HSM10 – Heroes: Linen Apron

The Historical Sew Monthly Challenge for October is to make a garment inspired by our historical hero, or our historical costuming hero.

I have so, so many heroes in historical costuming; from the very first Janet Arnold book I bought in the 1980s, through hundreds of costume curators and costume makers who share their knowledge so willingly, through to  Leimomi the Dreamstress herself, who through the HSF/M and her thoughtful and well-researched blog posts inspires and challenges so many of us.

I also have historical heroes, although my interest in history focuses on the everyday and the ‘ordinary’ more so than the rich and famous.

My plain linen apron is a working garment inspired by the millions of ordinary women  in history who worked day in, day out, in household work, family care, agricultural work, textiles work, and factory work.

It’s also inspired, in part, by Leimomi’s Fortnight in 1916; which challenged me to think more about a deeper engagement with costume and how I might explore that further. I’m not planning to do a week in 1916, or in 1816/17, anytime soon. Even next year’s Jane Austen Festival Australia, wonderful though it will be, won’t be a weekend entirely in 1817, although I expect to help out in the kitchen for some meals. I wanted to make an apron (or two) for that – and as I can be a klutz at times, I wanted it to cover a decent amount of the front of my dresses.

White linen Regency apron

Hand sewn button holes and shell buttons close the back:

Hand sewn button holes and shell buttons

The Challenge: #10 – Heroes: A linen apron, honouring all the women who have worked behind the scenes through history to care for others

Commenced: 25/10/2016

Completed: 10/11/2016

Material: White linen IL019 from fabrics-store.com – approx 1 metre from stash

Pattern: drafted myself

Year: 1800-1820ish

Notions: Gutermann 100% cotton thread; Aurifil 100% cotton thread; two shell buttons

How historically accurate is it? Entirely handsewn, including the buttonholes. The shape is historically accurate, although the particular style seems more often made in black taffeta than white linen. I wanted a working apron, though, not a lady’s apron, and black taffeta is better suited to protecting the dress from stray needlework threads than from household dust.

Hours to complete: I didn’t count.

First worn: Only for photos

Total cost: Linen from stash, about1 metre, $15 worth (including postage from US)

Posted in 1800-1820, Accessories, Hand sewing, Historical Sew Monthly 2016 | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

HSM8 – Pattern: Hand-sewn day dress

This is somewhat late for the Historical Sew Monthly August challenge, but I did have good intentions of getting it done in time! Challenge details are below.

I didn’t exactly start out to hand-sew an entire dress. This was supposed to be finished in time for the quill workshop I taught in August. Alas, it wasn’t.

I’ve done a bit of travelling in the past two months, so each time I took the bodice pieces and stitched on them here and there. When I’ve been home, I’ve been concentrating on writing, and I like to have something simple to do with my hands while I’m staring at the screen trying to think of words. So I hand-stitched the sleeves, and set them into the bodice, and after dithering about how to finish the armhole seams, I decided to trim them and overcast them, because that was simple to do while I was staring at the screen. So were the skirt seams. I was going to sew the bodice to the skirt by machine, because all the layers of pleats at centre back are very thick . . . but the sewing machine table has stuff piled on it so I did that seam by hand, too. Although that was something of a challenge:

Needle sewing thick pleats

Once I’d done that, the dress was so close to being entirely sewn by hand that I added the waistband casing and other finishing touches by hand, too. I still have the hem to go, but I always sew hems by hand, and I needed to try the dress on, and it was a lovely day for photos, so here it is:

Dress front

I’m wearing it with a fichu – although my kind photographer  is not a stylist and didn’t tell me it was bunched up wrong at the back.

