Friday, 8 September 2017

Updates from the sewing room: Summer clothing

So there we go. I didn't end up completing the blog challenge after all, but that's ok. I think I was just extremely daunted by the idea of writing a post a day for 30 days! Either way, I may not have been writing, but I haven't been lazing about doing nothing by any means!
With that being said, here is some clothing I completed over the summer:
The shirt is cotton voile I picked up earlier this year at the old Honest Ed's fabricland (I miss it so much now! :'(...). The pattern I adapted from the "Portrait Blouse" pattern in Gertie's New Book for Better Sewing. The different sizing system was a bit confusing at first (different from the paper pattern sizing/adjustments I'm accustomed to), but having made it up now, I like how high the armscye is in this pattern, and the fit is decently good. Among the adjustments I did, I decided not to go to all the work of putting in a size zipper for what amounted to a t-shirt (what's the point of tee's if they're difficult to make, am I right?) so I took out the tucks in the front and back and left it as a pullover. This changed the fit a bit, but it still works decently for my purposes. I also changed the neckline facing to a bias self-fabric strip, because the material was a bit too light for a thicker interfaced finish.

For this skirt I didn't use a pattern at all- just a tube pleated onto a waistband. I made the length so that I hope it will work for cycling; this seems to be about the length to keep a skirt out of the gears, and at the same time keep you nicely covered while riding. I actually pleated it last winter, but recently finished all the fastenings at the top so that it is actually functional! I really like the dotted print on the fabric... I find it to be a pleasantly busy pattern.

Now back to school for me. Hope summer has been good for you too, dear readers!

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

A looming project

I'm sorry, I simply couldn't resist the pun. There is a new (ok, within the past six months kind of new) arrival in my room... a loom! Today I finally got around to warping it and beginning to weave for the first time! It's kind of exciting to see actual textile forming before your very eyes. Here it is.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Socks and Sandals, Roman Egypt-style

Some of my favourite extant historical garments are the kind that make you do a double take; the kind of garments that don't normally come to mind when thinking of clothing in a given historical era. These were, for me, one of those pieces. These, ladies and gentlemen, are the Egyptian toe socks of Oxyrynchus. (drumroll).

These red woolen socks date from the 4th to 5th century A.D., and were found in Egypt, near the ruins of the Hellenistic town of Oxyrynchus (yes, the same place as the Oxyrynchus Papyri came from, if anyone was wondering). I love to imagine who might have worn these fabulous socks over 1500 years ago. The split toe is made so they can be worn under a pair of sandals.*
They were constructed with a technique we now refer to as nalbinding- a precursor to knitting which involves a single large sewing needle.

*In fact, in Japan today split toe socks are very popular, and are made to be worn with traditional geta sandals.

Source: The V&A website's write-up on these socks and their construction, available here.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Costume Blog Writing Month 1- Introduction

So for anyone not already in the know, August is the Costume Blog Writing Month! This means that there are going to be daily blog writing prompts during the month of August. Knowing me (and the fact that I am currently out of town, and will be for another week) I probably won't get all of the posts done, let alone in a timely fashion. With that said, I'm going to do my very best, and I look forward to meeting everyone else who is participating! Posts done in the context of this writing challenge will be tagged for it at the bottom of the post.

I realize that I have not really told any of the few lucky readers who have followed my blog this far much about myself at all, even on the "About" page. My name is Morag, and I live in Toronto, Canada. I'm currently doing a double major undergrad degree in History and Classical Studies, and I hope to go into Museum Studies in the future. As for my creations, I have always loved crafting. I began to dabble in historical sewing in middle school- the first ensemble I sewed was inspired by the paintings of Brueghel and the like (that's 16th century Dutch, for anyone not up on their art history). My historical sewing specifically took off though when I began volunteering at a local history museum centred around a log cabin that had been restored to the 1860's and which was the home (and workspace) of the Bathurst Rd. tollkeeper and his family in what was once Toronto's suburbs.* Part of my job was as a costumed interpreter in the log cabin, and so I eagerly went on my way to try to research/sew something appropriate (you can see the HSM post for the gown I made for this here).**

An interior of the Tolkeeper's Cottage Museum where I volunteered. Source:

Although I no longer volunteer at the museum, I continue to do historical sewing, but my preferred time period now is late 18th century. However, given that I'm involved in a Regency dance group, and a friend has recently started an official Regency reenactment group, I am beginning to delve into this era as well- in fact, stay tuned for a post on fitting gussets on 1810's stays! (oh, puns!)

