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Gossard Corsets ad, The Designer Oct 1916,

Building your own 1910s & WWI Wardrobe: The Undergarments

It’s less than a month until Costume College 2018, and my instagram and facebook feeds are full of people panic-sewing for the event.  I’m not going this year, but all the excitement has reminded me of the talks I did last year, and how I’ve never put most of that information online.

In a timely coincidence, a number of people have asked me recently what my favourite Edwardian & WWI era patterns are, and how I built my wardrobe for my Fortnight in 1916 living-history project.

One of my talks at Costume College last year was ‘The Great War Wardrobe‘: an in-depth exploration of WWI era home-front fashion, along with a guide on how to build a complete wardrobe from the period.  I’m still working out how to turn the fashion history side of the class into workable blog posts, but will (hopefully) get those sorted and polished soon.

For now, here is a quick series on where to get patterns to make a 1910s (with a focus on 1914-19) era wardrobe.

The patterns I’ve included here are from pattern companies I’ve made items from, or have helped students or friends make items from, and can recommend on that basis.

I have not included pattern companies that I do not recommend, or pattern companies I have seen or tested in any way.  I did not include patterns that are essentially modern blocks updated with a period aesthetic: I find that they rarely give the correct look.

Today’s post is all about your 1910s unders – because every good impression starts with your foundations.  My Fortnight in 1916 really demonstrated how much your undergarments change how you stand, and move in your garments, and think about your personal space, and movements, so I really, really recommend making the proper underthings to achieve an accurate impression.

For your WWI wardrobe, first of all, of course you need a corset:

The Scroop Rilla Corset Pattern



For more on what you’re looking to achieve with your corset, check out my series on Body Ideals & Corsetry 1913-1921

WWI era corset, Rilla Corset, 1910s Corset, Corset pattern

Under your corset, you’ll need some form of undergarments to protect the corset from you, and you from the corset:

Under the Corset:

Multi Sized: 

Single Sized:

See also Wearing History’s excellent research into knit undergarments in the Edwardian era.

1917 combinations and petti-slips

Over the Corset:

Multi Sized: 


Single Sized


Because every well-dressed WWI era lady needs an elegant robe or negligée to swan about the house in!


There are also lots of books that include scaled patterns for corsets and other undergarments from this era (well, primarily corsets).  I recommend:

  • McNealy, Marion. Corset Cutting & Making (this book is amazing)
  • Salen, Jill. Corsetmaking: Historical Patterns & Techniques
  • Waugh, Nora. Corsets & Crinolines

I’ll be putting up the rest of my guide over the next two weeks!

Clothing for a Fortnight in 1916,

Blue-grey silk faille day dress with appliqué, embroidery, and beading, Label- Mme. Chamas, 66 rue des Petits Champs, Paris, France, ca. 1890, Kentucky State University Museum 1983.1.178 ab

Rate the Dress: Bustle Era Roses

Last week’s dress wasn’t exactly a universal success.  But it did spark a lot of very interesting conversations about what it was worn for, and what inspired its design.  And interesting discussions are what Rate the Dress is really about.  So, whether you like it or not, hopefully this week’s pick will be equally interesting.

Last week: A young lady’s formal day dress, ca 1915

Half of you loved the ca. 1915 day dress, or could at least see what it was going for, and rated it consequently.  But the other half of you didn’t like, well, so many things: the not quite white colour; the almost symmetrical front and back; the way the ruffles didn’t carry around to the front of the skirt; the fussiness; the details on details; and most of all, the vertical bow.

I really enjoyed all of the suppositions about the design influences and purpose of this garment: Mrs C showing how effective it would be in black and white photography, Hvitr’s guess that it might very well be inspired by the Knossos excavations, Susan pointing out that it would be perfect for a piano recital.  Interestingly, no one online noticed that the vertical bow that vexed so many of you was probably based on obi.

The Total: 6.9 out of 10

I hope our young lady did better at her piano recital!

This week:

Since rose red wasn’t such a hit last week, this week I’m trying for literal roses: or at least figural ones, embroidered on an 1880s skirt.

I think we’ll all have to agree that the embroidery on this dress is spectacular.

It’s lush, opulent, and unique.  And the pairing with the appliqués is quite striking.

I really wish there were more images of this dress, showing the details and the angles.  Sadly, we’ll have to rate it just on the front view.

What do you think?  Is embroidery + appliqué a success?

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.  Our different tastes are what make Rate the Dress so interesting. However 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!  Thanks in advance!)

1795-1800 muslin dress

A mental meh and a very-end-of-the-18th-century muslin gown

I was really excited about my trip to Australia, and an opportunity/excuse to make a new ca. 1800 dress.

I’ve done very little historical sewing since last Costume College, and I’m definitely missing it.  Regency has been on my sewing wishlist for quite a while.  I had a length of muslin I found at an op-shop that was just asking to be a simple almost-white dress.

Should be perfect!

1795-1800 muslin dress

Unfortunately I’m pretty meh about the result.

I’m not sure if it’s really the dress, or simply in my brain.

I’m currently going through a really hard patch as a costumer and historical sewer.  Mentally, I need a certain amount of time to focus on a project in order to really do a good job.  And I also need to keep in practice in order to not only to keep growing as a historical sewer, but to just stay at the levels of sewing that I’ve achieved in the past.

And for the last few years I just haven’t managed to make that time.  Between starting Scroop Patterns, teaching sewing, buying+painting+repairing a house, blogging*, running the Historical Sew Monthly, and some big personal life stuff, I’ve had little space for large-scale historical costuming.  There have been no more Ninons.

(*And you’ll probably have noticed that I haven’t been nearly as prolific at blogging as I was in the past…)

I’ve made a lot of great little things for the HSM, and my stocking and chemise stash is in pretty good shape, but full outfits?  Impressive dresses?  It doesn’t feel like it.

Emotionally I’m finding it really hard.  I see all these other costumers making all this amazing stuff, and the few bigger things I’ve managed to make I feel like I need to totally take-apart and re-make to get them to where I want them to be.  On a logical level, I know I’ve been doing an impressive amount of things over the last couple of years – they just haven’t been costumes.  But emotionally my brain beats me up for not making as much as I think I should be able to, and not making them as well as I know I can.

I’ve been making some pretty big life changes that will hopefully give me a bit more time for costuming (though on a pragmatic level, I will be spending most of the extra time on Scroop), so that’s something to look forward to.

For now, I’m just trying to decide if I like this gown as it is, or if its another thing that’s going on the re-make pile.  Or if I should just leave be and turn my energy to the next thing, even if I’m not happy with the dress as it is.

1795-1800 muslin dress

I’m not even sure why I’m so un-thrilled with this dress.  I gave myself enough time to make it (just), and managed to make and finish it pretty much as I’d intended and hoped.  The long seams are machine sewn, and everything else is hand-done and finished.

1795-1800 muslin dress

I didn’t get the back neckline quite right, which is causing some slight rippling along the neck seam.  However, it’s easily fixable with a little more pressing and some stabilising stitching.

I also need to tweak the fit of the sleeves a tiny bit, but that is also easily fixable, and something I expected: I put the sleeves in without time to check their fit, and planned on adjusting them as needed.

1795-1800 muslin dress

I’m not entirely convinced by the bulk of back gathers.

My base patterns was the silk 1795-1800 round gown from the Daughters of the American Revolution An Agreeable Tyrant catalogue.  I made almost no adjustments to the bodice (I graded it up less than a size).  When it came to the skirt, I used the pattern piece sizes, tweaked slightly to best fit my fabric, but I completely ignored the skirt pleating of the original.  I just made the front fullness match that of the bodice, and gathered all the rest to match the triangle of the back bodice, inspired by portraits like this.

It’s fun, but it’s a LOT of gathers in one place.

1795-1800 muslin dress

Maybe my ambivalence is that the dress, while lovely, isn’t exciting or memorable.

1795-1800 muslin dress

Or maybe it’s that, as I was making it, I had a design epiphany. I was checking the fit of the bodice and realised the muslin is so sheer that it looked beautiful on its own over my skin.  It would look beautiful as something like the dress in Lefèvre’s Portrait of a Woman Holding a Pencil:

Portrait of a Woman Holding a Pencil and a Drawing Book Robert-Jacques Lefèvre (France, 1755-1830) France, circa 1808, LACMA, M.73.91

Portrait of a Woman Holding a Pencil and a Drawing Book, Robert-Jacques Lefèvre (France, 1755-1830) France, circa 1808, LACMA, M.73.91

I didn’t have the time to re-make the dress to fit my new idea – and I wasn’t even sure it would work.  It would have required turning it into a wrap-front dress (because there would be no way to get in and out of it otherwise), completely unpicking the skirt, and re-adjusting the fullness to accomodate the wrap.

I might still do it, but I certainly couldn’t in the last day before I headed of to Sydney – so I finished it as it was, and I don’t love it.  Or at least I don’t love at this exact moment.

1795-1800 muslin dress

It is however, done, and making a thing is pretty exciting.

AND it qualifies for the June Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge: Rebellion & Counter Culture.

HSM #6 2018: Rebellion & Counter Culture

While simple cotton classically-inspired dresses were the predominant fashion of the last years of the 18th century, and the first years of the 19th, they were both a sartorial rebellion against the lavish silk gowns that were associated with the ancien regime, and later, against Napoleon’s attempts to support the French silk industry by dictating that silk dresses must be worn at court.

In Europe at least, they were most strongly linked with fashionable women who challenged societal standards, from Madame Recamier, to Lady Hamilton.

Because I was making my dress to be worn at a Regency era house in Australia, I tried to find a more local inspiration for it.  I found a basis in a woman who was associated with a more political rebellion: Elizabeth Macarthur, wife of John Macarthur, who was responsible for instigating Australia’s Rum Rebellion.

While John was a bit of a loose canon and perpetual rebel, Elizabeth was so kind and charming and tactful that she was accepted everywhere, even when her husband was technically a criminal in exile. Elizabeth was the first soldier’s wife to arrive in the infant Sydney, and ran her husband’s farms on the (numerous) occasions he had to flee Australia because of legal troubles.

Her ability to retain respect, and remain in control in spite of adversity, could be considered a counter-rebellion: using tact and helpfulness to change a situation, instead of the open rebellion her husband favoured. I felt this modest version of a ca. 1800 frock was both suited to the New South Wales climate, and to descriptions of Elizabeth as quietly elegant in her dress.

1795-1800 muslin dress

Just the facts ma’am:

Material: 3.3m of cotton mull, 1m of linen

Pattern: primarily based on the late 1790s bib-front gown in An Agreeable Tyrant, with the quirks from altering the dress from an older style removed, the front adapted to be a round-gown instead of a bib-front, and the back pleats changed to gathers.

Year: ca. 1800  (keeping in mind that Australia would have been slightly behind the times in terms of fashion)

Notions: cotton thread, cotton tapes

How historically accurate is it? I machine sewed the long skirt seams, and made my best guess as to how a round-gown would be adapted from the pattern. My armscye seam finishes are based on Modern Mantua Maker’s 1800s gown which she made based on one of the Agreeable Tyrant dresses – her research is impeccable, so I trust her when she says this is an accurate finish, but I did not do the research myself, and have never seen the technique on an extant garment. Because I can’t verify all my techniques, I’d say 70%

Hours to complete: 20-30

First worn: Sat 26 June, to give a talk about the Indian influence on Western fashion for the National Trust of NSW, and then for a photoshoot at Old Government House, Parramatta. Elizabeth Macarthur almost certainly visited OGH, and was friends with Elizabeth Macquarie, the Governor’s wife, despite their husband’s mutual enmity.

Total cost: I found the mull at an op-shop for $4 (!!!), and the linen was also an op-shop purchase, so the whole thing cost less than $10.

1795-1800 muslin dress