The Sewing Academy

Elizabeth Stewart Clark & Company

Sacramento Workshops Deadline Extended!

I’ve had several requests from folks who need a bit more time to arrange for their workshop attendance, so we’re leaving the registration links for Sacramento CA workshops mid-November open until Halloween!

The fitting and draping workshops do have limited seating, and we’re getting very close to full on those; the interpretive workshops have more flexible seating, so there are options open! Click the Workshops tab to register, or CLICK HERE.

Roomy, Bloomy, and Historically Awesome

Yes, you do use geometry in real life. The usefulness of calculus was still a lie, though.

Yes, you do use geometry in real life. The usefulness of calculus was still a lie, though.

I got an email from a living history enthusiast struggling with one of the most common historic clothing woes: what to do about the spectacular wedgies that can happen with historic split drawers?

Because every figure is different, every individual’s underdrawers need to be suited to their own figure, not some generic ideal. The Split Drawers project in the Compendium here at the Sewing Academy is excerpted from The Dressmaker’s Guide as a free resource precisely because we want everyone to experience roomy, bloomy, and awesome!

Women who have more “junk in the trunk” (or, a fully-realized backside with plenty of flesh) need more length (and sometimes a lot more length) to reach from the centerpoint of the crutch to the back waistband. If there’s not enough length, Wedgies Happen. They happen when walking. They happen when sitting. They definitely happen when bending over to pick something up, or crouching. They are Not Fun.

On the big diagram in the free split drawers project, line F is the back crutch edge. You’ll notice that period drawers shapes are very, very different from what we expect in modern pants shapes. Rather than handle the need for extra fabric by use of a curved edge, period drawers have a tall, straight line that provides loads of extra fabric to comfortably cover a curvy backside.

It’s important to test out the length you need. Grab a long piece of narrow elastic and tie it around your waist. Now thread a sewing tape measure fore and aft, and move around. Squat, bend, sit… let the tape expand as needed so you can actually see your needed crutch depths. Do not lie about these lengths and depths. Seriously. Don’t lie. You need that extra fabric for wearing ease, and without it, you are asking for Big Historic Wedgie Issues.

If you have a pair of drawers that are, as my littlest puts it, “Just all FULL of wedgies!” you can retrofit them by taking off the waistband, piecing in extra length along the waist edge using a run-and-fell seam (either as a strip of rectangular fabric, or as a slightly wedge-shaped piece, should you need extra length only in the front or back), and re-setting the waistband.

For comfortable drawers, you need Roomy (horizontal width in significant excess of your actual body circumferences) and Bloomy (extra vertical length to allow some bagginess in the buns, so you can bend at the hip!), and that gets you to Awesome.

Oh, the things we talk about when working on a well-considered historic wardrobe!

The Sewing Academy at Fort Nisqually, WA

If you’ve been reading the Sewing Academy @ Home forum for a few years, you will know some of the ‘Squallers–those lovely living history folks from Fort Nisqually, Washington State. Well, it’s time for me to go back West, and a little North, and visit!

We have registration open from now until 15 September for a jam-packed series of workshops at Ft Nisqually October 17-19, 2014, all with a focus on the 1850s. Western settlement is a fantastic era to explore, and we’re going to have a blast!

Click through for all the details on the series, and registration!

Rumptious Doings

The variety of the human form is one of its chief delights and wonders, but occasionally, that form does not meet with the historic aesthetic. Such is the sad, sad case for many in my family: we lack buttock projection. Oh, we’re blessed with breadth of hip! But there is no projection. Indeed, a side shot of the Back 40 resembles this:

Only without the interesting clouds.

Only without the interesting clouds.

Now, for the mid-century era, wherein a nicely rounded Back 40 is really required to produce the nice effects of fashion, this sort of formation is not terribly useful.

Using the Four Progressive Questions, we can turn to period solutions for this problem! Dressmaking manuals and notes mention “skirt improvers” and “bustles” and “light padding” to “give a good set to the skirts”. In practice, what we need is a fake bum, a faux rump, an artificial Back 40.

Here’s a close-up of the Faux Rump in position, but on the outside of the clothing:

RumpPlacement

In reality, this waistband-with-attached-and-stuffed-faux-bump arrangement is worn over the corset and (in this case, as she’s dressing in 40s fig) corded petticoat, with two petticoats and the dress skirt over the top. When worn with a hoop, it sits best if worn over corset and under hoop, with the hoop and all petticoats balanced over the extra projection.

Let’s compare the two side-views, With and Without:

Go ahead. Embiggen those by clicking. It’s pretty dramatic, with With after the Without! Even the horizon view gets a nice boost:

Fauxrump With Irises

I call this “Fauxrump with Irises”.