Anyway, that's all for now- hope you enjoyed the post, and look forward to seeing those of others who are participating!

* For anyone curious, the museum is called Tollkeeper's Cottage Museum. Their website is here.

**More difficult than it seems...One does not simply google "what did people living in rural areas but within an hour's walk of the city of Toronto in the 1860's wear?" It just doesn't work that way.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Pineapple reticule is done! Fun with beaded tassels and HSM #6

So I have finally completed for real my pineapple purse! It now closes and has straps! For information on the construction of the purse itself, see here

I based the look off of this example in the Kyoto Cosutme Institute's collection. The result is my own interpretation of it though. To make the straps, I wound two lengths of the green thread and doubled each one so that the two ends of thread spun in on each other- much like what is required to make a yoyo string... if you've ever had any experience with that. I then brought the cord through the stitching between the top leaves and the fruit with a darning needle. Finally I knotted several loops of beads together, and added some fun metal tassel heads.

Although it is ridiculously tiny, and I'm not sure how much fits in it, I'm excited to try it out... paired with some modern outfits as well as historical ones! :)

Now for the HSM stats:

What the item is: a knit and beaded pineapple reticule

The challenge: Metallics. The original pattern calls for gilt metal beads. Although I have used glass ones for the body instead, I did include some metal on the tassel heads. I think the glass has a metal lining inside, and gives a little more subtle look. On the whole though, I still consider it a celebration of shiny bling materials!

Materials: cotton crochet/knitting thread.

Pattern: an adaptation of Franklin Habit's modern translation of Jane Gaugain's 19th century pattern (modernized version available here) with inspiration from the Kyoto pineapple reticule as well.

Period: probably most accurate to the third quarter of the 19th century, although I will mostly be using it with early 19th century ensembles.

Notions: five 1.5 mm double pointed needles, metal tassel heads, glass beads.

How accurate is it? It is made of mercerised cotton thread, so not really accurate until the late 1840's or so (but plausible after that). However, given my budget, I thought it more closely resembled the sheen of silk than wool or some sort of less processed cotton might. Glass seed beads had been used in purses for centuries already (although until mid 19th century they appear to be mostly in completely beaded purses, as far as I can tell), although I don't know enough about the manufacture of my beads  to say whether or not these resemble 19th century glass seed beads.

Hours to complete: As usual, I completely lost track. A lot of hours... as always with fine gauge knitting!

First worn: not yet.

Total cost: about $7 cad. I didn't finish either ball of yarn, and probably even have enough for one or two more of these!

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

A green knit purse (HSM #5)

For several years now, I've been casually reading through the Workwoman's Guide. This is a wonderful book published in 1838 by an anonymous author (only known as "A Lady" on the title page), and it contains instructions for all sorts of things, from making up clothing and fabric house furnishings, and straw plaiting to household receipts. If you've ever wanted to learn "how to destroy flies" this book has got your back. There is also a section on knitting. I've always been intrigued in particular by the latter- where there are illustrations for most of the various objects in the sewing section, there are relatively few for the knitting section, and, furthermore, many of the knitting patterns have extremely vague titles (to demonstrate the full extent of this: one of the stitches it lists is actually called "The Nondescript")! And let's just say, after you get to the third or fourth pattern simply called "A Purse" you begin wondering what's actually going on in these knitting instructions. This was what brought me to try out on of the patterns- and in fact, I did start with one of the multiple purse entries! The pattern is below:

Source: A Lady. The Workwoman's Guide. London: Simpkin, Marshall & Co. 1838. Click to enlarge.
As with many early knitting pattern, basically no needle size, knitting gauge etc. specified. At least, I figured, this is a purse, so the finished size doesn't matter as much as it would for some item of clothing that actually has to fit a human being. I cast on using the instructions for the coarser gauge, using a set of 1.25 mm knitting needles, and some leftover green crochet thread from my Pineapple Purse. The resulting width actually seemed to not be all that different from the widths in dimension descriptions I had found for these purses on various museum sites, so this must be a decent gauge to work in. The Raised French stitch described here is essentially a pattern of a round of alternating decreases and open/increase stitches, followed by three rounds of plain knitting (arrgh, now I'm beginning to talk like this book!! I mean stocking stitch).

By the time I had finished knitting, I ended up with this tube with a hole in the middle. Unfortunately it's not actually as long as it should be, as I had mislaid the instructions while working on the opening and ended up knitting only half the slit length that the pattern called for.

The long green tube.

I figured this could be a form of Miser's Purse (or if it were longer maybe you could tie it up??) so I added some soldered jumprings from the jewelry store to slide the purse closed.

Now it looks like a candy!!

I got a chance to try it out this weekend at a big multiple house yardsale that happened on my street (hopefully I'll have more on that later!). It worked very well- provided that you only use coins and sort your change really well before you put it in... maybe not that useful on an everyday basis, but in a yardsale context it's decent. I also got a lot of compliments from neighbours on this funny little purse.

An action photo- my purse with money in it.

So now for the Historical Sew Monthly stats. The challenge: Literature.

What the item is: A knit miser's purse.

Challenge: I remembered as I was knitting this about a particular chapter in Thackeray's Vanity Fair. When I went back to the book, I realised that there is an entire chapter called "The Green Silk Purse", where Becky Sharpe and Joseph Sedley flirt while Becky knits a green silk purse during her stay at the Sedleys' family home. There's even an illustration!
W.M. Thackeray, "Mr. Joseph Entangled", 1861. 
Source: Scanned by Gerald Ajam
In this specific scene, Becky gets Joseph to help her wind her skein of purse thread onto a card.

'this arrangement left Mr. Joseph Sedley tête-à-tête with Rebecca. at the drawing-room table, where the latter was occupied in knitting a green silk he talked on, he grew quite bold, and actually had the audacity to ask Miss Rebecca for whom she was knitting the green silk purse? He was quite surprised and delighted at his own graceful familiar manner.

'“For any one who wants a purse,” replied Miss Rebecca, looking at him in the most gentle winning way. Sedley was going to make one of the most eloquent speeches possible, and had begun—“O Miss Sharp, how——” when some song which was performed in the other room came to an end, and caused him to hear his own voice so distinctly that he stopped, blushed, and blew his nose in great agitation.'

Materials: My purse is made from cotton crochet thread, rather than the silk in the book, but it was what I already had in my stash, so I figured I might as well use it.
Pattern: "For A Purse" from the Workwoman's Guide, in the section on knitting (the very top pattern on page 267).

Year: 1838. This works rather perfectly, because not only were these kind of purses used throughout the 19th century, but this is actually also a reasonable in-between date to bridge the 1810's, when this scene is set, and the 1840's, when the novel was written.

How historically accurate is it? I followed the pattern fairly precisely, and the dimensions of the purse correspond decently well to examples dated to the early 19th century on museum websites, although mine is a bit too short because I accidentally ommitted several repeats of the pattern. I also used mercerized cotton, which would not have been available yet at the time that this pattern was published.

First used: May 27th, in the local laneway yard sale.

Cost: Part of a leftover from my stash, but originally the entire ball of yarn cost $7.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

A Directoire Gown (or, The most non-committal gown of all time) (HSM #4)

 This year I helped out at the local Jane Austen festival, and I decided for the ball that it would be nice to have some kind of ballgown. I went to my stash and found a pretty turquoise gauze that I had gotten a couple of years ago from one of my neighbours in a yardsale. As I was thinking over what design to use, it occurred to me that I'm generally extremely uncomfortable with wearing clothing with the Empire silhouette, even though I've been attending events with the local Regency group for years (I always end up skirting around the period*puns*-, which is why I've made a bunch of 1780's/90's garments and an 1820's/30's style gown but nothing in between). I decided then, with this dress, to commit to as little cutting as possible- I loved the fabric and didn't want to see it go to waste if I ended up disliking it (although as it turned out, this was not a concern at all!).

This got me thinking of what specific part of the 1800-1820 time period would be easiest to create with minimal cutting. I decided on a neoclassical/very early 19th century- inspired design. I figured a neoclassical look would be the best to minimize cutting given that the focus was more on drapery than a tailored look. In fact, the ancient garments from which the early 19th century drew inspiration were often made up of more or less complete lengths of fabric woven to size, and, when cut, were made with little to no waste fabric.*

*I think there may be an interesting discussion of this in Dorothy Burnham's Cut my Cote, which explores the history of clothing cut to loom widths in various cultures (and has DIAGRAMS!). I can't remember if there was any mention of Classical Antiquity in it, but a very good book either way.