Side view of blockprint dress Back view of block-print dress

And here’s a detail of the block print pattern:

Fabric print detail

The Challenge: Challenge 8: Pattern

Material: Block print cotton voile, purchased from Trade Star Exports on Ebay

Pattern: Adapted from the S&S drawstring dress, adding additional fullness to the front bodice and skirt, an additional width of fabric to the back skirt, and increasing the size of the sleeves at the top by about 1″. (I did the same changes as detailed for my previous block-print dress, for HSM challenge 2)

Year: c. 1795

Notions: Aurifil white cotton thread

How historically accurate is it? Maybe 90%? The fabric and pattern is fairly close, the style I think is reasonably accurate, and it is entirely hand-sewn, although not necessarily with correct period techniques.

Hours to complete: I didn’t count. Quite a few, over 2 months.

First worn: Today, for photographs. I’m not sure when it will have it’s first outing – maybe for a Regency picnic in December, otherwise for the Australian Jane Austen Festival in April next year.

Total cost: About $50AUD for 10yards of the fabric, of which I used about 6.5. The fabric for the cotton lining and bias strips came from stash, as did the thread, and the cord for the drawstring at the neckline.


Posted in 1790s, dresses, Hand sewing, Historical Sew Monthly 2016, JAFA | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Open robe and muslin gown

I’ve been slow in blogging about this outfit as I don’t have good photos, but I’ll go with what I have and maybe get to do better photos later!

The muslin dress was very loosely inspired by this Danish wedding dress. The pattern diagram provided by the museum has detailed pleats running from the back bodice to the front, and I’d love to do these sometime, but I didn’t have time on this occasion to draft and fit them without assistance. So, I adapted the Sense and Sensibility wrap-front dress, making the shoulder wider and gathering it instead of pleating it, and reshaping the front for a centre-front closure instead of a crossover. I cut the front skirt as one width of fabric and cut and narrowly hemmed a slit in the centre-front. The dress closes with a drawstinr channel in the front.

The fabric is the premium muslin from Spotlight – it is a lovely fabric, with a sheer even weave. It is very sheer – here it is, over my petticoat, stays etc. I decided, as a result of this photo, that I needed a sleeveless chemise! (Yes, I also need to tidy my work room . . .!)

Regency muslin gown - front view

As with the block-print round gown, I used two widths of fabric for the back skirt and tightly pleated the centre back – here are the pleats sewn in before the lining is turned over and stitched down. I put a (wonky) row of tacking (basting) i below the seam line to hold the pleats in place while the dress is being made.

Detail of back pleats

And here is a side-view of the dress, showing that full back (it’s not just my butt!)

Side view of muslin gown

Next up was making an open robe to go over the dress. By this stage, it was the day before I had to fly out . . .

In the ultimate of stash-busting, I used a poly(?) satin damask that I’ve had in my stash since buying it in New Zealand in about December 1980 – yes, you read that right. I had made a skirt from some of it but there were still metres of it on a roll I had carried through numerous house-moves over 35+ years.

I didn’t base the open robe on any particular image or pattern, but I think it still works reasonably well for the 1790s. I did bring the skirts around a little further at the front than many open robes; that was a persona stylistic choice to increase the slimming effect.

Once again, I adapted the S&S pattern pieces, because I know how they fit on me and could adapt them relatively quickly. I lined the bodice with fine cotton voile. The pewter brooch I used to close the robe is a Celtic one I bought in Wales in 1983 – not an accurate closure, but a reasonable hurried make-shift one!

I wore the outfit for the Georgian evening on the Friday night of JAFA – but unfortunately didn’t get many photos. This one was upstairs in the Albert Hall, where the lighting was very strange.

Open robe over muslin gown

I’m very happy with the outfit and am looking forward to wearing it again next year! (Or maybe for Jane Austen’s birthday picnic later this year….)


Posted in 1790s, dresses, JAFA | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Drop-front dress

I made this drop-front dress for Lauren, for a photo-shoot for potential cover-images for a novella I’m writing. As I had to make most of it without fitting her – we live 800km apart – I used the S&S Elegant Lady’s Closet pattern that Lauren has used before as a base and adapted it for a drop front. I used the bodice back as-is, the bodice lining piece from the pattern to cut the front under-bodice, and I adapted the short sleeve pattern by adding a couple of inches of length at the centre of the sleeve and curving it around to the seams.

