Corsets, crinolines & kitty cats

How to tell if you have awesome friends:

If they stop by your house on the weekend for a cup of tea and you say “Oh, I was just about to climb into a chemise and corset, any chance you’d be willing to take some photos of me?” and they spend over an hour helping to lace you into a corset and directing poses and snapping photos:

1880s corset & chemise

The resulting photos are evidence of how truly fabulous Emily of Ever So Scrumptious is!  I hope she had as much fun as I did helping me document me wearing my 1860s chemise (finally!) and new stockings and drawers, and red elliptical crinoline (even more finally!), and paisley petticoat (also finally).

We got some lovely atmospheric, romantic period stuff:

1880s corset & chemise

And some adorable stuff with Felicity (because how could you possibly pass up the chance to pose with Felicity?):

1860s elliptical crinoline

And some fun stuff with me being silly (this is me immediately after saying “I don’t know what to do with my hands!  I feel they should be doing something!  Should I just throw them out?):

1860s elliptical crinoline

Or just showing off all views of the garment (note to self – I need to add one more band of wire to this hoopskirt, and re-arrange the wires so they form a smoother bell:

1860s elliptical crinoline

Felicity objected to posing (she only likes to be gorgeous on her own terms, thank you very much), so I got her involved by playing button soccer with her on the bureau chest:

1860s paisley petticoat


We had to end that game when she decided to ‘win’ by trying to eat the ball.  I guess that’s better than trying to eat the other players, but still not ideal!

1860s paisley petticoat


I was so distraught and overwhelmed at the thought of sports cannibalism that I had to swoon:

1860s paisley petticoat


Most gracefully and elegantly of course ;-)

1860s paisley petticoat

I soon recovered, and found a much more effective and satisfying (and safe!) way to tempt Felicity to be part of the photoshoot.

1860s paisley petticoat



1860s paisley petticoat (& Felicity the cat)


Many, many thanks Emily!

(and on the subject of awesome friends, Joie de Vivre has written the sweetest post about all of us,: D’awww!)

A pair of ‘crap, these probably aren’t right at all’ drawers for Nana (and bonus stockings)

Other than finishing the corset, the last piece of my Nana ensemble to assemble was the drawers. The drawers are now done, only well, they are slightly problematic.  How so?  Well, look at them:

1870s-80s drawers

And the back view:

1880s drawers (and Felicity the Cat) So.  Ummm, yeah.

Sexy they are not.

Now, the whole colossal camel toe + super saggy bottom thing is just kinda how most mid-19th century drawers fit, but this pair is taking it a little to the extreme.   The problem is the cut.  1870s closed drawers were just open drawers with the centre seam sewn up, and so they have this weird quarter-circle shape with lots of extra fabric in the crotch area.

1870s-80s drawers

Looking at Manet’s Nana, the line of her chemise is quite smooth over her front and hips.  With such bulky drawers, that simply won’t happen.

Manet's Nana, 1877

So how to achieve Nana’s look?

Well, one possibility is that she isn’t wearing drawers (I mean, she is Nana!).  However, the way the lace is falling at her hem makes me think she definitely is.

The other possibility is that she’s wearing divided drawers, which would be a bit less bulky.  I’ve gone back and forth on the divided drawers for Nana issue.  Divided drawers sound terribly risqué to us, but in the 1870s only naughty girls wore closed ones, and Nana was terribly naughty.

I suppose the simplest option is that she is wearing a pair of more elegantly cut drawers, which is what I’ll be attempting next!

Just in case you want you own pair of extra saggy bottomed drawers, I used the free 1889s drawers pattern at Tudorlinks as the basis for these ones.  They are designed for the Victorian ideal of tiny waist, very full bottom and hips, so next time I’ll adapt the pattern for my significantly straighter shape!

The Challenge: #12 – Under $10

Fabric: The remainder of the 2m of cotton lawn that I used for Nana’s chemise, and a few extra scraps of cotton from my scrap bag for the waist.

Pattern: The 1889s drawers pattern at Tudorlinks (pretty much exactly, with no alterations)

Year: 1875-1890

Notions: Cotton thread, vintage cotton lingerie buttons, vintage lace from Fabric-a-Brac

How historically accurate is it?  Reasonably.  It’s a period pattern, period construction, period accurate fabric, but the lace is a bit modern.  85%

Hours to complete: 4

First worn: On Friday, to the great amusement of my sewing students who I modeled it for!

Total Cost: $2 for the fabric, $1 for the lace, $1 for buttons and thread = $4

1870s-80s drawers

But wait, there’s more!

1880s drawers (and Felicity the Cat)

Notice the stockings I’m wearing with the drawers?  Oh yes, mine own!

Merino knit stockings

I’m fine tuning the pattern as I write up the tutorial and turn the pattern into something you can download from the blog and print at home, so I made another pair to test it.

Merino knit stockings

These are made from a merino-nylon blend I found at an op-shop.  It’s definitely seconds fabric – there are some weird colour variations (I think it was washed in hot water with bleach), but it doesn’t show as stockings.

The Challenge: #12 – Under $10

Inspiration: Manet’s Nana, 1877

Fabric: 60cm of merino-nylon blend knit (found at an op-shop).

Pattern: My own!

Year: 1877

Notions: thread.

How historically accurate is it?  Not really. 19th century stockings would be specifically knit as stockings, either by hand or machine, not cut from flat cloth and sewn.  The effect is pretty good though.

Hours to complete: 20 min (well, if you don’t count the 5+ hours I spent on patterning and tutorial writing)

First worn: For today’s photoshoot (courtesy of the lovely Emily of EverSoScrumptious, who stopped by for a visit and happily photographed me for an hour!)

Total cost: Under $2

Rate the Dress: Bad or Best of News in Blue?

Last week I showed an asymmetrical bustled 1880s dress that combined three fabrics.  The dress was rather all over the place, and so were your ratings.  There were so many different bits, and some of you liked some bits, and some of them others.  The overall verdict was 6.5 out of 10.  Not terrible, but certainly not great.

This week we’re looking at a painted frock that may be the artists fantasy, though the details are so precisely rendered, from the laced bodice to the seam-lines and creases at the hem, that one wonders if the dress actually existed.

There are two versions of the image, one which shows the whole scene, and a smaller cropped version.

'La mauvaise nouvelle' (Bad News) (1804) by Marguerite Gérard (1761-1837). Oil on canvas. Musée du Louvre, Paris, France

‘La mauvaise nouvelle’ (Bad News) (1804) by Marguerite Gérard (1761-1837). Via Wikimedia Commons

As you may have guessed, we are rating the attire of the blond woman in white and turquoise at the centre of the image. Both she and her friend/attendant are dressed in luxurious, fashionable garments which reflect the strong strong classical influences, particularly in their hair and jewels.

In addition to addition to looking back to Classical Greece & Rome, our heroine’s dress shows the effect of the new political situation in France.  Napoleon became Emperor of the French in 1804, and one of his early moves was an attempt to protect the French silk industry and to limit the amount of cotton being imported into France.

The attendant wears a cotton gown, but our heroine models a dress is the rich, heavy silk satins that Napoleon hoped to return to fashion for the benefit of France’s economy.  Gérard probably approved of the move – she excelled at painting the light reflecting on luxurious silks, while her treatment of cottons was nothing special.

So what do you think of the blonde’s outfit, with its nods to both the ancient past and the new political situation?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

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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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