1916 Megrims

Day 10 of the Fortnight in 1916, and I have woken up blue and glum and over it.

I don’t want to be in 1916 anymore!

I did not want to get up this morning and spend 45(!) minutes dressing: brushing my hair and putting it up and putting on all the layers of required clothes.

I don’t want to have to wait for the kettle  to boil*, and be in the kitchen while I make breakfast because I can’t just stick toast in the toaster and just walk away.

I definitely DON’T want to do today’s chore, which is laundry.  Last week’s was the trial one: this is the real thing.  I have a full week’s worth of clothes, and sheets, and I’ve decided to really give it a proper  and have gone through Mr D’s closet and fetched out every business shirt I thought would benefit from a bit of Sunlight Soap and a good scrub, so there is a large basket.

And it’s cold, and grey, and windy, and hanging laundry will be awful.

And I finally have chilblains.

And I don’t want to have to make a three course dinner, especially since we have SO MANY leftovers, and they all have to be used super quickly, because period refrigeration is not so good, nor are period food-covering methods (no plastic!)

And I have seen photos of what I look like in 1916, and my hair wants to turn late ‘teens hairstyles into nothing but frizz, and my skin is purple and splotchy without makeup.  Ergh.

On the bright side, every period diary I have read is quite whingey, and anyone who can possibly afford to seems to spend at least one day a week, or three breakfasts of the seven, in bed because they just don’t feel up to it.  And these are ones who didn’t have to do their own laundry and had a maid to bring breakfast!**

So my sentiments aren entirely understandable, and my resolve in not succumbing to the desire to just hang around in pyjamas and watch bad TV all day is eminently laudable.

Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself!

To try to cheer myself up, and to relieve one of my biggest stresses, I am going to step out of my 1916 life for a moment, and ask for something that a 1916 woman couldn’t:†† moral support in the way of advice.

One of the big things that is getting me down, and which I am stressed over, is Costume College. I leave in just under two weeks, and I’ve been focused on getting patterns out (Henrietta Maria dress!  Buy it here!   Next one coming soon!  (but not as soon as I wanted, which was over a month ago)), and going home to Hawaii, and making practical, boring clothes for my Fortnight in 1916, and I thought I might get things done during the Fortnight, but that clearly isn’t happening, and so I haven’t made anything new and pretty.

This is fun to sew on, but it doesn’t go very fast!:

Sewing with a Singer 27 for the Fortnight in 1916 thedreamstress.com

Everyone always shows up in such spectacular things (and always brand new!), and all my favourite things are getting a bit old and worse for wear (or worse yet, don’t fit me anymore), and don’t really show my current skill level (and yes, I would like to show off!) and I don’t have time for something new and spectacular.  All in all I’m just feeling frumpy and dumpy and insufficient.  And when I’m stressed I am terrible at decision making, and just flit around doing a bit of one thing and then another and can’t focus and decide.  And I really MUST decide what exactly I’m wearing, and get together any little things I don’t have for it that might be useful.

So, here is what I’m asking:  of everything I’ve made over the years, what’s your favourite?  If you are/were going to Costume College, what would you most like to see?

I need, at the very least:

  • A Friday Night Social Dress (theme: something to do with the circus)
  • A Gala dress (theme: Midsummer Nights Dream – but lots of people don’t stick to themes)
  • A Pool Party outfit (theme is Mod (or something to do with the 60s, but I’m pretty sure I’m NOT sticking to theme!)  Something a little cooler and lighter.

Almost all of my makes are here on my Portfolio page.

So there you go, a shameless request for a bit of input and ego stroking.  Please do help!

*Though the kettle makes me a little happy, as every time I put it on in the morning my brain starts singing “Early the morning the kettle does boil / you’d swear it was singing of Cod Liver Oil”.  Having Great Big Sea on the brain isn’t the worst start to a day!

** Of course, I also don’t have to worry about sons or a husband or brothers off at war.  Nor whether that a headache is going to turn into measles or deadly flu, or weather a cough is the first stages of consumption.†  Those were more likely among the poor, but they hit every class.  Just in case you had any doubts, the past SUCKED in lots of ways!

† On the other hand, if I do get a headache etc, the only period-accurate medication left to me is aspirin/dispirin,^ because the medical establishment has decided that the most commonly mentioned ‘I felt poorly so I took some’ medication in NZers WWI diaries, chlorodyne, shouldn’t really be legal.  Something to do with the part where it was pretty much just  opium, chloroform, and marijuana.

^  which was popular-ish in 1916, and very popular in 1917, because the American patent had just expired so the price plummeted worldwide, which may have contributed to fatality rates in the 1918 flu epidemic, as doctors proscribed huge doses of aspirin for the flu, inadvertently killing their patients with aspirin poisoning.

†† Well, she couldn’t from such a large group of supportive, like minded people who also know what you are talking about and won’t judge you!


  1. Ooh lala do you fit Juno? She so pretty! Everything is beautiful, I know that desire for a new thing, it hits me with stage work too. Rmember that noone at COCO has seen you live in most of your gowns and a live showing is quite different from a photo xo

    • Thank you! Sadly, Juno still doesn’t fit me, and I can’t take anything with a bustle due to the weight. Forgot to mention that! Sucky luggage allowance.

  2. Lynne says

    Oh, difficult! So many lovely things, but making them fit themes. Might Polly Oliver run as a circus theme if you had a whip? Ring-Mistress-esque? Juno, for the Dream theme? The Hepburn trousers for the pool party?

    My favourite (though this does have rivals) thing of yours is the Pet! And you look stunning in it.

    I can quite see how the prospect of washing sheets could give you a megrim. Maybe there should be cake. Or at least scones and jam. Undertaking this is a real challenge, especially with all the other things going on this year, so I am hugely impressed you have stuck to it so well. Nearly there!

    • Elise says

      Right! Polly Oliver for the circus!

      The Vionnet dress (my always-favorite) would be great for mod. Maybe a nod to mod for the 60s movie “Thoroughly Modern Millie”! You could reverse it: rather than the 1960s doing the 1920s, you could be the 1920s doing the 1960s!

      From what I know about CoCo, sewing on a period-machine is bragging rights just as the clothes are. Even if you are too embarrassed your clothes, you can make a sandwich board that covers everything and that says “built on a period machine”. There!

      • Elise says

        Also, looking back at your portfolio..I’ve been a reader a looooooong time. (feeling creepy, now)

      • The Vionnet dress idea is great! That’s a fun and unique dress.


  3. I think you should have a yellow theme, since it brings you so much joy. My suggestions are Ninon and the 1921 garden party frock.

    Everyone has the glums sometimes. I think the fact that you feel frumpy and are sharing it, and that you do these sorts of experiments and share them, separates you already and makes you an amazing and fun person to meet even if you aren’t wearing new things. Plus, I bet everything you have is going to look new to most if not everyone at costume college except you, so just don’t tell anyone that things aren’t new! Best wishes getting things together!


  4. Erin says

    As someone who has always thought it would be fun to live in another time and has enjoyed small immersions it is so great to hear your ups and downs over a longer period of time. Thank you! And the 1916 photos look lovely to me. And your design and sewing skills delight and amaze me, not to mention your writing which creates a lovely space to visit and learn. Thank you.
    As to costumes I have to say that although it may not fit or reflect your current skills the Luna moth dress jumped to mind as being one that I would love to see in person. (Not going to cc just imagining. ) perhaps midsummer night’s dream? Maybe your black and white dazzle bathing costume for the circus, or is that just silly? Not very technical Perhaps, but very circus-y! And I do agree that polly oliver has a circus feel… But too small? I have memories of you writing about the jacket being tight. Best wishes for washday.

  5. I love Luna Moth which might work for Midsummer Night’s Dream, Polly Oliver looks circusy and it’s one of my favourites and for Pool Party the tangoesque dress looks like poolside dressing to me, the sort of poolside where everyone is drinking and the pool is only there to look pretty

  6. I’m with Rachelle, Luna Moth seems perfect for Midsummer Night’s Dream. And I love Polly Oliver for the Social. Maybe Ballerina Moment for the Pool Party.

  7. Leigh A says

    What about the ersatz Dazzle swimsuit for the pool party if it’s light enough. The black and white dazzle say Mod to me.

  8. Cate says

    I know exactly how you feel with an even coming up and wanting to wear new creations and show off but being restricted by time. I am going to a swing exchange soon and do not have the time needed to devote to my half-finished new dress, and all of my dresses that are older than a year or two are uncomfortably tight to dance in and everyone has seen them before. Sigh.

    I agree with other replies that Luna Moth would be excellently on theme for Midsummer Night’s Dream, But I think Ninon’s dress would be excellent if you didn’t wish to stick to theme, and it is my absolute favorite of your creations.

    I’m also very fond of you Vionnet Chiton dresses and I think one of them or your 1924 goddess dress would be ideal for the pool party. I like Elsie’s idea of reversing the 1960’s does 1920’s reference too.

    I do not know what you should wear for the Friday night, but i love your ‘ballerina moment’ dress and it would at least have a performer theme.

    • Sympathy all round! Good luck on finding something for your own event!

      I think I could actually make Ninon be on-theme. After all, they performed Shakespeare in the 17th century too! Actually, I’d love to see a Shakespearean play set in the 17th c.

      I hadn’t even considered a Chiton dress, but they would be fantastic, and I could wear one simply as ‘day’ wear. And I like the idea of the ballerina moment dress, though it would be nice to go full-out, as my life has so little excuses for that usually!

      • Oh definitely wear both Ninon and the yellow Chiton dress, they are my absolute favourites.

    • Gillian says

      Cate! Another swing dancer? How lovely! If you don’t mind me asking, where do you live/which event are you attending?

      I never seem to be successful in finishing dresses in time for dance events. But I should pull out some of my half-finished ones and see if I can whip them into shape soon…

  9. Claire Payne says

    sewessential.co.ukSo very difficult to choose my favourites but the Greek Key dress, Juno and the Suson dress all stand out as does the 1905 blouse. If you have to do a mod theme for Costume College, how about making yourself a Mondrian dress? (https://www.sewessential.co.uk/blog/great-british-sewing-bee-mondrian-dress-sewing-pattern-hack/) You could always make it more A-line if you wanted a more flattering shape.
    I am sure that whatever you wear will be impressive. We are our own worst critics when it comes to the things we sew when in fact I find that people tend to be impressed with the fact that we can actually sew our own clothes. Your work is outstanding and people will realise this whatever you wear.

    Now to the ego stroking – you have done so very well to stick with your quest for 10 days. I’d have given up after the laundry trial. Had I known your plight would have been as it is, I would have offered to be your breakfast maid and boiled your kettle for you.
    (Cuddles to Felicity by the way).

  10. linda olson says

    It seems to me that when people of the period you are living in needed something new, the first thing would be to find something that would fit, and then add a new collar and trims. Sewing a whole new wardrobe from scratch should not be necessary, all you need is a new shawl or pool suit wrap or hat or hair thing with ribbons… think accessories! And NO corset!!
    I am having tremendous fun reading your blogs. Keep it up, cause I,m sending warm chocolate thoughts your way!

  11. Sorry to hear that you’re in the dumps. From here, all I can do is sympathize, and give you my input about which of your prior creations you should wear to CC.

    1. For the Friday Night Social: The Polly Oliver says “circus!” to me, but the Hula Goddess gown would be more comfortable, especially after spending days in a long line corset.
    2. For the Gala: the Luna Moth gown. It fits the theme splendidly!
    3. For the Pool Party: The Jantzen bathers?

    • Thank you!

      Sadly, Polly Oliver is too heavy to take (I forgot to mention that was a consideration). And the Luna Moth may fit the theme splendidly, but unfortunately it no longer fits me splendidly, which is part of my megrims. 🙁 Which also means I won’t be appearing in public in the bathers!

      • Oops. Sorry for coming up with ideas that raise problems!

        The Dazzle suit et al is probably a better idea for the pool party anyway. I almost suggested the Ninon myself for the Gala, since it’s your favorite color, and it looks so posh; but I thought Luna Moth was more Midsummer Night’s Dream. Still, you should go with whichever one makes you feel happier to wear.

  12. Adriana says

    I just discovered your blog when looking for tutorial on the WH 1917 Combinations. I’m so inspired by your adventures in 1916 that it has inspired me to create an Edwardian day dress for CoCo. Like you, I feel a bit stressed about getting it all done. But whatever happens with our costumes, we will all have an amazing time.

  13. You poor thing, no wonder you’re feeling a bit down! Resisting the temptation to slouch around in your PJs is nothing short of heroic.

    I agree with the general consensus that Polly Oliver would be a good choice for the Circus theme. It’s beautiful and striking, and has the right kind of vibe for Circus. And it’s inspired by a Pratchett character! For the Midsummer Night’s Dream gala, have you considered wearing your palla? MND is set in Athens, not Pompeii, but the palla is constructed much the same as a Greek peplos. For the pool party, I’d be inclined to go for the Vionnet. It’s such a fun, elegant dress and it’s perfect for poolside lounging.

  14. If I was going to CoCo this year (which I’m not 🙁 ), the thing I would be most excited to see is Leimomi! Just remember that you are an awesome costumer coming off of a really cool (if exhausting) historical costuming challenge and everyone will be excited to see you no matter what you wear!

    As far as costumes go, I’d love to see you in something 1910s on account of your 1916 fortnight but I totally understand if you feel the need to roll those bits up in a ball, throw them in the corner and glare at them for good measure after this week! I personally love your 1369 gown and the on again/off again Elizabethan (though I don’t know if you’ll have time enough to finish it before CoCo).

    Have fun!

  15. I don’t know if this is cheering you up or not, but I really enjoy reading your “Fortnight in 1916” Blog.

    Do you have something 1916’ish to wear for CC what does not remind you of household chores? Because it would be a great link to this project of yours.

  16. Amy says

    For the circus theme, I have a wild suggestion – be a clown! Pair the Nana corset, bloomers, and the red elliptical hoopskirt together,. make a cone hat with balls on it and a red nose, add a little clown makeup. It’d be funny and a way to showcase your underpinnings.

    • Johanne says

      Way! Splendid suggestion, almost a ballet costume.

  17. Susan Robinson says

    I agree with Stephanie in every particular but especially on how people at CoCo will want to meet YOU (you could show up in a flour sack and I doubt if anyone would care – they’d be meeting Leimomi). Its very nice to se that you have such a cheering section.

    With respect to 1916 – tea and a biscuit. You don’t even have to make the biscuits, I’m pretty sure they were buyable by 1916. There is a reason the tea break came into being and it was to give people who worked very hard a break. So sit down, stare out a window at the birds, drink a cup of tea, eat a biscuit or two and relax – please. Almost as good as p.j.’s and TV.

  18. sewcharacteristicallyyou.comI am in a bit of the wallows myself. I have no pressing deadlines, but I won’t be sewing for a few weeks due to having to completely immobilize a broken elbow. 🙁 I am sorry that you are feeling pressure. I know I like having new things for any historical events I do (at least I prefer not to have everything exactly the same) so I can only imagine the disappointment of not having anything new for Costume College. I don’t think I can help you choose what outfits you should take, others are doing a good job there, but know you have my sympathies!


  19. How awful, I know you feel like you have a reputation to uphold (one of the nice things about being unknown is that no one has any expectations of me) but like Mrs. C said ” Rmember that noone at COCO has seen you live in most of your gowns and a live showing is quite different from a photo”.

    Nothing says circus like elephants, so I vote for the pahyderm paradise skirt as the foundation for the social. Maybe with a corset as the top? The 1903 ribbon corset comes to mind. Worn with a ruff unless that is too weird.

    Midsummer Nights Dream seems to call for something Elizabethan or maybe medieval, but I do like your Roman pallas and stola (appropriate for a goddess). However, your 1878 Renoir evening dress fits the gala idea.

    As for the pool party, Jantzen bathers done with full 1920s shoes and knee socks. We did a lot of 1920s retro in the 60s afterall….

    You will have a wonderful time regardless of how you dress. I know that if I was able to attend (maybe next year) I’d be pleased as can be to just meet you.

    Can you sneak a lie down (a nap) during the day? Even if you don’t sleep that may help you rest some.


  20. My advice: get your hands on some chlorodone. 😉 (Not really, but in the throes of a migraine, that sounds absolutely divine.)

    I think everything you have ever made is spectacular, and I actually tried to fit Costume College in my budget just for the joy of seeing you and your creations in person from a distance. Unfortunately, that did not happen! So if I was naming things that I think people would most like to see….

    – The Ninon Dress, because the color is marvelous and I think people would be interested to see the dye job (also I don’t see much Baroque in photos from CC)

    – Renoir Evening dress, again because it’s something rarely seen and the style of the skirt! marvelous!

    – Aline’s outfit, complete with accessories, it’s a piece of living history.

    – Polly Oliver ensemble will get lots of fangirl squealing I think

    – The Nana unders set is delightful if you wanted to do the underwear breakfasts!

    – 1911-1913 linen dress is just so perfectly period.

    And I know you have made at least two swimsuits; the Victorian one was really adorable so I would go with that!

    All of your work is amazing and I think people are going to be delighted no matter what you bring. One of my friends went to Costume College a few years ago and her sewing skills are very, very beginner – she was still squealed over and appreciated for her efforts and she learned a lot. You are worlds away amazing and people will love that. 😀

  21. Ann Ward says

    Why don’t you iron the pink 1871 dress and choose or make some jewellery or accessories that are inspired by midsummer night or circus?

  22. Reading your posts, I guess I wouldn’t have survived one day in 1916. I so wish to live somewhere in the past, with nice dresses (I’m fine with just basic linen and wool. It’s still prettier than modern jerseys, I think).. But I have that “I don’t feel well, I want to stay in bed”-feeling so often. So it’s really understandable, if you want to exit 1916! Especially since you are actually doing all this hard work like laundry. And cooking three courses for dinner everyday.. awful!
    But hang in there. And keep that in mind: You actually can exit at the end of the week, people back then couldn’t. So soon all will be well again. And you will enjoy modern live so much more after these two weeks =)
    For your dresses: I went through your gallery and picked the following:
    The Polly Oliver for circus as it looks circus-like to me and I love this dress on you! Then I like your Chemise à la Reine, because I love floating white dresses. And the 1921 Garden Party dress is so lovely! And a pool party is some kind of garden party anywhy, isn’t it? And it has pintucks!
    But one of my favourites is the Edwardian blouse inspired by Marilla, you made last year. I just love Anne of Green Gables and that blouse is so gorgeous!

  23. I hope you’re feeling better!

    I am having a hard time answering your question because I love so many of the garments in your portfolio…but I think Polly Oliver would be a great choice for the circus theme! And the Luna Moth 1910s dress could be a fun fairy dress for a Midsummer’s gala.

    But I will say that I can sympathize, because it’s hard not having time to sew, and wanting to show off (or at least represent where your skills are right now), and knowing everyone else will be dressed to the nines. It can make the event a lot less fun if you’re feeling frumpy! I’ve had that happen a lot in the last year, so I’ve made an effort to find something old in my closet that I haven’t worn in a long time to wear. It’s counter-intuitive, but I find that people give me compliments and think it’s a new frock because it’s been awhile! And then I also don’t worry as much about getting pictures of myself, which can also be a relief 🙂 All that to say that it’s not a great feeling, and I am sending warm thoughts from over here in Boston. Safe travels!

    • Whoops–after replying to this I noticed you’d already explained why neither of those recommendations will work! So I don’t have any fabulous dress ideas, but I’m sure whatever you bring will be a smash! It’s old to you, but it will be new to most of the people at CC.

  24. Stress sucks! Especially self-induced stress. I think it’s a good idea to take some pressure off yourself and choose from your current costume wardrobe rather than try to churn out a few new things in two weeks. Or less. And the life of a 1916 home woman sounds somewhat depressing.
    Perhaps this is one of the garments that no longer fits, and if so, I’m sorry to suggest it–but I ADORE your Luna Moth teens gown. It would be perfect for a Midsummer Night’s Dream evening. I see a few others have suggested it too.

  25. Gillian Stapleton says

    My recommendations:
    The gorgeous 17th century yellow dress for the gala – with fairy wings it would look enchanting.
    The ‘dazzle’ outfit for the circusy theme.
    Any of your lovely 1920s/30s outfits for poolside, they are always cool and sophisticated.

    And…you always look beautiful, composed and happy, and you are such a talented woman. Don’t stress about your trip. I feel a little sad when I hear people flying into a panic over Costume College. If I were lucky enough to go (possibly never, due to genteel poverty), I’d just take my favourite outfits from my costume closet, wear them proudly, enjoy myself, and not give a fart what anyone else thinks. I think you should do that too.

  26. Caroline Ní Loingsigh says

    Polly Oliver is my favourite. It is corseted so it should make you feel trimmer (and therefore less meh) and it is Pratchett related so it should give you much joy. Trimmer, less meh and joyous! I think you are discovering the most historically accurate bit of 1916 – they had it harder than us. The reality of that sucks, but at least you are sucking it authentically! And for that you are to be admired.

  27. Lylassandra says

    I’m going to CoCo as well! Being not nearly in the same league as you are as a seamstress (and having a six-year-old to boot) I frequently rewear things. In fact, last year was the first time I wore something I made myself to the Gala! (Before that my skills weren’t up to it, in my own opinion, anyway). The best thing to wear is the thing you’re happy in.

    I would dearly love to see Ninon in person, you’ve talked about it so much. And how about the masquerade stays for the circus social?

  28. For the circus theme, you could be a visitor rather than part of the show. Use any dress you like and pick an antique/vintage circus ticket to print out and carry.

    Wouldn’t people have had leftovers for dinner now and then in 1916? Good luck with the last few days of your experiment, it’s so interesting to read of your experience!

  29. Remember that many people you’ll meet at CC will have seen your dresses on your blog and be very curious about seeing them in real life. Seeing pictures is so very different from seeing and feeling the real thing, and recognizing it might even make it more exciting- so don’t worry about not having anything new!
    If it fits comfortably, the Ninon dress would be an absolute yes. It’s in my eyes the most beautiful thing you’ve made and you look amazing in it. I think it would be perfect for the Midsummer Night’s Dream. Otherwise the Luna Moth is very suitable as well.
    I’d say all of your 1920s stuff is pretty and looks great on you, too, so when in doubt definitely go for that (and I guess it’s comfortable as well!)
    For the pool party, well, just wear anything that makes you feel at ease. You shouldn’t spend such an inspiring and exciting event being worried and self-conscious. People will be excited to meet you regardless of what you wear! You’re an icon and inspiration to many 😉

  30. Theresa says

    I know I’m late to the party on this, but I wanted to say I’m glad you reached out when you were in the doldrums, and I hope all the comments helped make you feel better.

    Also, I love Ninon and hope it made the cut!

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