Category Archives: 19th Century Sewing

Div III Progress: 10 Days To Go!

Over the past couple days, I’ve added a few more basic entries to the annotated bibliography, and I’ve created an extensive glossary of terms for fibers, fabrics, and materials. It’s really more than a glossary, with detailed descriptions for each entry, plus quotes from print resources, links to online articles, and cross-referencing links to other entries. The idea is that these entries collect references and resources in an ongoing way, to offer disambiguation and historical information as well as practical tips. The entries are closely matched to the fiber, fabric, and material tags which are listed in a menu on the right side of the site. In that menu is also a link to the Glossary Table of Contents, which contains links to all current entries in the glossary, tidily organized. There is also a base, introductory entry which covers broad topics and offers a mini annotated bibliography of print resources: Glossary: Fibers, Fabrics, and Materials.

I had not originally intended to spend this much time creating a glossary of terms, but as I started looking things up, I found that often sources conflicted with one another, and many terms have had different meanings over time. In order to create a genuinely useful resource, I needed to go deeper and make my entries more extensively – so I did. As I was creating this glossary, I remembered that this is actually quite close to the core idea of an early incarnation of my concept for my Div III.

Back while I was interning at Old Sturbridge Village last summer, I remarked that it was unfortunate that no one had written an annotated version of The Workwoman’s Guide – the way people do with classic literature. The person I was talking to, a Hampshire grad, replied that that sounded like a great Div III. I laughed and said that I couldn’t possibly do ALL that…but the idea stuck. And thus the total rebirth of my Div III concept began. For a while, I conceived of my Div III as being a multimedia set of online projects and articles, offering pieces of “translated” 19th century (and perhaps other period) sources, from the WWG and other sources. For instance, I wanted to create a set of short videos to be posted online that demonstrated different types of period stitches, which are often difficult to learn without being shown in person. Eventually I became more focused on the idea of written documentation, and creating an exhibit, but now I am morphing these ideas together.

This site will be in some ways an exhibit, in some ways written documentation, and in some ways a free resource for the public, offering practical information on how to go about reproducing vintage and historical clothing. One important component for me is that I’m not just offering my own knowledge; I’m also offering collected and organized links, quotes, and references to helpful printed information. Because there is a great deal of excellent information available, even just online, but it isn’t always easy to find, and it can be difficult, especially for beginners, to assess the accuracy and reliability (and even the practical usefulness!) of a given source. By collecting and organizing a variety of resources, I am able to offer my perspective on them, and also able to supplement what I know, what I have written, and what I have done.

Perhaps most importantly, I am setting up this site so that I can keep adding to it, and keep adding to it easily. Because I don’t want to graduate and drop what I’ve been working on; I have every intention of continuing with this research, these projects, and this site. And that is what I keep reminding myself of, every time I feel disappointed that I haven’t been able to do the entire heap of Div III project I’ve dreamed up. Especially considering that my committee has been trying to convince me to do less all along. It’s encouraging that with this site, I can plan on continuing this into the future, and the projects that have been left in the dust during the downscaling process seem a little less abandoned, because a future for them exists, here on the internet–possibly even educating someone about something!

The plan now is to keep building this site, as functionally as possible; to write up a paper overviewing my Div III to turn in by Monday; and to get a reasonable quantity of sewing work finished or at least to an interesting stage – all in 10 days. It’s not exactly a short order, but I think I’ve almost convinced myself that I can do enough that it will be a lovely, useful, full Div III; even though it won’t be as grand as I have dreamed.

In sewing news, I made a lovely faux bustle, the 1870s inspired faux bustle of pansy synthetic netting, for Sarah’s 1870s inspired butterfly masquerade costume. It took about an hour, and came out quite nicely. It’s not at all historically accurate, but since neither it nor the ensemble are intended to be historical reproductions, that isn’t a hindrance. It makes for a charming and very inexpensive fluffy shape to fill out the skirt of a pretty Halloween masquerade costume with nice historical lines.Now I’m going to work on some sewing (truly, a wild Saturday night!) and work on mentally evaluating what else I’m going to do in the time I have left. And work on my paper. Busy? Me? Of course not…


Div III Progress Report: 13 Days To Go!

It’s Wednesday, April 20, and my Div III final meeting is in 13 days. Strictly speaking, since it’s currently nearly midnight, my final meeting is actually in about 12 and a half days. Oh boy.

Today has not been a good day for progress, thanks to innumerable (three? four? five? I’m not even sure, honestly) major technical difficulties, resulting in various delays and deleted progress. Alas. But I finished putting together the base posts for the 1830s straw bonnet with plaid silk ties and white trimmings and 1860s Marie Stewart bonnet of scarlet silk, as well as for the 1950s style petticoat of soft ivory netting and 1950s style petticoat of stiff white netting trimmed with bows, and I wrote up the intro post for the 1950s style net petticoats. I also added a couple more books to the Annotated Bibliography and started on the intro post for the 19th century work box (because I ran across a couple of great pictures that needed to be listed there).