Since it’s the Clark Cottage, this also happens:

(Mouse over the images for clever captions.)

You’ll find notes on creating a bustle pad in The Dressmaker’s Guide; if you or someone you love is afflicted with a distinct Lack of Back 40, please consider adding a bustle, fauxrump, or other useful bits of padding to assist their basic mid-century fashion aesthetic!

A Fresh Look for 2014

We’re excited by the many wonderful resources we’re planning for you in 2014! This fresh new site theme is just one of them. We’ll be refining and checking links tonight, so if something is missing, it’s likely very temporary.

The shopping cart links should all be functional; please let us know if you run into a problem!

We’ve done our very best to make sure old link names still work, particularly in the Compendium, so please let us know if something is awry.

Speaking of the Compendium, do pop over for a peek! We hope you’ll enjoy the new visual layout and new coloring page and paper doll we’ve added. As always, resources in the Compendium may be freely printed and shared for non-commercial uses, including as a free activity or take-home for historic site or event use. We encourage you to share us with your friends on Facebook, Pinterest, and all around the web; just link back here, so they will always have the most recent updates!

A Quick Tufted Hood Project

Rather than a formal tutorial with process pictures and illustrations, I’m sending this quick set of notes up for those who’ve wanted to know more about using the free basic sunbonnet pattern from the Compendium to make a quick and warm winter hood.

Here’s a link to a picture of an original tufted winter hood that has very similar geometry to the shape produced by the slat bonnet instructions. To use the slat bonnet for a similar hood, here’s the process:

Draft up your shape, and test it in muslin. In the case of a hood, the portion that would normally be slatted for sun protection will instead be partly folded back to form the pretty decorative brim. You definitely want your winter hood to touch your shoulders, as this blocks breezes much more comfortably.

  • Cut one complete bonnet shape in a light to mid-weight wool fabric.
  • Cut one complete bonnet shape in thin wool batting, then trim about 1/4″ from the entire edge, all the way around.
  • Cut one complete bonnet shape in a smooth cotton, such as cotton sateen, for the lining/brim facing.
  • Cut a rectangle a few inches wider than you’d like the decorative turned-back brim to be from a pretty contrasting fabric, if desired (you could just choose a pretty color for the sateen lining and have that be your revealed prettiness.)
  • If you want to closely match the hood in the photo, curve the front lower edge of the brim smoothly, and cut long strips of your outer wool to use as the pleated trim.
  • Cut three lengths of wide plaid silk ribbon, or narrow-hem strips of your wool to serve as the outer ties that go to the back of the hood, and narrow-hem strips of the your lining fabric for the under-chin ties.

You will also need a small amount of wool yarn in a contrasting color, to do the tufting or knotting that keeps all the layers neatly together.

You’re now ready to assemble and tuft the hood.

  • Press all the edges of the lining fabric and outer fabric to the wrong side 1/4″. Take time around the curves; they will indeed curve!
  • Create a “sandwich” with your lining fabric wrong side up, your trimmed-down batting in the middle, and your outer fabric right side up. The folded and pressed edges of your outer and lining fabrics should neatly hide the batting. Pin carefully all the way around to keep things stable, or hand-baste the folded edges together.
  • Thread a large-eye needle with your wool yarn, and “tie” or tuft the three-layer sandwich every 2″ (to match the interval in the original example hood), using a square knot for each, and trimming the yarn to about 3/8″ after knotting.

Time to finish up!

  • Use fine handstitches to permanently sew the folded edges of the lining and outer fabric together along the outer edge. This could also be machined, but the edge will be more stiff and less flexible with machined stitching. When handstitching, you could use a small running stitch, or fell the lining edge just inside the folded edge of the outer fabric.
  • Work a narrow running stitch hem on your wool trimming strips. Box pleat the strips and tack them by hand to the inside edge of the brim (so it will show when the brim is turned back) and the outside fabric of the curtain/bavolet. You’ll have to choose a “switch-over” point somewhere near the lower front edge of the brim.
  • Hem your ties, and attach them at or just lower than your earlobes on the inside and outside of the hood.

To wear the hood, tie a bow in the hemmed fabric tapes to the back of the neck. Tie the interior hemmed fabric tapes under your chin. Turn back the brim to an attractive depth, and keep cozy!

A Fun Paper Doll Link

The 1863 wedding of “General” Tom Thumb (Charles Stratton, off-stage) and Miss Lavinia Warren, both headliners with Barnum’s “American Museum”, attracted tremendous amounts of media attention. Newspaper articles detailed elements of Miss Warren’s trousseau, the fashionable clothing made to fit her 32″, 29 pound figure was displayed and photographed, and thousands thronged the reception to greet the happy couple after the ceremony.

