Sunday 27 January 2013

Swedish Common Women’s Dress in the mid 1800’s – Underwear

Continuing my research on common women’s dress in Sweden in the mid 1800’s (the post on dresses is here), I will now focus on underwear, as it is the foundation for achieving the right silhouette. Now this series focus on the fashions of the day as interpreted by commoners, not folk costumes, though they were still used for everyday and holiday in some parts of the country, were gradually replaced by more current fashions in others and often had a few lingering elements used with more fashionable dress.

First, as always in historic costumes, is the shift. It was still cut using squares and triangles at this time and place, and could be made from linen or cotton. Linen was grown at home by many farmers, but cotton was imported and had to be bought. Both materials could be spun and/or woven at home, and was often relatively sturdy. The shift was often very simple, slightly flared, with short sleeves, underarm gussets, without any decoration, or it could have a simple, narrow, not too delicate lace round neckline and sleeves. The lower women did probably not have lace edged shifts for everyday, if ever. It sometimes had a slit in front, closed by a button.
I had a bit of trouble finding extant shifts from the 1840’s through 60’s, as many museums are woefully behind in digitalizing their collections. If you compare these doll’s shifts from that period, with women’s shifts of the later 19th century, they do however have very much in common, and do not appear to have changed much as the century wore on.  Those of my American readers doing this period might notice these shifts are a lot simpler in construction than some of the chemises they base theirs on.

Doll's cotton shift from the 1850´s or 60's.  
The doll who wore this represented a wealthier woman, and her large
fine wardrobe is preserved. Still, the construction is simple.

 Cotton shift belonging to the same doll as the previous one.

Linen shift, unknown date. The construction looks much like the others though.

This cotton shift belonged to a woman born in 1833, so 
would be from the second half of the 19th century
The owner of this shift, also in cotton, was 
born in 1842, so also later 19th century
As for pantalets, drawers or what else one chooses to call them, they were very unusual at this time and place for all women, but those of the highest classes. In this painting showing two ladies getting dressed, the lady on the left is wearing drawers, and what I interpret as what might be loose pantalet legs hanging over the end of the right bed; but these women were middle class, if possibly rather poor. 

 Two old maids (the artist to the right) getting dressed for another day taking the waters in 1856.

Stays or corsets are another tricky question. I mentioned in my last post on this subject, that some dresses were so heavily boned with cane that it’s unlikely any other support was needed. But some dresses have no boning at all – did their owners go without any support whatsoever, or did they wear some kind of stays or corsets? Likely, (and I'm basing this primarily on discussions with likeminded who've studied original dresses from this time) both alternatives existed, with stays or corsets being more common in towns, but a bit unusual in farm wives’ and their daughters’ wardrobes. Now, there were farmers and farmers; some were exceedingly wealthy, and others hardly able to support themselves. Hundreds and thousands of the latter would emigrate to America in the century that followed, which is why I think some of my New World readers might find this interesting. Financial status would naturally have an effect on what clothes were worn by this group as well as those in towns. (Edit 18 April 2014: last winter a friend of mine was helping one of her friends making a country woman's dress, the pattern traced off an original. They kept getting these odd pouches close to the armpits. It wasn't until they tried on the dress over 1840's style stays that it sorted itself out - this dress at least had clearly been worn over stays.)

Now, these stays dated to the 1830's or 40's are not Swedish, they're from the Met
but something like this might still have been in use in smaller Swedish towns,
and by the less fashionable, in the 1850's and 60's.

In a book I have about underwear in Sweden from the 18th century till today (Underkläder – en kulturhistoria, by Britta Hammar and Pernilla Rasmussen, page 71), a woman remembers her childhood in Jönköping (a town of middling size, quite far, by 19th century standards, from the larger cities) in the 1850’s and 60’s (translated from Swedish by yours truly, so excuse any errors) that the corsets were: “…cut in one in front, laced in the back and very long. In the centre front a rather wide and long steel ruler were inserted…. the so called busk, which the ladies…. often laid aside, in the late evenings, when they were conversing confidentially in the discreet light of the lamp. What a wonderful relief!” It would seem the more modern corset with the front opening busk could take some time to spread further than the higher society in the more central towns and cities, and old fashioned stays (sometimes with simpler front openings) still be used by the rest. In the painting above, you can see the lady on the left wearing her stays or corset, and these extant examples provides further proof:

no front view exists, but it's said to be buttoned with six 
buttons. It was worn by a country woman.

 Cotton stays, 1850-70. Probably worn by a middle class woman.  

