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Rate the Dress: 1880s evening pastels

I’m feeling a little sad that I missed so many of the amazing creations at Gala Night at Costume College, and a little sad that I couldn’t ever have taken a heavier, more elaborate dress as a Gala outfit anyway (luggage allowance woes), combined with a bit of peace that I won’t be going again anyway.

So I’ve been dream Gala dress browsing: enjoying all the heavy Victorian creations that I could never fit into a 23 kilo suitcase. This week’s dress reminds me a little of my Juno gown. Once you assembled all the accessories and undergarments they would need either would be too much of a space and weight hog to take. So we’ll just have to enjoy them online!

Last Week: a 1900s suit in ruby red wool

Last week’s red suit was clearly a bit costume-y, but in the right way, because so many of you wanted to dress your favourite heroine (or anti-heroine) in it, from Carmen Sandiego to Irene Adler.

The one bit that some of you weren’t convinced by was that neck bow with dangling tassels.

The Total: 9.5 out of 10

Practically perfect in (almost) every way.

This week: a late 1880s evening dress

This week I’ve chosen a late 1880s evening dress as the Rate the Dress feature.  This lilac and cream confection was made by Parisian label Mme Ludinart. While Ludinart’s known clients and contemporary media mentions suggest she never achieved the status of Worth, Pingat, Doucet or Drecoll, she appeared to have some devoted admirers, as well as the inevitable cachet of a Parisian couture house. Her surviving creations have a distinctive style which suggest that her clients chose her garments for their own merits: not just as cheaper alternatives to Worth et al.

This evening gown has a number of elements that appear to by typical of Ludinart’s style: muted half tones in pinks, creams and gold, a confident hand mixing textures and fabrics, and contrasting areas of plain fabric, and then highly textured trims.

Evening dress of silk brocade and chiffon, Label- Mme.Ludinart, 129 Boul. St.-Honoré, Paris, French, ca. 1889, Kent State University Museum 1983.1.202 ab

There are certainly some unusual trims on this evening gown: bows on the shoulders elaborate enough to become sleeves in their own right, stiff gathered pleating demarcating the hem, and a cascade of lace frills down the back of the bodice, hiding the lacing closure, and tying the dotted net over-layer of the bodice and skirt front to the heavier patterned silk of the bodice back and train.

Evening dress of silk brocade and chiffon, Label- Mme.Ludinart, 129 Boul. St.-Honoré, Paris, French, ca. 1889, Kent State University Museum 1983.1.202 ab

What do you think? The work of a dressmaker of distinction in her own right, or B-level Victorian couture?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

A reminder about rating – feel free to be critical if you don’t like a thing, but make sure that your comments aren’t actually insulting to those who do like a garment.  Phrase criticism as your opinion, rather than a flat fact. Our different tastes are what make Rate the Dress so interesting.  It’s no fun when a comment implies that anyone who doesn’t agree with it, or who would wear a garment, is totally lacking in taste. 

(as usual, nothing more complicated than a .5.  I also hugely appreciate it if you only do one rating, and set it on a line at the very end of your comment, so I can find it!  And 0 is not on a scale of 1 to 10.  Thanks in advance!)

Making linen buckram: gum tragacanth vs xathan gum

Making Linen Buckram: Gum Tragacanth vs Xanthan Gum

I’ve been doing a lot of experimenting with making linen buckram in the last year and a half, playing with using both historically accurate gum tragacanth, and a much cheaper and easier to source modern equivalent: xanthan gum.

We’re getting very close to launching Scroop Pattern’s and Virgil’s Fine Good’s first collaboration: a 1780s stays pattern with extensive historical instruction. Historical stays use linen buckram, so here’s what I’ve learned about it to help you make your own.

What is linen buckram?

Linen buckram is stiffened linen. It was used in 17th, 18th and early 19th century sewing as support layers where stiffening was needed, such as in stays, stiff collars, stomachers, and hatmaking.

It’s made by coating linen with a gum paste, usually gum tragacanth, or xanthan gum, and then letting the gum dry. The more layers of gum that are applied, the stiffer the linen gets.

Here is what it looks and sounds like in motion:

( I love it. It has scroop!)

In addition to historical sewing, I think it has lots of potential for general costuming: particularly for costumers like me, who are away from main centres and can’t always get the usual materials.

Making linen buckram: gum tragacanth vs xathan gum

How to make linen buckram:

Choose your linen. You can use pre-cut pattern pieces for whatever you need the linen buckram for, or whole pieces of linen, which you cut later.

Linen buckram works best when it’s made from a mid-heavyweight linen. I’ve had the best results using coarser linen: the gums stick well to the more textured weave.

Place your linen on a surface that won’t be damaged by moisture, or transfer colour when it’s wet.

I use laminated posters that an old workplace was throwing out: the gummed linen doesn’t stick to them, they are smooth, and they are larger and lighter than a plastic cutting board. Large plastic bags would also work. Cardboard can work, but sometimes stains white linen. I also use my tiled fireplace surround.

Use a brush (preferably a natural fibre one) to brush the gum (xanthan or tragacanth – see below on how to mix them) on to one side of your linen. When one side is fully coated, flip the linen pieces over and coat the other.

Making linen buckram: gum tragacanth vs xathan gum

Let your linen dry (I leave it outside in summer, and in front of the heater in winter).

When your buckram is dry check the stiffness: if you want it to be stiffer you can add another layer of gum.

If your cat is willing to lie on it that’s probably a good sign it’s dry…

Making linen buckram: gum tragacanth vs xathan gum

Gum Tragacanth

Gum tragacanth is the most easily obtainable historically accurate gum for making linen buckram (less easily obtainable historical alternatives are glues based on animal hooves).

Tragacanth is mainly used today by bakers and pastry chefs, and in leatherworking. It can be bought pre-mixed as a liquid, or in a dried, flaked form. Googling (or for bonus awesome-person points: Ecosia-ing) ‘buy gum tragacanth’, should help you to find a source for it in your area.

I only been able to source pre-mixed gum tragacanth in NZ, so so far my experimentation has all been done with this variety.

How to use it:

Easy-peasy. Pour your gum tragacanth into a bowl. If you want you can microwave it slightly to warm it, or add a tiny, tiny bit of hot water, both of which will make it more viscous.

It’s best to work outside or in a well ventilate area.

Pros & Cons of Gum Tragacanth:


  • It’s historically accurate.
  • You’ll know that the result you achieve is accurate, and will last over time just as it would have in the 18th century.
  • Really easy to use if purchased in the liquid form.


  • It’s harder to find: it’s a specialty product, and very few stores have it on hand. You’ll probably have to special order it.
  • It’s expensive. In NZ a little bottle barely big enough to make linen buckram for 1 pair of stays is almost $25.
  • It stinks. Not horribly, but it definitely has an odour.
  • Some products marketed as ‘gum tragacanth’ are just xanthan gum, so you really have to be careful about what you buy if you want to be sure it’s tragacanth.

Xanthan Gum

Xanthan gum is definitely not historical: it was discovered in the early 1960s by USDA chemist Allene Jeanes (woot woot – women scientists ftw! Click through to admire adorable informal photo of her and JFK). It’s a byproduct of corn and fermentation, and is named after the bacteria used in the fermentation process that creates it: Xanthomonas campestris.

Xanthomonas campestris is better known as ‘black rot’ for the effect it has on broccoli and other brassicas. When I was a teen my parents permaculture farm had a black rot infestation, and it was very stressful.

Slightly icky source aside, xanthan gum is ubiquitous in modern cooking. It’s used as a thickener in all sorts of food, and is widely available in powdered form at supermarkets.

Making Buckram

How to use it:

Mix 1/2 a teaspoon of xanthan gum powder with 1 cup of hot water.

Stir like mad:

Don’t worry if there are a few lumps and un-mixed looking spots. They will go away as it thickens, and any remaining ones won’t be an issue when you work with it anyway.

Leave it to sit for 5 minutes. It will thicken up beautifully.

Once it’s thickened to approximately the consistency of kids glue (or my video of gum tragacanth pouring) it’s ready to be used.

If you use too much xanthan gum powder, you’ll end up with a horrible gloopy, impossible to work with mess:

Making Buckram

That was 2T in 1/2 a cup water: not a good idea!

Pros and Cons of Xanthan Gum


  • Very affordable. My bag of 100g of xanthan gum cost about $10, and will easily make enough buckram for 20 pairs of stays.
  • Much easier to source.
  • Not stinky


  • Not historically accurate
  • It may not last and act in exactly the same way gum tragacanth would.
  • Slightly messier to work with, because you have to mix it up.