Harpers Fairy Wedding

Harper’s Weekly engraving of the “Fairy Wedding”

We share here a link to one set of delightful paper dolls in the likeness of Mrs Tom Thumb.

For a bit more about the “Thumbs”, click here.

A tidy sampling of the media furor surrounding their wedding can be found here.

Errata: Yoked Bodice Clarification!

When cutting the yoked bodice style in dresses, the fullness in the lower bodice is created by setting the back edges and center front edge away from an edge of fabric (for the backs) and fold of fabric (for the front). This lets you customize the fullness of the bodice to suit your preference and the fabric.

However, this information isn’t as clear as it needs to be in the pattern pack! My apologies; that information will be updated for future print runs of the girl’s dress pattern.

As always, please do contact me with construction questions; your questions help me refine our resources and make them increasingly useful!

A Nifty Project

We received a fun letter this past week, from a participant in the Sewing Academy workshops held recently in Montana. Debrah was taking a non-history art workshop at the same time, and used techniques from the Sewing Academy workshops in the creation of a piece of “mail art”–an embellished envelope with a themed insert holding artwork.

Fashion doll, outfit, and the embellished envelope.

Fashion doll, outfit, and the embellished envelope.

The doll and outfit tucked into their pocket.

The doll and outfit tucked into their pocket.

Even the back of the envelope becomes art!

Even the back of the envelope becomes art!

Who knew a welt pocket would be so nifty in paper? And the paper doll and outfit, styled for the late 1800s, is a delightful touch.

Thanks so much for sharing this with us! It’s always a treat to see what our friends are up to.

Quick Trivia: I or E?

Emigrant or Immigrant? Emigrate, or Immigrate? When we’re talking about western expansion in the mid-19th century, and the waves of new people coming to America from all directions at that time, do we use an I, or an E?

Here’s a simple trick:

Use E when Exiting… we emigrated from Scotland.

Use I when Incoming… we are immigrants to the Oregon Territory.

So, there’s one bit of trivia to use in campfire conversations this weekend! We’re making a temporary emigration to the Montana Big Sky country for the Sewing Academy series at the Museum of the Rockies… see you soon!

 

Pluperfect Pockets

In Making It Work, I mentioned pockets, properly constructed, as a fantastic period option for carrying all the small bits we often need through the day. Rather than leave you entirely hanging as to how a properly constructed dress pocket might work, let’s add that, shall we?

Quite a few dresses across all levels of the fashionable continuum employ a pocket, set into the side seam of the skirts (most find this comfortable on the dominant hand’s side of the body), and supported by a pocket stay.

Pockets3

A pocket stay is simply a band, tape, or other such arrangement, firmly stitched to the edge of the pocket bag furthest from the hand opening, and then tacked to the inside of the dress waist (in this image, it’s the vertical strap bridging pocket and band.)

The stay is the exact length needed to hold the pocket level and flat. It really does make things stay: you can load the pocket without fear of the side seam dragging, or putting undue strain on the seams that join pocket to skirt seam, because the stay takes up strain and keeps the pocket bag from falling down.

A pocket stay, combined with a rounded pocket shape, makes it easier to find things inside your dress pocket, too, as small things (or even larger things) cannot get lost in the pointy parts of a squared pocket bag.

You don’t need a published pattern to add a pocket to your dress. Check back soon for a new Compendium article (free to download and share!) with step-by-step instructions to help you draw and sew a pocket (plus stay!) into any dress in your wardrobe.

In the meantime: if you already have a dress pocket, but it’s been sagging or threatening to let go under the strain of the things you stash inside, add a stay! Support your pocket, and it will serve you well.

Curious About Color?

The mid-19th century is a time of tremendous color… in everything except most photographic information. By the 1860s, photography had developed to the point that it was no longer just for artists and people with the cash to splash on a newfangled fancy thing; the ability to fix images on paper, glass, or metal led to an explosion in commercially-available photography for the everyday household.

So, we’re blessed with quite a lot of photographic documentation of the era we love!

But, we’re also working with images that are more often grey-toned than colored, and that can lead to a lot of speculation about what colors the Original Cast were actually wearing. One big flaw is to examine period images taken with wet-plate technology (find a discussion of the processes here, and you’ll see why modern historic photographers are not charging enough for ferros, dags, and ambros!) and “read” them according to a modern black-and-white-film gray-scale of tones. Because modern black-and-white film is not nearly so blue-sensitive as period photography technology, the “read” is wrong; we are not used to the grayscale a historic person would expect to see in photographs.

