Early Costuming Progress for 2016 Sunday, Jan 31 2016 

I know I haven’t posted for a couple of months, but that’s not because I haven’t been sewing. I sewed up a storm—a superstorm! A veritable Winter Storm Goliath!—at Christmas… so I couldn’t share any of *those* projects until after everyone had their gifts.

…Which they still don’t. Sigh. At least two handmade Christmas gifts are STILL wrapped, upstairs, in the guestroom, waiting for Certain People to deign to come pick them up.

How much sewing, you might ask? Well, my Project 41 tally stands at 34, as of this morning, because I just finished the first garb project of 2016! Or, if you like, the last garb project of 2010. Ahem. Yep, it’s a UFO!

St Cath corset front

This is a version of Simplicity 2621, Elizabethan pair of bodies/corset, which you might recognize, because I’ve used it twice before. My pink corset and purple kirtle are both from this pattern. What’s unusual about this version is the boning. I used hemp cord (one of my favorite ways to stiffen period bodies. Gosh, that sentence sounds weird, doesn’t it? Large blocks of ice also work, but the logistics are terrible….), which gives a slightly softer/curvier silhouette. And, you know, it took six years to finish, so.

I started it way back a million years ago, got all the major construction done, and then for whatever reason stalled out before binding & eyelets. A couple of years later I pulled it out, trimmed down the hemp cord ends and added half the eyelets. Yes, half. Don’t ask me what happened to the other half; I have no idea. When the Historical Sew Monthly announced the 2016 challenges, and specifically that the January challenge was Procrastination, I had the perfect candidate!

…And then put it off for another three weeks.

St. Catherine corset back

Excuse the wonky lacing; all I had was a too-short shoestring. If I were starting this project now, I would probably have set the eyelets for spiral lacing; modern criss-cross lacing is faster for CJ to manage, so. That’s my excuse.

The eyelets are done by machine; my Viking has the wonderful feature of making lovely, functional lacing eyelets with the addition of this little gadget:

eyelet plate

The eyelet plate, which attaches to the machine bed like so:

eyelet plate in situ

And just like with hand-worked eyelets, you open the hole with an awl, then fit it over the (I don’t want to say “nipple”)… raised part of the plate. You then zigzag around the hole, while steadily turning the fabric by hand. It’s magical!

eyelet making

You would normally want to use thread. 😉  These are done with Gutterman silk sewing thread, and I lowered the presser foot pressure as far as it would go. Sometimes with the bulk of the fabric + the bulk of the thread, it can get hard to turn, and you can get too much thread built up in one place. Lowering the presser foot pressure makes sure you can turn smoothly. Two passes, the first one narrower (4.0) to cover up any raw edges; the second wider (4.5) to get beautiful full coverage, and there you go.

I did these AFTER construction (I believe I mentioned!), because I knew the hemp cording would be flexible enough to maneuver through the machine’s harp space. For a rigidly-boned piece (cable ties, steel, reeds, synthetic whalebone, etc), you’d want to do the eyelets first. There’s some tight turning in a fair hurry involved here!

St Cath strap

My previous versions of this corset all have straps that are too long. I knew these would be, as well, but was too lazy to try it on (since it only had half its eyelets!), so I held my breath and lopped off 2.5″. Having straps that don’t meet the bodice is period, so I figured I’d be safe either way.

Orazio Gentileschi, The Lute Player, Italian, 1563 - 1639, c. 1612/1620, oil on canvas, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund

Orazio Gentileschi, The Lute Player c. 1615

I used French binding (which is bias binding with both raw edges pressed to one side, instead of toward the middle) made from ivory quilting cotton with a lovely soft olive/tan ditsy floral print that matches the khaki canvas perfectly. I love the muted colors, and it’s nice to finally see them together after all this time. I did NOT LOVE the French binding, less so with the cotton. It just didn’t ease as nicely as the microsuede I prefer to bind corsets with, and the two layers shifted and wrinkled on me. Meh. It turned out OK, but I’ll stick with my regular binding from now on. (I made the binding when I started the corset. It was also the first and one of the last times I ever did continuous binding. I *far* prefer to piece my binding strips! This Colette tutorial changed my binding life.)

I am hoping (that it fits; it’s been six years, after all, egad) to also construct the rest of the ensemble that goes over this pair of bodies, but you will have to stay tuned for future HSM challenges for that.

