Friday, January 30, 2015

Historical Sew Monthly, and the January challenge part 1

This blog has been pretty much defunct over the last two years as we've been overwhelmed with moving and life, but I'm hoping to keep up with it this year as part of the Historical Sew Monthly. I find in the last couple years that I am in a rut with my sewing/spinning/knitting/other fiber things. I am just sort of treading water, keeping up with demands created by growing children who need clothes, occasional commission work, and gifts. The Historical Sew Monthly, with it's challenges, will force me to get out of my sad little repetetive box, and do new things again. I am also hoping that it will help me revitalize my wardrobe, which has gotten severely slim. And I'm just really excited to have sewing that I'm dong for the sake of creating, not just to fill an urgent need (you know, of the kind of all my children have outgrown their pajamas, or all of my daughter's dresses are too short and she has nothing to wear type!).

For those of you not familiar with it, the Historical Sew Monthly is run by the wonderful Dreamstress. Please hop on over to read more about it at The Dreamstress. It's worth a visit anyway, she has cool stuff! The premise of the Historical Sew Monthly is that every month there is a new challenge which you interpret via a garment dated from the beginning of time to 1945. For January the challenge is "foundations." There have been a lot of really incredible contributions to this challenge. The Dreamstress has a list of participating blogs at her site, or you can hop on over to the Historcal Sew Fortnightly group on facebook, which is a really great community for anyone with an interest in historical costuming, no matter what their experience level.

I was actually really excited for January, because last year my husband, wonderful man that he is, gave me a Laughing Moon bust gore corset kit. I was super excited about it at the time, but never found time to make it, something else was always more urgent, and surprisingly, I was a bit intimidated by it. I've done stays, but not a real corset before. So there it's sat. Which makes the january challenge perfect. With that as my goal, I told myself that before I so much as traced off the pattern, I absolutely had to finish up my daughters shifts and pantalettes which were cut out and sort of half done.

This fall when I asked my daughter the "pants or dresses" question I ask at the change of every season, she decided on dresses again. I had already decided that I was going to be inspired by the civil war era for her garments this winter if she decided for dresses, which leads us to the problem of climate. We live in the frozen north, we heat with wood, and our house is typically chilly. You need something on your legs, and you need wool, or layers (or both!). Since I had a lot of cotton yardage for dresses already, I decided on undergarments that would give her leg coverage and layers over her chest: Pantalettes and knee length shifts. Worn as a set under a cotton dress, the extra layers make it so she doesn't even want a sweater or a shawl many days, and have the added advantage of making it easy to go outside and play: she just takes off her dress, and puts her snow stuff on over her pantalettes and shift.

After I spent some time digging through period photos, pictures of extant garments, and my own books, I started with an existing pants pattern in my collection that I liked the fit of the crotch and seat on, and drafted an ankle length pantalette. The knee or calf length was more common around the 1860's, but examples of ankle length can be found, and since she doesn't typically wear stockings, they're warmer. Also they work better with the few regency style dresses that fit her still from last year. I also drafted chemises with pintucks front and back. After I cut these out there were some narrow squares of fabric left, from which I cut straight chemises with no pintucking. I used the pictures in my excellent book of ladies 1875-1890 original patterns as a starting place for the geral shape and length of the chemises, with the stipulation that it was important that they in no way impede her from runing, doing handstands, practicing ballet, or whatever other activity comes into her head.

For fabric I used a cotton linen blend that I bought this fall from Dharma Traders. I bought 15 yards of to use for shifts, shirts, and general underthings, and am not regretting that one bit. I have already used it to make viking undergarments for all my kids this fall as part of their authentic viking haloween (yes, I am a dork. It was also really fun). It's a really great product, I cannot reccomend it highly enough if you're on a budget where 100% linen is not a possibility. There are still some things for which I really prefer linen, but for general duty undergarments and shirts this is a wonderful product and I don't find it too much of a compromise. It looks and acts much more like linen than cotton.

The two pintucked shifts were cut as squares, pintucked, and then cut out with the pattern. The seams in the shifts are 1/4 inch french, except the shoulder seams which are flat felled for comfort. In the case of the pintucked shifts which had a back seam I made it at 1/2 inch, then rolled it to both sides and top stitched. this left the top edges finished for the closure. I used the same method on the straight shifts, except they close under the arm. Although this is not strictly accurate, I like it because it allows my daughter to do up the buttons herself.  All closures are with antique bone or shell buttons and handmade button loops in matching thread.  The necks of the shifts were either finished with cotton bias binding, or hand scalloped. The arm holes are all hand rolled. and then some of them are trimmed wtih cotton lace. I had fun experimenting with some of the trim application metods shown in patern pictures from ladies magazines.  I am not entirely happy with the necklines on these. Next year I may recut some of them as square. the front shows under a few of her dresses. For now I will alter the standard dress pattern I'm using this year for a higher front neck as a stopgap.

I have a large collectin of antique and vintage lace thanks to friends who know that I make clothes for my daughter and give me bags of odds and ends. For the two pintucked shifts I used a pair of pillowcase edgings, odds and ends of yardage for the two straight shifts. I'm saving my large pieces for future projects, like petticoats....

The Pantalettes are all 1/4 inch french seam construction. I did the tucks and insertion before I finished the legs. This makes doing the tucks a lot easier, but it does mean that the legs cannot be let down at a later date wtihout undoing the seams partway, so it's a sort of win/lose scenario. Probably the most authentic method would be to make up the legs and then make the tucks, as this would make the legs easily let down to accomadate growth. They have a waist casing with elastic rather than a drawstring, which is clearly not authentic, but is much easier for a 5 year old girl who likes to be totally self sufficient, and these are a daily wear item. I had fun with the legs and finished all three with different amounts and sizes of tucks and different kinds of trim. My daughter enjoys the variety, and it made the sewing more fun. This pair has a remnant of hand tatted lace whip stitched to the rolled bottom hem.

 And finally the whole collection together. You can see the bottom treatments on the other patalettes and the two straight shifts here. All finds from my stash of antique lace, and all cotton except the beading insertion on the pantlettes, which is newer and nylon. I would  like to add cream ribbon to the beading with small bows on the outside of the legs, and I know I have some somewhere. I just can't find it! When it shows up I will add it. This has been a fun project in a lot of ways, and very practical. I'm glad to have it out of the way, especially with the coldest part of our winters upon us. It also clears the way for starting on my own underpinnings, which I am very excited about. I still hope to get my corset in before the midnight January 31st deadline, but have been delayed by a round of the stomach ick that went though our whole family. I have it fitted and the pattern finalized but all the construction still to go. I am feeling better now and hope that a two day binge will get me in under the deadline!