In more corporeal news, yesterday the cerulean blue dye for my 1830s gown arrived in the mail! Or, at least, I arrived at the Lemelson Center to teach my Historical Sewing Techniques for Practical Use class, and Roxy then gave the package, which had previously arrived in the mail, to me. (The dye was among the supplies that were funded by a grant from the wonderful Hampshire College Social Venture Fund, which is run the Lemelson Center.) One of my very talented friends – someone who conveniently has cotton-dyeing expertise – will be helping me to dye 11 yards of semi sheer, satin-striped cotton fabric a nice shade of cerulean blue, so I can make it into a pretty dress. The pretty dress, realistically speaking, will probably not be done before my final meeting, but I fully intend to wear it (along the with enormous 1830s bonnet) for Commencement (also known as graduation) on May 21st.

After work in the morning, I will go by the school post office to pick up my package from, which will contain lots of handy-dandy notions, along with some sky blue cotton broadcloth that was on sale inexpensively, which I will make into a nice vintage-style summer dress, and a yard of stretch cotton sateen in pink and white stripes, which I plan to use to make an experimental modern corset. (But not right now!)

See…while talking about corsetry with my boyfriend the other day (he is surprisingly interested in my obscure areas of research), he suggested that I try making modern corsets, intended for day-to-day use, instead of bras. I’ve talked quite a lot about how – far from considering them mutilating implements of torture foisted on women by the oppressive patriarchy – I find corsets to be in many ways more comfortable than bras. Support that’s structured from the waist up, rather than awkwardly hanging from the shoulders and/or wandering about the ribcage, makes a lot of sense. Therefore, we ended up having a conversation about this hypothetical modern corset that I need to work on designing and building, and I decided to experiment with using cotton stretch sateen, along with 100% cotton sateen (no stretch) to make such a corset. Naturally, when I found this pretty stretch sateen on sale, conveniently in a colorway that would work well with 100% cotton white sateen that I already have, I obviously needed to order it. I’m already planning ahead for the next stage in Stuff I Taught Myself To Do (Or Do Better) During Div III.

I am trying to come to terms with how much less finished stuff there will be at the end of Div III. I’ve been very ambitious all along, and thanks to the foibles of my immune system this semester, and only having one year in which to complete Div III, and needing to sleep, I’m scaling things down from what I had intended. So there are pages on this site that definitely won’t have any garment photos, or sewing progress, for a while (though I do plan on getting to them eventually, some of them probably this summer). But I’m putting them up anyway, because I’ve done a rather absurd quantity of research, and not only is this a good way for me to keep track of my research, but this site also allows me to make my research readily available to others, and I’m hoping that maybe my collection of sources on 18th century greatcoats, or one of the similar posts, would be of use to someone.

Now I just need to whip up an actual rough draft of my what-my-Div-III-is-all-about-and-how-it-works-and-why-it-matters paper. I’m not sure what to call it now that it’s not a “documentation paper,” since I’m now doing most of my documentation online. I’ve been pulling the pieces together and working out the structure for a couple weeks now, but my committee is likely to be quite unhappy about matters if I don’t get a draft to them Very Soon. I’m determined to manage it by Friday. Hopefully they won’t decide that they want major changes a day before my final meeting or anything. But they’re all reasonable people, so I don’t think anything of the sort is likely to happen.

So, tomorrow: picking up supplies, working on my paper, and some sewing. I need to get a paper to my committee, yes, but I also need to sew something in order to feel like I’m making progress.

For the moment…sleep!


1870s inspired butterfly masquerade costume of turquoise and purple


1870s inspired faux bustle of pansy synthetic netting

The 1870s inspired butterfly masquerade costume that I made Sarah for Halloween last fall is made from historically accurate Truly Victorian patterns, with an accurate corset which I draped using duct tape, but it isn’t made to be historically accurate; it’s made to be a fun, pretty, historically inspired Halloween/masquerade costume. But because it’s made from historically accurate bustle era patterns, it needs a skirt support. For Halloween, Sarah wore the costume over a borrowed bustle of not-quite-the-right shape, and an old cotton Civil War era skirt of mine, which I puffed and pinned to keep it from dragging on the floor (she is not as tall as I am), and to help smooth the lines of the bustle and create a softer, early 1870s shape. It worked shockingly well.

But in order to make the costume wearable on its own, without major borrowed components, she needed a bustle of her very own. I finally made just such a bustle…in April. Oh well! I used eight yards of 70″ wide pansy purple nylon net from, a piece of scrap ribbon, some upholstery thread, and a bit of regular thread. It took me about an hour, all told.