The fabric is just a poly satin (deluxe satin from Spotlight) but it does have a nice drape. We may add a little ribbon decoration to the neckline and sleeves.

I was in Canberra for a few days last weekend so we did the final fitting of the bodice, and sewed on and hemmed the skirt. The novella is set in Yorkshire in the cold, wet summer of 1816, so we had to hunt for a suitable location in Canberra spring that might look suitably English! We found a few spots in Yarralumla where the foliage wasn’t Australian (or bare, wintry oaks).

Lauren’s father (my brother-in-law) took most of these photos and I’m hoping I’ll be able to organise a book cover design using one of them. But whether they work for that or not, Lauren has a new dress for the Jane Austen Festival next year!

Back bodice view

Back view in woods

Front view

Back view blossoms

Posted in 1815, dresses, JAFA | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Regency Narrow Fall Breeches

The second thing on my man’s wardrobe list was a pair of breeches. Again, they were 90% finished back in February, but have been waiting on the last few buttonholes for completion.

I used the Laughing Moon Mercantile Pattern #127, and mostly followed the instructions as closely as I could.

The back of the first mock up of the breeches. Made according to size 38 as given in the measurements, but a size 42 waistband.

The back of the first mock up of the breeches. Made according to size 38 as given in the measurements, but a size 42 waistband.

Mockup #2 of the breeches. Better. Now too big. Try again...

Mockup #2 of the breeches. Better. Now too big. Try again…

Pinned together...

Pinned together…

Starting the sewing process.

Starting the sewing process.

Beginning to look like breeches!

Beginning to look like breeches!

First try on. Not perfect, but pretty good for my first attempt.

First try on. Not perfect, but pretty good for my first attempt.

Back. I think it's a bit too loose here...

Back. I think it’s a bit too loose here…

Buttons! The fabric I used was so much thicker than recommended for the self cover buttons that they were very difficult to put together.

Buttons! The fabric I used was so much thicker than recommended for the self cover buttons that they were very difficult to put together.

Hand stitched buttonholes

Hand stitched buttonholes

Buttons in buttonholes. It's a good feeling when they fit.

Buttons in buttonholes. It’s a good feeling when they fit.

Closeup of two buttonholes You can see the difference between them. I'm calling it 'authentic'.

Closeup of two buttonholes You can see the difference between them. I’m calling it ‘authentic’.

Breeches finished - Modelled by SO

Breeches finished – Modelled by SO

Breeches finished - side - Modelled by SO

Breeches finished – side – Modelled by SO

Breeches finished - back - Modelled by SO

Breeches finished – back – Modelled by SO. Unfortunately you can’t see the buckle at centre back that cinches it tighter.

Although the photos say that the breeches are finished, there’s actually a very little more to do – he will need a few buttonholes on the leg openings just to hold them closed. When they’re in his boots, you can’t see it, but better to have a finished piece. There may also be buttons attached at the top of the waistband for a pair of suspenders. If we can get the suspenders working…

I know that they aren’t perfect, and I know there’s a couple of fitting issues, but I am so very happy with them for my first attempt at tailoring something, and my first attempt at anything complicated. I have been told that the breeches are the most complicated I could make, and I’ve started with them. The rest must go well 😉

Posted in 1790s, JAFA, Menswear | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ball dress

Back in 2014, when I first started planning to attend JAFA 2015, I bought two saris from amazon.com – new ones, not vintage, and artificial silk, not the real stuff. My budget doesn’t stretch far, and I didn’t want to invest heavily in silk until I had more experience costuming my short, round figure.

One of them turned out to be darker than the mid-blue in the listing photo, but a gorgeous rich blue, shot with a maroon that gives the effect of a deep purple. The woven band along the edge has flowers in various shades of golds, tans and cream, and the decorative piece at the end (I think that’s the pallau?) is richly woven.

Detail of sari woven edge Detail of sari decorative end

For this year’s JAFA, I needed a new gown for the Grand Napoleonic Ball, and pulled this sari out of the fabric stash.

