric: heavy cotton (old bedsheets)
Pattern: "A Typical Eighteenth Century Military Shirt: A practical construction guide by Judith Wicker".
Year: Eighteenth Century
Notions: buttons, thread
How historically accurate is it? Very. 80-90% originals might have been made in linen, I made slight mistake on the neck opening (explained below) and I did use the sewing machine...
Hours to complete: 6-8 hours across two days
First worn: Unworn
Total cost: under $10

Darcy shirt - side view

The only trouble I had with the pattern was the neck gussets, it doesn't specify they need to be gathered - in the middle but not the edges - as pictured below, to make the collar and neckline curve properly.

To ensure the neckline sits properly, gather centre of the shoulder gussets (green arrow), not the sides (red lines)
Also, I had a self-made boo-boo. I totally forgot to flip the front neck slit facing around to the back, and only realised it was on the wrong side after I had sewn the shoulder gussets. So I just added a ruffle under the facing, to make it look deliberate...

Pinning a ruffle under the facing which I forgot to flip through to the other side. Doh!
 I think it looks OK,

Neck ruffle and facing detail - not historically accurate...oopsy
 and I bet I'm not the only seamstress to make this mistake in the past 200 years!

Dec 5, 2014

Tutorial - Using Photoshop to make Historical Sewing Patterns which Fit

There are a lot of great old patterns out there that are free to download, via places like the Internet Archive, or possibly you've bought Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion series. Patterns which are scaleable, all drawn on helpful grids just waiting to be enlarged.  The problem is even once you scale these patterns, chances are it's not going to fit.

Well, I've come up with a method to solve this using Photoshop -- I used it to create my 1880s jacket -- and I'm sharing how I do it over in a series of tutorials on my graphic design blog, Part One and Two are live and I hope you'll check them out.

Nov 24, 2014

Dyeing Chicken Feathers with Food Colouring

Feathers dyed by microwaving with food colouring
At the start of the year my sister-in-law showed me socks knitted from wool dyed with food colouring. They were BRIGHT. I was sceptical. Food colouring is water soluble. Right?

Not so much when you microwave the heck out if it. I found an excellent tutorial on How To Dye Yarn with Food Colouring, over at Instructables

Knitting is not my thing, but when my chickens started moulting I wondered if the Food Colour Dyeing trick would work on feathers, why because then I could trim me some hats 'o plenty 19th century style for very little $$$

Long story short, yes, you can dye feathers with food colouring.

I followed the wool dyeing tutorial above with only two variations. Firstly I didn't really measure how much colouring I put it. Secondly after microwaving it the stated amount of time, I totally forgot about it and left it in the microwave over night. Did that extra time help the process? I can't say.
The main difference when doing the chicken feathers was the water didn't turn clear like it's meant to with the wool method.

But as you can see the colour took to the feathers quite well. Of course adding blue colouring to brown feathers has resulted in a greeny-blue, which I probably should have expected. I imagine if you use pure white chicken feathers the colours will be very true and BRIGHT.

Blue Food colouring dyed feathers on left, before dyeing natural brown on right
A word of warning, a little colour will come out of the feathers if you get them wet again, so I would be careful not to place them on white fabric.

Nov 11, 2014

Where have I been? London! Paris! Rome!

London! Paris! Rome!

I've been slack about blogging lately and I am sorry. During June and July I was trekking ( weeel mostly rental-car-ing) said places of awesome and more. Once home, I fell sick, blah blah, bought an overlocker, busy busy, but now I'm back!

OK, enough blab, you wanna see holiday pictures. FYI I didn't realise I was travelling in Scaffolding Season, sooo many of the touristy hotspots were being repaired and cleaned...

Trevi Fountain, Rome. No water but plenty of scaffolding.

I did manage to get a few classic tourist photos, like Venice gondoliers, Big Ben, the Effiel towers, the Tardis and blurry shots of Royals.

Gondolier school in Venice

Big Ben & parliament & the London Eye. Did I mention there was some kind of 'Ride your bicycle naked' event going on?


Harry points me out to his Granddad

As spotted in the market town of Werthby just outside York

Such fine cultural icons aside, I went travelling for one reason: Museums of Frocks.

The V&A! Be still my heart, seeing with my own eyes the Victorian dresses that I had poured over in library books. *sigh* Wish there had been more.