I measured out a length of net a couple inches shorter than the skirt, folded it evenly, and measured out the same length again. Leaving it folded in half, I cut off the doubled length from my yardage. Then I measured out another length of net, a couple inches shorter than a single side of the previous piece (so, probably  6 or 7 inches shorter than the skirt). Same as before, I folded that evenly, measured out the same length again, and cut off my new doubled length, leaving it folded. Now I had two big pieces of netting, folded in half. I laid them together along the folds, matching up the long (remember, this is wide netting!) folds. Then I pinned one end of the pair of folds to the arm of the couch, and the other end to a pair which I put in the middle of the room, basically stretching the netting out across the room. This made it very easy to run a gathering thread through both doubled pieces at once (by hand), using a length of upholstery thread.

After I ran all 70″ of gathering, I scrunched it up and used a quick whipstitch to secure all of it to the piece of ribbon, gathering all 70″ of all four layers into a space of about 15 inches. I didn’t want to make a full petticoat, only, well, a nice big butt fluff. After the base “skirt” layers of the bustle were secured, I basically bundled up the rest of the netting into one big bouf with a bit of a tail, and hand-stitched the whole mass, rather haphazardly, to the center of the “skirt” section. Because the netting is very lightweight, and the costume is very lightweight overall, the support doesn’t need to be very sturdy, or very determinedly poufy – just fluffy. And it succeeds in being fluffy!

Once it was finished, I persuaded Lyndie to try it on so I could see how it looked, and I was quite satisfied. Very purple, and very fluffy. On its own, it actually looks rather charmingly burlesque. It has yet to be worn with the rest of the costume, because I want to put some finishing touches on the costume first…and also sleeves…but I think it will do nicely. At some point, I think I’ll have to make one of these for myself (because a faux bustle is a good thing to have), and when I do, I’ll take photos along the way and make a more comprehensible tutorial. I didn’t try to take pictures this time around, because I was making it up as I went along and wasn’t sure what I was doing. But I like how it turned out! It makes for a charming and very inexpensive fluffy shape to fill out the skirt of a pretty Halloween masquerade costume with nice historical lines.

1870s inspired corset of lavender cotton sateen with black flossing


1870s Silverado corset of lavender sateen with white flossing


1860s Marie Stewart bonnet of scarlet silk

Last updated April 21, 2011.

Inspiration: The availability of an inexpensive bonnet form with that darling downturned point at the top of the crown! I love the “Marie Stewart” shape. I am particularly fond of this extant cream silk fanchon bonnet with blue ribbon and fringe, accession number 47.1519, at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
  Purchased reproduction buckram form from Timely Tresses, their “Wilhelmina Elizabeth” in the “Marie Stewart” shape appropriate for 1863-1867. It was not a terribly common style historically, but I’ve always loved it, and it isn’t inappropriate, just a trifle unusual.
  White or ivory (or maybe very pale pink) silk taffeta or habotai
Ties and Ribbon Trim:
  Probably black silk, either taffeta or habotai, but possibly brocade if I find something promising.
Outer Trimmings:
  Probably a black ostrich feather or two, possibly some black silk satin ribbon, possibly a red artificial flower. I’ll revisit this later.
Trimmings Inside Brim:
A frill of white or ivory silk organza
  Linings and trimmings will be entirely hand-sewn, though I believe that the form itself is machine-stitched.
Current Status:
  This bonnet will not be included with my Div III. There’s simply too much to do, so I’ve been scaling back the 1860s pieces. But I plan on going forward with this particular project soon, quite possibly this summer.

Print resources for 1860s bonnets of this style:

A September 1864 plate shows four new styles of bonnets, at least one of which appears to be of the Marie Stewart shape, on page 66. A full scene plate of August 1865 has only one bonnet, but it is of a similar style to mine, on page 69. Two ensemble plates from October 1865 include bonnets of a similar style to mine, on page 70. (See below for more general bonnet references in this book.)

The early 1860s photograph (image 67) at the upper left of page 27 depicts a mother and small daughter, both of whom wear bonnets. The mother’s bonnet is a spoon shape with a slight dip at the top, while the daughter’s little bonnet has a very pronounced dip. The book’s text describes it as “heart-shaped,” but it is quite close to the Marie Stewart dipping point shape. The brim appears to be filled with a small frill.

Grayscale fashion plates of full ensembles: Figure 89, dated 1863, on page 127; Figure 90, dated July 1864, on page 127.