I used the Sense and Sensibility drawstring gown as a base pattern, but adapted it as described here and here.This was the first time I’d used the short sleeve pattern and I lengthened it about an inch (2.5cm); next time I’ll lengthen it some more.

Being short has an advantage when it comes to using saris: the border ran along both edges of the fabric, but I cut off one edge and still had enough width to cut the skirt with a border along the bottom. I also used the border fabric for the sleeve band, and I have metres left – plus the decorative end – to do something else with.

As with the block-print dress, I cut the front bodice across almost the whole width of fabric (minus the borders), and with the equivalent amount of skirt attached it gathered fairly well across the front – albeit a little stiffly as this isn’t the drapiest of fabrics.

I pleated the back tightly into the centre back – here you can see the pleats pinned. I tack (baste) them down and take the pins out before sewing the seam as it makes it much easier than dealing with a gazillion pins through the machine (you can only see half of the pins here!)

Detail of back pleats, pinned for sewing

Here’s the dress finished, in a hurried photo at home with hair only roughly pinned up.

Finished dress, at home

It’s okay, but there were a few issues: the fixable one was that the dress is quite see-through, and my white petticoat didn’t bring out the best of the colour.  The issues I didn’t have time to fix included:

1) although I measured for the sleeve band, the sleeves don’t allow a great deal of movement – I need some help getting into and out of the dress;

2) the fabric is, as mentioned above, a little stiff, so it doesn’t drape well (and this is compounded by the fact that I need new stays that keep my tummy under better control. Or less tummy. I’m working on that); and

3) there’s not quite enough gathering in the front skirt, which pulled the gathering in the back pleats across to the side – next time I’ll do a couple of pleats in the side front and a two less on each side of the centre back.

Sari ball dress - back view

I did fix the fixable issue, and made a sleeveless purple satin underdress, and that worked to bring out the rich colour of the fabric better:

Purple satin underdress

I didn’t get many photos at JAFA but here we are at the Grand Napoleonic Ball – Katie, Jeremy, Lauren and I. I’m happy enough with the dress and will wear it again – with better stays and a few less kilos it will be perfectly fine  🙂

Katie, Jeremy, Lauren and I at the Grand Napoleonic Ball



Posted in dresses, JAFA | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A Man’s Shirt

The first priority for the JAFA outfits is my SO’s entire outfit. First of which is always a shirt. His shirt will be a bleached pure linen shirt, as he wants me to aim for historical accuracy where possible.

I started off with a pattern from another blog, but I couldn’t work out the sizing of the individual pieces at all. In the end, I used a combination of patterns from that blog, Everyday Dress of Rural America, 1783-1800 by Meredith Wright and Costume Closeup: Clothing Construction and Pattern 1750-1790 by Linda Baumgarten & John Watson

The construction was pieced together from instructions, descriptions and images of finished pieces, and a healthy dose of remembering how my chemise went together, as well as some “I guess it’ll look okay if I do this…” In the end, it has gone together fairly simply, although in hindsight I have made a few errors (such as the order of flat-felling) and there’s a few things that aren’t as neat as they could be. Live and learn.

We decided to go for a very simple shirt, so there are no ruffles on this one, and nothing special.

For an added personal touch, I have hand-sewn the entire shirt, and flat-felled every seam.

Shirt collar

First thing I did was to attach the collar and the neck gussets, and then flat-fell those seams.

Shirt sizing

Then I attached the sleeves and the gussets (and got so excited that I had to try it on… It is beyond massive on me)

Finished sleeve gusset

Then I flat-felled the sleeves and gussets (in the wrong order as it turned out, but hey, it doesn’t look bad)

And then attach the cuffs, and sew up the sleeves.

And then attach the cuffs, and sew up the sleeves.

From there, I stitched and flat-felled the side seams, and hemmed all the raw edges (cuffs, neck opening, and side openings) and finally hemmed the shirt around the bottom.

Then, I covered some buttons in linen, and sewed buttonholes at the cuffs, and at the throat. To finish, I hand washed the shirt and dried it in full sunlight, which sunbleached it for me. The above was written January 16, it has taken me until now to finally finish the last two buttonholes… there are so many buttonholes in my projects.

The finished shirt

The finished shirt

Closeup of the neck and collar - and button placement

Closeup of the neck and collar – and button placement

Here is the handsome recipient wearing the finished shirt.

My SO in his shirt. Showing the length of the shirt.

My SO in his shirt. Showing the length of the shirt.

Posted in JAFA | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

HSM Challenge 2 – Drawstring dress with pleats

My new drawstring, block-print, 1790s round gown is finished, and I’m very happy with it. My progress post from a few days ago explained my planning – an adaptation of the Sense and Sensibility drawstring dress pattern. I’d made a block-print dress last year from that pattern, without any adaptation, and wasn’t very happy with it. My main adaptations (more details below) were to 1) shorten the bodice front length; 2) make the bodice front significantly wider, for a gathered look: 3) significantly increase the skirt width, by using one full width in the front, and two full widths in the back – pleated tightly into the centre back. (HSM details a little further down the post).

First up, here’s a comparison of the two dresses – the 2015 one made from the pattern (in a slightly different block print), and my 2016 adaptation:

Firts block print gown - front

2015, pattern as is (daylight)


2016 adaptation (artificial light)

Here’s a comparison of the backs:

First block print gown - back

2015 – pattern as is

2016 - fuller, tightly pleated back

2016 – fuller, tightly pleated back

And a detail of all those stacked pleats in the centre back:
Stacked pleats in centre back

I’m definitely much happier with this dress than with the first version of the pattern. I think the proportions are much better on my short round body, and the fabric drapes much more elegantly. I will probably make another one in a different fabric.

For details about the changes I made to the pattern, see below under the HSM challenge information.

New version front view 20160317FrontClose

Historical Sew Monthly Challenge details:

The Challenge: Challenge #2: Tucks & Pleats

Material: Block-print cotton, purchased on ebay. About 6.5 metres

Pattern: Significant adaptation of the drawstring gown from Sense and Sensibility’s Elegant Lady’s Closet.

Year: mid 1790s

Notions: white cotton for front lining and bias binding.

How historically accurate is it? Reasonably – the bodice is entirely handsewn. I did machine sew the skirt seams and the main seam attaching the bodice to the skirt, but everything else is handsewn.

Hours to complete: I didn’t count

First worn: For photographs. Will be worn at Jane Austen Festival Australia in April.

Total cost: About $40 for the fabric.

S&S Drawstring gown alterations

• Shortened front bodice length – very gentle curve from sides.
• Added to bodice width – total width at bottom edge of bodice of 43in/109cm
• Added 1inch to centre back measurement, sloping to 1/2inch at sides

  • Added c. 1 inch to side back bodice piece at top where it joins with back piece, so that the seam matches better.

• Added 1.5 inches to sleeve at top of underarm, grading out from top of sleeve for added fullness there.

• Shortened sleeves by 1.5 inches.
Alteration of sleeve pattern piece

• Three widths of fabric; one matched to front bodice, two for back skirt
• Back skirt – two panels, stacked pleats at centre back (1 inch pleats, overlapped for all but about 1/4inch)

Posted in 1790s, dresses, Historical Sew Monthly 2016, JAFA | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

JAFA sewing weekend

Lauren and Katie came up from Canberra – a 10-hour drive – for four days of JAFA sewing at the end of February. Emily was in town, too, and she joined us for the first two days.

Not many photos were taken, as we were full-on, having a great time, discussing fabrics and possibilities, drawing up patterns, fitting mock-ups, cutting out fabrics, sewing fine seams.

As we’re all tea drinkers, we started the 4-day weekend with morning tea, while we discussed plans. This was about the only time the dining table was tidy:
Morning tea table

Everyone pitched in for meals, Katie and Lauren making a delicious mango and chicken salad for Sunday lunch – so we had plenty of sustenance for marathon sewing!
Mango salad

And the sewing room, set up with two sewing machines, two cutting tables, and fabrics and costumes everywhere . . .