Challenge Details:

What the Item is: 16th century pair of bodies (corset)

The Challenge: January, Procrastination

Material: Cotton canvas, quilting cotton binding; hemp cord boning

Pattern: Simplicity 2621

Year: Mid-16th century (conjecture)

Notions: Hemp cord, silk sewing thread

How historically accurate is it? Eh. Really, not so much. This was the very beginning of stiffened bodies in Europe and England. This pattern, in its original incarnation (with rigid boning and tabs at the waist), is inspired by and very similar to the only two extant “corsets” from the period. My version, intended to be used in Italian costuming, is going farther afield still. Italian gowns of this period generally had stiffened bodies, not separate corsets, and although the use of cording to stiffen bodices/corsets is more widespread and earlier than costumers have traditionally thought (Salen, 2007), the use of hemp cord to stiffen Italian Renaissance bodies is thoroughly the theory, conjecture, inspiration, and work of Jen Thompson (Festive Attyre) and other experimental historical costumers. THAT SAID, it has been a proven method for re-enactors to achieve the soft, gently curving silhouette common to Italian costuming of the period. So, assuming the gown to go with this ever gets made, the LOOK should be correct, if not the underlying construction.

Hours to complete: Um…. This is the procrastination challenge, after all! I started it in 2010, worked on it again a couple years later, then pulled it out this month to finish half the eyelets and apply the binding. Maybe 4-5 hours this month to finish everything up?

First worn: Not yet. Praying that it still fits. Or fits again. Or will fit again. Or something. It’s finished, what else do you want from me? Sheesh!

Total cost: Hmm. It took about a yard of canvas at US ~$7.00/yard (2010 prices), plus a yard of the quilt fabric for the binding, plus maybe another $6-7 for the hemp cord, around $5.00 for the silk thread, and around $850 for the sewing machine that does eyelets….

Cauled out for cockading & hattitude Monday, Oct 5 2015 

post serious ps

I saw an interview with Cindy Crawford last week, where she said, “Have a story in your head when posing for photographs.”  Here I evidently suspect this fence post of foul and nefarious doings, and am attempting to ascertain its guilt via mind meld. Glamorous! 

5 October 2015

Huzzah! It’s FINALLY really finished. Do you remember my big garb project from a year ago, an English fitted gown? At the time I had only completed the gown itself, with its epic short paned sleeves-of-a-million-pieces. But it was missing the appropriate period accessories: hat, caul, and proper sleeves.

Not anymore! Thanks to inspiration from the Historical Sew Monthly September challenge, Brown, I have at last completed the ensemble.

EFG complete ps color

Yond fence post hath a lean and hungry look….

The sleeves and caul are lovely, but the hat is the star.

brown feathers

I’ve made plenty of other hats before, but this was my first time working with buckram and millinery wire to construct a period hat completely from scratch. What fun! I can’t wait to try another one.

I used the Lynn McMasters Elizabethan Arched-Brim Hat pattern, which also included the pattern for the caul (made from these scraps).

caul shot crop

Believe it or not, this thing actually just stays on the head like that! For a whole windy day….

I really wanted a hat like the one Lucas de Heere gave his English townswoman, with the high, slanted crown and a narrowish brim:

de Heere Englishwomen

But I couldn’t find a commercial pattern with exactly that silhouette. The Lynn McMasters one came close-ish; but the mockups were not encouraging! It seemed like the crown was too short, the brim too wide, and the whole thing not quite large enough overall. Still, lacking enough understanding of hat architecture to alter the pattern, I forged ahead anyway. And it looks a gazillion times better finished than I feared!

Chris Steph Tess Sept 26 2015

This project involved a lot of hand sewing, wearing out thimbles, needles, and fingers along the way! I used black microsuede for the fashion fabric, and lined it in the same bronze taffeta as the fitted gown. Trimmed out with extra fitted gown trim, the most perfect feather cockade from Michaels, and a lovely vintage brooch from etsy.

hat snood morning glories

For the sleeves, I used the basic sleeve pattern from The Tudor Tailor and reprised some of my favorite fabric. I’m very pleased with them–scaled straight out of the book as drafted, the only alteration I made was lengthening them a wee bit. All of my previous sleeves have been far too large for me, so these are a vast improvement.

with jade ps cropped final

That might be it from me for garb this year (although the sleeve pattern is tempting me to make a couple more pairs—and I just cut one out this morning!—so who knows!). If anyone is still keeping a tally, I think this brings me to seventeen or eighteen finishes since my birthday.

Thanks for looking!

Historical Sew Monthly Challenge Details!

What the item is: A Trio of Elizabethan Accessories (Hat, Caul, Sleeves)

The Challenge: September Challenge 9: Brown. Brown is my favorite color (yes, really!), and I needed a set of proper period accessories to complete the duck green and bronze fitted English gown I made last year. I loved working with brown as an accent color—brown embroidery and lace on the caul; bronze trim and glorious brown feathers on the hat; and the small tan-and-cream motif on the black sleeves.

Fabrics: Hat is buckram base, covered in microsuede and lined in taffeta; sleeves are cotton jacquard lined in cotton sateen; caul is pre-embroidered muslin.

Pattern: Hat & Caul: Lynn McMasters Elizabethan Arched Brim Hat; Sleeves: Tudor Tailor

Year: 1560s-70s

Notions: Feather cockade, brooch, and braid for the hat; golden brown Cluny lace for the caul; just a bit of grosgrain ribbon to tie the sleeves on.

How historically accurate is it? Except for the fiber content of the fabrics (linen, silk, and wool would have been period), it’s pretty good. The patterns for the sleeves and caul are from reliable sources and are dead on. I am a little more iffy on the hat. It doesn’t really look like like hats of its type from period sources  and illustrations (the brim seems too wide, and the crown is too short); and I read that the designer’s original source/model for the pattern was a book whose research and silhouettes are now considered out of date. So I just can’t say for sure. Construction was a mix of hand and machine. I’d give myself about 85%.

Hours to complete: Hat: About two weeks, so maybe ~30? Caul, a bit under 2 (some fitting and fussing); sleeves, about 1.

First worn: Kansas City Renaissance Festival, Oct 2015.

Total cost: The sleeves and caul were all scraps left over from other projects, so free! The hat was about $40, all in, with the pattern and specialized millinery materials. The cockade was the real bargain! I stumbled across that lovely thing, as is, in the floral aisle at Michaels (large US craft store). It was on sale for something like $2.00, and I instantly knew it was meant to be on my hat!

Embroidery Hoopla! Monday, Aug 31 2015 

PHOTOSHOP photoshoot badge whitework CROP

Would you like to see one of my most prized possessions?

You might have seen it before; it has already made a couple brief appearances on the site. But today it deserves a feature of its own.

It’s my hoop. To be more specific, my circa 1905 Gibbs “Princess” brand 6-inch embroidery hoop:

Hoop Whitework 1

That’s right: For the better part of 20-odd years, I have used an antique hoop for nearly all of my embroidery, and it may well have seen more than 100 years of steady use!

Hoop Logo

Gibbs Mfg Co, out of Canton, Ohio, was once the largest maker of embroidery hoops in the world. This 1916 ad is for their more popular style, the Duchess. (I have one of those, too.)

1915 Ad for Duchess hoops

My Duchess and Princess hoops came to me from an estate auction in central Iowa (where I grew up) in the early 1990s. I don’t know their provenance before that, or anything about the needlewomen who owned and used them before me, but I can say these things were built to last! And they are built well. The hype from the ads wasn’t. It’s all true. They really do have the best tension and hold of any hoop, ever—certainly any I’ve ever used, at least. Unlike modern hoops, they’re not adjustable. They don’t need to be. (Technically, Gibbs calls them “automatically adjustable.”) The secret of the Princess hoop is what Gibbs called “the bowspring,” that curvy band of metal shown below (click for full size):

Hoop Spring

It allows the hoop to flex to fit thick or thin fabrics and hold them taut while you stitch. I’ve stitched everything from lightweight needlepoint canvas to heavily-fulled wool kersey, to the finest Irish linens and cotton batistes, and it’s brilliant at all of them. The wood is finely turned, and further burnished to incredible smoothness by its long lifetime in use. The 6″ size is easy on the hands and nicely portable. Gibbs made these hoops in seven sizes, from 4 to 12″. My Duchess hoop is one of the larger ones, and I also have a 10″ Princess from a different auction. But the 6s are my favorites.

1905 Trade Ads

October 1906 trade magazine write-up on “Improved Embroidery Hoops,” featuring the Princess automatically adjustable hoop. Click for larger version.

One of my favorite aspects of being a needlewoman is the connection I feel to generations, to centuries, of needlewomen before me. I don’t have a personal needlework heritage in my own family (my mom was/is a woodworker; and although my grandmothers each sewed all their clothes, stitching was not a pastime we shared or ever did together). So I am connected to my stitching forebears most strongly through my equipment.

So when the Historical Sew Monthly August challenge, “Heritage and Heirlooms,” came up, I knew immediately what I wanted to do.

“We’re honouring history and the future by celebrating our own personal heritage, or creating something that will be a heirloom for the next generation of sewers and makers as we:

re-create a garment one of your ancestors wore or would have worn, or use an heirloom sewing supply to create a new heirloom to pass down to the next generations.”

Badge Extreme Closeup

Although I’ve been stitching nearly all my life, I have only recently joined the Embroiderers Guild of America. One of our first tasks as members is to design and stitch a namebadge to wear to meetings (or they will fine you! A whole 25 cents!!). A while back I stitched (in my 95-year-old hoop!) this little fleur-de-lis, but never made it up into anything. Since I use that piece as my avatar on my online stitching groups, it seemed the appropriate candidate for my badge. I pulled it out (found the floss to go with it!), and added my name and the date I joined the EGA.

Finished Badge Closeup

The back of the badge is a scissor (and class fees!) pocket. The backing fabric is a scrap of printed corduroy from my very first “historical” costume ever, a cloak I made in high school. I still love that fabric (and have worn the cloak as recently as this century). That jacquard trim wandered into the party, and the scissor charm and the beautiful fleur-de-lis scissors were birthday gifts from Milord.

Scissor Pocket Back

I am thrilled to pieces with how this little thing came out, even if it did get a bit carried away! Gilding the lily, anyone?! I have done all kinds of needlework in my lifetime and don’t seem to have any particular style or leaning toward what I make. But this piece… this one is very, very me. I think it’s a perfect expression of my personal needlework heritage, and I will love wearing it.

badge worn

whitework hanky finished

click to zoom

…But while I was prepping this blog post, doing the research on my hoops’ history, I realized I needed to stitch something from the hoop’s own era! So I whipped up this little whitework hanky. The design is from Wm. Briggs’s Album of Transfer Patterns from c.1900 (Dover 1986 reprint—also period-appropriate to when I began using the hoops!). As my 1905 sister stitcher might well have done, I sent away for the fancy work (handkerchiefs) via mail order. The cotton is fine/sheer enough that I was able to trace it directly over the page in the book. The book does not suggest which stitches or weights of thread to use, but the design itself does. I used primarily a mix of stem stitch and lazy daisies (detached chainstitch), with a couple fly stitches and straight stitches tossed in for good measure. Two strands of floss for the bolder bits; one for the finer ones. I like the way the stranded cotton photographs against the sheer hanky fabric.

So there you have it. From 1905 to 2015, my beloved heirloom hoop in good use.

Challenge Details:

What the item is: 100 Years of Embroidery Heritage. Whitework Handkerchief, and Renaissance Revival Chatelaine, stitched on an antique embroidery hoop from 1905.

The Challenge: #8, August, Heirlooms & Heritage

Fabric: For the whitework, cotton batiste ready-made handkerchief with crochet cotton lace. For the chatelaine, natural linen with metallic gold accents. The backing fabric is vintage printed corduroy from the early 1990s.

Pattern: Whitework, Wm Briggs & Co Album of Transfer Patterns, 1900. Chatelaine, Fleur de lis motif from Abbey Lane Designs “A New Beginning” spot sampler, 2005 by Susan Gastler. Construction, My own, based on previous finishes.

Year: Whitework, 1905. Chatelaine, 2015.

Notions: Whitework, DMC stranded cotton. Coton a broder would have been the preferred choice then and now, but stranded cotton was also widely available and what I happened to have on hand. Chatelaine, DMC rayon embroidery floss, jacquard trim, cardstock & batting for mounting, twisted cord, scissors charm, and pearl-head straight pins.

How historically accurate is it? The whitework is extremely accurate: Original period design, stitched on reproduction (or rather, ongoing-production!) period fancy goods, with authentic antique equipment from the era. About the only inaccurate part was the electric light I used to stitch it by! The chatelaine is also “accurate” to 2015—a modern heirloom using heirloom tools and modern/vintage materials. 🙂

Hours to complete: Whitework, about an hour. Chatelaine embroidery, unknown. Chatelaine finishing, a little over two hours, maybe? (Unless we’re counting Thinking Time, in which case it’s closer to about 10!)

First worn: I debuted the chatelaine last week at my EGA meeting. I don’t really know when I’ll have an occasion to carry the hanky—perhaps it will go in a hope chest to be passed down or discovered by someone in another 80 years.

Total cost: Oh, I wish I knew! The hoops came in an auction lot twenty-five years ago or so, and I have absolutely no idea how much they cost or what they might be worth. I have seen them on ebay and etsy for wildly varying costs, and typically they come in lots of several older hoops. I think you could expect to pay around $20 US for a lot at auction; probably much less at a yard sale or thrift store for a single hoop. The hankies were 3 for $10. The embroidery design came from a Dover book that I purchased, but many similar period needlework books are digitized online for free. For the chatelaine, everything came from stash except the pins.

This has been my very favorite HSF challenge so far. What a wonderful way to do honor to those who came before us, and to the ongoing work that we do.

(And for anyone keeping track, these mark Projects #6 and #7 of my Project 41 Challenge.)