Quotation from Harper’s Bazar, November 2, 1867, on page 8: “The ‘airy fairy’ fanchon, so long popular, is gradually being deposed by the much more stately Marie Antoinette bonnet, more in keeping with the picturesque costumes now worn.” Quotation from Harper’s Bazar, November 2, 1867, on page 8: “The fanchon still lingers with us in a slightly changed form. It used to be a matter of some doubt which was the front and which the rear of this bonnet. But as now worn with the Marie Stuart point still remains in front, while the back is shorn of its points, being entirely straight on the chignon.” Quotation from Harper’s Bazar, November 23, 1867, on page 29: “The fanchon is so universally becoming that all efforts to displace it have failed.”

There is also a very useful section of the book that pulls information on “Making Bonnet Frames and Bonnets” directly from Harper’s Bazar of May 9, 1868, on pages 210-220.

Terminology: Although the source for the assertion is not cited, page 80 states that “After the Civil War, milliners conceived smaller [than spoon bonnets], curtainless Empire and Fanchon bonnets as larger and more elaborate chignons were worn high on the head.”

Extant: There are four photographs on page 82 of an extant spoon bonnet of moderate size which is fully trimmed with the original decorations. The inside of the brim retains “the original fine ruched silk tulle,” which goes around the entire inside edge of the brim. There are also artificial flowers at the top of the inside of the brim.

The lower left period photograph on page 76 shows a woman in an early 1860s bonnet of a slightly different shape, with a dense frill of what appears to be a crisp, sheer silk all around the inside of the brim. The earlier, wider bonnet in the left photograph on page 78 also has a frill on the inside of the brim, but it also appears to have flowers at the sides. The tall spoon bonnet in the second photograph down on page 79 has a dense frill inside the brim, as well as a spray of flowers. The lower right photograph on page 91 has a tall spoon bonnet which dips in the middle, though not quite to the full point of the Marie Stewart style; inside the brim there are frills at the sides and large flowers at the top.

Introduction, pages 4-5. Spoon Bonnet, 1855-60, with “A frill of silk net and cream silk lace…inside the brim,” on pages 58-59. Fanchon Bonnet, 1865-70, of a slighter later variety than mine (smaller), but of a similar variety, with a slight Marie Stewart style dip at the front, on pages 64-65. Mourning Bonnet, 1865-70, a similar fanchon to the previous example, again with a slightly pointed dip at the front, on pages 74-75. Information on trimmings, specifically ribbons, with photographs, pages 34-35. Glossary, page 94.

Grayscale fashion plates images, with descriptive text, from May-December 1865 of a selection of bonnets of this style, including some of the Marie Stewart variety, pages 144-149. See entry below for information on this this book as a general bonnet resource.

The figure at left in Plate 31, of June 1864, wears a bonnet of the Marie Stewart shape. It is described (on page viii) as a “White crepe bonnet, with a fall of point lace over the brim à la Marie Stewart.” Other plates which show bonnets of a style similar to mine: January 1865, Plate 32; April 1865, Plate 33; March 1865, Plate 34; November 1865, Plate 35; May 1865, Plate 37. See below for more general bonnet references in this book.

An April 1864 fashion plate from Peterson’s Magazine includes a bonnet of the Marie Stewart shape, which appears to have fringe hanging across the top of the brim, on page 267.

Print resources for 1860s bonnets in general:

A July 1861 plate offers the latest styles in millinery (three bonnets and one hat) with descriptions, on page 44. An August 1862 plate shows, among other things, two new spoon bonnet styles, with trimmings, on page 48. A full scene fashion plate of January 1864 includes two spoon bonnets, on page 57. A January 1864 plate depicting the back of a cape also shows the back of a bonnet, on page 59. A December 1864 full scene plate shows three spoon bonnets, two in side view and one back view, on page 64. A September 1864 plate shows four new styles of bonnets, at least one of which appears to be of the Marie Stewart shape, on page 66. A full scene plate of August 1865 has only one bonnet, but it is of a similar style to mine, on page 69. Two ensemble plates from October 1865 include bonnets of a similar style to mine, on page 70.

Schematic drawings, with notes, of extant bonnets: pages 191-193.

The photographs of dressed and posed mannequins sometimes have bonnets, but their details are not always readily discernible. However, several from around the early 1860s make appearances throughout pages 220-236.

While rather disorganized, this book pulls fashion and vast quantities of fashion information, including instructional articles, from original 1850s-60s ladies’ magazines; in this volume, all is about headwear. In addition to the section of 1865 bonnets in a style similar to mine, listed in the entry for this book above, there is a great deal of general useful information, and an immense array of images to look at for trimming and style inspiration. The section devoted to bonnets specifically is on pages 107-160

Full color fashion plates of complete ensembles, including bonnets: September 1862, Plate 28; November 1864, Plate 29; April 1864, Plate 30. See above entry for further references, to bonnets of a style specifically like mine.

Online resources: