Monday, December 31, 2012

Things I've been up to: fly fringe, Christmas, England, Titanic, knitting...


It's early morning here in London and I'm sitting in the lounge of my hotel with toast and a cup of tea. No one wakes up this early on vacation except the businessy types and the jet lagged. 

It's very nice and quiet. 

Actually, I'm the only one. Cricket, cricket.


Since my husband's still asleep and I'm sitting in this nice, quiet room, finally with a moment all to myself, I thought I would catch up on the last few weeks of fun things I have been doing.

And first things first, a belated Merry Christmas to all, and an early Happy New Year! I hope everyone has had a lovely holiday season.

Test go of creating passementerie.

Friday, December 14, 2012

It's almost the weekend. Let's go somewhere! Join me on a little trip to Hampton Court.


Ok, it's friday. Let's pretend we don't have to do anything and we can up and leave and magically appear in a different time zone. Oh wait, we have the internet. We totally can!

Let's go visit Hampton Court today. The home of so many monarchs (and the Royal School of Needlework!), it's often associated with Henry VIII, but William III and Mary II and George II had rooms there as well, so it's not only for Tudor fans, but Baroque as well. William III redid a lot of the palace with Sir Christopher Wren in the late 1600's, and George II completed the renovation during his time there in the early 1700's. Read more about the history here, on the Hampton Court official site.

So on to the trip! We depart from London Waterloo in just a few minutes. Better hurry up!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Test Flight in Fly Fringe

Yummy :)

Oooo I love the fluffy, tufty, fabulously delicate silk "fly" fringe that is so often found trimming the sleeves, stomachers, and ruffles of 18th century gowns.

Lately I've been oohing and ahhing over 18th century dresses. I'm planning a Mozart birthday party for the end of January, and I'm really getting in the mood. I want to do up a sacque for it, if I have time.  After the holidays, I will know more. In the mean time, I thought I'd give the fringe a try.

While you might find acceptable trim to attach this fly fringe to, before adorning your gown, it is almost impossible to find fly fringe for purchase. So, we must create. 

...And apparently, from what I have heard and seen, fly fringe is usually always attached to some other type of trim, and not solely applied to fabric. This means attaching your fringe to gimp or some such base trim. Now, this is just what I have heard/seen so far, so I'm not saying it's never, ever, ever directly attached. Just saying...  

I ordered some Au Ver a Soie "soie ovale" (silk floss that is not twisted), but I couldn't wait for it to come, so I got out some leftover cotton DMC floss and started testing out designs. 

I started with this tutorial from Quaintrelle Life, then expanded upon it.

Samples of fly fringe.


The multicolor on the green is my favorite so far. I think with the silk I
 will make the trim even smaller. The green shows about 1/2" from
knot to knot.

I thought I would like the most complex, involved one best,
but it was a little overwhelming. I came to the conclusion that
simple is better,  since it will be added to a base trim.

I'm not going to bother with instruction, since the Quantrelle Life tutorial is pretty good, but I will share an interesting thing I learned from making this fringe:

Initially I used a knotting shuttle, as is recommended. Part way through, I put it aside and it was actually easier without the shuttle. I will say, for the initial length of knotted floss, the shuttle was handy, but weaving in the additional floss worked best without it. 

Also, it may not look quite as great as the silk floss, but it is totally possible to make this trim with the cotton floss. The cotton floss is so easy to find and much less expensive than silk, and if you don't care so much about historical accuracy, it has a very similar look, just not as fluffy and shiny.

And P.S., this goes really, really fast once you work up a rhythm. Very satisfying :)

Has anybody else tried making this. Any tips?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A mid 19th century silk bodice. Alterations and split seams galore! Lots to study.

A mid 19th century bodice.


So this little bodice is another eBay find. I've been on there a lot in the last couple months...

The outter fabric is a very fine, thin, plain weave, cream colored silk. The lining is a thin twilled cotton. It's much softer and more thin than any twilled cotton I have seen available. Nothing like a jean or coutil. The bodice appears to be stitches with a combination of silk and cotton thread. It also appears two different colors and weights of silk thread were used: a fine, light silk on the exterior and a thicker, darker (perhaps darkened with age) silk was used on the inside. The bodice is constructed with machine and hand stitches.

The bodice shows signs of alterations, specifically being let out at the side seams. The arm holes are very tight, at just shy of 10" around. The front is boned in multiple spots, the darts encasing the 1/4", flat bones. The back closes with hook and eyes on the lining and holes, for lacing, on the silk. The eyelet holes are finished in small, tight overcast stitches, not buttonhole. The center back is piped, the piping encasing thin, squared boning, which shows where the boning has broken and the silk has split. The boning is very thin, but appears to be whalebone wrapped in paper. The edges of the bodice, along with the armscye, are piped as well, with 8-ply white cotton cord. The top and bottom edges are faced with the same cream silk. The bertha, or the front bust decoration, is stitched into the seam at the shoulder and sleeve, but only held down with a pin at the center front. 

The pictures are taken with the bodice against a 1" square grid, for scale. Loosely measured, the bodice is 28" at the bust and 21" at the waist. The center front neckline to point is 14.5" and the center back is 15.5".

The armscye is piped. The sleeve is pleated
to the armscye. The bertha is joined
at the seams of the sleeve and shoulder.

Inside the sleeve. You can see the cotton
lining. The sleeves probably used to puff.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Some lovely whitework trim, circa 19th century.



I came across this great trim on eBay. I bought it thinking it might be nice at the top of my 1903 Edwardian corset. I thought it looked similar to the trim on this Edwardian corset, owned by Shelley Peters.

C. 1912 Edwardian corset.
Click here for loads more pics and info!

The seller said it was "Victorian", but I can't tell for certain how early or late. It may be early 1800's. Now that I have it, I don't think I'll use it for the corset after all. I don't want to cut into it, it's so pretty!


It is hand embroidered and the thread and fabric are cotton. The fabric is a very soft, fine plain weave, like the softest lawn you could ever find, or a true muslin. Very gauzy. The design looks to be grapes with flowers and leaves. It's done in satin stitch, which has been padded, with buttonhole around the openwork and at the scalloped hem. The heart shaped petals on the flowers are outlined in satin and filled with a closely spaced seed stitch. The thread used for the embroidery is a non-divisible two ply, very thin, much like one strand taken from a skein of 6 strand DMC floss. I think each of said strands is a size 25. The picture at the very top shows the embroidery and sheerness of the fabric very well.

Most of the piece, which measures 50" by 3", is in excellent condition, with only a small portion damaged with small holes.


In the following photo, you can see how the ends are treated. This 50" by 3" piece is complete and not a cut off portion of the original trim. The scalloped hem ends about 1/4" from the end, on both ends. The ends and the top are cut straight, with the top showing some evidence of having been hemmed.


In the next two photos, you can see some interesting evidence of the piece's former use left behind. Along the top, there are a few bits of thread left stitched. They show that the top once was finished with a rolled hem. I pulled on the threads to see if the edge would gather up, like a whipped gather, but it does not. The stitches are loosely spaced. It looks to me like that edge wasn't meant to be seen, so perhaps it was just quickly finished to keep it from unraveling. Why it is unpicked now, I have no idea. Any guesses?



There is also a little stitch, done with double thread, about 16" from the left end, and in the center width-wise (below). It is cut through on the back side, and is now only tacked through the fabric. While the thread along the top is fine sewing thread, this little stitch is done in the same thicker perle that is embroidery is done with. I wonder what it's doing there...


This last photo shows the back side of the work. The embroidery is mostly finished neatly, though some thread ends stick out. I would love to know what this was originally used for. I'm guessing some kind of exterior trim. The whitework is reminiscent of some mid to late 19th century under things I have, but the fabric is much, much finer. Maybe a gauzy collar or cuffs? Maybe it's much more recent, but something about it says like 1820's, 1830's to me. Any ideas?

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Mid 19th Century Daguerreotype


I picked up this little picture frame last time I was in Alexandria, VA. I bought it because she looked pretty and friendly. To be honest, I don't buy a lot of these because sometimes the people look so sad! And they creep out my husband... but hey, it's research! 

Anyway, it wasn't until I brought it out some months later, at a sewing event, that I took a good look at her outfit. Someone, who is very familiar with the 1860's, brought it to my attention that her dress looks a little incongruous to her age, with the short sleeves and boat neck. In passing, I just assumed it was an evening dress, but mid 19th century isn't my strongest era. I'm very, very much still learning. 

Anybody have any ideas about this one?


Also, here is the back of her frame. Very pretty leather work! It has a hinge, so I'm assuming the other side of the frame had a second picture. I wonder what it was of.


* Update as of 12/9/10: I had not posted this originally as a dagguerotype, but I thought it smart to go back and edit this post as of new info. I had also, possibly wrongly, listed this as 1860's. Thanks Ginger, from Scene in the Past, for the new info. I don't want to put anything wrong out there!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Something helpful to keep in your sewing room.


No, not for needle poked fingers. 

... Though keeping a band aid or two around is never amiss... 

This time the paper tape is for thread. Thread, ribbon, embroidery floss, anything stringy and messy really. 

The "gentle" paper tape is sticky enough to hold, but not too sticky, like some regular tape, so it's easy to remove and doesn't leave gross residue or badly pull on the fibers when you pull it off. 


A little piece is great for keeping the thread from unraveling on spools that don't have a notch for holding the thread, like the green thread above. I use it also for the spools that do have the notch, like the brown thread. For me, it's just faster and more tidy than trying to catch the thread in the little slit or notch. 

It's also great for embroidery floss, both like the blue above and the brown skein, below. Something I do, which works for me, with the skeins - which can be so messy! - is I pull off the tubular labels, save the one with the color number, cut it lengthwise and wrap it back around the floss. Then I secure the label back with a little piece of tape. You can use regular tape for this too, of course, since it's not touching the floss. 


Another thing this tape is handy for is to use it in place of pins, when pins might get in the way, especially when using a sewing machine. Example: holding down a zipper or applique/trim to be stitched. Just be sure to test on an inconspicuous bit of fabric first, or on a scrap. 

A tidy sewing room is a happy one! :)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Inspiration for the Brown Wool Dress

When I was researching 1880's fashions for the brown wool dress, I first tried to look at as many photos from the period as I could. Second I looked at extant pieces, and third I browsed fashion plates. I tried to go for actual photos to get the real "look" of an outfit, before I started cutting and sewing.

c. 1880's carte de visite from my collection

I like her. She looks friendly!

I saved loads of pictures of CDV's and cabinet cards from eBay and etsy, since obviously, it wasn't possible to buy all of them. I was especially inspired by the above picture, so I was thrilled when it was still for sale after I finished the dress.

I bought it and it just came in the mail yesterday! Yay! 

This picture really inspired the pleating on the front of my bodice. It also steered me away from a bonnet and toward a tall hat. Someone referred to this style as a "flower pot" hat. It really does look like a pot, turned upside down! 

I kept going back to this picture as I sewed. I love how the bodice is pulling a bit and she's a little wrinkly all over. It reminded me that I was making real clothes, not a costume, perpetually steamed, pressed and flawless on a mannequin.

Another picture I fell in love with is the photograph of Louise, Princess Royal (#157) in Alison Gernsheim's book, Victorian and Edwardian Fashion, A Photographic Survey. In the book, it's a full length shot of the same outfit, pictured below. Great book.

Louise, Princess Royal.
Wikimedia Commons.

Actually, online I found a scan of the full length photo. Click here for it. The size of her bustle is interesting, considering I didn't see too many prominent bustles in the CDV's and cabinet cards I studied. Whereas, they were ALL over the fashion plates of the era. Interesting to see what everyday ladies wore. Perhaps Princess Louise was quite fashionable, being a royal and all... Thoughts?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Frances Folsom Cleveland's Gown

One of my favorite museums to visit is the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington DC. The first time I went I was a little kid, and you could not get me out of the first ladies' exhibit for anything!

Why, you ask?

Gowns.

Lots of gowns. Two hundred years of gowns.

Though there is only a small selection of gowns and accessories out at any given time, apparently the museum has thousands of artifacts relating to the first ladies. They have Martha Washington's dress, Abigale Adams' shoes, Mary Todd Lincoln's lorngettes (do you think she took them to the theater that night?...) and lots of other artifacts from Martha to today. And since Helen Taft, it has been tradition for each first lady to give her inaugural dress to the exhibit.

But today I'm going to be highlighting Frances Folsom Cleveland's wedding dress.

Frances Folsom Cleveland's dress, c. 1886.

I totally love this dress. The gown is of ivory satin, with a sheer over trim at the bust. It has a grand train and some lovely asymmetrical pleats and gathers on the skirt. 

The day after the wedding, the Washington Post reported, "The bride wore an enchanting white dress of ivory satin, simply garnished on the high corsage with India muslin crossed in Grecian folds and carried in exquisite falls of simplicity over the petticoat. The orange blossom garniture, commencing upon the veil in a superb coronet, is continued throughout the costume with artistic skill. She carried no flowers and wore no jewelry except an engagement ring, containing a sapphire and two diamonds."

Frances Cleveland wearing the dress,
ornamented with garlands of
Orange Flower blossoms.

Frances married President Cleveland in June of 1886, in the White House's Blue Room, at the age of 21. She is the youngest first lady so far, and their marriage had the biggest age gap of all the Presidents and first ladies, with a 27 year difference. The Clevelands are the only couple to be married in the white house and to have a baby born in the White House, as well. 

A stereograph of the Blue Room, taken during the Grant years.

Apparently Frances was quite fashionable for the day and was so well liked, she even received fan mail!

The Clevelands' wedding in the Blue Room.
Image via Wikimedia Commons

Esther Cleveland is the only baby to be born
 in the White House. She was born on
September 9th, 1893.
The White House Archives

Unfortunately, when I went to see this exhibit again last year, the dress wasn't on display. However, I remember, very vividly, from years past, that the dress had a little dime sized, light brown, splattery stain on the lap. I always thought this was the coolest thing because it made it so real and I could really picture her wearing it, and oops! Spilling a a little soup, or perhaps wine, in her lap. 

Now, this didn't necessarily happen at the wedding, as the dress was altered after, to an evening gown for two state events later that same June, and once more for a formal portrait on the 29th of June, 1886.

The Smithsonian also has another dress of hers and a bonnet on display on their website

From the First Ladies' Fashions exhibit,
"Frances Cleveland wore this silk evening gown
with fur-edged hem and black-satin-and-jet trim during
her husband’s second administration. It was made
by Baltimore dressmaker Lottie Barton."

Cleveland's cream velvet bonnet.
And because it's almost Christmas... The Cleveland family's Christmas tree!

The Cleveland's Christmas tree, c. 1895,
displayed in the Family Room and Library,
 now the Yellow Oval Room.
The White House Historical Association

Have a happy day all!