Want to sew along with me?

I’ve been doing Sew Weekly this year, and have amassed a great wardrobe of self-made stuff, both vintage and modern.

However, my historical sewing has suffered.  It’s been a very un-prolific year for me history wise, and I miss getting really dug-in to elaborate dresses and hand sewing.  All I got done this year was the pet-en-l’aire (and it still needs trimming), the tea gown (and it needs a re-working), Nana’s corset (and it needs straps, and I haven’t even shown you photos), and the 1883 pleated skirt.

The 1900s tea gown

Thinking about next year, I’ve decided I have quite enough clothes, and I want to focus on historical sewing.  I’d love to do a historical sew-weekly, but I don’t think that’s feasible – I’d just end up creating a ton of drawers and cartridge pleated skirts and would always be in a rush.

Instead, I think 2013 will be the year of the Historical Sew-Fortnightly.  Over the course of the year I’ll set myself themed challenges, and sew 26 fabulous historical garments.  Some will be quite elaborate, some will be simple (but hopefully beautiful and well-made) chemises and drawers, but those are important too.  It will be an excuse to finish some long overdo UFOs (Polly Oliver!  Luna moth!), and to indulge in a year long celebration of historicism.  I’m so excited!

The 1780s pet-en-l'aire

As to what constitutes historical, I’ve decided I’ll go with anything older than 75 years, so pre-1938.  However, I’ve also decided that at least 20 of my challenges have to be pre-1900.

So I have three questions for you:

  1. Would you like to do it along with me?  (Please say yes, because half of the fun of Sew Weekly was having people to do it with!).
  2. If so, any suggestions on how to arrange/coordinate such a thing?  Should we have a group flickr, or a pinterest for each challenge?  I’ll definitely create a side button for my site as part of a mini-revamp I’m working on, and can create a page for each challenge where you can leave comments linking to yours.
  3. What should I do as challenges?  I need 26 fantastic ideas that will prompt me (and hopefully some other seamstresses) to create 26 fascinating historical garments.


  1. I would absolutely LOVE to do them along with you! I need more excuses for projects!

  2. Whoops! I got so excited over the idea of a sew along that I forgot to answer your other questions.

    2. Consider making a Facebook group that people can join. It’s easy to upload photos and give feedback. Personally, I would find it easier to participate via Facebook, mainly because I don’t have a flickr or pinterest account.

    3. For challenges, consider making something from each century or era. Maybe make an evening dress as well as a walking dress, or even lower class vs. upper class. There’s also the recreation route, where you recreate a dress in worn a famous portrait. If you just need inspiration for a garment, choose a color or a theme or even a feeling that everyone can interpret differently. It would be interesting to see how different seamstresses interpret a theme and how they showcase it through a dress.

    -Adi (basicallycreativeme.blogspot.com)

  3. This is a great idea and I really look forward to what you end up doing. I would love it if you provided a way for those of us that don’t have blogs to participate. Some challenges I think would be fun might be: something for a character from a book, reproducing something from a movie or a painting, something inspired by one of your ancestors, something inspired by a different culture, an undergarment, an accessory, something inspired by an animal… This sounds fantastic.

  4. Claire Payne says

    Older than 1938? Oh fiddle sticks. I’d have been up for the challenge if you were doing 1918-1957. I need to master the basics before I get involved in historical garments. I will nominate myself as project cheerleader however and look forward to seeing all your creations.

    Good luck!

    • Hey you still have 20 years to play with! Hopefully you’ll join us for a challenge or two that is within your comfort zone (I, for one, know for a fact that you are making an early 1930s dress next year), and maybe even try something more historical.

      But thank you for the cheerleading!

  5. Lynne says

    I wish I could join in, but I can’t, so I’ll be cheering you along from the sidelines. 🙂

    I hear what Claire Payne is saying – the cut-off is a bit cruel, especially considering there is a real forties influence in fashion at the moment, and anything beautifully sewn from then is going to be very wearable for people. You might get more people joining in if you throw in a few challenges from that period. There are great smaller items like those twisty turban-headwraps which are fun and not a full scale huge costume.

    But oh, what a lovely year to look forward to!

    • Thank you Lynne!

      I actually really debated the cut-off, but my other option was to cut it off an 1920! As glorious as ’40s clothes are, I wear them everyday, and I really wanted this project to challenge me (and hopefully others) to really get into historical sewing: to push the boundaries of what they are capable of, and comfortable with, and to really delve into history beyond just our parents and grandparents.

      I went with the 1938 cutoff because 75 is a nice easy number, and it does give the option for lots of quite wearable in a modern sense 20s & 30s fashions. T

      he ‘only 6 challenges can be 20th century’ is my own personal goal – I’d love to have a seamstress like Claire do 26 (or 16, or 6 – you don’t have to do all of them – I’ve only done 45 of the 52 Sew Weekly challenges this year) items from between 1918 and 1938!

      Also, there are lots of small items (like the turbans you mentioned, but more historical) that are easy and could be quite modern: simple Victorian drawstring handbags, and Regency twist turbans, and little spencer jackets as modern wear.

      And finally, I’d rather have a small group of us doing über-historical fashion (accurate or not), than tons of us doing a lot of 20th century stuff. You could do an entire year of Sew Weekly all on 1940s, so there isn’t any point in me imitating that!

      • Lynne says

        I hear you. That makes sense. And it should produce some fascinating sewing. A year of much hand-sewing. Ooooh! What treats!

  6. I’d love to sew along with you.

    Sadly though, I don’t think it’ll happen. I’ll be working contracts next year which will involve erratic schedules and very long days. *Sigh* So at this point my response has to be that I’ll wait and see how my diary stacks up in the new year.

  7. I wish this were a feasible challenge for me, but I barely seem to be able to sew one thing a month and it is usually something very simple. However, I’m REALLY looking forward to seeing what you make, because you’re amazingly talented at historical clothing.

    • One a month is still doing better than me. I try setting myself deadlines where I say I’ll finish something for a specific event, but it isn’t working.

    • Thank you Lisette! I didn’t think I could manage one project a week this year, but doing it made me really learn how to manage my time and sew efficiently. Even if you can’t do all 26, I’d love to have you join us for one or two!

  8. How fun! I’ve also been thinking that 2013 will have more historical sewing for me. I don’t know that I can manage 26 projects in one year but I’ll hop on when I can!

    I’d prefer facebook or flickr for the sew along.

    I like the idea of general challenges like a color or theme or technique or hat/head covering so people can sew from whatever periods they prefer. UFO challenges are always good! Or maybe a refashion to spiff up an old costume or fix something that didn’t go right.

  9. Lauren says

    I would be very interested in a super-historical sew-along. The only place I get to wear historical dresses is in the SCA, so I’d be interested in projects that could work from their time range. I’d LOVE to make some later period dresses, but have nowhere to wear them! I think having challenges that can be interpreted in different time periods would be really fun.

    • Yay!

      I definitely intend for most of the challenges to be interpreted across different time periods – I love the idea of seeing what costumers from all periods do with a theme like ‘Art’ or ‘Historicism’.

  10. I’ d love to have a go, dont’ think I’ll manage 26 items (working and looking after family puts a ding in my time), and some of my items may be slightly younger than 75 years but definitely older than 50.

  11. I would love to try! I actually tried to get into the sew weekly thing, but one week was just not enough for me to complete anything.

    • Fabulous! One week is really tough, which is why this one is fortnightly. And if you only manage monthly, that’s still fabulous!

  12. Caroline says

    I would love to contribute but I doubt I’ll complete anything near 26! I’m excited to see all the things that will be created!

  13. I’d be game to try! I may have to skip a few and make them up later, but I’d at least attempt them all! I like the idea of making general categories that you can put many eras into rather than forcing people to do eras they aren’t interested in (I’d also like to shoehorn in some of my anime/media costuming!).

  14. I would absolutely LOVE to do this. I’ve just started getting more and more involved with historical costuming, and this would be the perfect motivator. I’m basically teaching myself right now, and starting with the undergarments working my way out to the main garments. The other thing I’m doing is beginning with simpler items more frequently seen with the poorer classes and then will be working my way up with that too. I, personally, am starting with the 18th century just because it’s ‘called’ me the loudest, but I’m very interested in the Regency era, later Victorian times, and early 20th century. Plus, I have this dream of hand beading a flapper dress. Maybe for the end of the year? We shall see. Anyway, I can’t wait for this to get started.

    1) It would definitely be good to have a hub for everyone to gather in.

    2) I don’t know if there should be too many specifics on each challenge just because with historical costuming people have affinities to different time periods, and everyone’s in a different place with their sewing skills so a constant stream of formal-wear might be a bit out of a beginner’s capability.

    3) Some ideas with challenges might be taking inspiration from paintings, music of the era of choice, or a specific composer, historical novels, working with period appropriate prints, developing hand sewing skills, etc.

    Just thinking about all of this is getting me amped up. I can’t wait to see what you do with it.

  15. I wish I could get involved, but college kind of drains my bank accounts. 🙁 I would love to watch what you (and everyone else) would make. I was just thinking the other day about how I missed the super-historical outfits you used to make and blog every detail about; it’s almost like I get to make something through you!

    At first, I though about recommending laying out all of the decades (or styles, when there are more than one in a decade) and choose the ones you haven’t made much from, but that isn’t exciting at all. Something like inspiration from a portrait/picture you’ve had your eyes on, a certain fabric type, maybe, a certain person in history or even animal themed for Halloween (that does seem to be popular).

    Anyway, I’ll be watching out for the fun stuff you’ll be making!

    • I wish you could get involved too, but I remember the college crunch. I am thinking of doing a frugality challenge – make something for under $10. Perhaps you could do that one?

      Love the ideas!

  16. I don’t know that I could participate much, but I’ll be watching/reading. And I’d love to jump in on the occasional project.

    Sounds really fun 🙂

  17. Adela says

    A couple more men’s pieces since you do have at least one awesome model.

  18. I’ve never sewn historical though I’ve always wanted to so I’m totally game for a sewalong.

    And as it turns out, this will be the year of historicals for me as my daughter has a fantastic girlcrush on the newest American Girl doll, Caroline circa 1812 and as such, has been begging me to sew her a bonnet. As I was puttering around the internet, I found one of our local museums has a tea every few months and I’ve promised not only to take pinky in a full regency ensemble but to dress up with her to match.

    So I’m gonna need you to tell me it will all be okay. lol

    • Oooh…how exciting! I hadn’t heard about the newest AG doll. It’s great there is finally a Regency one. And better yet that you are game to introduce your daughter to the world of historical costuming. It’s not going to be OK: it’s going to be fabulous! We’re here to help and cheer you on!

  19. This sounds like so much fun. I do historical costuming across all the eras. As much as I’d like to participate, I don’t think I’m that creative. Also I’m so busy with my teaching and sewing schedule, I don’t think I could do anything in 2 weeks. But I will have fun watching all of you! I like your ideas!

    • Even if you manage one or two challenges, I’d love that. And don’t sell your creativity short – I think most of us look at what everyone else does and think “how did they ever come up with all those fantastic ideas?”.

  20. I am so excited for this! Although, I am such a slow seamstress I think even a t-shirt takes me at least a fortnight =/ But I am in need of several historical ensembles and pieces, so I will definitely be on board for a few challenges (just with much later results than everyone else heehee). I would love to see:

    1. A proper cage bustle
    2. 1890’s evening gown
    3. Late 18th century daytime ensemble
    4. Corset/stays/chemises of all types
    5. 20’s or 30’s garden party frock

    This is a very selfish list, and not exhaustive at that. But I thought I’d put my ideas in the till anyway! I think having a pinterest page for each challenge sounds great! Thank you for this awesome idea. And Happy Holidays to you dear Dreamstress, and to all my fellow followers of your work!

    • I was planning to do more general challenges than really specific garments, but some of those are definitely on my to-do list, and I’ll be blogging about the process, so I’d love it if anyone followed along.

      And happy holidays to you! Hope you have a delightful festive season!

  21. Ohhh I would love to participate! I don’t think I will be able to do all, or even most, of the challenges as I am doing my own Adoption Dress Project next year. But I do need to make a few different Renaissance and Old West costumes. This will be a fun way to stay on task. Plus, costuming is such a passion for me it will be fun to see what everyone else is making.

    Also, if you are interested here is the link explaining what The Adoption Dress Project is all about. http://clevengeradoption.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-adoption-dress-project.html

    • What a cool project! I remember reading about Sheena’s project back in 2009, and I love that other people have taken the idea up. Your adoption sounds like a great cause – I know they are incredibly expensive and hard to arrange. Best of luck with that, and with any historical challenges you join us for!

  22. I’d love to join in for the simpler and/or smaller projects! I’m a bit restricted by my current lack of a sewing machine, but my sister-in-law has one that I can use at her house.

    I’m most interested in making men’s things, and early 20thC and regency pretties…

    • Yay! If you don’t have a sewing machine you can just do lots of very historically accurate for pre-1860 hand-sewing! I’d love that!

  23. Love, love LOVE this idea. Although by the time I juggle work and general inexperience for ore-1938 sewing, I’m more likely to be a monthly sew-along-er. Hmmm….just thinking about possible themes… Surely Polly Oliver deserves one all her own?

    • Wonderful! I’m not sure if Polly Oliver will get one of her own, but there will surely be a theme that will encourage me to finish her!

  24. “Want” to sew along with you: yes!
    Able to do so: probably not, what with not having a sewing machine or any space at college. I’d ogle, and perhaps follow your instructions later, when I have time.

    My challenge idea: something non-Western. Kimono? Hanfu? Also, hats. Everyone always needs more hats.

  25. I’d be willing to participate, but I’m still only semi-employed, and there’s no telling how long that will last. And when I get a new job…it will be awhile before I know for sure how much leisure and disposable income I’ll have for sewing. But it’s a splendid idea!

    • I hope you can make a challenge or two – I love your work. Here’s hoping for an incredibly well-paid job that gives you lots of free time!

  26. missjoidevivre says

    It’ll be fun to watch! Looking forward to the vicarious loveliness.

  27. Lylassandra says

    I’d love to do this, but I won’t be able to do all of them! But some is better than none, right? =)

    I’d love to see some random eras thrown in– for example, I see tons of 16th and 18th century stuff, but no love of the 17th! (Except that lovely gown you made, of course). Also, stuff from antiquity would be fun, and again not stuff you see all the time.

    This is so inspiring, and it hasn’t even started yet! I can’t wait!

  28. As someone who still hasn’t learn to use the sewing machine she made her husband buy her last january, I can’t participate, but I will be living vicariously through your blog. Maybe the challenge for me will be for each era you do, I will make myself design or learn to do a hairstyle from the era on one of my mannequin and post it on my much ignored blog (new years resolution is to revive it).

    Now if I could sew, I think it would be fun to do 1 garment from ancient egypt, then greece, rome byzantium, dark ages, early medieval, late medeival, 15th century italian, etc, and follow up this way until the end. It’s my fantasy if I ever learn to sew to start from egypt and make myself a complete outfit for each era until I reach the present.

  29. Natalie says

    I can’t participate but I am sooooooooo excited to watch!!!!!

  30. OH! I will certainly participate on some of the sew-alongs!

    While solo housesitting lately, I brought a sewing machine with me and a couple of projects – in the end I didn’t even unpack the machine. Turns out that one of the things I like the most about sewing is the interaction and bouncing ideas off my sewing buddy.

    I vote for a facebook site – facebook has it’s flaws but it’s so accessible.

    And for projects…. I’d love to see everyone do a riding habit, from any era.
    And hats, lots of hats!
    And a bustle.
    A historical bathing suit?
    Gibson Girl blouse?
    A chemise?
    Winter petticoats?
    And at the end of the year, for Christmas, a historically-correct Mary the Mother of Jesus outfit (no obligatory blue headscarf), bonus points for posting a photo of you wearing it while riding a donkey.

    • And a mix of ‘open to interpretation’ projects, ones that are just inspired by something, and some definite projects.
      Because seeing what people make with an idea like ‘romance’ is great, but seeing everyone’s different turbans or breeches is just as awesome, and you can ask others for troubleshooting along the way.
      I also love the idea of having some items from cultures other than English.
      So, the 26 should include a mix of cultures, difficulties, scale, sexes, time periods, social class, and freedom!!!!!

      How about a facebook group for the year, and 26 ‘events’ within it? That’ll keep each project separate but be highly accessible, no limit on photos or members.

  31. I might have a few items that I can sew pre-1938….but don’t think I could find use for a years worth of once a fortnight sewing. (I have in mind an edwardian walking skirt and blouse and 1920’s dress….and 30’s skirt). I’m more of a 40’s gal but I dip in and out.

  32. I’m so not going to finish anything in time, and I’m so going to join anyway! 😀 A good excuse to finish, or at least close-to-finish all those historical/historically-inspired ideas brewing in my head.

    But, pretty please, not Flickr. Flickr has a limited amount of publishable photos for free members, and I’ve run into my limit already. 🙁 (Another of the thousand things I need to do over the holidays is removing the photos I can put up somewhere else…)

    I suggest you look through your UFO pile and form some of the challenges around what’s in there. It might not sound fascinating… but it should be useful.
    Or look at one those many 100 Word Lists around the internet and choose those you like. That’s more of a Sew Weekly style of challenge.

  33. Themes like ‘dance’ or ‘garden party’ or ‘afternoon tea’ or ‘sports and active’ would appeal to me and still work within historical boundries.
    As in clothes for different situations.
    And I do have a UFO regency ballgown to finish.
    A mix of rich and poor sounds good. Maybe under and outerwear as well? (I have this idea a corset cover and frilly bloomers would make great PJ’s) or even a nightgown.
    Maybe fabric, colour or print inspired challenges?
    Facebook I think is more versatile but then maybe something in wordpress format might be good (in style of we sew retro)?

  34. karenb says

    I am certainly keen to take part. No idea how I will cope but it should be a wonderful learning experience.

  35. How exciting! Like many others, I’m torn between excitement at the prospect and the knowledge that there’s no way I could keep up with that pace! I also find I’m more inspired by the kind of project which takes many, many hours to finish than by things I can whip up in a day.
    What about allowing for a couple of projects that would take more than 2 weeks – you could for example work a project in blocks, corset, other undies, skirt, bodice, trim, accesories. Maybe alternate the fortnightly ‘big project’ blocks with quick projects so that the slowpokes amoung us could choose to spens those two weeks catching up, and those who don’t have the resources for a big project could work on the quickies.
    Regardless of how you decide to do it, I’ll be watching and jumping in when I can!

  36. Daniel says

    I can’t sew, so won’t participate, but I love the idea. One of my votes is for a proper 17th century mantua gown – that would be fabulous, I’d love to see that!!

  37. pamlin says

    I would!! Definitely not a Sew Weekly (not enough time, but a Sew Fortnightly is possible)

    How about doing, say three full outfits from the skin out? Petticoats, corsets, underpinnings, outfit, trims, and accessories? Three totally separate time periods would keep it interesting and informative with the different techniques (I vote for regency, bustle and something else?)

    • We’ve been doing this for our Jane Austen Festival Australia, we started in May and will have a wardrobe of delicious Regency clothes based around 1813 styles. It would be great to continue with different eras, I need to get my 1850-60s gown past my underpinings!

  38. Jenny Wren says

    There’s almost certainly no way I’ll have time, but I’d love to be in on the flickr or pinterest or however you decide to organise.

  39. Fantastic idea. Like lots of folks, I’ve missed your historical work. Sewing is such an ultra-slow thing for me, fitted into nooks and crannies of time, that I can’t join it, but will so happy to watch and cheer everyone on.

    Like Daniel, I vote for a mantua! We’ve had almost nothing of 1680s-1710s.

    Very best,


  40. Caroline says

    This sounds like a fun idea, and I also like the idea that you can join as many challenges as you have time for! Keep us all posted on how to join in!

  41. It’s kinda redundant by now, but I love this idea too! I’ve enjoyed your Sew Weekly postings, and will enjoy them exponentially more when they are historical. I’ll love seeing what all the other people who follow your blog come up with as well.

    And while I don’t know how much time I’ll have in the coming year, I do have a HUGE pile of “need-to-make” historical stuff, so would love to be in the loop, if not completely committed…

    (Committed always seems an ironic word to use when you’re talking about historic seamstresses/seamsters ;-).

  42. Fernanda Celeste says

    Oh, i would love to join you!
    A Facebook group sounds really good, that way we can have contact and do polls. FB still have them right? And a Flickr for the photos and because is fun. This can help me to sew, push me to sew! Infortunately where i live the fabrics are really bad and i can’t found good bones here.
    Oh, and about the ideas, how about one or two garments of each era (lets say you have a list of them). And of course, for the eras just your favorites or something like that. Sorry i know i don’t make any sense.
    Good luck i hope you do it! ♥

  43. I would love to do a sew along with you, but due to my work and family schedule that would be difficult. I am also still learning how to sew more things than pillows, stockings and other basic items. I do look forward to seeing what you and the others come up with.

  44. One item every two months is good going for me, so every fortnight would be very optimistic! I’ll enjoy seeing everyone else’s projects, though.

    On the matter of UFOs, can I put in a please, please, pretty-please plea for the Luna Moth dress to be finished? I really want to see the end result.

    • The Luna Moth is top of the pile for the UFO challenge for me, so unless an event comes up where I desperately need to finish another garment, that will be the one!

  45. I’ve just popped in – haven’t read you for ages, and while time and decade interest will mean I won’t be sewing along – I think it is a brilliant plan! A few simple things such as colour theme, or “floral” or “tartan” might make it easy for people to do small or big projects. It could also be inspired by shakespeare, or a movie, or royalty.
    I will be following with avid interest!

  46. Margaret GI says

    I’m interested, however I would only be able to do a couple of these as I have other commitments.

  47. Erin says

    I’ve just found this but I’d love to join in a small way. Let’s see what I can manage!

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