Even when folk costumes were worn, several petticoats were often the norm, and this is also true for dress of a more fashionable approach in the lower classes. Petticoats could be made from wool, linen, and cotton. They are usually rather simple, without any decorations, with the possible exception of tucks. Wool petticoats were often coloured. For added volume a corded or quilted petticoat could be worn; the quilted ones were probbly more common than the corded ones in the country. The quilted petticoats (made from wool or cotton, often printed, striped or checked) must also have been very nice in the winters. 

Corded cotton petticoat, date unknown. Probably belonged to 
someone a little better off than a farmer's daughter or clerk's wife though...

There are stories of country girls making skirts hooped with cane, and several from the late 1800’s (when they were long gone from high fashion) are said to have found their ways to museums. Most petticoats seem to have been tied with tapes rather than buttoned (again, as in the painting above).

Again we see that the clothes worn by Swedish women of humble means during the 1840’s, 50’s and 60’s have many similarities with their more fashionable counterparts, and at the same time a few important differences. The most significant is perhaps that construction and material is more simple and sturdy than fashion dictated; but I find this plainness very appealing.  

Edit: the post on accessories is here.

Saturday 19 January 2013

Man's 14th Century Shirt

For the second challenge of the Historical Sew Fortnightly (UFO: unfinished object) I went for something quick and simple. I have a modern day UFO (a dress in a late 30’s/early 40’s style) that also needs to be finished, and thought I might get that one done as well, if the HSF one went fast. I chose to finish a project that was not even mine, but my husbands; a 14th century man's shirt. 

He’d started it last year, but a lot of other things got in the way, and he didn’t really mind if I finished it for him. Since late 14th century is the period we usually do, this project was more urgent to get done than my own historical UFO’s. The shirt was all stitched together, and some felling of seams where begun. All I needed to do was finish the felling, and hem the sleeves and bottom of the shirt (I’d already done the neck), and that was done early this morning, well ahead of schedule.  

The Challenge: #2 UFO
Fabric: Unbleached linen (from IKEA of all places: a necessary allowance for a family with a light purse to spend on hobbies…)
Pattern: None, it’s cut from measurements, using the typical square construction of underwear of the time.
Year: Late 14th century.
Notions: Unbleached linen thread.
How historically accurate is it? Pretty much; it is hand sewn with period stitches, using unbleached linen thread, waxed with bee’s wax. The cut is period, but the fabric might have been woven more densely. 
Hours to complete: As usual no idea… the work I put in the past couple of days may be three hours perhaps.
First worn: Hopefully this summer.
Total cost: About 120 SEK ($18.40, £11.60 or €13.80), but that’s not counting thread.

As I said above, the construction is all squares and rectangles (the sleeves narrowing a bit towards the hems), with no shoulder seams: the front and back is cut in one. Gussets under the arms allow for movement, and slits in the sides does the same. 

Running stitches with a back stitch every few stitches (sewn by Tobias) are used to sew the pieces together. I used hemming stitches to fell the seams and hemming the shirt. 

Now for my modern UFO – can I get it finished before I need to begin work on challenge #3?

Thursday 17 January 2013

Regency Stays Finished

My Regency stays are done! It took a while, I’ve been working on them on and off (mostly off) since 2010, but as of this afternoon, they are finished. 

Finished stays! Excuse the 18th century shift.

I had hoped to get them done in time for the Historic Sew Fortnightly’s first project deadline, but that didn’t happen. The last days of sewing didn’t go very smoothly at all. First, after being laced up by Tobias for fitting, I noticed that the bust gussets were way too small. It looked beyond ridiculous. I decided this mishap must be due to me not taking my new, post baby figure into account, but went along with what I had cut out before pregnancy. 

Not the most neatly laced stays; uneven and unlaced
 the last few inches at the bottom. The lacing cord snapped...

The stays were also a bit small in the hip area, and wouldn’t lace even with the rest. That could have been solved easily enough, if I had chosen to, with gussets in the side seams. As the originals didn’t have hip gussets, in the end, I redid the side seams, taking a little away at the top instead. 

The stays laid flat. The drawstring in the upper binding is seen.

They are still not perfect (they are still a bit uneven, but this time it’s partly because I had to hurry as baby was waking up, and partly because the cotton tape I used for lacing snapped, and I just couldn’t bother to do it all up again. I tied it up and left it at that, so the stays aren’t laced all the way…), but as I’m not usually doing regency (not yet anyway), I’m not going to use these stays very often at all, but made them as a sort of trial run. If I start using regency clothes (or empire, as it’s called here) more, I’ll make a new pair, which will hopefully be better. 