Victorian dresses at the V&A London

Kensington Palace had a good selection, some display on Diana's frocks, which I hurried past to get to the good stuff: Queen Victoria's outfits!

Queen Vic's riding jacket

Speaking of everyone's favourite Queenie. The Globe theatre had a stunning aray of Elizabethan style stage costumes.

Awesome theatre gear at the Globe. I have no plans to re-create this. This is strictly for experts.

Out of London, the Fashion History Musuem in Bath was a trip highlight. While the sections on each era are quite limited, overall there's a lot to see.

They even have a fun dress up portion.

Just takes a clip to get your old Vic on with plastic buckle clasps

And I think I've found a potential new historical sewing obsession: 18th century frocks! *swoon*

Genuine 18th century dress and stomacher at the Bath Fashion History Museum

If I had been in Bath in September a huge bonus would be seeing the gathering of Jane Austen fans in their Regency outfits. As it was only July, instead I went hawking. Even though there were no historical outfits involved it was THE BEST.

I've heard of hat hair, but Hawk Hat hair?
 Hmm, what have I learned about travel? Well sometimes things don't go as planned, but when they do, you get a Harris Hawk to perch on your head. Life is good!

Jun 8, 2014

Liebster Award

Apologies! The lovely Nessa from SewingEmpire asked me these questions via the ‘Liebster Award’ months ago, but I have been too damn useless soo busy...

- What is your favorite historical period?

For sewing, Victorian, specifically the bustle era periods, but really anything between about late 1860s – to early 1890s.

- How long have you been sewing, and how did you get into it?

Just under 2 years. I have a background in jewellery and I came interested in making Steampunk accessories - goggles and rayguns - but forgot those entirely once I saw the bustles and hats people were wearing.
Vintage sewing machine in perfect condition I bought for $40
About a month after I attended my first Steampunk event – wearing a mish-mash of stuff I already owned – I stumbled across a near-perfect vintage sewing machine in the Salvation Army Op-shop for only $40. 

But things really kicked-off when I ran into a Dunedin group of ladies who sew Victorian and Edwardian clothes. 
Dunedin Victorian and Edwardian costumers group

 - Which historical person would you like to meet and why?

Jack the Ripper - from a safe distance, or protected by a shark cage, admittedly. It bugs me not knowing who he was.

- Do you have a favorite kind of fabric you enjoy working with?

I find free fabric is the best kind.

- What will be your next project?

I’m taking a detour from strictly historical and venturing into cosplay – gasp – in the form of Spanish Inquisition outfits, ah la Monty Python.
Spanish Inquisition costumes as per Monty Python.

- Which place, in space and/or time, would you love to travel to?

I recently saw an engraving of the first manned hot-air balloon flight across Paris, 1783. For me, it captured the thrill of the moment. People climbing onto their rooftops to witness the impossible made real! That’s what I’d go see if Time-machines ever get their act together.

First manned flight 1783
- Where do you wear your sewing creations? Are you a regular at historical events or do you sew it just for yourself?

Alas, historical events are few and far between where I am. Over in the town of Oamaru (an hours drive from where I am) there's one main Steampunk event, and one Victorian event each year, but I figure something has to turn up actually held here in Dunedin one day, so I might as well prepare. >>Speaking of, word has reached me of a 'Jane Austen' Ball planned for Dunedin in Spring/October

- Do you have a favorite clothing item, historical or modern?

In terms of a piece on general, I like pocket hoops/ paniers. I think they’re funny. [In case you haven't heard of paniers, they were worn tied on your hips, as pasrt of the underclothes of the 18th century, their purpose was to make the dress-skirt puff out]

Paniers/Pocket hoops I made using the Dreamstress' instructions

- What is your favorite book?

In terms of sewing, “Hecklinger’s ladies garments” by Charles Hecklinger. It’s circa the 1880s and has sewing patterns, tips on construction, how to make trims etc, and general fashion advice, it’s an awesome resource and available free through Read my review of this book HERE

- What are your other hobbies?

Sewing and thrifting pretty much covers it, unless Pinterest counts. You’ll always find me there :)

May 20, 2014

Expect Much? - Updated

If I tell you I have tickets to the Monty Python reunion show (in London, baby!) and have just bought 5 metres of scarlet fabric, can you guess what costume I'm making next?
No one will be expecting what this fabric is made into...

UPDATED - since clearly no one does know what the heck I'm talking about...

