About The Dreamstress

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The Dreamstress has written 1630 articles so far, you can find them below.

Rate the Dress: Whoa…that’s plaid!

I’m sometimes a bit sad when lots of people rate Rate the Dresses based on how a frock would look on them personally.  For me, a huge part of the joy of historical fashions is that there is a look and an era for every figure, and they allow me to enjoy all sorts of shapes that don’t look good on me, but do look spectacular on others (the world would be so boring if the only clothes available were ones that looked good on me).

So last week’s discussion on the richly brocaded 18th century gown, and how it really did look better on one particular figure, and how many of you rather liked it for that, was an absolute delight.  I’ve got to say though, I may not have the figure it looked best on, but I would wear that dress in a heartbeat, and lots of you agreed with me, because it rated a rather nice 8.4 out of 10, loosing a few points, perhaps because, as Daniel pointed out, it was gorgeous but still generic.

Switching our attention to this weeks offering, it’s a pretty good guess that if the title of the post is ‘Whoa…that’s plaid!’, the dress is going to date from ca. 1860.  Today’s dress to rate does nothing to change that expectation.

This 1859-60ish confection of taffeta and striped picot-edged bows is made from very large plaid in shades of green and ivory with narrow pink stripes.

Quite coincidentally, this dress, like last week’s frock, and the suit from the week before, from the MFA Boston.  I’ve been on quite a roll with their collection lately.  I’m not trying, but every time I find a frock that says something quite interesting (if not necessarily tasteful) to me, it just happens to be from the MFA.


What does the dress say to you?  I know a number of raters mentioned last week that they weren’t that fond of green.  Plaid can also be a bit touch-and-go on Rate the Dress, and this is a particularly distinctive, assertive plaid in its scale.  Does the expanse of skirt excuse the size of the plaid?  Do the bows keep it sweet and dainty, despite the boldness of the individual elements?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

The Mackenzie Cardigan and more excitement

Though it’s not historical, I’ve been doing some quite exciting sewing lately – and pattern drafting.

The result?

The Mackenzie Cardigan, thedreamstress.com

The Mackenzie Cardigan!

Which is (squee!) almost certainly going to be my first commercially available pattern!

Being able to make my patterns available to other sewers has been a huge goal for me for the past few years.  Teaching sewing as I do, it’s become very obvious how few well really well drafted patterns there are available to sewers.  The gap is particularly bad for some garments that I consider absolute wardrobe classics – cardigans, knit wrap dresses, simple darted blouses, the iconic fitted dresses with set in sleeves, slim skirts, and at least 5 darts for fitting, and interesting shift dresses.  The rise of independent pattern companies has been fantastic, as their patterns are often much better than the big five, but here in NZ they are really expensive.  People are always asking about the patterns I draft for myself, but I haven’t had a way to pass them on.

I’ve been pattern drafting and and resizing patterns for years, but I was taught to do it the old fashioned way – on paper, and in fabric, and making the jump to computers has been an enormous undertaking for me.  I’ve still got some tweaking to do, and I know I’m not doing it the ‘correct’ way, but the way I do it does work.

The Mackenzie Cardigan, thedreamstress.com

More importantly, the pattern works, and it doesn’t just work on me – I’ve tried it on a range of figures, and it really does fit women (with the expected minor tweaks to fit the huge diversity of women’s figures).

The cardigan is named after the Mackenzie Basin in the South Island of New Zealand, home to high country merino sheep, lupines, and impossibly blue skies.  It’s perfect cardigan country.

The Mackenzie Cardigan, thedreamstress.com

The pattern came about because I love cardigans, and after trying every commercially available women’s or unisex cardigan pattern in search of the perfect (downgraded to good, and then to ‘OK’, from there to ‘Reasonable’, and finally to ‘Not totally horrible’) I realised that in order to have a good pattern that I could offer to my sewing students, I was going to have to draft my own.  After lots of drafting, and lots of trials and tweaking, this is it!

The Mackenzie Cardigan, thedreamstress.com


These photos were actually quite impromptu – Mr D and I went for a walk in the Botanical Gardens, and then stopped to watch some rugby league on a nearby field (Mr D is a huge League fan), so if my smile looks strained in some of the images, it’s the league ;-)

The Mackenzie Cardigan, thedreamstress.com

This isn’t my first version of the cardigan, nor is it quite the final version, but it’s one I’m particularly fond of.  I found the lilac wool at an op-shop, and the beautiful merino binding came from Fabric Warehouse.  I’m so in love with the blue-grey that I sewed up all I’d bought, and then rushed out and bought another length.

In addition to the cardigan binding, I made the blue-grey merino into a T-shirt from a re-draft of my personal T pattern (I can’t find the original, and I’m afraid the re-draft isn’t quite as good).  The one drawback to the shirt is that I can get a bit too matchy-matchy with the cardigan!

Merino T, thedreamstress.com

Merino T, thedreamstress.com

And I made a pair of everyday mitts, and there is going to be a pair of blue-grey stockings as well (and don’t worry, the stocking pattern will be available soon, and it will be free!)

The Mackenzie Cardigan, thedreamstress.com

So I’ve got a few more tweaks to do, and a bunch of business stuff to sort, but one day soon the Mackenzie Cardigan pattern will be available!

The HSF ’14 – Favourites for Challenges 9-12

Halfway through!

(OK, more than halfway through, as I’m well late on this post: we’re already almost done with Challenge #14, and I’m only just posting about Challenge #12!)

Here are some of the many fantastic items created over the last four (and a bit!) challenge of the Historical Sew Fortnightly.

It was, as always, a huge struggle to narrow all the things I love down to just a few.  There has been a slight dip in the number of submissions just as people loose a little steam at the halfway point, but there are still SO MANY amazing creations.  The ones I’ve chosen are interesting, thoughtful, beautiful, and best demonstrate the goals of the Historical Sew Fortnightly; the quest to explore history, raise our skill levels and standard, stretch ourselves (and actually finish items); and the spirit of the individual challenge.

Entries without photos link to blog posts, and entries with photos come from Facebook.  I really encourage you to follow the links to the blog posts, as the stories behind each item are as interesting as the items are beautiful!   To see the full facebook albums, you’ll need to belong to the Historical Sew Fortnightly FB group.  When you request to join the group you’ll be sent a message (check your Other folder) asking why you would like to be part of it.  Be sure to answer in full!

There are dozens of dozens further fascinating and wonderful submissions in the FB albums, and linked through the challenge pages.

Challenge #9 – Black & White (and the Facebook album) (yes, I have picked a white item, and a black item, and a black and white item, because I can’t help being that kind of person!)

  1. Sew June’s Medieval men’s tunic-  A beautiful, simple, nicely made bit of menswear – something I am always thrilled to see!
  2. Maren’s Regency gown & chemisette – I originally noticed this for the exquisite and strikingly simple dress, and then I realised that Maren had made a black item, and a white item (and another black item), and the whole thing just makes my heart happy.
  3. Isabella’s Elizabethan bodice – While not strictly historically accurate, the jacket is wonderful, and I think the idea of using a modern fabric that is as close aesthetically to the period original as possible is a fascinating way of playing with accuracy and historicism (not to mention a boon to the time short historical seamstress!)

    And also have a look at Katy’s housedress (black and white needn’t be only black & white & sombre!) Jeannette’s black & white tea gown (because who doesn’t love a tea gown!) and Mariell’s amazing 1860s mourning dress.

Challenge #10 – Art (and the facebook album)

  1. Penelope’s 1760-1800 shortgown inspired by John Collett’s ‘The Elopement’  – First, shortgowns are a really interesting, far too infrequently reproduced 18th century garment, and this one is particularly nice, and second, how AWESOME is Penelope for being willing to reproduce that face!

    Penelope, John Collett, The Elopement
    Penelope, short gown, 1760-1800

  2. Genoveva’s pleated Renaissance smock – Part of a long running project to recreate Holbein’s 1515 portrait of Dorothea Meyer, the smock is just exquisite – in looks and construction.  And Gevoveva’s even generously done a tutorial and pattern so we can make our own recreation!
  3.  Hvitr’s woven band taken from a fresco from Tyrins, 13th century BCE – OK, I’ll admit it.  I’m a fangirl.  I love everything Hvitr makes – it’s all so meticulous, so beautifully thought out, so fascinating, and I’m never ever going to attempt it myself!

    Hvitr,  woven band taken from afresco from Tyrins, 13th century BCE

And I’m also madly enamoured of Annette’s Picasso swimsuit, Gil’s 12th c bliaut (menswear!),  Klára’s 18th century fisherwoman’s cap (her reproduction is eerily accurate!), and really, EVERYTHING!  This challenge was so inspiring!

Challenge #11 – The Politics of Fashion (and the Facebook album)

  1. Eva’s 1920s Soviet dress  1920s & ’30s Soviet textiles and fashions are such an interesting subject, and Eva has done a great job of exploring how clothes were used to express the new political climate in the Soviet Union, and her Lamanova based dress is fantastic.
  2. Lace’s Edwardian shirtwaist – The shirtwaist was the symbol of the liberated woman in the early 20th century, and (as Lace demonstrates), was linked to everything from the Gibson girl, to striking garment workers.
    Lace, Edwardian Shirtwaist
  3. Sewing from Another Time’s Bloomer outfit – Great research, with helpful links, and a lovely reproduction one of the most iconically political outfits of all time.

    Bonus: for another fabulous Bloomer outfit, check out Jessica’s beautiful example – she’s even considered why her persona would wear it.  And Hvitr made a varafeldr (a Viking faux fur cloak), which were used as currency.

Challenge #12 – Shape & Support (and the Facebook Album)

  1. Karinne’s men’s fitted stocks – I was really excited to see some menswear for Shape & Support, because while it’s been a predominantly female area in the last century or so, there were periods when men’s garments also sucked in, lifted out, engineered and enhanced areas.  And the shorts, like everything Karinne makes, are beautifully made and wonderfully researched.
  2. Lucie’s 1880s bustle – I really like this because it’s a reminder that not all bustles were enormous and aggressive – there were periods when just a little bit of support was the desired look.

    Lucie's 1880s dimity bustle

  3. Diana’s 1830s-40s Corded Petticoat – A particularly nice example of the immediate precursor to the wire hoopskirt.  Diana’s petticoat really shows how effective corded petticoats could be at holding out the weight of skirts.
    Diana's 1830s-40s corded petticoat for the HSF '14

This was one of those challenges where there were so many beautiful corsets and stays that I simply couldn’t choose one over in favourites!  Pop over to the FB album for a deluge of stunning corsetry and stay-ness.


Thank you to everyone who sewed along for those last four challenges!  I’m so inspired by everything that was made!

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Meet the Dreamstress

Leimomi Oakes is the Dreamstress, a textile historian, seamstress, designer, speaker and museum professional. Leimomi is available for educational and entertaining presentations, textile and fashion advice, special commissions and events. Click to learn more

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