The shoulder straps ties in front.

But oh, the bust gussets! They needed instant replacing. When most of that was done, I woke up last Saturday morning with blocked milk ducts. It’s the second time I’ve had it, and apart from hurting, giving me a touch of fever, and generally making me feel under the weather, it also felt stupid. To get plugged ducts after nursing for thirteen months! Needless to say, I hardly got anything done. Apart from not feeling up to doing much, one doesn’t want to put ones poor bosom in an unfamiliar position with possible pressure (as Regency stays unavoidably does) for fittings, when having (or just suffered through) blocked milk ducts. So I fell behind schedule. 
The busk is inserted in the channel from the bottom, 
and is kept in place with cotton tape.

Anyway, now they’re done. They are pretty comfortable, and give a good imitation of that typical "two globes on a (rather curvy) pillar"-look fashionable at the time. That curvyness would not have been in fashion, and stays would have been made to smooth the figure as much as possible. Because of the curviness, and since there are so few bones, they pucker a bit at the sides over the hips. Not pretty, but won't show under a petticoat and dress. I have an hourglass figure, however, and that is difficult to spirit away... Another thing that annoys me is the shoulder straps slipping down. Not sure what to do about it, I already angled them up toward the shoulders a bit. Well, for you doing the HSF here is the info on them:

The Challenge: #1: Bi/Tri/Quadri/Quin/Sex/Septi/Octo/Nona/Centennial. Sew something from __13, whether it be 1913, 1613, or 13BC
Fabric: An old cotton sheet for the outer layer, and tan cotton twill for the lining.
Pattern: Based on a small scale pattern taken of an extant example in a Swedish museum, found in the book “Underkläder – en kulturhistoria”, by Britta Hammar and Pernilla Rasmussen. There are also good photos of both the front and the back of the stays in the book, so I’ve been able too cord mine pretty similarly to the original. 
Year: The stays are dated to the 1810’s, and would work tolerably well in 1813.
Notions: Cotton tape for the binding and lacing, cable ties for some boning, artificial whalebone for the long bones in the back, thick cotton string for the cording. Cotton thread.
How historically accurate is it? The material is not ideal; the top layer should have been cotton satin, like the original, and the thread ought to have been silk, not cotton. The tape used for binding should have been whalebone twill, but mine are plain tabby. But with limited means I had too use what could be found in my stash. At least all of the materials (except for the plastic boning…) would have been available at the time. The sewing, however, is of course all done by hand, using the same kind of stitches as in the original. I waxed the thread for strength and durability. All cording and boning are located in the same places as on the original, and the cording “pattern” followed closely, if not exactly. I did add extra boning and cording to the centre back though. So all in all, I think they’re pretty accurate.
Hours to complete: No idea, I’ve been working on these on and off (mostly off) since 2010.
First worn: Only for the pictures. 
Total cost: Nothing at this time, as all materials came from my stash.

The cording, boning and busk channel on the front piece.

And now I must hurry if I want to finish challenge # 2 in time.

Tuesday 8 January 2013

Regency Stays – Stitching Together the Front and Back

I’m finished with the cording of my Regency stays, and have sewn one of the back pieces to the front. I use the method used on the original I base mine on. It’s done like this:

Fold the seam allowances of the outer fabric and the lining so they are between the layers of fabrics. Put the front and back together right side to right side and stitch through the two double layers of outer fabric and the double layers of the lining.

And back through the outer layers of fabrics and the lining.

The seam will end up looking slightly wavy, and is pretty sturdy, so it will be almost like a light boning.

Unfortunately the temporary stitching I made for fitting purposes has left horrid marks on the outer fabric. Hopefully they’ll go away in time.

This kind of seam was used in bodices during the 18th century, and is rather nice to use. One seam and you get a neat result, both on the outside and inside.

I’ll try to get the stays finished for the first of the Dreamstress’ Historical Sew Fortnightly challenges, but only if I can make it without too much stress. I don’t do well under pressure, so though I really like the idea, and would like to do all the challenges, I have to face reality. 

The Historical Sew Fortnightly hosted by

Hopefully I’ll get to finish some projects at least.

Monday 7 January 2013

New Disney Costume - Bo Peep

The holidays are over, the tree and ornaments put away. Life is back to normal, except that the classes at university haven’t begun yet, so Tobias is still home during the days, which is nice. We spent a lovely week, first visiting my family for a few days (where I finished the Disney costume), and then his (where we went on a date and saw The Hobbit).

EdythMiller was the one who finally guessed what costume I was making; Bo Peep from Toy Story. Here are some pictures of it, of course worn by my sister E. 

 Just trying on the costume and experimenting with the hair.

She had a very limited budget, so I had to get creative. The pink bodice and the bonnet were made from an old tablecloth bought in a charity shop. The blue stomacher was taken from an old discarded skirt of mine. I had all lace and cord for lacing already, and the pantalettes were made from a sheet our Mum sacrificed. The materials for the skirt and overskirt I bought new, but the skirt is to be remade into a modern day one for her later, so not much money lost.

 The original.

The bodice is made in two layers, treated as one. The side and shoulder seams were sewn from the outside, so though it looks like I’ve put a row of decorative stitching there, it’s actually the real seam. Looks pretty, and is sturdier than modern stitching would have been. I would have liked to have done the back seam the same way, but since I didn’t know if the bodice would fit as it was or not, I didn’t. Turned out it fitted perfectly, but by the time I found that out, there wasn’t time to re-do it. Ah well. The bodice has darts front and back, piping all round the front and neck, puffed sleeves (that I improvised directly on the fabric – I’m very pleased with them), and two layers of tulle at the waist, as the over skirt. 

 Love the sleeves

Often when I use hooks and eyes, I end up using only the hooks, using sewn bars to hook them to, so I had quite a few left over eyes. (That’s a sentence you don’t write very often.) I stitched them to the inside of the bodice front, to pull the laces through. The front edge of the bodice is boned with zip ties up to where the lacing starts, and a pretty lace covers it. 

The stomacher is embroidered on double layers of fabric, and then attached to another two layers of fabric, with has a lots of zip tie boning between them. 

I traced the pattern to be embroidered on the back of the fabric. 
The embroidery itself is just running stitches which I've threaded the floss through - quick and simple.

I stitched the stomacher to the front of the skirt waistband, and added pieces of ribbon close to the top of the inside, to be tied to the bra straps to be kept in place. This arrangement made the bodice very flexible as to size, and made it possible for it to fit so well from the beginning. It was also quick to do, which was essential.

The skirt is a semi circle (I’d had preferred a full circle, but as money was an issue…), with large dots of tulle tacked on. They are easily removable when the skirt is to be made over to modern use. It’s pleated to a waistband that buttons at the side, and is trimmed with lace at the hem. I made a half circle petticoat which I attached to the same waistband. These are worn over a hooped petticoat that I made ages ago. It was a bit too long, so I put two tucks in it. Not perfect, but works well enough. The skirt is attached to the bodice in the back, from side seam to side seam. Unfortunately I don't have a construction picture of this...

I made a pattern for the bonnet brim out of paper, and tweaked it until I was satisfied with the shape. The brim is stiffened by rigeline along the front, and by cardboard pieces stitched in place. The crown is a pleated circle, with tulle giving it a bit of hold. A comb is sewn to the inside seam between brim and crown, to attach to the hair, as no visible ties are seen in the movie. 

 First time trying on the bonnet - this is not how she wore her hair to the dance.

The flounced pantalettes were made by our Mum, as I was running out of time. They turned out just as they should – thanks Mum!

I wanted E to have a staff as well, but besides not having the time, or much of an idea how to make one, a full size staff would be rather impractical on a dance. I asked our Dad if he had any ideas as to what we could use for a little one. He went down into the cellar, and when he came up again he’d made this out of an old coat hanger – thanks Dad! E painted it, and it’s adorable. The tiny staff also ads a bit of humour to an otherwise sugary sweet outfit. 

I’m afraid this is the only picture I’ve managed to get hold of from the dance. E made her hair and makeup herself – isn’t the fringe and curls just perfect? I think she looks adorable, just like a doll. 

Lovely, isn't she?

She won the prize for best costume, which thrilled both her and me. It's the first time one of my costumes have won anything. Apparently you need personality, not just a good costume – I’ve had several really nice costumes, but never won a thing (until I improvised a ghost costume the day before a Halloween party, and sat there looking as gaunt, tired and absent minded as I really was – probably the reason for me winning that time….); but then I’m rather quiet and retiring, whereas my sister is more sprightly and outgoing. A couple of people had asked her “if Sarah made your dress”, and I’m very curious as to who it was. People I know, obviously, but who??

And so this fun project is at an end. It was a very agreeable one, but I’m glad I don’t have another project with such a strict deadline after it.