So as I'm going to the Monty Python reunion show I thought I'd make the iconic Spanish Inquisition outfits, as per piccie below,

who appeared on the Monty Python skit shows way back when. Their catch phrase is "No One expects the Spanish Inquisition"...

May 14, 2014

Historical Sew Fortnightly 2014 - Challenge #8: UFOs & PHDs

My UFO (Un-Finished Object) for the Historical Sew Fortnightly 2014 - Challenge #8: UFOs & PHDs is the Truly Victorian 1873 Polonaise which I started on well over a year ago.

The pattern came together like a dream, even back then with my rusty haven't-sewn-since-highschool skills, until it came to the buttonholes and sewing on the sleeves...

Sure, being well-versed in YouTube tutorials, a stack of library books, in theory I knew how to attach sleeves and make buttonholes, but somehow I was filled with a dread akin to that of a last-minute supermarket run, the day before a public holiday, and so, being scared (and a bit spoiled), I stamped my feet and said, No-won't, too hard!

Sleeve ready to attach...but how?

And thus, I wimped out and this lovely top was hidden in the back wardrobe.

UFO - no sleeves, no buttons. Maybe it could just a be a Pirate vest???

I know I am not alone in my sleeve-attachment-phobia. What is it about sewing on sleeves that seems (cos it ain't really) so hard? Trying to force all that material until the sewing machine arm--not being able to see properly--fabric gets bunched up--argh--now I've sewed a pinch in the fabric--have to do it again!!!

But gentle Readers, there is hope! The answer lies in going back to basics, ie, hand-sewing.

I learned this when sewing my 1888 outfit. Simply prep a doubled-thread onto a needle, wax the thread - waxing is super important, it stops the thread from tangling when you sew.

[>>>How do you wax thread? Take your all-ready-to-go doubled-thread and a beeswax candle, press your thumb on the knot, thus holding the thread against the wax, and with your freehand pull the thread tails upward, so the threads slide between the wax and thumb. Do this twice. Yes, it's that simple.]

Then with sleeve pinned in position to the bodice, back stitch the two parts together. A curved needle helps, but is not essential. Not only does this create a surprisingly strong seam, but I have found hand-sewing quite relaxing.

And so, now my UFO is finished!

The Challenge: Challenge #8: UFOs & PHDs
Fabric: some kind of jacquard, with some kind of brushed broadcloth, maybe. Full disclosure: this started out as a tablecloth and a pair of curtains.

Pattern: Truly Victorian 1873 Polonaise
Year: 1873
Notions: thread, quite a bit of iron-in interfacing

How historically accurate is it? Excluding fabric, 85%, the pattern is very historically accurate (less so with my alterations) but the construction is a 50-50 blend of what you should do, and making-do

Hours to complete: Lost count, started in early 2013...

First worn: Not worn yet

Total cost: $15 - $20

One last note: Being that I am a tinkerer and a meddler, and can never simply follow a pattern,  here's what the Truly Victorian 1873 Polonaise should look like.

Whereas I have shortened the bodice length and altered the curved hemline to a double-point, which you can (kind of) see in this construction picture.

Wait! What about the buttonholes? 

Confession time. I still haven't learned that skill, but I have learned of a wonderful invention called Hook and Eye Tape...

May 6, 2014

Button Hoarding: an Incurable disease?

I was recently given a very generous gift: the button collection that belonged to a friend's mother.

I am sure anyone with a crafty bent, or who is like myself, quite possibly part magpie, can imagine the afternoon I spent spreading them all out, stacking, sorting and admiring. The experience positively brought out the Gollum in me. My precious!

Among the notables (pictured below) were Bakelite, glass and metal filigree (possibly Edwardian??), which was my fav. *sigh* So sparkly...
My Vintage button collection  - One thing is fer sure, they don't make 'em like they used to!

Because I make historical costumes I am sure I'll be able to make good use of these tiny treasures.
But true to the nature of button collections there were a lot of singles. It got me wondering,  what else can you make with buttons?

Here are a few cool things I found via the interwebs.

Source: Izzwizz Creations

Decorate Cards -  this tutorial also shows you how to turn plain buttons into decorative ones!

source: The Dreamstress

The Dreamstress has an excellent tut on aging modern metal buttons
Tutorial: How to ‘antique’ cheap gold buttons & jewellery

Lilly Pilly Blog - Make a Button Necklace

If anyone else has some clever ideas for button up-cycling please let me know :)

Apr 16, 2014

HSF challenge #7 - In which it's awesome to have a head

Which came first? The head or the hat?
1880s inspired ladies Tall Hat - front and side views

Leaving classic philosophical debates to one side, here's my entry for the Historical Sewing Fortnight 2014 challenge #7 "Tops and Toes" an 1880s inspired Tall hat, which was created to accompany my 1888 costume here.

'before' photo

This is my third attempt at millinery, having made 2 spoon bonnets last year, here and here.

I made this one by taking apart a store bought sunhat (pictured to the left).

I will post a tutorial about how I made this 1880s tall hat soon.


'all done' photo
just the facts:
The Challenge: #7 'Tops and toes'

Fabric: the material is...whatever sunhats are made from. Er.. some kind of thick plastic threads (looks a bit like fishing line) which has been woven into strips.

Pattern: self-drafted

Year: 1880s
Notions: thread and self-made ribbons

How historically accurate is it? not very, this is def. an 'inspired by' design

Hours to complete: About two days

First worn: 28 March 2014

Total cost: under $7

Women having tea outside the house of William and Lydia Williams in Napier, New Zealand. Dated between 1888-1899

The above photo (original source here) from the late 1880s is my favorite inspiration for my Tall Hat design, but you can see more sources by following my Hats or Victorian 1880s boards on Pinterest.

Apr 6, 2014

Sewing Milestone - Creating an 1880s outfit

A year ago as a novice sewer my historical costuming adventures began with my first Victorian Costuming Project, an 1860s Spoon Bonnet, followed by an 1863 outfit to mark the Dunedin Botanical Gardens 150th celebrations.

They were simple projects for a more simple time, chosen to help build up my sewing skills so one day in the distance future I might sew something from my fav decade, the 1880s.

Two months ago I knew I needed a complete outfit for an Images of Past Dunedin event by the end of March and like an American Idol contestant I wasn't going to let dubious skills stop me any longer so I took the 1880s plunge.

Here's what I came up with:

Olden-time posing under the Peasgoode Nonesuch apple tree

As making this outfit coincided [sort-of] with the Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge #5 'Bodice' today I'll talk about the main part of the outfit, the jacket.

My inspiration for the chevron back came from the extant garment below, full details HERE at Bonhams.
Extant 1880s dress with chevron back detail - Source = Bonhams

Details for Historical Sew Fortnightly
The Challenge:  #5 'Bodice'
Fabric: dark blue synthetic outer, poly-cotton inner

I chose 'Ladies Costume' from the 1888 National Garment Cutter,

By the way, the 1888 National Garment Cutter is available FREE from the Library of Congress, aka the Internet Archive HERE

Pattern printed and back sections cut

I drafted the jacket using Adobe Illustrator, plotting out the Nat. Garment pattern exactly as stated and then merging it with my measurements in the form of a sloper  - drafted for me by a very kind friend, and without which I could not have made the jacket at all. Thank you S.W!!!

Year: 1888
Notions: thread, hook and eyes

How historically accurate is it? 
I give this 8 out of 10 for historicalness. Excluding the fabric's synthetic content, the pattern is 100% authentic, the construction is flat-lined, and sewn entirely on my 1937 Singer No15 which only does straight stitch - no reverse!

The Cat being helpful and my 1937 Singer
Jacket is flat-lined
1880s jacket in construction

Hours to complete: Many! Spread over two months I loss count. I really don't want to think about the time it took least it prove I'm crazy for doing things like this.

Problems encountered: Aside from the masses of time this took, I only had one major hiccup, it turns out I totally have one shoulder lower than the other! Who knew?

1880s Jacket - back not fitting quite right due to 'purse shoulder'...see the wrinkles on left shoulder
Argh - Fitting fail, had to adjust the left shoulder several times...but got there in the end :)

First worn: 28 March 2014, Toitu Museum

I really like this jacket, there's something quite severe about it that appeals to my odd sense of humour. I feel I should be standing outside the Sally Army banging a tambourine and haranguing people about the perils of drink! Hmmm, who can loan me a tamborine?

First worn at Toitu Museum
Total cost: jacket under $20
Fun Times Achieved: Hell yes.

I say, I do love a good silhouette, but does this make my bum look big enough??