Years and years ago, I met a really neat woman named Kathleen Lowe, who took a short series of images with both modern and  historic processes. I do have her permission, granted all those years ago, to share these images for educational use, so I’m happy to do it, with this caveat: if you want to share them, link back to this article rather than re-hosting or re-publishing her images, so the her permissions and her copyrights are maintained. Court good cosmic karma, and click through for the images. Continue reading

Making It Work

Too often, we run into living history challenges and think we have to make-do or justify our solutions. Let me take a moment of your day and share a quick process to simplify decision-making, and get a great historically-accurate result every time.

(And if you want another run at this same topic, please visit the Compendium or click here for our free article about the The Progressive Questions!)

Here’s the pattern:

  1. What did the Original Cast, the people who lived our favorite time period, actually do and use?
  2. Can I replicate or do that exactly?
  3. If not, what other things did the Original Cast actually do and use?
  4. Which of these historic options fits best with my modern impression, budget, time, and preferences?

Let’s put them into use for a few questions (and I’m going to pick different questions than in the Compendium article.)

 I will be sleeping at a history event. Can I use my air mattress?

1: What did the Original Cast do? Well, mostly they slept in beds, with a variety of mattress options.

2: Can I do that? Yes, it’s possible to build or buy a repro bed frame, add slats or rope tension, make a period mattress, and period bedding. I’ll be quite comfortable and cozy, too.

But what if that set-up is beyond my budget, or doesn’t work for my time-frame before the event, or I lack a way to haul all that gear to and from, or the physical wherewithal to do the set-up and take-down on my own? What if I’m going to be in a tent?

That’s when we head for Question 3: What other options did the Original Cast use?

Well, in westward migration settings, most people either slept on pallets and mattresses inside the wagon, or in bedrolls on the ground under the wagon or in a tent put up for the night. There are also plans for portable cots in period publications like The Prairie Traveler (discussion of furniture starts on page 114. You’re welcome.), so I could make a more budget-scaled and transport-friendly bed that is still well within period norms.

I could skip a bed frame, and lay a pallet on a floorcloth inside or outside a tent, or in a historic building, and sleep there. I could use a simple bed-roll of period-styled quilts (with wool under me to cushion and insulate.) I could also do what many displaced and away from home people did, and rent a room for the night at a nearby boarding house or hotel, and skip hauling bedding entirely.

And if I want to use an air mattress? Well, they had ‘em. And I can, too, if I’m willing to construct one of real rubber in a period style and inflate it by means of a small bellows or my own lungs. Of all the options open to replicate the era, using an accurate air mattress is more challenging than all the others.

With any of these options, I still need to stick to period materials, techniques, and styles for bedding, wood, fasteners, etc; but I could also safely leave every speck of my sleeping arrangements open to public view, and be confident the spectators are seeing something historic, not make-do.

All that remains is to carefully examine the period-appropriate options I have (with this one question, I’m counting a minimum of nine valid period options I could choose to replicate).

Let’s do another. I think I need a purse for my bits of junk. What should I use?

1: What did They use? A quick survey of extant dresses shows something handy: pockets. Pockets quite deep and capacious, stitched right into the seam of the skirt (usually on the dominant hand side), with a “pocket stay” to support the outer reaches of the pocket bag. Properly made (with rounded corners to prevent things going lost in the points), a pocket in a dress can hold everything the modern woman thinks she needs (and more than most modern purses of moderate scale.)

2: Can I do that? Oh, yes! It’s a free or nearly-free retro-fit to existing dresses, and costs only pennies to add to new dresses, too. It’s such a great solution, in fact, that I’m going to recommend stopping there for any normal day-to-day detritus like keys, medications, handkerchiefs, lozenges, small candies to soothe or bribe little children, a tiny notebook and pencil for random jottings… not to mention modern but sometimes-felt-vital things like phones. A pocket sewn into a dress is more convenient than hauling a purse, and it’s a perfectly period solution. We can actually stop right here, and meet a need for 99% of our sistren.

I certainly could continue on through the four-step process. There are some great articles to do with cases and arrangements for travel, for instance, from Anna Worden Bauersmith. I could look at classes from Genteel Arts Academy in making my own travel bag. I could read up on other options from Virginia Mescher, regarding baskets or a host of other topics that inform what I might keep in pockets, bags, or boxes. All of that learning, and more, will only add context to my choices and expand my options.

Or, since I’ve found a great period solution that works easily and widely, I can stop right here, feeling secure that by starting with What They Did, my final choice of What I’ll Do fits well within the period norms for my own modern living history situation. It’s a great place to rest for a moment.

So I shall.

The Little Black Dress, Mid-Century Style!

Here’s a fun historical snippet, found and transcribed by the Sewing Academy’s Heidi Hollister:

from The Philosophy of Housekeeping

Joseph Bardwell Lyman, 1869

If a lady can have but one silk dress in a series of years, she will find a black silk will be of more use to her than any other color. Black is becoming to every complexion, and a black silk may be worn at a wedding, a party, a funeral, or to church. It is nowhere out of taste except in the kitchen. It may be made gay with bright trimmings, or severe with those of the same color. It can be worn with hat and wrappings of every hue and is never out of fashion.

If the silk is figured, let the figure be small, the same on both sides, with no up or down to it; so that when worn at the bottom it can be turned upside-down, and when soiled outside, it can be turned inside out. Be careful, too, that the figure is well woven in, and no long threads left on the surface. These will catch in everything, and be soon worn off or frayed out so that no care or skill can restore a new appearance to the dress. If the silk be plain, let it be of excellent quality, not stiff and inflexible, but soft and pliable,  and, when pulled in bias folds, easily returned to its former shape.

And, some notes from Liz:

Remember, notes from mid-century often use “hat” and “bonnet” interchangeably; in this case, given the 1859 reference, do imagine any number of fashionable bonnets as “hats”.

The accessories mentioned might include a fine silk waist (shaped, stabilized with buckram and boning; you might see these called Swiss Waist, or Medici belts), a plain silk belt in a gorgeous color (construction notes and diagrams are in The Dressmaker’s Guide!), silk neck bows, pretty silk ribbon wristlets, or gorgeously-trimmed silk accessory jackets. As the note mentions, any accessory might also be done in good black silk for fashion or solemnity, as desired.

You might be wondering about black being suited for all complexions, as we all know at least one person who ends up looking four days “expired” when wearing black. However, black dresses at mid-century will be worn with a white collar, which buffers the complexion. The addition of colored accessories and favorable bonnet trims lends even more buffering. Black can be appropriately worn by anyone at mid-century.

The process of “turning” a dress works for silks and wools, but not for printed cottons. To “turn” the skirt, it is taken off the waist of the bodice, and de-constructed to flat panels of fabric. The former hem edge is turned to be the top of the skirts; the former waist edge is finished with a faced hem. (This explains why gauged and pleated skirts have all the excess from the balancing process left intact inside!) The skirts are then re-balanced, and re-set to the waist.

A second turning process is possible when the skirts are not only turned top to bottom, but right to wrong: the skirts (or entire dress) are deconstructed, sponged clean, pressed and freshened, and re-constructed, placing the identical-but-formerly-“wrong” side out. Of course, it only works with plain cloth (non-printed) or that with a woven-in motif that’s attractive and identical on both sides.

Such silks (and fine wools) are not often going to be found in a local chain shop, but on-line purchasing and patience can bring a lovely yardage for a reasonable price, to construct a dress you’ll use over and over through the years.

Granted, a mid-century Little Black Dress may have six to ten yards of fabric involved, but the concept of a “best” dress that can be accessorized to suit many social needs is not new. Could there by a LBD in your historical future?

Fanciful Utility Needlebook Giveaway Winner!

Thanks to the truly random randomness at random.org, we have a winner! I sorted orders and post responses by time stamp, numbered them sequentially, and of the 45 entries, we have a winner with:

#39

This was a comment entry, and read:

Beautiful needlebook! My favorite part of handsewing (period or not) is being able to take it out of my sewing room and work on it in the evenings around the woodstove with the family…

Atlanta, dear, look for an email from me; I’ll need your physical address to send out the needlebook!

Thanks to everyone who participated! I do believe we shall need to do this again soon. It was great to see your thoughts on handsewing, and I hope you all have a grand time sewing this season!

There is still time to order before Christmas, if you’re wanting something special in the way of books and patterns… we can ship to you, or direct to the recipient.

Thanks for supporting our family business; we look forward to sharing even more neat things with you in the coming year!

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About The Sewing Academy

With a focus on the 1840-1865 era, The Sewing Academy is your home on the (internet) range for resources to help you meet your living history goals!

Elizabeth Stewart Clark has been absorbed by the mid-19th century for over 20 years. She makes her home in the Rocky Mountains with her husband, four children (from wee to not-so-wee), far too many musical instruments, and five amusing hens.

Email Elizabeth Or call 208-523-3673 (10am to 8pm Mountain time zone, Monday through Saturday)

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