Felicity, Reviews: resources, books, museums, Sewing

Ridiculous adorableness: Wearing History’s 1917 combinations

Wearing History just came out with a new late-teens combination pattern taken directly from a period pattern.  Naturally, I was super excited about it because I want to expand my 1910s wardrobe this year.  I was even more excited about it when Lauren asked if I would pattern test it.  Yes I would!

Wearing History's 1917 combinations thedreamstress.com

(so yes, I got the pattern for free, and yes, I’m a total Wearing History fangirl, but I wasn’t paid anything for this post, any opinions are totally my own, and if anything, as everyone knows, I tend to be hypercritical of patterns.)

The print-out e-version of the pattern was very easy to put together, and everything matched up perfectly.

I chose the view with the scooped neck and buttoning-over under-extension (because hey, as long as you are making totally crazy 1910s, underwear, let’s go whole hog!).

Wearing History's 1917 combinations thedreamstress.com

For my fabric I used an old cotton sheet – unfortunately I got my sheets mixed up at the last minute, and cut  one I’d set aside for toiles only, because it was quite worn, rather than the one in much better nick I’d intended for the project.  I was cutting at night, so didn’t notice until I’d done all the major seams that the fabric has some marks and changes from good condition to quite worn from one seam to the next.

I’m OK with this for two reasons.   First, because the combinations were so easy and fun to make that whipping up another pair will be a doddle (there will be more!  Lots and lots more!).  Second, because while it isn’t as well known as the rationing and re-use of WWII, there was rationing and fabric shortages in WWI, and I have read accounts of even reasonably upper-class women (Flora Klickmann for example) cutting up sheets to make new undergarments – so the wear only adds to the authenticity of the piece.

Wearing History's 1917 combinations thedreamstress.com

I erred on the side of caution and cut the size 38″ bust (I’m a 37 1/2″ on a good day).  Next time I will go down two sizes, but sew smaller 5’8″ seam allowances, rather then the 3/4″ that are given in the original pattern.  I’ll keep my armholes at a size 38″ though, as the vintage armholes are quite small.

Sewing the combinations was a breeze.  The pattern comes with the original 1917 instructions, which are very brief, and use terms and language that the modern seamstress may not be familiar with.  To make it  easier, Lauren has ‘annotated’ them with modern translations, and discussions of the various ways to sew  and finish them – both helpful and educational.

Wearing History's 1917 combinations thedreamstress.com

The instructions are quite flexible, and  expect you to decide and figure out various steps on your own (e.g. there is no detailed explanation of how to finish a neck edge with bias or beading lace, those are just given as options).  Lauren makes it quite clear that the Resto-Vival patterns are for experienced seamstresses with vintage knowledge, but in this case I would say the pattern is  so simple that even a very inexperienced seamstress, as long as she had a bit of common sense, would have no problem making a beautifully finished version of the combinations.

It might still help to see how I did it, so here you go:

I finished the neckline with beading (lace with holes to thread ribbon through), and the armholes with edging trim.

Wearing History's 1917 combinations thedreamstress.com

For the armholes, I laid the braid around the armholes, right sides together, and flat edge of the braid just covering the raw edge of the armhole.  I sewed around, very close to the decorative edge of the braid, and then flipped it to the back, and topstitched again from the right side, so the decorative edge frames the armhole and the raw edges are all covered.

I folded the neck edge 1/4″ over to the right side of the garment, and laid the lace over it.  I then stitched two lines of stitching very close to the edge of the lace, to be sure to catch the fold-over in it.  This way there are no raw edges showing inside or outside the garment.

Wearing History's 1917 combinations thedreamstress.com

The garment is hemmed with a small folded hem.  So that I didn’t have to do a tiny hem around the curve of the under-crotch piece, and to provide support for my buttonholes, I cut another piece the same as the under-crotch, and bag-lined around the curved bit:

Wearing History's 1917 combinations thedreamstress.com

You can also see the bit of ribbon I sewed behind the buttons in the photo above, to support them and prevent tearing.

I used vintage lingerie buttons to fasten the crotch piece.

Wearing History's 1917 combinations thedreamstress.com

The side seams are sewn with french seams.  I did a double-sided reverse-flat-felled seam around the back seam, and secured the back pleat with a simple line of stitching.

Wearing History's 1917 combinations thedreamstress.com

All very quick and simple, but very tidy.

I thought you might also appreciate a couple of shots with a 1910s corset worn over it:

Wearing History's 1917 combinations thedreamstress.com

This is the 1911 corset from Norah Waugh’s Corsets & Crinolines, though the style of corset changed very little during the 1910s, and was only replaced at the end of WWI (and corsets were also rationed during the war years in a number of countries, so quite a few women would have still been wearing  corsets they had bought in 1911 in 1917).

Wearing History's 1917 combinations thedreamstress.com

The simple shape of the combinations, and the lack of a waist gather, made them VERY comfortable to wear under a corset.  The buttoning under-crotch panel also means that it would be possible to go to the loo quite easily – always a bit of a conundrum in a longline corset!

The Challenge: #1  Foundations

Fabric:  1 twin sized vintage bedsheet (courtesy of Joie de Vivre who gave me a whole stack – awesome friend!).

Pattern:  Wearing History’s circa 1917 Combinations pattern

Year:  ca. 1917

Notions:  broderie anglaise beading (a Fabric-a-Brac score), cotton edging trim (ditto), rayon ribbon (Fabric Warehouses 40% off sale a couple of years back), 2x vintage lingerie buttons (8 cents apiece at an op-shop).

How historically accurate is it?:  Very close to 100%.  Period pattern, techniques I have seen in period sewing books or originals, and sheet re-use is period.  The only thing I am not certain about is the rayon ribbon, as, while rayon was in use by 1911, I don’t know of examples of rayon ribbon from the 1910s.

Hours to complete:  2.  Quick and fun!  And I’m going to make SO MANY MORE!

First worn:  The morning of  Sat  31 Jan, when I discovered that 1910s combinations are the perfect thing to wear when you need to wear something around the house, but can’t be bothered putting on actual clothes.  And then the evening of Sat 31st, when I discovered they are also ideal for sewing clothes when you are doing lots of trying ons, and need to be able to whip in and out of what you are wearing.   And then Sun 1st, for the photoshoot.

Total cost:  Under $5!  

And finally, since you have seen all the other images, the obligatory gorgeous Felicity shots:

Wearing History's 1917 combinations thedreamstress.com

Wearing History's 1917 combinations thedreamstress.com


  1. Lynne says

    I love the way you have attached the trim and finished the neckline and the armholes. How smart, and how perfect!

    • Ditto. And thank you for sharing the techniques!
      I like how smooth they are – not only does it apparently wear well, it also looks nice.

      I love your hairstyle. I think these loose sort-of-Grecian hairstyles are my absolute favourite feature of the era.

  2. Well, if I ever get into the 19-teens, I’ll have to check this out, it is so sweet! I was perplexed by your calling “beading” what I would call eyelet ribbon or trim. But I looked it up and some websites are calling it that as well. Why is it called “beading”? Do you know where the term comes from? I would think it would get confused too easily with, well, “beading” where you have beads sewn onto a garment.

  3. Oh, and there is the ribbon through the eyelet trim again…further back in time than mine! I loved hearing the sheet history. I don’t know that I’m talented enough to do this pattern, but your recommendation makes me hopeful!

  4. Barbara Stevens says

    I had to laugh when I saw this. I was very involved with the Pioneer Village at MOTAT (Auckland) in it’s early days and we wore the genuine clothes and undies until we realized that they were irreplaceable and we should be wearing replicas. Patterns had to be cut from the originals, which involved lots of tricky measuring, but we were fortunate to have Grandmothers still around who had sewed and worn similar garments. Finding a set of Tailoring Encyclopedias was a godsend! The recent humid weather has reminded me strongly that cotton and linen are much more comfortable to wear in summer, regardless of the many layers required, than any of the most hyped-up modern fabrics. And the rows and rows of beautiful lace were so satisfying to the soul, especially when you lifted your skirt to climb stairs and all the frills came into view. Ah – a glimpse of ankle really did have an effect!

  5. These are lovely, and thanks for providing such detailed instructions.

    As Felicity is playing nicely, we can assume that she approves of them as well!

  6. lavenderandtwill.blogspot.com.aulavenderandtwill.blogspot.com.auWow, I think the level of seam finishing in this piece is just gorgeous! I never have the patience for nice seam finishing like that, but boy, they sure look lush.

    Plus, I think your combies look super comfortable. I only sew 1940s-1950s, but I’m seriously considering making a pair of these just to wear around the house! ❤

    bonita of Lavender & Twill

  7. Would combinations such as this be appropriate for early Edwardian?

    • Unfortunately not. These are definitely a transition piece, working toward the more modern underwear of the 1920s. The earliest you could push these would be about 1910. Truly Victorian patterns has a nice 1900s underwear pattern.

      You could, however, definitely wear these for early to mid-20s garments. These are just what Daisy would have been wearing in the Great Gatsby 😉

  8. They do look comfortable to wear under a corset, which has to be a bit of a challenge with those long-lines. Great to see a review of the pattern too, so thank you!

  9. I just love this! I brought back a duffle full of antique linen and matise fabric from France and this gives me a perfect use for some that have wear. I will have to make this! I am fascinated by beading trim as it was what women used those fascinating ribbon bobbins for. Lacing yard and yard of colored ribbons to pop the white and ecru of lacework. I just purchased the book “The French Ribbon” and it referenced that the average prewar outfit contained 30-40 YARDS of ribbon. I love the idea of frills and details.

    I specialize in antique trims, lace, passmenterie, and notions like buttons. I have about 3000+ rolls of vintage ribbon from 1890 to 1940. Most are French and Swiss. If you are ever needing a specific look I am happy to find it amongst my stash. I have well over 20,000 buttons paired, setted and carded as well.

  10. Tammy Themel says

    Thank you so much for this amazing tutorial. I am sewing these today and you have given me courage.

  11. Perfect timing finding this. I’m just finished making my Truly Victorian combinations, and will but making my Wearing History ones later this week. Finding your blog will hopefully help me as I hope my blog I am doing on my TV combos will help someone with those.

  12. Danielle says

    Thanks for these tidy tips on how to do this. Had a go yesterday and it worked very well. It was very helpful to just follow your ideas i.e. on how to attach the buttons with a ribbon for reinforcement, etc. Not much thinking, just sewing on a day I had a hell of a headache.

  13. Linda says

    Thanks for the post about this interesting piece of clothing. You just answered the question of what a piece in our Historical Society’s collection is. It is currently hanging in an exhibit and I can now speak with some intelligence to how it was worn. Great post!

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