Historical Sew Monthly: January 2019


Ok, so I think by now we all understand how bad I am at keeping up with blogging. To be honest though, if I blogged as much as I wanted I probably wouldn’t get half as much sewing done as I’d like to. Vicious circle. Anyways, for the second year in a row I am casually participating in the Historical Sew Monthly challenge hosted by the lovely Dreamstress. If you’ve never heard of the HSM challenge definitely check it out, I love seeing all the cool projects people turn out to fit the challenge themes! This year I managed to inadvertently knock out the first two challenges with little effort as they fit right in with my  sewing plans. #score!

The first challenge of the year was “Dressed to the Nines” and costumers were encouraged to create something fancy to be “dressed to the nines” or create something from a year ending in 9 (like 1849), or incorporate the number 9 into the design elements, like 9 buttons. This was perfect as I need to whip together a dress for an event in February that was set in 1850.

I decided to start planning my project by perusing Pinterest for some inspiration. I was still really new to this period and learning exactly what shapes and details were appropriate was daunting, fortunately they had photography! During a random search I came across this dress and then this fashion plate and finally this dag.

Hmm, look at all that blue changeable silk! Funny thing is I have an entire bolt of that very same fabric sitting in my sewing room – sometimes things are meant to be!

So with the fabric decided upon I began looking at elements I liked in these dresses, namely the tightly gathered bodice front and the tight sleeves, and chose the Truly Victorian pattern 454 German Day Dress to work with. I had heard many great things about the Truly Victorian patterns and figured I couldn’t go wrong with them especially when working in unfamiliar territory. I really enjoyed working with the TV pattern, but not going to lie the sizing chart was crazy. I might just be really unproportional but I had to fudge some numbers to get to a size that made sense. I really had my doubts about the fit when sewing up the mock-up but amazingly the crazy maths and head scratching worked! I had to make zero adjustments! Seriously when does that ever happen, especially on an unfamiliar pattern in a new time period? Truly Victorian patterns I AM SOLD!!

After whizzing through the mock-up I whipped together the bodice in no time – seriously flat lining is my new favorite thing, WHY AREN’T WE USING THIS MORE OFTEN???

With one week before the event all I had to do was gauge the skirts and attach them – cue terror and dread.

Holy Crap I can gauge skirts!

Pleating skirts is second nature for me, when it comes to knife pleats that is, but throwing in a new technique like gauging (or cartridge pleating) and you have me shaking in my boots. I don’t do well with change. I think I spent more time researching how to gauge skirts than I did actually gauging them. Not even joking.

The week of the event and after 2 cups of coffee, 4 pep talks, and like 7 internet tutorials I finally bit the bullet and gauged the darn skirts. It took me approximately the entire season of BBC’s The Living and The Dead (I don’t suggest watching this before spending an evening in a dark and haunted Victorian home) to finish the skirts and attach them to the bodice, essentially making the thing.

Ta-Da! Ignore my shrinking dress form, that girls got problems

The day of the event we met up early to do a mini photo shoot, because that’s what you do when you make a new thing you’re proud of right?

The event was focused on recreating some of the activities that would occur around a house during a winter evening in 1850. The 1850s girl gang decided to reenact a parlor scene by taking tea, reading and discussing current events. We took advantage of the gorgeous candlelight to snap a few haunting images. Overall the event and the gown were a huge success.

HSM challenge #1 = Accomplished!

The Challenge: “Dressed to the Nines” an 1849 day dress

Material: Blue and black changeable silk, black silk, and green cotton twill lining

Pattern: Truly Victorian #454 German Day Dress

Year: 1849

Notions: Metal hooks and eyes, beeswax, cotton cord, blue linen thread, and blue silk thread.

How historically accurate is it? The pattern is based off of an original tailors guide written c. 1843 and the fabric and styling matches extant gowns and those seen in fashion plates and daguerreotypes, however the gown is mostly machine sewn (its an antique machine if that helps recoup points), so I will call it 90% accurate.

Hours to complete: I’m terrible at tracking hours but from mock-up to finished product there is probably 24 hours of labor involved.

First worn: Saturday February 9th, for the Winter Evening event at Cobblestone Farm in Ann Arbor, MI.

Total cost: Less than $25, fabric and almost all notions came from stash. Pattern and cording were the only purchases.

From Book to Barbara Pt. III

The last time we updated you on the Barbara Johnson gown the project was still in the fitting stages with a muslin mock-up. I’m excited to report that over the past couple of weeks, in between other sewing projects, I have finally finished the c. 1781 red and white chintz gown that may have been in the style that Barbara Johnson had made for herself when she purchased the original fabric and lovingly pasted the swatch into her album.

If you recall in the last update I shared with you some of the details of gowns in a

The half Dress of the year 1782. Anne Frankland Lewis.

handful of fashion plates dating to 1780-1783 to reference for this gown. As I worked with the lovely printed fabric I instantly knew that I wanted long sleeves to fully show off the beautiful print and the changing style seen over the early 1780s. I also knew right away that I wanted full gown skirts that could be stylishly “rucked up” or worn down long on the ground almost like a train, as seen in the watercolor by Anne Frankland Lewis for the “Half Dress of Year, 1782”.

I first cut the bodice pieces and began construction on them right away using the 18th century techniques I learned through the Burnley & Trowbridge YouTube channel and the Larkin & Smith patterns. Once the bodice was basically finished I cut the petticoat panels, opting to use only 2 yards to ensure I’d have nice full gown skirts like I had originally planned. I next cut my sleeves from the 1 yard remnant from which I cut the bodice. Having forgotten that I had wanted to have long sleeves I put aside the rest of the fabric almost a full 4 yards for the gown skirts. It was at that point I realized I’d have to do some piecing to get the sleeve length I wanted.

I pieced in the top of one upper sleeve cap, thinking it would be more easily disguised

Pieced sleeve cap with tiny stitches

with the shoulder pleats and less likely to be at a stress point than if I tried to hide it in the underarm piece. The sleeves were made using two pieces, upper and under arm, and were self drafted using directions from the American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking. I was so surprised at how easily they went into the armscye and how comfortable they are to wear. I fitted the bodice really so the underarm is right up in my armpit, but not digging in, and yet I have a full range of motion! I love it!

Ready for the gown skirts!

After the sleeves were set it only took me a couple of hours to pleat the gown skirts and attach them to the bodice. I managed to save myself some time by using the selvage edge for the hem (plus the other selvage side provides a nice and sturdy side to attach to the bodice) and only had to narrow hem the sides of the skirts. Go me for working smarter, not harder. So shes finished and completely wearable as is, but I can’t help to think that Barbara would have some stylish all white accessories to pair with this new gown and let’s be honest, I’m a glutton for punishment.

I decided that I really wanted an all white ruffly apron and handkerchief as seen in several of the early 1780s fashion plates to pair with this gown. I ordered the sheer cotton muslin “mull” from Burnley & Trowbridge and have already cut out the apron, handkerchief, and SIX YARDS of ruffle fabric. SO MANY RUFFLES.

I also can’t imagine Barbara Johnson wouldn’t have an updated cap or pretty silk hat so a new cap is in the planning stages – toss up between organdy or silk gauze, and a straw hat is currently being covered in white silk taffeta, to be trimmed with white moire silk ribbons and white silk gauze. Nothing says the 1780s like white frothy confections on top of the head!

Accessory Goals = ALL THE RUFFLES, also cute doggo!

Authenticity and Attitudes


We’ve received a great response to the 18th century reenacting survey , which we posted about last week, and already people are asking more questions about the themes presented and are beginning to come to their own conclusions. We love it! Its getting people talking and not only is it getting them reflecting on their own experiences, but many are beginning to consider how others in the hobby may perceive them and their actions, whether intentional or not.

Some great observations about authenticity and attitudes have been made that may account for the feelings of bullying and cliquey behavior, not discounting peoples feelings at all but simply trying to make sense of the big picture – is this an issue of true bullying or more of an issue of unwanted criticism or poorly worded, yet well meant advice? The truth is we’ll probably never know (unless of course we do a more in depth survey on bullying, but we’ll save that for another day) but there are some things we can do now to help change these perceptions of bullying and cliques within the hobby. Below are several suggestions that were presented in response to our prompt on “how to be accessible and build a stronger community”

  • Be the unofficial welcome wagon for events. Take your posse around to every camp, introduce yourself and invite them to stop by your camp sometime for refreshments.
  • If you’re a more experienced participant go out of your way to greet new faces at events. Being the newbie can be intimidating and a friendly face can make the difference between someone really enjoying the event or hating it.
  • Don’t give criticism unless specifically asked, pay compliments instead.
  • Try sharing your favorite resources freely and encourage others to get as excited about them as you are. Show the process behind the research instead of quoting the hard and fast rules.
  • Welcome interpretations and views that may differ from yours. Its ok to agree to disagree sometimes.
  • Don’t be afraid to call out obvious bullying.
  • Be thoughtful about the words you use when communicating online. Its easy to misconstrue text, to avoid misunderstandings and further problems be thoughtful and consider how someone else may read into what you’re typing.

What other ideas might you add to our list?



18th Century Reenactor Survey Results

‘The Studious Fair’ Lewis Walpole Library 

Inspired partly by a survey recently conducted by the 1st WAC separate battalion living history group, in an effort to create a better environment for female reenactors in the WWII community, and partly by our own feelings of unhappiness within the 18th century reenactor community we decided to conduct our own survey using the ever handy Google Forms app.

Our goal was to get a better understanding of what the general perception was of the 18th century reenacting community with some specific focus on identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the community of women and non military/civilian interpreters. We had 230 participants from across the US, Canada, and parts of Europe respond and have compiled the data to the best of our ability identifying trends as noted.

18th Century Reenactor Survey Analysis 

The results were eyeopening, to say the least, and they validated a lot of the feelings held by several female and civilian reenactors I am acquainted with. In the next few days we will be posting prompts, here and on our Facebook page, that coincide with the data in an attempt to work towards correcting the issues identified through the survey. Ultimately we hope this will be used as a tool to open up dialog in the community and enact positive changes to create an inclusive environment for all participants.


The Pinterest Gown of Craziness

IMG_4418There are times when I feel like I’m in a sewing funk and can’t stomach to make just another plain ol’ robe a l’anglaise so I turn to Pinterest for some inspiration. That’s where crazy ideas come from, Pinterest. I know you’ve seen that meme floating around about eating salads out of mason jars, that’s what Pinterest does to you! It just puts these ideas into your head and you’re like,

“Yeah let’s do that! It’ll be so easy and I’ve never seen anyone do that before so it’ll be way cool!”

but really it’s totally crazy.  Oh and we can’t talk about Pinterest without mentioning the unwritten rule: Pinterest projects can go one of two ways, you either knock it out of the park or it becomes a dreaded Pinterest fail. 

The Challenge 

So a group of costuming peeps are heading to the Valentine Theater next month to hear the Toledo Symphony Orchestra for Mozart’s birthday and I needed something new and appropriate for the symphony. The challenge is it has to be a stash busting project because holidays mean spending my money on other people instead of buying myself more pretties to hoard away. It also has to be something amazing and right around the 1780s, just because. 

The Solution

B877E2DE-62B8-432C-973B-B270B247CFC3Digging through my stash was sad, there really isn’t a lot left that would be appropriate for an 18th century upper class evening wear ensemble that hasn’t already been earmarked for another project. Aside from bits and pieces of silk from various projects the only useable length of fabric I have is a navy blue silk saree embroidered with gold thread in a basic polka dot and club motif, so it’ll have to do! I have roughly 4 1/2 yards of the plain blue embroidered fabric with a small panel of blue and gold striped that is a little over a yard, so gonna have to get creative here ie. head on over to Pinterest. 


60FB3AF4-15CC-4CA9-8A93-0B6B36D71F0EI just start typing in really random and vague search terms like “1780s fashion plate” in hopes of finding a rabbit hole to fall down that will lead me to “the look”, whatever that may be. I don’t even know how long it took but once I found it I knew it was “the one”. A striped bodice with big ruffly white sleeves and this plain skirt trimmed with more stripes and ruffles, hmm this fits the bill it’s visually interesting, something I’ve never seen done before, and it uses stripes! 

So now we have a plan and we have a bodice mock up already in place – I cut two when first working on the one for the Barbara Johnson gown, time to start cutting up some silk 😬


From Book to Barbara Pt. II


Things are beginning to take shape with Barbara Johnson’s “red and white chintz gown” based on the description from her album of swatches currently located at the V&A Museum. I worked with Jess, of Penny River Costumes, to come up with an idea of what type of gown  Barbara might have been describing in the early 1780s when she first pasted in this pretty printed swatch. 


Three fashion plates dating to 1781-1783.

Is that a shaped sleeve I see?

Based on fashion plates and extant gowns dating approximately to the same decade, we think Barbara most likely had her mantua maker make her a robe a l’anglaise with a low cut “v” shaped back piece, sometimes referred to as an “Italian Gown” with a coordinating petticoat. Sleeve length during the decade seemed to vary and could be anywhere from the elbow to the wrist. They also could be trimmed, left plain, or with a set of fine white sleeve ruffles. The fashion plate Barbara carefully placed on the page accompanying her “red and white chintz” swatch appears to have a gown with sleeves just past the elbow, perhaps a shaped sleeve which had started to rise in popularity?

Ignore the lumps and bubbles 😑

Now knowing what type of gown I needed to recreate it was time to begin drafting a pattern and creating a mock-up of the bodice. To create the pattern I decided to work from an existing gown that I finished earlier in the year that features the same deep “V” shape in the bodice back and fits perfectly over my false rump.

The blue silk Levite gown was franken-patterned using the Wingeo Levite pattern, the fashionable gown pattern from Larkin and Smith, and my standard bodice sloper. Combining these three patterns I was easily able to create that desirable 1780s back, having done it once already I’m hoping the mock up process will go quickly this time around.

First, I cut out my lining pieces for the bodice back and fronts using the Larkin and Smith Fashionable gown back and my bodice sloper. I’m always up for shortcuts so I’m going to use my lining as my mock up just to save some time. Even though I’ve made gowns from these particular pattern pieces countless times I always start with fitting my lining EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. no matter how many times I’ve made that particular gown. It never fails that if I skip this step something will go terribly wonky for some unexpected reason. 

1. Uncut side, too low at the waist and hips.

2. Center back nicely trimmed to fit over false rump without any wrinkling at the waist.

3. Detail of one side trimmed out over  rump at hips.

As you can see here I have my mock-up sewn together and mounted on the dressform with one side cut and pinned into the shape I’m looking for. Now I just have to do the same for the other side. Is this method historically accurate? Meh, I can’t vouch for that but it works for me and that’s all that matters right now. 

For the back, I added length to the Fashionable Gown back pattern piece, just guesstimating how much to add to make the dramatic point. I’ve trimmed it away a little starting at the center back point to gradually sit just over the hips at the side back, this smooths out any wrinkles at the waist. Once the back is cut and looks even

Time to fix up the fronts!

I move onto the fronts. For this part I used my basic sloper for a center front closing bodice and cut the hips out slightly higher, just enough to accommodate the extra padding provided by the false rump. The center fronts are pinned closed and trimmed and then the bottom is shaped to meet with the cut-out sides. Once I’m done trimming I spin the form around to double check for any wrinkles or bubbles. What’s left should smooth out with the weight of the skirts and the extra stability of the fashion fabric. One of the curses of working with soft, buttery linens is its ability to wrinkle, bubble and stretch without that added foundation.

Now it’s time to try it on over my stays and fix any fitting issues! This process usually takes a couple tries so I was going to save this for another post but surprisingly enough it only took one fitting this time. I just need to trim a little under the arms to release just a bit of that wrinkling and it should be just about perfect!

Ps. Ignore the crappy fitting selfies, tiny bathrooms and stays making selfies difficult.


From Book to Barbara: Recreating Barbara Johnson’s Red and White Chintz Gown

F2C9BCA1-4F7A-4CC3-85E5-19A7CFD6325EIt all started with a book of sorts, Barbara Johnson’s album of textile samples and fashion plates, to be exact. While perusing the V&A Museum’s digital collection this past summer, Jess Young, owner of Penny River Costumes, stumbled upon the newly released images of a number of pages from Barbara Johnson’s album made over the course of her life from age eight in 1746 to 1823, just two years before her death. She says,


 “I saw the swatch and it struck me as almost contemporary looking. It was so unusual with the color and motif. I hadn’t seen anything like it!”.

Comparing designs

Enamored with the swatch, she sent the image to her sister in law, a graphic designer who has always shared an interest in the work that Jess does. The small swatch was then digitized and sketched to form a complete pattern.

From that complete digitized pattern Jess was able to collaborate with a traditional textile manufacturer in India on the rest of the process. From image to fabric in hand, Jess says her favorite part of the entire process was the making of the wood block for printing, “the idea of hand carving the wooden block still makes me giddy”.

Thanks to our highly connected world she was able to watch the magic happen as her digital image was brought to life, “it seemed like such a massive creative undertaking, and the printer was able to do it in about two days and now it exists”. 

The moment I saw what Jess was doing by creating this exciting new reproduction fabric I knew I wanted to be a part of it in any way I could. I reached out to her and we began talking over gown styles that Barbara may have used this fabric for.

A7CEF5E1-425F-49D7-B7F5-A1CF5B7B4B47The original swatch comes from a page with a couple of other colorful printed fabrics dating 1780 and 1781, along with a fashion plate titled ‘Dress of the Year 1783’. Barbara would have been in her mid 30s by the early 1780s and we can assume by her album entries late in life describing new pelises and other fashionable garments, that she was probably fairly fashion forward in her style of dress. After some perusing of various museum collections, fashion plates, and engravings we decided that a fitted back, center front closing robe a l’anglaise with matching petticoat would have been the most likely style of gown this fabric was made into. 

Digging deeper into extant garments we both fell in love with the details on this Indian inspired chintz, or Indiennes, robe a l’anglaise dated 1770-80 located in the Mode Museum. The ruched cuffs and deep cut bodice back with its hundreds of tiny pleats makes it visually interesting compared to dozens of other surviving cotton print gowns.

Another prime example, dating about 1785-1795, residing in the MET shares many of the same details with its striking deep “V” cut bodice back and meticulously pleated skirts meant to be worn over a false rump. Instead of ruching at the sleeve we see one gathered ruffle, presumably of a once fine white muslin or organdy. These two gowns along with the fashion plate for 1783 will be the basis for recreating Barbara’s red and white chintz gown and petticoat. 

In the successive posts I plan to detail the undertaking of mocking up and creating Barbara’s gown and accessories as she may have worn them in the early 1780s. With a vague description and only bits and pieces of her favorite period prints to piece together her personal style I hope that you’ll enjoy the process just as much I do! 


Day 12: Hayley’s Top Picks


We made it guys!

12 whole days of Christmas ideas! Some big, some small, and some downright weird (I’ll claim those).

I’m wrapping it all up with my personal favs. Hang on tight–it’s about to get eclectic up in here.



These. These, these, these. I need them.

2) Speaking of shoes, and green shoes at that–a shoemaking workshop by Nicole of Silk and Buckram would basically just make my life so much better. Girl is seriously talented!

3) Katy’s tattoos

No, I’m not going to be a copy cat. My thighs have a little more real estate anyways. I will be cooking up an 18th century ballet ensemble for me, however… Thick thighs and all.

4) Lydia Fast is a millinery GODDESS.

Perfection. If someone wanted to just hint that a certain Hayley wants to grab a cuppa’ and have a certain Lydia hold her hand through the whole process of recreating this bonnet:

That hair tho.

I would be forever in the debt of all involved.

5) Fabric.

I’m poor. So, my fabric stash is considerably smaller than all you junkies out there. Need to destash? Hit me up.

I’m vibing on a couple of these textiles:

Mmmmmm shot silk
This chintz is one of my favorite patterns
I need a sweet little sundress in this pattern!

Tell me your favorites in the comments, and merry Christmas!!!

Day 10: Crowd Pleasers


Hi guys!!!

Sorry I dropped the ball on my blog posts for our 12 days of Christmas! I don’t know about you all, but I haven’t finished my own shopping. At all.

My gift giving also tends to have a domino effect–If I buy George a gift, you can bet I have to get Mary one too. Then the kids would get involved and maybe even the Adams-es.

Sometimes, you need a gift that works for a group of people! Or at least, a gift that could please a group of people.

1) Canvas. Did all of our historical predecessors live in tents? No. If we want to attend events, do we usually need some canvas? Yes. Unless you like getting eaten by bugs and soaked by dew, you might want a shelter to protect you from the elements or hide in for a quick siesta during the midday slump.

The Tent Smiths have many options large and small of you’re looking to get something for a family, a couple, or a gift that a couple of friends can go in on together!

2) This next option is a little steep as well, but I’m actually a fan of gifts that several people can purchase together. If you have someone tough to buy for, (my father) sometimes it’s easiest to just all pitch in. For the vintage lovers on your list, a beautiful gramaphone could be a great way for them to listen to their vinyl collection (which they probably have). I find that music, not streamed through earbuds, has a way of bringing people together!

3) Have a family that loves to let everyone know how much they love their hobby? Penny River’s Time Traveler tee shirt is a great unisex option for a whole crew! Maybe even gift the whole unit!

4) As a child I love being read to. I finally bit the bullet on an Audible subscription, and well, let’s just say anybody who rides in my car had better like books on tape. It’s not common to do anymore, but if you’re interested in unique ways to entertain a crowd, reading a book aloud might be just the right alternative to a Netflix binge. Grimm’s Fairytales are good for a chuckle, and a way to connect with many generations past! How beautiful is that copy!?

5) Have a group of gal pals to gift? Make it a date and get 1940’s themed manicures!

Do some calling around to local salons, and ask them if they can accommodate a group, and ask about this style of manicure. Optional: go out on the town in your best vintage.

There it is friends! Some last minute options for the masses.

All the best.


Day 11: Brittany’s Top Picks


We’re winding down to the very end of our Twelve Days of Christmas Shopping series and what better way to end than with our top pick gifts to give this year? So far we’ve covered everything from pretty jewelry and fun weekend getaways with our themed posts but this one will have a little bit of everything and, fingers crossed, nothing here will have shown up in any of our previous posts. So without further adieu my top six picks…

I’m an avid tea drinker and drinking tea from a fancy cup makes it all the more fun! Ever the fan of girly frou-frou things I am in love with this gorgeous teacup and saucer which comes in either pink or mint green with gold details. Pick it up here on etsy by AngiolletiDesigns. 

IMG_4417It’s no secret, I LOVE big 18th Century hair, but not everyone is blessed with super thick hair like mine and that’s where hair cushions come into play. We’ve preached a hundred times over that hairstyles have a huge impact on the overall look of an outfit. Simple and easy hairstyle don’t usually need any kind of support but when you really want to make an impression a hair cushion can help. Crafty folks with access to things like wool roving or horsehair can easily make their own, for everyone else look no further than the very affordable pieces offered on Etsy by JennylaFleur. 

Vintage Clothing. Who doesn’t love vintage clothing? I know that I’m obsessed with vintage styles, specifically the 1940s and 1950s looks, because they tend to just look better on my figure. Clothing is always nice to receive as a gift but nothing is better than getting a one of kind vintage piece and one of my new favorite places for vintage styles in a wide range of sizes is OverAttired Vintage on Etsy.

Ok so maybe there is a gift a little better than vintage clothes, reproduction vintage patterns. We’ve dished on our favorite patterns for the 18th and early 19th centuries and really not much has changed since then. When it comes to vintage patterns it seems the sky is the limit thanks to a number of small businesses scanning and meticulously translating and formatting patterns from the late 19th century through the mid 20th century. My favorite is Mrs. Depew Vintage with her huge selection of 1930s patterns (like 170 total!) plus around 60 children’s patterns!

IMG_4416In a previous post Hayley suggested having a portrait made for a loved one, which is totally awesome but can be pricey and a lengthy undertaking depending on the artist’s turn around time. Instead consider a more affordable, but equally awesome, option of having your silhouette cut. My husband and I had ours cut for our anniversary this year, it was a lot of fun sitting for Lauren, the artist, and everyone who sees them hanging on the wall remarks on how neat they are especially with the amount of detail captured. While sitting for a silhouette cutter is half the fun and it being so close to the holidays it’s probably too late to arrange that now, but Lauren of Silhouettes By Hand will cut them from photos and send them via snail mail.

We have shared tons of beautiful jewelry in many of our previous posts so by now you should know exactly where to shop for awesome sparkly things. Now when you get to the point where you own multiple pieces of pretty things you need an equally pretty place to store them which brings us to my next top pick; pretty jewelry storage. One word- Victorian Trading Company. Ok that was three but it’s one amazing company and I literally want one of everything in their catalog. They have a wonderful selection of pretty little jewelry storage boxes, I actually have the Blue Skies Footed Jewelry Box which I keep some of my favorite paste jewelry in for display.

– Brittany