Thursday, March 3, 2016

Baby's 1869 wardrobe: Flannels

We tend to think of things becoming easier, more practical, as time goes on. Particularly clothing. The advent of stretch knits, modern construction, state of the art fabrics, ease of laundering, all these things purport to have given us clothes that are more comfortable, flattering, and particularly practical than at any other time in history. Goodbye corsets and petticoats, hello yoga pants. But what I'm finding as I recreate an infant's 1860's wardrobe, is that not all progress has been in a forward direction. Yes, I can now have a dresser full of baby clothes, and just throw them in the wash when they are soiled, but these earlier baby garments are uniquely practical for the mother and the baby.

My husband refers to putting a onesie onto a baby as "stuffing an octopus into a string bag" because of the amazing propensity that small children have to tangle themselves in any garment you are attempting to put over their heads, and their apparent superhuman ability to be floppy and wiggly at the same time. This 1869 wardrobe, taken from Cassels Household Guide, avoids this entire debacle, by having most of the garments simply wrap and tie. For the January challenge, Procrastination, I made a series of babies chemises. For february's "pleat's and tucks" I have made up the second layer of babies wardrobe, the flannel. The flannel is a long sleeveless wrap around gown of wool flannel. It is basically a large rectangle, 40 inches across, and 36 inches long, which is pleated to make a bodice, has armholes cut out, and is then bound around and fitted with shoulder straps and ties to hold it shut. The household guide recommends two for night wear, and two of rather finer flannel for day wear.

I have recreated one of the plain flannels, as well as a "very fine flannel" mentioned later in the text. I was unable to find white wool flannel within my price range, but was able to find a very pale blue flannel more reasonably priced. While white was the preferred color for all babies attire, pale colors were, according to my sources, also used. I was unable to find any extant garments to look at for this layer, but the directions in the household guide were supplemented by very clear illustrations for this particular step.

The flannel is cut into squares measuring 40 inches (the width of the original fabric) by a yard long. The center of the material is found, and five box pleats, an inch and half wide and an inch apart are formed. I marked these and basted them down for eight inches. The pleats are secured for the top seven inches with either chain stitching, or close quilting, worked in silk thread. Then half circles are cut out for armholes, the hem is run up, and the whole is bound around with a "washable binding." to match the color of the stitching holding down the pleats, which was recommended blue, or scarlet. This is the basic method. The finer flannel was to be bound with white sarcenet ribbon and tied down the front with sarcenet bows. It was also depicted as having a wide quilted hem.
After you cut the fabric into squares measuring 36x40 inches, the pleats are measured, marked, steamed, and then basted into place.

Then the pleats are fixed in place with quilting or chain stitch. This is the "plain" flannel, the pleats are held down with chain stitch worked in buttonhole silk, and the armholes are marked to be cut out.

Then turn up the hem, I got to use my new toy a lot with this project: a hemming bird. It's like third hand for running long seams. I don't know how I ever lived without it before!
It clamps to the table edge, and holds the fabric in its beak. Seriously I have no idea why these went out of fashion. Anyone who does any hand sewing should have one. 
The "fancy" flannel got the hem quilted on the diagonal in half inch squares.I was not entirely happy with the way this turned out. The wool was NOT stable on the diagonal, and so the quilting was difficult to mark, and difficult to sew. The squares are nothing like as even as I'd like. If I had it to do again, I would cut a strip of something very lightweight, like batiste, on the bias and put it under the hem as an interfacing to stabelize it. I might even hold it to the stabelizer with a bit of spray baste. 

Then the whole thing had to be bound all the way around, and ties sewn on. For the fancy flannel it called for "sarcenet" which is a lining weight silk. I had a nice cream silk ribbon leftover from another project which I used. The Plain flannel is edged in blue bias tape to match the silk embroider. The shoulder straps are made by wrapping a piece of the binding around a scrap of wool and sewing it in place.

The completed plain flannel laid flat. Since the chain stitching just held down the edges of the pleats, I overcast stitched the centers together to make it stronger, obviously not necessary where the pleats are held down by quilting (as on the fancier flannel).
The fancy flannel on Kitten over her chemise with the ruffled sleeves. I had wondered about the flaps on the chemises, which seemed like a waste of time in hemming. You can see here that they fold over the top edge of the flannel, protecting it from both wear and body soil. 

The backside