Katie and Lauren sewing

We used trace and toile to make initial mockups of bodices and check (and adjust) fit. Emily in her two days made a bodice mockup to fit her. Lauren made a new bodiced petticoat, and partially finished a dress, to the point where the skirt was pleated and pinned on to the bodice. Katie, who is not yet very experienced in sewing, finished a dress except for the hems – a lovely blue print cotton draw-string dress, adapted from the S&S Elegant Lady’s Closet pattern.

All in all, a wonderful weekend (except for the heat!) and I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with them.

Posted in General, JAFA | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Block print round gown progress

The second dress I made last year was a block print dress using the Sense and Sensibility draw-string dress pattern. I followed the pattern as written pretty much, although I did lengthen the back a little and add a waistband. The dress fitted reasonably. . . but it certainly didn’t flatter my short, round shape, and the off-white background didn’t flatter my skin colour, either.

First block print gown - front

First block print gown in 2015 – not enough fullness

First block print gown - back

Back of first block print gown – not enough fullness


The bodice front was too long, among other things – it fits my DD-E cup friend much better than my C-D cup self. I felt very dowdy in it the day I wore it at JAFA – although fortunately I was having fun, anyway, so I didn’t spend too much time contemplating my dowdiness!

A couple of weeks ago, Lauren and Katie visited for four days of JAFA sewing – a marvellous time! We used the draw-string gown pattern for Katie, but with significant modifications; we shortened the bodice front piece by several inches, so there was no blouson effect, and added fullness to the skirt. She had her dress finished except for hems by the last night, and it looked lovely on her, with soft gathering over the bust and enough fullness in the skirt to drape well.

I was thinking about the pattern grading/sizing and figured that probably in the original dress the pattern was based on, the front bodice piece might measure 1.5 or 2 times the front bodice bust, giving a nice gather. And I suspect that the pattern designer just did the standard pattern grading – e.g. 2 inches total extra per size. *But* if you want to keep the same proportion of gather, it needs to be 3.5 to 4 inches extra per size. I think. I haven’t gone back and looked at the pattern to check, but the way the dress finished on me – around 3 sizes larger than Katie – certainly didn’t have an equivalent proportion of fullness.

I also took a good look at the photos of the Dutch block print dress I’d love to approximate, and noted the lovely gathering of the bodice front. I therefore shortened the bodice length, and added quite a few inches to the width of the front, using the width of the fabric so that the bottom edge measures about 42inch/110cm.

Here’s the bodice so far (entirely hand-stitched):
dress bodice in progress

I like the gathering across the bust, and that will be echoed when the bottom edge is gathered. I may need to shorten it a little further still, especially in the centre front.

I haven’t sewn the sleeves yet, but when cutting them out I added about an inch to the width at the top and underarm, as the pattern as is is a little tight. Lauren and Katie have found the same issue in their sizes, so the pattern is designed for a very slender arm, rather than one with extra muscle or ‘softness’.

For the skirt, I calculated measurements of skirt widths in similar 1790s dresses in Norah Waugh’s The Cut of Women’s Clothes, and the Danish muslin wedding dress pattern diagram. They’re around 320cm, which is 4 widths of the standard width of fabric of the time – 80cm or so. The S&S pattern skirt pieces use less than two widths of 42inch/110cm  wide fabric. Therefore I’m going to use one full width of 42 inch/110cm across the front, to continue the gathering from the bust through the skirt at centre front, and two widths for the skirt back, which will give a total skirt width of around 3.2-3.6yds/300-330cm, appropriate for the styles of the 1790s, and hopefully enough to drape more gracefully over my generously proportioned hips and tum!

JAFA is only 5 weeks away now and I still have a lot of sewing to do. However, major book deadlines are now out of the way so I should have a tad more time for sewing!


Posted in dresses, JAFA | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment