Historic Clothing Tips
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.
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.
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?
When it comes to mid-century sewing, there are so many new terms to learn! It gets even more challenging when multiple techniques all use one basic stitch foundation. Here’s a quick look at some of the easily muddled processes for handling fullness. (You’ll find the techniques explained and used in The Dressmaker’s Guide.)
Synchronized Stitching Each of these techniques uses one or more rows of running stitch as a foundation. These stitches may be completely even, or uneven (usually with a larger stitch taken on the wrong side of the work). The stitches may be long (1/4″, to even so long as 1/2″) or short (1/16″ to 1/8″). There may be one or two rows, or many rows. But generally, the stitches are worked by hand, and taken at the same intervals in each row, stacking up in synchronized sets that, when drawn up, create very controlled, regular “pleats” of fabric. (These are distinct from flat, folded pleats.) There are fine distinctions among the fullness-handling methods as to the exact combinations of these features, so it can be a prime “muddling” point.
Raw Edge Versus Folded Edge We find our first distinguishing features here: are the running stitches worked along a raw edge, or a folded edge? Gathering, stroked gathering, and shirring are each worked near the raw edge of a garment section. Gauging is worked along a folded edge of fabric, and is typically reserved for the waist treatment of skirts at mid-century.
How Much? Any of these methods use hand stitching, which has the potential to allow a high proportion of fabric to be controlled to a relatively small area. The precise density of gathering, stroked gathering, shirring, and gauging is primarily influenced by the prevailing styles of the particular window on the era, so there’s no concrete measurement that applies to the entire mid-century. Rather, it’s important to look at the overall proportion and fashion for your segment of the century, and control enough fullness to get that look in your reproduced styles. (The best way to do that is to examine as many originals and images from the era as possible, and do a bit of math to work out ratios.)
Gathering One or two rows of synchronized stitches are worked near the raw edge, and drawn up into gathered pleats. The garment section is sewn right-sides-together with another garment section, binding, or waistband. The raw edge is either visible on the inside of the garment, covered with a facing, or enclosed in the waistband, cuff, or binding. The gathering stitches may be removed.
Stroked Gathering Stroked gathering begins identically to plain gathering. It is typically used on a garment edge that will have a flat band as a finish (sleeve cuffs, skirt waists), but can be used elsewhere, such as the armscye of men’s shirt sleeves.
Instead of sewing the gathered portion right-sides-together with the flat portion of the garment, the flat band edge is pressed to the wrong side. Then the band and gathered section are arranged, both right-sides-up, exactly as the finished garment should appear. To finish, a tiny whip-stitch secures every gathering pleat to the folded edge of the band. The piece is turned to be wrong-side-up, the band is folded into finished position, and the whipping is repeated on the wrong side of the garment, too.
The raw edge is still enclosed in the band, but the tiny whip stitches produce a very compact, tidy set of “pleats” at the band edge. The gathering stitches themselves may be removed.
Shirring Shirring is most often used to control fashionable, or design-element fullness, in bodices and sleeves. Shirred fashions are very popular in the 1840s, and into the 1850s; shirred styles persist into the 1860s, but the precise designs change through the entire era, so it’s important to use shirring as it was used in your particular window of the era.
Many horizontal rows (often at least five, but twelve or more is not uncommon) of synchronized running stitch control fashion-fabric fullness starting at the waist, and reaching into the rib area, and even all the way to the shoulder in some mid-century bodice designs.
While the rows have synchronized “stacks” of stitching, the individual row length may vary, the spacing between rows may vary, and the density to which the shirring is drawn up may vary from waist toward the bust (typically, the shirring controls fullness most densely at the waistline, and “fans” out above.)
Shirring may also be worked vertically on bodices or sleeves, and is sometimes employed in creating trims, as well. Shirred garments sometimes have a row of trim laid along selected shirring lines, covering the shirring stitches and stabilizing the fullness, while adding a decorative element. Whether the shirring lines are embellished or not, shirring is often stabilized by tacking along the shirring line, through to the fitted lining of the garment, and the running stitches foundational to the shirring are generally left in place.
Shirring is different from smocking. With smocking, the rows generally confine the same amount of fullness at the same density, and additional decorative stitches are worked over the rows to stabilize the stitches and fullness. Smocking is not tacked through to a fitted lining. While there is some documentation for a style of smocking used on British and European field-worker’s coverall smocks, this technique does not seem to have been in popular use for American and non-field-work clothing at mid-century.
Gauging Gauging is typically reserved for handling skirt fullness, and develops as a common technique in the early to middle 1840s, when increasing skirt circumferences and fashion preference outstrip stroked gathering’s ability to control fullness without increased bulk.
Gauging uses 2-3 rows of synchronized running stitch (even or uneven), but the stitches are worked close to the folded waist edge of a freshly-balanced skirt. The drawn-up gauged pleats are laid right-sides-together with a finished waistband or bodice, and each rounded “valley” that touches the band or bodice is hand-whipped to the finished edge. This creates a “hinge” that pushes the skirt out and away from the body when worn. Because no fullness is enclosed in the waistband, or resting on the inside of the bodice, gauged skirts add zero to very, very minimal bulk at the waist.
(By the mid-1840s, pleated skirts are also pleated along a folded edge, and whipped to the bodice or a skirt band, preserving the no- to minimal-bulk positives of the desired silhouette.)
And What About Cartridge Pleating?
Functionally, “cartridge pleating” is the same as gauging. It’s simply a more modern term for the technique (so don’t look for it in mid-century descriptions, notes, or manuals), and may have its origin in the similarity of the regular, rounded pleats to the rounded loops of cartridge belts that coincided with the development of metal-cased ammunition. Ammunition loops of this nature held paper-wrapped ammunition charges during the 1879 Boer War (South Africa), but metal-cased small arms ammunition wasn’t developed until the Swiss took on the engineering challenge in the early 1880s.
You may also hear the term “organ pleating”, as gauged fullness can bear a resemblance to the vertical pipes of a pipe organ. However, “organ pleating” does not seem to be a mid-century term, either.
So, for mid-century, call it gauging.
Regardless of the technique used, handworked running stitches allow a great deal of flexibility and control in your mid-century clothing. You’ll get the best results if you keep in mind a few basic tips:
1: Use a thimble. The added protection and traction allows you to work more quickly, and with less tissue damage (and unladylike language.)
2: Treat your threads. A bit of beeswax strengthens your sewing thread and helps reduce tangling.
3: Load up. Rock the needle through the fabric to “load” four to ten running stitches on the needle before pulling it through. You’ll get straighter stitching lines, and increase your speed tremendously!
And if you’re working at home:
4: Pop in a BBC costume drama. It sets a mood, and well-dressed historical gents are always good inspiration for quality stitching.
If you’ve been having a hard time reconciling a burgeoning pregnant figure with historic clothing, there are some snazzy tricks the Original Cast used, and you can use them, too! Yes, wearing a wrapper for half a year is one option, but if you’re wanting a dress that looks like a normal dress, and can stretch through a pregnancy, and then be used post-partum, consider making an adjustable dress to start. (This is also a technique that can work if you need to have multi-fit dresses in a costume trunk!)
Mid-century styles actually make it easier to “dress the baby” than other eras; the rounder, slightly-higher waistlines of the 60s, for instance, are very forgiving through early pregnancy, and easy to use later, too.
Most women tend to gain inches through the torso and bust, but relatively few experience dramatic changes through the shoulders, so work up a copy of your base pattern that fits easily (but is not baggy) in the shoulders, and quite generously over the bust, with some decent expansion in the waist (say, 10″ across the front).
One way to do this is to slice up your waist-to-bust dart, and then over to the armscye. Swing the outer/side section of the bodice out to create a 5″ gap along the waistline (the section will “hinge” at the armscye), and trace the new, exaggerated shape. Leave your back bodice as-is. It’s nice to have something that really fits, and a smooth back bodice helps with the end-of-gestation large-as-a barn feeling.
If you’d like to preserve a bit of “this is a real dress” feeling for the very end of pregnancy, do run a very little bit of gathering to mimic a gathered-to-fit bodice style.
Cut a strip of fabric (straight grain is great, bias if you need to) about 2-3″ wide, and of a length sufficient to span your newly-enlarged front bodice waists. This will be used to create an interior waistband or facing, through which three narrow tapes will be threaded in stitched channels, to adjust your dress bodice.
Press the short edges of the strip to the wrong side 1/4″, and position one short end just behind your desired bodice closure line, the other just in front of your side seams. Hem the upper edge of the facing strip flat to the inside of the dress, using a running stitch by hand. (Hand stitches show less on the outside, and are more flexible during use.)
Continue to stitch three 1/4″ channels along the facing, being sure to leave the exits on the short ends quite open.
Narrow twill tape can be threaded through to use in your bodice adjustments. You can either choose to sew the tapes firmly into the side seams, or have them adjust individually by adding short, permanently stitched tapes to the side seams, with which each tape will be paired and secured. The tapes exit at center front, and are adjusted and tied inside the bodice before the bodice is fastened.
Set your skirts to the expanded waistline, using gauging or whipped pleats.
In early pregnancy, or post-partum, the tapes can be snugged up comfortably, and the bodice will appear to be gathered-to-fit. There will be a slight bit of extra skirt bulk just in front, but it’s generally not noticed, and in any case, is normal for this particular mid-century dress technique. In later pregnancy, the tapes are loosened to accommodate The Bump; in late pregnancy, they may be left untied altogether. Bust measurement increases will pull the front of the bodice up just a bit, with a handy side-benefit of raising the waistline for the baby, as well!
Add gestational and nursing corsets, and you can comfortably wear this style through pregnancy and for months beyond. If you’ll be pregnant during the summer, utilize slightly V’d necklines, open sleeve styles, summer-weight fabrics, and half-high linings, to reduce the heat retention of your dress, as well.
And, just for something fun: if you’re in the Pacific Northwest this summer, stop by Oregon City and the End of the Oregon Trail Visitor’s Center, to see a great exhibit, “And Baby Makes Three: Motherhood and Maternity on the Oregon Trail” The exhibit is free to the public, and is open Thursdays through Mondays, 11-4.
I was tickled to read this very concise look at how gentlemen can improve their mid-19th century impression… you’ll want to visit and read it, too! With the expansion of citizen living history, more and more men are exploring the wide range of mid-century clothing styles, but one thing they all have in common is the need to wear those trousers at the right height! This, as with so many physical details, is another spot where looking at images of The Original Cast is a huge help; you’ll enjoy some great images in the article. My thanks to Mr James Williams for making it available!How To Wear Trousers Properly
From the Sewing Academy @ Home Forum, here’s an excellent topic:
Help! My oldest, almost 12, needs new everything. We haven’t made her stays of any kind yet but I am sure it is time. She is starting to develop, has a small bust-to-waist difference, but is still very short-waisted.
a) Use the Girls pattern (#200) and make it stop at her waist, resulting in something very similar to a sports bra in look. b) Use the Girls pattern (#200) and ignore her anatomical waist and make her waist about 15″ where her pants end. c) Use a corset pattern and ignore the busk (button the front closed) and using cording instead of stays with lacing in the back. d) Make her a real corset (Please say no, I’m not sure I’m up to the expense or have enough time to order stuff before I need it.) e) Some other option I am completely overlooking
This is a very common position for families with girls in the 9 to 13 age group!
Most girls, at the very beginning of their development, go through a stage where their bodies store some reserves to use during the major growth of puberty. Since she’s likely to hit a lot of development in the next two years (visible and invisible), I’d go with making her comfortable corded stays now, rather than a fully boned women’s corset. Go for something for support and *minimal* torso control, just enough to help her feel modest and secure.
You could absolutely go with a child-shaped stay, or if she would prefer, and a more generous figure shape warrants it, try the curvier lines of an adult’s shape (control down over the top of the hip), and consider adding straps for now. Does she have a preference at this point? If so, I’d try to follow her preference as to shape, and make this as inexpensive as possible: buttoning closure in the back, or possibly front, cording rather than boning, very minimally compressive… something to give a stable platform for her clothing.
Anticipate that even if she doesn’t get a lot taller in the next few years, she will most likely change shape a good deal, so use inexpensive cotton sateen for the stays (or another inexpensive, lightweight, fairly firm fabric), and cording, etc, to keep the stay updates both very affordable and very period-correct.
Many girls in living history are making their way into their teens lacking appropriate support. As they get taller, and move toward ever-lengthening skirts and petticoats, the weight of their clothing can become oppressive. Adding supportive stays and light corsets to their historic wardrobe is the best way to get a finished look consistent with images of The Original Cast, and it will also help support the increasing weight of their clothing, allowing them greater freedom of movement and far more comfortable historic living.
Between the ages of 12 and 20, a girl may go through two, three, four, or even more corseting changes, as her figure develops: all the more reason to undertake these supportive endeavors at home!
In the Marketplace, you’ll find some resources to help you keep your teens and pre-teens correctly supported. Our Girl’s Linens pattern has simple corded stays that are very easy to fit for support. Practical Prinkery and The Dressmaker’s Guide both include chapters on corsetry, and how to make both a customized pattern, and finished corded or boned corsets.
Beyond comfortable corded stays, here’s one last tip on keeping this age group well-turned-out: Growth Tucks! They’re vital for drawers, skirts, and petticoats!
If you’ve been involved in living history for any length of time, you’ll have run across The Dreaded Snood (often in chubby rayon crochet iterations), and the Dreaded Snood Question (should I be wearing one? and if so, how, exactly?) You’ll have seen women with poofy bangs, and long, undressed hair swirled into an elasticized doily swiped from Grandma’s side table, like so much cooked pasta. You’ll have seen them worn low on the brow, a’ la Lunch Ladies. You’ll have seen them used and abused (mostly the latter.)
Here’s a somewhat controversial opinion, though: wearing an actual snood for the mid-19th century is just fine in some settings, for some women.
I know. I just typed that out loud. Just breathe for a minute, while I explain.
The Oxford English Dictionary has a few options for figuring out the mystery of the Dread Snood, and how it might relate to mid-19th century living history wardrobes. (I love the OED. Such a useful publication!) According to the OED for “snood”, we have a few options, style-wise:
1: Several sources refer to the Middle English “fillet” or ribbon tied around the hair of a young, unmarried Scottish woman as a sign of her chastity and maiden status, and
2: Most of the derivations in multiple languages and eras come from words meaning ribbon, cord, string, or band, or
3: It’s the floppy bit of fleshy appendage that dangles and covers a turkey’s beak.
Let’s go with the former two, rather than the slightly ooky latter, shall we?
Setting aside fleshy turkey bits, we’re left with something shocking: the snood isn’t the net part.Not the net… look to the ribbons! (1866) Ribbon = Snood
Take a look at original images from the mid-19th century, and you’ll see a lot of women, from young to fairly mature, sporting nifty, fine-silk nets, many similar in scale to a modern “invisible” setting net (and those make a great, cheap approximation, actually). The net appears to be attached to some sort of structured, wired band over the crown of the head, and the band is often ornamented with folded or pleated ribbons, bows, and other such frippery. Simply-dressed hair is kept tidy by the net, and the visage is ornamented by the snood portion: the ribbon bits.
Why do we see them at mid-century? Blame Queen Victoria and Sir Walter Scott, the former for her penchant for Highland Romanticism and Nostalgia (and no one did Nostalgia quite like Queen Vic!), the latter for his romantical semi-medieval Scottish adventure novels that were all the rage in the era. They’re a fairly natural evolution of earlier hair ornaments, and very suited to so many faces and heads.
So, wear a snood if you want to wear one. Just make sure you know which bits you’re talking about, and how to use them well. A decorative hairnet with ribbon embellishments (snood!) is great for any upper working class, middle class, professional class, or higher impression, as a pretty accessory item for non-working settings, worn over simply-arranged and pinned hair. It can also be a great option for helping blend the join between real and false hair, for those of us with short modern styles, so long as the settings and activities are also compatible with using a fashionable accessory.
L to R: Snoody Friend, Reluctant Bride, Snoody Friend, Swipey-Stealy Friend; by Toulmouche, 1866 by Fattori, 1861; notice the snood (ribbon) on top, and also: she is rocking the fine white bodice and silk jacket combination! Studious, and Snoodius!
What’s the best way to stay comfortable and confident in period clothing?
Have an adequate supply of chemises (or shifts) and switch to a fresh one as needed during your living history activities!
Chemises are most often made in tight-woven cotton or linen for the 1840-1865 era. The generous fit makes them easy to wear, and plain white textiles keep them very easy to launder. When you get a pattern that fits you comfortably, you can use like-sewing or “railroading” techniques to sew a whole batch of chemises quickly. With like-sewing, you complete the same construction step on each garment, one right after the other. Making a batch of chemises from our free Make a Simple Chemise pattern (just scroll down!), you’d:
- Draft and test the upper portion of the pattern (waist length, just to make sure you don’t want to fiddle with things),
- Cut all the chemises,
- Sew all the shoulder/sleeve seams,
- Sew all the side seams,
- Put in all the hems (sleeve and lower edge),
- Put on all the neck bands,
- Have a cup of tea, and enjoy your accomplishment!
Like-sewing also lends itself well to sewing with tight schedules. If you will commit to sewing for 15 minutes a day (by machine) or 1 hour a day (by hand), you’ll make steady progress on your wardrobe! Work to complete each construction step on every garment of that type before moving on to the next step. You gain efficiency by repeating the same process multiple times.
It’s just one strategy to get you well-dressed for the 2011 event season!
Petticoats are indisputably important to mid-century fashion! Here are the top reasons you may want to consider adding one or more to your list this year:
10: If you like to walk easily, petticoats help. The layers of fullness baffle one another at the waist and hip, which helps them hang away from your body a little bit further down your legs. Two or three layers of skirt are less prone to wrapping entirely around your legs during movement or with wind, too.
9: They’re an ideal “practice” garment. You’ll practice seams, simple hemming, gathering, waistbands, and closures, and if your stitches are uneven, or you have some wonky seamlines, who cares? And imperfect petticoat is still historically accurate (not everyone sewed perfectly then!), and eminently functional.
8. They cross economic boundaries. Working class women need petticoats; so do leisure class women, and the basics of construction are the same for each. Petticoats are one wardrobe item that can easily span a wide range of economic levels for your impressions, so they’re very multi-use.
7. Climate Control. Petticoats shield you from heat, as well as from cold. In fact, if you do cool or cold-weather events, you might want a quilted petticoat or a wool petticoat, as well as your regular cotton petticoats. (Learn more about cold-weather petticoats at The Academy @ Home Forum, or do one of the projects in The Dressmaker’s Guide.)
6. Creating the silhouette. The mid-century look is essentially an inverted triangle (bodice) on top of a bell of skirts. You can’t get the bell without the petticoats for support! This is an era where even robust figures add a bit more upholstery to the hips through petticoats. Just remember: everything below your waist is skirts, and no one can prove otherwise! Relish the boof! Just about any impression could use another petticoat.
5. Creating a tidy waist. Notice, that said tidy, not tiny. Mid-century torsos are controlled and tidy, and look small by comparison with the skirts. If you don’t have petticoats, you can’t get the skirt boof, and without skirt boof (see #6), your waist won’t look as tidy as it could.
4. Protect your dresses with petticoat layers. Though petticoats are hemmed just a tad bit shorter than your dress skirts, they’re going to take a lot of abuse from shoes and ground when you move around. Petticoats, combined with starching, pressing, and nice facings on your dresses, all work together to protect your hems.
3. Individual expression. I know, it doesn’t seem that stacks of white petticoats are anything terribly interesting at first glance, but just consider the wide variety! Petticoats with plain hems, or whitework hems, or quilted hems. Horizontal tucks, vertical or diagonal tuck insertions, sets of tucks large and small. Whitework insertions, puffings, and braidwork on the “for show” petticoats. There’s a white petticoat to delight any personal inclination, and then you get to wear it, too.
2. They’re dirt cheap. Even splurging on great fabric (try Kona or Egyptian cotton for petticoats that will last decades), you’ll spend between $5 and $25 for a plain, gathered petticoat, and only slightly more to embellish it with some gorgeous tucks that add body around the hem. (The low cost makes petticoats a great addition to loaner gear, too. Even a merchant-row make-do dress will look more historically correct if it has nice petticoats for support.)
And the number one reason to make petticoats?
They Did. In trying to replicate the look of the Original Cast, we’ll do best when we use the systems and shapes they used. Petticoats are an integral part of the wardrobe for babies, toddlers, girls, and grown women. Without them, we just don’t look like They did!
If you need just one more reason to make yourself some great petticoats?
If you’re working on a corded corset, or a corded petticoat for pre-hoop-era use, you might be wondering if there’s a quick way to get those cords snuggled into their casings, without losing your mind or your religion.
In the interests of removing “colorful” language from the vocabulary of mid-century sewists everywhere, consider a few tips:
1: Feel free to use a machine. You can certainly hand-sew a corded garment, and for some items (such as a corded sunbonnet), the benefits of being able to precisely manipulate the fabric are great. However, it’s okay to use a sewing machine for much of the mid-19th century. Just use a plain straight stitch, and leave long enough thread tails that you can thread them through a needle, make true knots on the inside of the garment, and bury the ends within the garment layers.
2: Use an appropriate cord. I am particularly fond of the Peaches-n-Cream crochet cotton, as it’s a similar size and texture to the cording I’ve been able to handle in several original corded petticoats. Originals have cording both smaller, and slightly (slightly!) larger than the cotton yarn used modernly for crocheted washcloths, so you could of course vary your widths, but this inexpensive cotton yarn is widely available, and very inexpensive. Other alternatives might include kitchen string, and well-made hemp cord, but don’t use rope or clothesline, please!)
3: Consider a zipper foot. If you can use a zipper foot to get snug up against the cord, and then adjust your needle position over to skim at the very edge of the foot, you’ll find your cording goes in nice and smoothly, but very snug. It’s the repeated cords, snug in their channels, that start building body for your corded garment.
4: Rely on Colin Firth. If possible, sew in an area with a TV or computer, so you can pop in a Colin Firth movie (my favorite sewing companion is the CF/BBC Pride & Prejudice) and listen to something interesting while you sew. Corded petticoats are extremely tedious, and the occasional glimpse of handsome men in period clothing makes the process far more tolerable.
For complete instructions on how to make your own corded corset or corded petticoat, see The Dressmaker’s Guide in our Marketplace.