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The HSF ’14: Favourites for Challenges # 17-20

When I started this post, there were just four challenges left to go in the HSF 2014.  And then, at some point in writing the post, those challenges and all of life’s other challenges caught up with me, and I never finished it!

So, a bit late, but no less appreciated, here are some of the fantastic creations from challenges #17-20 that inspired me.  I picked items that were well made, interesting to look at and think about, pushed the boundaries of the makers knowledge and experience, and that I thought best represent the spirit of the Historical Sew Fortnightly; the quest to explore history, raise our skill levels and standard, stretch ourselves (or sometimes just get something done, rather than just procrastinating); and the spirit of the individual challenge.

It’s really, really hard to pick, because there are always so many amazing things (even as we experience the inevitable drop-off in submissions towards the end of the year).  For every challenge I’ve tried to showcase a range of historical periods, ways of approaching a challenge, and levels of experience. There are so many more wonderful creations that I simple couldn’t showcase, so do have a browse of the links through the challenge pages on my blog, and the HSF facebook albums.

Challenge #17 – Yellow  (and the facebook album for the challenge) 

  1. Maria’s mid-14th c gown – just stunning.  A beautiful shade of yellow, a gorgeous garment, and don’t you love the apron?
    HSF '14 Challenge #17 Maria's mid-14th c gown
  2. Black Tulip’s recreation of an early 20th c evening bag – She’s analyzed every detail of the original, and carefully recreated each of the elements, even dyeing her own ribbon when needed!
  3. Ségolène’s 1880s corset – The corset would be beautiful enough on its own, but she also dyed the fabric and the ribbons using natural dye, making for a thoroughly fascinating and fabulous project in every respect!Bonus: (obviously there are going to be bonuses for this one, because I love yellow SO MUCH and all the photos just made me bounce with happiness).  You must see Asa’s early 17th c yellow doublet, and History Seamstresses medieval needlecase, and Jennifer’s phenomenal yellow tea gown, and Hvitr’s pineapple reticule, and..oh, just go see the whole FB album before I list it all!

Challenge #18 – Poetry in Motion (and the facebook album) I’ll admit that I was a teeny bit disappointed that more people didn’t get excited and do this challenge, because I thought it was a fascinating idea, and my creation is one of my favourite items and posts of the year, but at least the few submissions there were were fantastic!   

  1. Hvitr’s recreation of Hera’s veil  – I mean, she made Hera’s veil!  From the Iliad!  With real carnelian beads!  Talk about inspirational inspiration!
  2. Etta’s 1910s skirt – Poetry, far more than prose, can inspire emotion, and Etta picked a particularly pathos inducing poem to recreate, to beautiful effect.
  3. Sophia’s Mina Loy 1910s dress – A most effective garment which elegantly combines inspiration from the poet, and the poem.

Challenge #19 – HSF Inspiration (and the facebook album)  To keep in the spirit of the challenge, I’ve linked to both my favourites, and their inspiration (and resisted the temptation to just pick people who were inspired by me, which was quite flattering!)

  1. Andrea’s 1840s petticoat – they aren’t the most glamorous or exciting of items, so they are easy to overlook, but I really admire the beautiful thought and detailing put into Andrea’s petticoat – the same qualities she admired in her inspiration.
  2. Britta’s Edwardian corset – a stunning piece of corsetry, inspired by Wearing History’s corset for Challenge #4, Britta’s version immediately made MY inspiration folder!  
  3.  Hvitr’s Egyptian headband - Hvitr, and her inspiration, Catherine, both consistently create fascinating, meticulously researched items, and I always learn something new from their work.  This beaded headband is no exception.

Challenge #20 – Alternative Universe (and the facebook album)  This was our chance to get out and be a little not-historical.

  1. Loose Thread’s historical/fantasy gamurra – I love the combination of fantasy and historical research in this garment, and the though that went into developing her character and costume.  It makes the finished garment so much more ‘real’ and interesting.
  2. Wyldehills ‘unspecified timeperiod’ Renfaire jacket – Renfaire’s are often an alternative universe of of their own, but the practical thought and details that went into this garment give it beautiful authenticity.
  3. Jeannette’s Steampunk corset bodice – A great backstory to the outfit + a great sewing story, and to top it all off, a fantastic finished garment!  Her steampunk outfits are phenomenal!

Well done everyone, both those I highlighted, and those I didn’t manage to list – you all made fantastic things, and I am so inspired by the work you do!

Rate the Dress: red + lavender in the mid ’20s

Last week I cheated and started the New Year of Rate the Dress with something nice and easy and crowd please-y: a 1660s dress in gold.

There were some minor niggles about the bodice flange looking like an eel (ahem, eels are awesome), and the precariously low neckline (trust me, those bodices could have four 5 kilo weights suspended off them and dangling down your skirt, and you’d end up with majorly bruised shins but the bodice would STAY PUT), plus the fact that it isn’t a very move-able, practical cut (fair enough, though that was kind of the point), but overall it was love.  9 out of 10 love!  Impressive!

This week we move from classic gold to a very unusual colour combination: tomato red and lavender (though I personally would say this is much more of a lilac than a lavender, and someone doing the catalogue at the GMD really likes the term ‘tomato red’)

This frock is all about mid-20s decadence and design motifs, but the details aren’t as new as they appear.  The vivid colours, rich abstract floral embellishments, and extremely chic (according to the period) unbalanced line all look extremely modern, but are directly derived from late Edwardian orientalism, ultra-embellishment, and asymmetry.

The skirt is almost as short as hemlines would go – in a few years the hem would climb to just under the knee in the ‘extremely short skirt’ of ’28-’29, which was already being called ‘absurd’ in 1932.

The dress is asymmetrical not just from side to side, but from back to front, with the full drape of the front replaced with a much more straight and severe back, and the lavender moved from the hem to the waistline.

What do you think of this frock, which looks backwards and forwards at the same time, and quite different from back to front?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


Modern historical kimono wrappers

I know I already have two submissions for the Historical Sew Fortnightly ‘Modern History’ challenge, but I’m quite excited about showing you two more items, because they are my only HSF sewing collaboration for 2014, and they are also a far more interesting take on interpreting historical fashions for modern wear in any case.

These are Lynne’s modern historical kimono wrappers:

Lynne's 'Modern Historical' kimono wrappers

Lynne's 'Modern Historical' kimono wrappers

Lynne took the pattern from an original Japanese yukata, but altered it to fit her figure and lifestyle: flaring the body panels for extra width, and adding underarm and shoulder reinforcements.

She did all the unpicking of curtain panels, fabric prepping, pattern drafting and cutting of the pieces (i.e. the hard part, where you have to think and probably end up, if not swearing a lot, at least muttering dire imprecation), and I sewed up the kimono on a week-long visit just before Christmas, sitting at a sewing table in her bedroom, watching the birds outside and kittens on the computer and cthunk, cthunk, cthunking along on her lovely Bernina.


Lynne is an extremely talented seamstress in her own right – responsible for the patterning behind the Greek Key Afternoon Dress and lots of other amazing things.  However, Lynne has ME/CFS, and she realised in cutting out the kimono that the extended sitting of sewing them up is just more energy than she has these days.

ME/CFS is a constant balancing act: how much energy do you have in a given day, and how do you want to spend it?  If you spend an hour sewing, that can mean that you’ll be too exhausted to make dinner.  If you go on a little outing to a cafe with a friend, you may have to spend two days almost exclusively in bed to recuperate.  Even something that seems restful, like handsewing in bed, can require enough mental concentration to wear you out for a day.

ME is the reason behind making the kimono in the first place.  Because Lynne has to spend so much time in bed, and because even simple acts like dressing in ‘proper’ clothes uses a lot of energy, she needed something she could put on quickly, and wear comfortably while feeling at least somewhat ‘dressed’ for visitors.  Regular clothes have buttons and fastenings that need to be done up, and snug fits that need to be wriggled into, and waistbands and other tight bits that bind and aggravate joint and muscle pain – all things which take precious bits of time and energy away from other things you might rather be doing.

So the kimono are the perfect solution.  Thrown over a loose frock or nightgown, they are cool, comfortable and elegant, and add dignity to an outfit.

There is a real historical precedent to such garments, from 18th century banyan, to 19th century wrappers, to 20th century bedgowns.  Such garments also served the same purpose historically: serving as easy to don, easy to wear garments that were permissible to wear around family and close friends, and publicly in an emergency.

Woman's wrapper American, about 1855, MFA Boston

Woman’s wrapper American, about 1855, MFA Boston

The pale green paisley kimono wrapper particularly tickles my fancy because paisley was one of the most popular motifs for mid 19th century wrappers, so, despite the very un-Victorian pastel green colour scheme, it ties very nicely back into that tradition.

The fabric actually has a nice vintage story of its own.  A Dunedin firm, Arthur Ellis & Co. Ltd, used this fabric, both in the green and in a pink, to cover eiderdowns in the 1950s.  Lynne remembers getting an eiderdown in the exact fabric for Christmas as a child.  Someone kept some deadstock lengths of it, and put it up for sale on Trademe, and Lynne was able to get a length.

Lynne's 'Modern Historical' kimono wrappers

The other kimono wrapper is also very interesting, because Lynne really wasn’t sure about the fabric in cutting it out, and I wasn’t sure about the fabric in sewing it up, but once it was done the very English Liberty fruit print, with cherries, blackcurrants, raspberries, redcurrants and gooseberries all resolved into a striking overall design that manages to be very reminiscent of actual Japanese kimono fabrics.

Lynne's 'Modern Historical' kimono wrappers

Lynne's 'Modern Historical' kimono wrappers

There is an extensive tradition of re-making kimono to fit Western tastes and body shapes, as with this furisode inspired dressing gown:

Furisode Kimono-Style Dressing Gown, c. 1885, Silk, FIDM Museum

Furisode Kimono-Style Dressing Gown, c. 1885, Silk, FIDM Museum

Both of Lynne’s kimono wrappers fit into that tradition, and into the tradition of wrappers and banyans.  Most importantly, she likes them, I liked making them, and they will serve her well, for sedate walks in the garden with Margaret Mary the cat (on a lead!), and cuddles in bed with books, or a spot of strawberry picking.

Lynne's 'Modern Historical' kimono wrappers

Lynne's 'Modern Historical' kimono wrappers

The kimono cut also has practical benefits, beyond just being easy to wear.  Lynne uses the sleeves as roomy pockets (just as real kimono sleeves were used), for a kerchief, or a handful of gooseberries.

Lynne's 'Modern Historical' kimono wrappers

Lynne's 'Modern Historical' kimono wrappers

The Challenge: #23 Modern History

Fabric: 3ish metres each of deadstock pale green & paisley vintage polished cotton, and vintage Liberty fruit print fabric, recycled from curtains.

Pattern: self drafted by Lynne based on an original yukata

Year: modern, but building on a tradition that goes back to the mid-18th century.

Notions: cotton thread

How historically accurate is it?: Almost exact versions of the pattern have existed since at least the 1880s (I worked with an 1880s kimono made in the Imperial kimono workshops in Japan, for the wife of a Western diplomat, which featured flared body panels to fit Western ideals), and very similar garments have been worn in the West since the 18th century, but this garment would probably best pass the ‘would someone from in period recognise it and not think it was totally weird and bizarre’ test for the late 19th and early-mid 20th century.

Hours to complete: About 5 for the first one, and 4 for the second, though I was sewing very slowly, with lots of interruptions to look at birds and kittens and have chocolate tastings.  Lynne probably spent the same on unpicking the fruit curtain panels, washing, pressing, cutting, and prepping.

First worn: Mon Dec 22nd for photos, and (I suspect) many times since.

Total cost: None on my end, Lynne spend about $50 each kimono on the fabrics.

Lynne's 'Modern Historical' kimono wrappers

These may be one of my favourite sews of the year, partly because collaborating on a sewing project is always so much fun, partly because they were such a fascinating exploration of the concept of ‘modern historical’ wear, and the tradition of wrappers (which modern bathrobes just don’t fill, and which has really gone by the wayside), and hugely because these two items will probably get worn more than all my other sewing put together, which is always a very good feeling!

Lynne's 'Modern Historical' kimono wrappers

Thank you Lynne for a lovely week, some great sewing, and another wonderful collaboration!