So how do the two compare?

I’ve made and worn (reasonably extensively) one pair of stays with gum tragacanth linen buckram, and one with xanthan gum linen buckram, and honestly, I couldn’t tell the difference when sewing or wearing them.

The only thing that was slightly different about the two is that the xanthan gum dries in slightly shiny, smooth patches where its in contact with a really smooth plastic surface. And this may be just because I don’t mix it perfectly smooth.

In terms of viscosity, how they feel when painting them on, length of time to dry and how they dry, how the finished product feels, and how it feels to work with the finished buckram, they are virtually identical.

So far the two buckrams have held up equally well over time. If I notice any change with more wear I’ll update this post.

As a historical sewer who uses historically accurate methods to test an experience them, but it’s always concerned that all my costumes are perfectly accurate, I would definitely consider xanthan gum to be a viable alternative to gum tragacanth when making linen buckram.

I’ve finally found a New Zealand source for dry flaked gum tragacanth, so I’ll be trying that the next time I need linen buckram, to really compare the two gums, and continue my experimentation. Other than that I will probably use xanthan gum for my linen buckram making from here on out – or at least until I finish the bag I have, which may take a while!

Further information:

Costume College 2019: Gala Gloriousness

Saturday at Costume College 2019 did not go to plan for me.

Either because some attendees at the Friday Night Gala had been smoking pot and then hung out near me (migraine trigger), or because of the mysterious Marriott malady which has been plaguing Costume College for the last two years (significant numbers of attendees at CoCo reported unusual vertigo, headaches, breathing problems and nausea), or a combination of both, I spent the Saturday making friends with porcelain instead of people.

Not only was I in bed feeling miserable, I missed a bunch of classes I was really excited about. Boo.

I was determined not to miss Gala, and despite feeling quite green, and looking quite wan, and needing to be slightly safety-pinned in because my attempts to sew on the last few hooks needed to finish my outfit convinced me that trying to focus my eyes enough to sew was a BAD idea, I made it!

Sort of.

3 hours of an event that goes on for 7+ hours counts, right?

I missed the red carpet (which I hate doing, but enjoy as an opportunity to see all the dresses), but did have a lovely time outside in the courtyard getting photos, where I ran into the San Francisco costuming crowd, all looking amazing and perfectly time-coordinated with me.

Then I ‘had’ a lovely intimate dinner. I might not have been in the mood for food, but it was lovely to just sit and chat with people I know through the internet in person – and to admire the other dresses in the restaurant!

After dinner I managed an hour of the hustle and bustle hall outside the ballroom, admiring the gowns and getting sneak videos of the fun.

And then I went back to bed…

A HUGE thank you to Amber (Lady of the Wilderness) and Cait (WilloughbyandRose) , who put up with a icky roommate all Saturday, Lauren of Wearing History, Beth of V is for Vintage and Natalie of Frolicking Frocks who were also extremely sweet and got me bottles of water, and tried to find things I could eat.

So it wasn’t quite the grand finale Gala I’d hoped for, but thanks to a lot of really lovely people, it was still a wonderful night.

Because I was a bit under the weather I didn’t get that many photos: just ones of my immediate group and people I met in the outside courtyard.

With Natalie (@Frolicking_Frocks), Stephani (@Stephani_Miller) showing off the best styles of 1913-14:

Costume College Gala 2019
Costume College Gala 2019

And I finally got to meet @duchessofhutch – look how perfectly we coordinated, a decade apart! Her dress had so many amazing details in person!

Costume College Gala 2019

I didn’t get any good photos of it, but go check out @irreverantvintagegirl ‘s Edward Gorey Masterpiece Theatre Mystery homage. So good…

Costume College Gala 2019
Costume College Gala 2019
Costume College Gala 2019

My roomies, looking amazing in jewel toned 18th century:

Costume College Gala 2019
Costume College Gala 2019
Costume College Gala 2019

And my favourite outfit of the night, @adria.renee in her Jurassic Park homage. She did the burnout velvet shawl herself, and every one of her accessories tied in perfectly: right down to the fossilised claw necklace and amber ring!

Costume College Gala 2019
Costume College Gala 2019
Costume College Gala 2019