18th c. Embroidered Waistcoats

Without question, what most people ask me for are 18th c. embroidered waistcoats. It makes sense, since that was the first truly ambitious embroidery project I tackled, and to this day, it’s still my favorite.

Last year I made a second version of the same waistcoat, this time in much more muted grey tones on white linen, to match a linen suit my client was having made. Stitching it out again made me realize that even when the end result looks great, there are many technical details that make it difficult on the embroiderer. Copyright restrictions prevent me from ever selling that design as a product unto itself, so it doesn’t make much sense at this point to go back and clean it up.

C&B Waistcoat

However, I do want to have waistcoats in my product line, since so many people have expressed a desire for them. I was aiming for Summer 2016 as a release date, figuring that 2015 would focus on smaller borders and accessories. Luckily, I get to move that up a year, thanks to a couple nudges from the universe over the last couple weeks.

First up will be something a little simpler: a late 18th c. or early Regency style waistcoat based on this pink striped linen example in the Met. I’m so excited about this one, it went into development within a day of getting the nudge to do it! The nice part about this design is that the floral motifs would be just as well suited to women’s garments or heirloom sewing, in case a waistcoat isn’t your thing.

The second one will be a more traditional 18th c. style with a slightly earlier cut, around 1770. This one is inspired by another example at the Met. This design will take a little longer to produce, since I will also be publishing a waistcoat pattern to go with it, so you can be confident that the pattern and the embroidery will match up.

I’m so excited to be tackling these projects sooner than anticipated. I really love menswear, and I love the challenge of making items like these come to life again. These will probably only be two of many waistcoat designs I will eventually offer, so that men can have some options when picking a design.  Even though the cut of waistcoats remained more or less the same, there is a lot of variety in how bold or delicate the actual embroidery was, and I want to be able to reflect that in the designs I produce.


June 1826 Muslin Pattern

Here’s a sneak peak at an embroidery design that is almost ready to be released. It’s a muslin pattern from the June 1826 edition of Ackermann’s Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashions and Politics. Handkerchief-1-web This particular design can be made up into a square for a handkerchief, or one central corner for a fichu. It could also be used for an apron or gown, with a scalloped edge and the floral sprig as a scattered fill or additional border. Handkerchief-3-web The original inspiration image can be seen here: 1826 Regency Needlework Pattern 6 June 1826 This is the kind of design gets me really excited about the possibilities of machine embroidery. In less than 4 hours, I can make an entire handkerchief. In 4 hours by hand.. I can probably make a mess of some thread and want to throw my embroidery hoop across the room. I have great admiration for those who can do hand work, but I don’t know if I will ever have the time and patience to join their ranks. Until then, well-researched machine embroidery is a compromise I am happy to live with! Handkerchief-4-web

18th century pocket, and more

A year ago, I was thinking about how I wanted to launch my range of embroidery designs. I felt it wasn’t enough just to create a period design and put it out on the internet. I also wanted to create beautiful samples that would get people excited and imaginations running. I didn’t want a lone design out there, so I was thinking in terms of collections. Then I started thinking about samples and models and photo shoots – and wow. That is a LOT of work.

To be honest, striving for that level of marketing right from the beginning just isn’t possible. I still want to do it, but these days, I’m seeing the sense in the saying “Perfect is the enemy of done.” I already have a lot of work with a steep learning curve on my plate, and I shouldn’t complicate it any more than I have to. That tendency towards perfectionism is hard to fight, but I can clearly see that it’s already delayed me over a year.

Instead, I have decided to release items on Etsy as they become available. They may need fine tuning over time, but that’s OK. I may or may not make bigger samples of every single one, and that’s OK, too. I plan to put out a few more designs each month and wait until I have a better handle on that process before I dive into other types of marketing.

This month, I have three designs up.  My favorite is this 18th century ladies’ pocket. It’s based on an extant pocket in LACMA’s collection, and the design file contains both the embroidery files and a PDF pattern and instructions for sewing the pocket. I really like this pocket because of the unusual elongated shape and graceful floral embroidery accented with pomegranates and strawberries. When stitched in wool blend thread on linen fabric, it has a nice period feel and texture.

Yellow pocket 2

Red pocket 1

The samples in the photos are finished with cotton fabric as lining behind the embroidery and for the back of the pocket. The slit and top of the pocket are bound with white linen tape. I found it interesting that the body of this pocket was stitched and turned rather than bound.

I also have two border designs inspired by images from Ackermann’s Repository. The first is a delicate clover design in two widths, based on a design originally published in August, 1812.

Aug 1812 Image 2

The second is a floral border with a scalloped edge, based on a design published in October, 1821. This design looks just lovely in silk embroidery thread, and has the option of being stitched with a cutwork border.

Silk cutwork

I’m working on some other borders and an apron or handkerchief edging right now. I’m also planning ahead to a bigger project this spring that would be another embroidery design + sewing pattern combination. I’d really like to develop a men’s nightcap, something like this one at LACMA:


I have more caps pinned on my Pinterest Board, Embroidery – Caps and Coifs. What would you like to see me make? I’m always open to suggestions.

Cutwork borders – a tutorial and a freebie!

One of the features in my first few designs is the option to make a cutwork edge as part of the embroidery process, creating a neatly finished edge like you find in hand sewn and manufactured goods. Since this may not be familiar to many of you, I wanted to post a quick tutorial as well as a freebie so you can try it out at home.

Whenever possible, I use natural fiber fabrics as my base for embroidery. Fine fabrics such as lightweight lawn and batiste are suitable for cutwork, but anything extremely sheer and delicate may not have enough body to support the cut edge once the stabilizer is rinsed away. If you wish to use a very sheer fabric, I recommend that you experiment with a combination of stabilizers, possibly using a tear away under the cutwork edge for additional support even if you use wash away stabilizer for the rest of the design.

For cutwork designs I use matching thread on top and in the bobbin, rather than a different bobbin thread. This creates a smooth finished edge for the fabric.  I typically use DMC 50 weight cotton machine embroidery thread, and sometimes an 80 weight thread like Madeira Cotona for delicate fabrics.

1. Lightly starch and iron your fabric before beginning.

2. If making a continuous border, mark a line for your finished edge with a pencil, wash away pen, or by drawing a single thread. This will be where the deepest part of the scallop touches the edge. You may also wish to mark a second line marking the highest point of the scallops, where the design repeats match up.

3. Layer the fabric on top of 1-2 layers of wash-away stabilizer. If desired, use a temporary spray adhesive to hold the layers together while hooping.  Hoop with the fabric layer on top.

4. Stitch Color 1, which forms a cutting line in running stitch, just inside the finished edge of the design.

Color 1 stitches out the cutting line.

Color 1 stitches out the cutting line.

5. Remove hoop from the machine, but DO NOT remove the fabric from the hoop.

6. Carefully trim away the fabric below the stitched line, cutting as close as possible to the stitching without cutting any threads. Be careful not to stretch or shift the fabric while trimming. I also trim away the loose fabric so it can’t get caught in the stitching later. Do not cut into the layer of stabilizer.

Trim away excess fabric below cutting line.

Trim away excess fabric below cutting line.

7. Replace the hoop in the machine, and continue stitching the remaining colors of the design. Color 2 will zigzag over the cut edge of the fabric, then cover it in satin stitches. When the stabilizer is washed away, this will be the finished edge of the fabric. If you notice you have a lot of whiskers showing after the zigzag stitches, you can stop the machine and trim them away before you stitch the satin stitches. Most of the time they won’t be noticeable in the finished project.

Halfway through color 1, showing the zigzag stitches being covered by satin stitches.

Halfway through color 1, showing the zigzag stitches being covered by satin stitches.

Cutwork 4

Satin stitches completed. Ready to repeat into a border, or to wash away the stabilizer. 

Here are the front and back views of the finished stitching. The back stitches don’t look as smooth as the top stitches, but when stitched in matching thread they won’t be noticeably different looking if the edge gets flipped up during use.


Front of work.


Back of work. 

Just think of all the things you can do with a pretty scalloped border. Here is my Pinterest board with a few ideas to get you started.

Want to try it out? Download the freebie here.

Stabilizers for Historic Garments

One of the topics that confused me most when I started machine embroidery was what kind of stabilizer to use and when. There are so many choices to pick from, and many can be downright expensive. The sewing machine shops were quick to recommend cut away and tear away stabilizers for almost everything. They are generally only thinking in terms of knits and sturdy wovens, not the cottons, linens, and silks often used for historic costuming.

I quickly discovered that for historic garments, I really didn’t want any trace of the stabilizer left behind. The thread alone adds a fair amount of stiffness that you don’t see in hand embroidery, and stabilizer can add even more bulk. Cut away can show through after pressing, and tear away can be a pain to pick out of detailed designs. In the end, I discovered I prefer to use wash away stabilizers on almost every project, because you’re left with just fabric and thread. Obviously, that doesn’t work well with silks or other fabrics that shouldn’t get wet. For those I generally use a tear away, though I’m intrigued by the heat away options that disintegrate when heated by an iron, and then can be brushed away.

Unfortunately, not all wash away stabilizers are made equal, and some fabrics can be wriggly in the hoop, making lining up borders or designs difficult. Here are a few of the things I’ve figured out over the past few years. It’s by no means the only way to do things, but if you’re just starting out, I hope it saves you some of the trial and error I went through.

  • There are two types of wash away stabilizers: sheer, plastic-like ones and white, fabric-like ones. I like the second type, because they seem to hold up better as the needle goes through them repeatedly and therefore give more support to the design.
  • Some stabilizers wash away better than others, so it’s a good idea to try it out before you commit to a big roll. Right now I like the H2O Gone wash away stabilizer, but there are many other options out there.
  • You may need two layers of stabilizer, especially since the wash away types aren’t as firm as the tear away and cut away stabilizers. Sometimes you may need even more ways to firm up your fabric. (I’ll cover some ideas later in this post.)
  • You may need one layer under and another on top of the fabric, especially if your stitches are sinking into the fabric, or the machine is catching on the fabric, like when you’re stitching on velvet or tucked fabric. The clear wash away stabilizers can be useful for that top layer.
  • It may help to baste the fabric to the stabilizer, either with stitching or with temporary spray adhesives, so there is less slipping as you embroider a design.
  • If your fabric is thin or slipping, it may help to add another layer of fabric into the hoop to increase the grip. You can wrap fabric strips or twill tape around the hoop, just like you might for hand embroidery.
  • If you’re going to use a wash away stabilizer, pre-wash your fabric before stitching. You don’t want it to shrink after you’ve done all that work!
  • There are more and more stabilizers on the market all the time. Some iron on, some are sticky, some melt away, heat away, or wash away. Don’t be afraid to experiment to find the right combination for the design you’re stitching on your fabric on your machine. Ruining a few swatches is vastly preferable to ruining a whole project.
  • Don’t be cheap when it comes to stabilizer, especially if you’re using good fabrics and good thread. It can seem like a big expense, but it makes such a difference in the final product.

For some projects, stabilizer alone may never be enough. Delicate cotton batiste or wriggly linen can be difficult no matter what you use with them. In these cases, it can help to stiffen up the fabric itself before hooping with your stabilizer of choice.

One option is starch. Several coats of spray starch can really help a wiggly or sheer fabric become manageable. This goes for sewing it, as well! If you want to go even stiffer, any old-fashioned liquid starch that would make a petticoat stand up by itself will also do the same with your fabric before embroidering.

Another option is a liquid stabilizer. There are ready-made versions out there, but I prefer a DIY version made from wash away stabilizer dissolved in warm water.  If you trim away the excess stabilizer from your projects before you wash them and save the scraps, it’s free. This makes my frugal little heart happy, because I hate wasting anything, especially 3/4 of the width of the stabilizer when stitching borders!

I use roughly two parts water to one part scraps, aiming for a nice balance between too runny and too sticky. I used about a fistful of scraps for a jar this size.

The ingredients for a DIY liquid stabilizer: wash away scraps, warm water, and a brush.

You can brush it on or use a spray bottle. I prefer a brush, because I don’t want to worry about sticky overspray to clean up later, or needing to unclog the nozzle if it dries out. No matter what, it’s a bit sticky and messy, so take that into consideration before you start!

The messy task of brushing on liquid stabilizer.

This is a sheer cotton fabric before and after the liquid stabilizer. The stiffened fabric has a lot of body, like organza, and is much easier to hoop without pulling it off grain.

Sheer cotton fabric before and after being stiffened with liquid stabilizer.

So how much difference does it really make?

Sample 1: Linen straight off the bolt, and hooped with wash away stabilizer. The faint blue line to the left was a straight line on grain when hooped. You can see how the stitching has pulled the fabric off grain in places, and there are some puckers in the embroidery.

Fabric 1

Sample 2: Linen ironed with several coats of spray starch, then hooped with wash away stabilizer. This has a pulled thread at the left of the image to show the grain of the fabric.  This is better, with more of the fabric still on grain and fewer puckers. More starch or a heavier starch would have helped even more.

Fabric 2

Sample 3: Linen brushed with liquid stabilizer and left to dry, then hooped with wash away stabilizer. This also has a pulled thread at the left of the image to show the grain of the fabric. Most of the fabric is still on grain, and there was almost no puckering at all this time. This is a great option for a larger design or border that you need to piece together accurately.

Fabric 3

So please, take the time to experiment and find the stabilizer option that gives you the best results with the least headaches. Most of what they will tell you in the sewing shops applies to someone embroidering t-shirts and kids’ clothing, not historic garments and delicate fabrics, but there are options that work beautifully if you hunt for them.

Why machine embroidery?

It was probably 15 years ago that I first saw an embroidery machine and went “oooh!! I want that!!”  It seemed like the perfect way to add some detail to the historical costumes I made, and my mind was spinning with possibilities.  Every year or two I’d stop into a sewing store and look longingly at the newest models, but it was many years before I actually made the purchase.

When I finally did get the courage to buy one, it wasn’t the dazzling experience I thought it would be.  It started off well enough.  I got such a thrill opening the box and looking at all the designs included with the machine.  I happily bought thread and stitched a few things out.  So cool! Then I needed a real project to test it out on, and that’s where my excitement started to wane.

There was a lily among the designs I owned. That seems like something with potential, right? Didn’t Worth make some gowns embroidered with lilies? Surely I could figure out how to add some embroidery to a ball gown. The problem was that one lone lily wasn’t big enough or varied enough to recreate the opulence of a Worth gown without just looking silly.  When I went looking for additional lilies, they were too small or the style didn’t blend or they had some other problem, and my grand ideas of ball gowns went on hold.

So I looked for a less ambitious project, like some sweet borders for Victorian frillies or a blouse.  That worked pretty well, as long as I was willing to limit myself to straight lines.  Unfortunately, I discovered there were a lot of curved hems and corners on collars that I had no idea how to work around. So I still wasn’t producing the garments I envisioned, and I was discouraged enough that there were months (and years) where my machine sat gathering dust.

The other limitation was that there are very few historically accurate designs out there. My favorites are from Martha Pullen’s historic collection. These have the benefit of being taken straight from period clothing, but often aren’t the complete set of designs needed to recreate the garment in question.  For example, her DAR collection has designs taken from several waistcoats, but generally only includes the borders. What do you do when you need pockets and collars and all the shaped embroidery?

Even with the addition of some pretty expensive embroidery software, the options didn’t expand much.  Editing files was hard, and digitizing from scratch was even harder. The first time I managed to cut and paste and smoosh together some designs to create a waistcoat I was over the moon!! It’s still one of my favorite pieces.  Unfortunately, there were quite a few flaws in my editing technique that made it unwieldy to stitch out, and I never quite mustered the energy to start over and do it more thoughtfully.

A close up of my first really ambitious embroidery project.

A close up of my first really ambitious embroidery project, an 18th c. men’s waistcoat, using heavily edited versions of Martha Pullen’s DAR design collection.

Along the way I learned a few things.  First, there is a rhyme and reason to how designs are professionally digitized.  Even when they are driving us crazy with 14 seemingly needless color changes, they really do know best.  There’s a push and pull to the way a machine stitches out, and professional designs compensate for this so that the design is properly aligned at the end of your hard work. My attempts at editing and digitizing taught me exactly how much I didn’t know. Second, modern machine embroidery assumes the wearer is going to toss the clothing in the washing machine frequently.  As a result, there aren’t many long floating stitches like you would see in hand embroidery, and the end product often looks flat and modern.

Eventually this led me to where I am now, tackling the task of translating historic designs taken from extant garments and period publications into a format that can go into an embroidery machine and come back out looking as handmade as possible. I’ve been working with professional digitizers so the resulting designs are high quality, but it does take a bit of back and forth as I explain WHY I want them to go against the conventions of the industry. Once again, I am getting a good look at how much I don’t know!

Along with getting the stitches to mimic hand work, I’ve spent a lot of time playing with different threads.  When I first started out, I had no idea there was a world beyond the sea of rayon in every sewing shop.  It turns out there is silk, cotton, and wool available, and they add beauty and dimension to a machine stitched design, helping bridge the gap between hand and machine work even more. They can be more expensive, but I think they are worth every penny.

Now, someone is going to ask the question – why bother with a machine at all? Why not just learn to do it by hand? Well, I do know how to do the basics by hand, but I currently have neither the skill or the time to create the type of projects I envision.  The machine is faster and better than I am, or probably ever will be.  As well, some people have physical limitations that would prevent them from tackling an ambitious hand embroidery project.

Just like with everything in the costuming world, everyone works at their own level.  Some will do handwork, some will do machine work, and some will find trims and fabrics that are close enough for their own tastes. For those that are inspired by the possibilities of machine embroidery, I want to start offering some real alternatives to what is currently out there.  My products won’t be for everyone, and that’s fine by me. If even a few people dust off their machines and get excited about embroidery again, it will be worth it.

Swimming in Swatches

No matter the type of handiwork, I’ve always hated making swatches. I do them because I know how valuable they are, but it’s still my least favorite part of a project. So of course, I decided to launch an idea that would require me to swatch things over and over and over again until they’re just right. What was I thinking??

Well, mostly I was thinking about how awesome it would be to bring period embroidery designs to life in a way that didn’t make them look flat and modern. It’s been a very interesting learning curve, figuring out how to translate historic pieces into something a machine can reproduce, and it hasn’t been without a few hiccups. I know enough about good digitizing to know I don’t know how to do it myself, but most professional digitizers need some coaxing to step outside their comfort zones. Once it looks good on the computer, then comes the work of making sure it looks good in practice – and that means endless swatches, in silk, cotton, and wool threads, on a variety of cotton and linen fabrics.

This silk on cotton voile swatch was stunning...until I washed away the stabilizer and the edge collapsed.

This silk thread on cotton voile swatch was stunning…until I washed away the stabilizer and the edge collapsed. Working on potential fixes, because this is gorgeous on sheer fabric!

As you might expect, some combinations work better than others, or look more period.  For example, take a peek at the same pattern in both silk and wool.  What a difference, right?

Wool on the left, silk on the right.  Can you see the difference in texture?

Wool on the left, silk on the right. Can you see the difference in texture?

It’s helped me discover issues – for example, cutwork on linen doesn’t act the same as cutwork on cotton voile.  I’ve also learned, and been frustrated by, the fact that some color ranges are available in some threads but not others. So my beloved yellow-greens are readily available in silk and wool, but ridiculously hard to find in cotton. Some colors that look great on the spools just look garish or clash when stitched out together. With each new discovery comes a new swatch or two… or five.

Just a few of the swatches so far.

Just a few of the swatches so far.

The good news is that although I’m long past my original target date, I am getting close to having something to publish. I’m also thinking ahead to the next few patterns.  So far I’ve only worked on 18th c. and Regency era designs for women, but I’d like to expand my range to include earlier pieces as well as some items for men, like pocketbooks and caps.

It’s about the journey, right?

A lot has happened this year to make me take stock of where I’m at and what I really want to be doing.  I originally started Romantic Recollections with the vision of a small business I could work from home while I raised children and did some homesteading on our 5 acre property.  It was a big dream, but the business wasn’t really the biggest part of that dream.  It was something I loved doing that I hoped would help make the other dreams possible.

I’ve come a long way from that original vision. The children I dreamed of never showed up, and the efforts we made to bring them into our lives distracted me from making much progress on the business – or the homestead, for that matter. We firmly closed the door on the idea of children this year, which opened up a lot of questions about what I really want to be doing with my life and with the business.  Suddenly, the business is in the position of not being a little thing to help out around my other activities, but in the position of being THE thing that I do.

Frankly, this scares me half to death. I’ve made a lot of false starts over the last few years, meaning to blog, meaning to sew, meaning to grow this business.  It’s not in any position right now to support the dreams of the future that is shaping up in front of me. But you know what else? There’s more than one reason I haven’t put the work into this business that would be needed to really succeed at it. I’m finally being honest with myself, and I’ve realized I just don’t like client work as my main business, and it’s been making me pretty unhappy and stressed out for a while.

Now, I love historical costuming. I love researching and planning and fabric shopping.  I really love making patterns and I love sewing. I love wearing the outfits and talking about it with other costumers, and even talking about it with clients. I have so many ideas and get so fired up at the thought of everything I want to do. I can see how passionate I am about this topic, and it always felt sensible to pursue it as a business.

The reality is that while I love all those things, I don’t often enjoy what I end up doing in my business – usually because I don’t get to do enough of the parts I truly love. It also leaves me with little time and inspiration to sew for myself, so not only do I not love my work, I also don’t participate in a hobby I love. As much as I really wanted to make it work, it isn’t making me happy, and it shows.  Work projects rarely, if ever, make it as far as the blog or the website because I was so drained by the end of projects that I didn’t care enough to document them. I didn’t spend a lot of time searching out new clients, because I was already overwhelmed with the few I had. I’m finally admitting to myself and everyone else that if I intend to have a costuming business, I need to take it a different direction.

But these years of muddling through to this realization haven’t been a complete waste. I’ve met some wonderful people in the costuming world, including some great entrepreneurs who have found their niche and are thriving – and it doesn’t involve sewing for others. I’ve dipped my toes into teaching and writing, I’ve won a competition, I’ve learned a ton about period clothing and I’ve turned out some pieces I am incredibly proud of. I’ve also figured out some of the things that really make me light up, like millinery and embroidery and making silk flowers.

For the last couple years I’ve been full of ideas about the potential of machine embroidery when combined with historic designs. There are so many pieces I would love to bring to life, not just for myself, but for the many costumers out there who wish, like I do, that there were historically accurate machine embroidery patterns available. It’s a topic I’m incredibly passionate about, and everyone I’ve talked to has been excited about the possibilities.

I have a clear vision of what I want to do and I’ve been working on some designs this year, around my client projects. I’ve been justifying the client work as a way to support the embroidery development, but I’m finally seeing that it’s been a huge roadblock instead. By the time client work is finished, the last thing I want to do is go work in my studio, and that’s just wrong. I’ve been letting the thing that makes me unhappy get in the way of the thing that makes me shine.

So I’m walking away from client work as gracefully as I can. I need to move on to the really exciting ideas that keep me in the studio for hours, yet feel like mere minutes. It’s time to build this business into something I love that can also sustain me, and I think this new direction has a lot of promise. I still want to do some hands-on work, and I have some ideas for what that might look like down the road, but I don’t want that to distract me just now.  My big priority for 2015 is launching some beautiful embroidery patterns and helping people use them in their own projects. I can’t wait to show you some of my ideas!

Tall Hat, part 2

It’s been fun to make this hat and brush off my millinery skills, so much so that I’ve been spending a lot of late nights in the studio working on it, even though I don’t plan to wear it before late June. As a result, I finished it much sooner than I expected!  I took advantage of having Holly around during daylight hours to get some shots of me wearing the hat, so that you could see the scale of it on a real person. It definitely ended up big!

Front view

Front view

Side view

Side view

I don’t really have progress photos between the mulled frame and the completed hat, partly because the change from ivory batting/flannel to white velvet wasn’t really dramatic enough to bother taking pictures of, and partly because I got caught up in the work and forgot to stop for pictures. The top of the hat and crown are covered with white cotton velvet, and the underside with aqua silk taffeta, with more taffeta binding the edge of the brim. Here is it after assembly but before most of the trim was put on. I opted to pleat the underside of the brim, even though I could have saved some hours by using a flat lining. I am happy with the finished effect, however, and glad I put in the extra time.  I also fidddled with the hat band for hours, trying to figure out the best way to cut it out and stitch it on, and ended up with a shaped band barely stitched down at all. It was the only way to have it lay smoothly across the crown and not distract from the shape, which I wanted to show off as much as possible.

Assembled hat, before trimming.

Assembled hat, before trimming.

I figured a floofy bow and some feathers were the obvious choice for trim, but they needed to be big enough to suit the hat. I wanted something full like the bow on this hat, which I ended up constructing of 2″ wide tubes of silk, to match the width of the band at the base of the crown.  After playing with the silk for a while, it was obvious that the large loops I was making would need some extra support, so each one is individually wired and gathered. The wire isn’t very noticeable, but gives just enough support to keep some fluff in each loop. Each loop was stitched to a circle of buckram, padded and covered with a scrap of silk. This gave me something to stitch the loops to firmly, as well as a bit of dimension to build the bow around.  It also means the finished bow could be stitched to the hat itself with a minimum of stitching, which in turn meant less handling of the hat during construction.

Padded buckram circle and individually wired bow loops.

Padded buckram circle and individually wired bow loops.

Big loopy bow ready to attach.

Big loopy bow ready to attach.

I also spent some time building the feathers into something lush enough for this hat.  I used three ostrich “plumes” in total, each made up of three feathers pulled from an assortment of 18-24″ plumes and 17-19″ drabs. The first was a 24″ long beauty of an ostrich plume which had a graceful natural curve to it, backed with two slightly damaged plumes. Then I built two shorter “plumes” from 17-19″ drabs topped with a shorter, less pretty plume. Each was then shaped and steamed and fluffed before being attached to the hat. The longest plume wraps around the back of the hat, arches up, and droops delicately over the edge of the brim, where the tip of the plume is secured with a swing tack so it can move, but not too far.

One drab out of the package, and three drabs sewn together, shaped and steamed.

One drab right out of the package, in front, and three drabs sewn together, shaped, and steamed, in back.

I set the feathers and the bow fairly far back on the hat, to keep most of the tall sloped front of the crown visible. I placed the bow about halfway up the crown, rather than flat on the brim. The feathers were arranged so that the two largest sweep around to the side opposite the bow, and the final one crosses over the back of the hat in the other direction. I may eventually add some other trim in the back, but for now I am really pleased with how it turned out! The inside is lined simply with white taffeta and a grosgrain band.

Finished hat from the front.

Finished hat from the front.

Feathered side of the hat.

Feathered side of the hat.

Back view.

Back view.

Bow detail.

Bow detail.


Reform Corset

One of my current client projects is a reform corset to be worn with a WWI nurse’s uniform. This corset presents an interesting challenge because while there are plenty of old advertisements to be found, images of existing corsets are hard to find and often don’t show much detail. Back views are even harder to find, although there is a Jaeger corset at the V&A with a photo that confirms they do lace up the back. In addition, the closest pattern I’ve found is Ageless Patterns’ corset waist for a 12-14 year old girl, and the V&A corset is also sized for a young girl, which isn’t very helpful when drafting a pattern for a grown woman.

Patterning the second draft.

Patterning the second draft.

So I’ve been slicing and dicing the pattern I do have, making it bigger, adding curves, and adding style lines similar to those on the V&A corset. My first draft was for the rough shape and size I would need, and the second draft focused more on the proportions of the front panels. Luckily, the photo in Underwear: Fashion in Detail appears to be nearly life sized, at least around the neckline and bust. I’m basing this on the fact that the buttons in the photo are approximately 5/8″ and the twill tape binding is about 1/4″, both of which make sense with the scale of the overall garment. The buttonhole openings are 3/4″ wide, measuring from seam to where the edge is bound, which is right for a 5/8″ button. So even though the overall proportions are smaller than what I need, I was able to get some valuable measurements that I could apply to my own version.

I’m not reproducing the Jaeger corset exactly, although I am drawing heavily on it for inspiration.  I’m leaving in a hip gusset from the Ageless Patterns corset, because several the other reform corsets have this detail and it seems useful in fitting a woman rather than a girl. I love the pleated bust gusset, but since my version will be in cotton and my client wants it to be washable, I’m doing a gathered gusset, which is actually more common in the other examples I can find. I don’t see any need to change the width of the buttonhole placket or the straps, other than length.  I intend to copy the method of making buttonholes by leaving spaces between folded and topstitched pieces of fabric rather than by cut and bound buttonholes, because I find the detail very attractive and think it will be sturdy, as well. I also like the quilted detail on the back of the straps and all the cording, so those will also be in my version.

Reform corset pattern draft.

Reform corset pattern draft.

Reform corset mocked up in muslin.

Reform corset mocked up in muslin.

The second draft fit really well, and my client reports that it is very comfortable.  The bust gusset starts at a good point right under the bust, but needs a little more fullness in the gusset itself so the gathers don’t have all their fullness pulled out.  The straps are a little short and I’d like to fine-tune the shaping on some of the pieces, and make the curves a little more elegant. It doesn’t need many changes, however, and I’ll be moving on to construction this week. Before that can happen I need to experiment with the fiddly details, like the strips of fabric that make up the buttonholes down the front and on the straps, and how to cord and bone it without losing too much width and making it smaller than it should be.

Also in progress for this client are a pair of chemise-drawer combinations, to be trimmed with tatted lace and embroidery made by my client’s grandmother, the beginnings of a 1912 long and narrow corset, and a princess slip. I’m also busty checking off items on my personal project list. I started an 1830’s corded petticoat and the 18th c. tall hat was finished over the weekend, with pictures coming soon.