Wednesday 28 June 2017

Making an 1840's Straw Bonnet

About eleven years ago, when I lived in my first flat, I picked up a straw hat in a charity shop, stitched with cotton thread. I’m afraid I don’t have a picture of how it looked, but imagine something closely akin to a “dixie cup” sailors cap. I realised that when unfolded it would form a good base for a 19th century bonnet, but I didn’t yet know if I wanted an Empire/Regency one or an 1840’s one. So, like many other “someday I’m going to make something really nice from this” items, it ended up in my stash. I took it out from time to time, but never felt brave enough to get started.

And then I had an event coming up, the opening of an exhibition of women’s fashion from the 18th century to today. I was, with some others, invited to the opening and asked to come in clothing from any of the periods represented in the exhibition. I decided on the 1840’s maternity dress I made three years ago. The dress is nice, but I felt I needed a bonnet to look properly attired, so I finally got to work on transforming the straw hat into a bonnet.

First I unpicked the stitches holding the straw braid for a few feet, so I could use that to edge the finished bonnet with. You can see the crease where the brim was originally folded upwards.

Then I dunked the bonnet in water to make it less brittle and cut out a piece for the neck. I had a plan for the cut-off pieces of braid, but later I thought I should have curved the brim down towards the chin instead of cutting it straight. You live and learn.

The pieces of braid just mentioned I used to make a sort of bavolet at the neck.

When the shape of the bonnet was what I wanted it to I started stitching the braid I removed previously to the edge. It turned out I didn’t have quite enough, so I took another braid I had in my stash for the inside. I stitched them both on simultaneously, making sure the straw was wet the whole time.

This is how the bonnet looked when I’d finished the sewing, but before blocking. I shaped it while wet and set it to dry, with a pot of honey at the bottom of the crown to make it flatter.

Then it was time for trimming. This was an all-stash project, so I picked out a scrap of green silk dupioni. Taffeta would have been better, and taffeta ribbons best of all, but I didn’t have any. I hemmed strips of the silk for ties and trim. I wasn’t quite happy with the straw bavolet, so decided to cover it with a silk one that I gathered to the proper length using whipped gathers.

I wrapped a long strip of silk round the bonnet, arranging artful creases here and there. Silk ties were also attached.

The silk was attached with very untidy stitches on the inside, as seen in period bonnets. Makes it easy to change the trim if wanted.

Then I was a bit unsure if I should leave it as was – after all, it looked very pretty that way – or add ostrich plumes. As I was dressing as a close to middle aged, married bourgeoise woman, I decided more was more in this case. I had some ostrich feathers that had fallen out of my feather duster and been saved for a moment like this. I picked out four, and stitched them together two-and-two with silk thread to make them fuller.

Then I attached them to the bonnet, again using long stitches on the inside. They turned out looking pleasantly fluffy, adding just the right oomph to the bonnet.

But the bonnet snagged my hair, so after consulting knowledgeable people I made a half lining using a thin cotton fabric. Not the most historically accurate fabric for this, but it had to do.

And that was that, all finished. I hadn’t added cheek ruffles to the inside, so I wore a cap under the bonnet instead to give a similar effect. It might be an old-fashioned thing to do for the 1840’s, but it looked nice enough. I felt very Cranford.

But woe! I wasn’t quite happy with the size! 1840’s bonnets usually hide the profile completely from view when seen from the side, and mine doesn’t. It annoys me no end, even though I love how the bonnet turned out over all. So disappointing…

Maybe I’ll just sell it - without the plumes it would look lovely on a girl - and try again.

My Pinterest board of extant 1840's bonnets.

Friday 16 June 2017

Early 19th century Swedish Farmwife’s Everyday Dress

Back in April I attended an event held at the open air museum of Fredriksdal. It focused on Swedish civilians and soldiers ca 1800-10. We got to live in the houses, cook in the fireplaces, even sleep in the beds. I didn’t do the latter, as the weather was cold and windy, I’m having a bit of a tough pregnancy, and to top it off, had just had pneumonia. I thought it safer to sleep in my own warm bed, and just stayed the one day, but still had a good time. The event, which was rather small and intimate, still attracted participants from the whole country, and even a few from Norway. Fredriksdal is located in the county of Skåne (Scania) and most of the houses are from there, so those women in attendance who, like me, are from this part of the country, chose to dress according to the local fashion, which in this case meant folk costumes, still in daily use at the time. Our feast day clothes wouldn’t do, so we tried to tone it down for an everyday look. Trickier than you might think, as very little evidence remains as to what was worn then. When it comes to the fancy clothes, much is known, but as usual, no one really cared to document what people wore when working in the kitchen garden.

I made a brown wool skirt for the occasion, which I intend to also use as a petticoat for my fancy folk costume. Brown wool skirts from my parish are mentioned in estate inventories, but are far from as common as the usual blue and green, or the reasonably common black. I had a suitable fulled, twill woven wool at home though, so it had to do, even if it was brown.

It is constructed from straight panels. My fabric was 150 cm wide, but as the extant skirts I know of are usually made from narrower widths I cut my panels in half, and stitched them back up again, making four narrow ones in total, and a width of close to 3 metres. The hem was faced with a strip of unbleached linen. 

The skirt is smooth in front, as seen in extant skirts, and has the fullness taken in by stroked gathers at the sides and back, that are secured with rows of stitches, seen only from the inside. 

It closes by a sturdy brass hook and eye half way to the left side. 

I don’t know how they did about pockets – in some mid-19th century folk costume skirts there are stitched in pockets, like in modern skirts of the time, but for earlier decades I’m unsure if they wore loose pockets or not. I left a slit open in the right side seam anyway, so if need be I can tie a pocket round my waist.

In the end the brown skirt ended up used as a petticoat at the event, as I decided I wanted two skirts for warmth, and wore my usual blue skirt on top. In the period manner I flipped the blue skirt up over my shoulders to keep out the wind every now and then, so I didn't make the brown one in vain.

I also made a new bodice. I intend for it to be trimmed with blue silk ribbons, and replace my old fancy silk bodice as that one has become rather too small. For the event I used it untrimmed though. It’s made from fine brushed wool, lined with unbleached linen, and closes in front with three pairs of brass hooks and eyes, but most of the closure is hidden beneath the skirt. The wide opening would be held by buckles and a chain for best, but for everyday was likely left as was. 

At the bottom of the bodice a rather thick, padded linen roll is stitched, on which the skirts rest. Having a full figure was considered attractive by the country folk at this time and place, and you do feel rather important in an "I break for nobody" kind of way when you come walking along the road in all your matronly fullness, especially when you wear several wool skirts on top of each other. It's far from what is considered an attractive figure today, which make rather few people recreate it as close to the originals as I try to, but go the more 'inspired' route. I'll post more detailed pictures of the bodice when it's trimmed and have the buckles attached.

As for the apron, I didn’t want to use my fancy one, as I expected to cook and do greasy dishes – a good decision it turned out. Instead I whipped one up from a piece of cotton fabric that I had intended to purge from stash. It’s not perfectly period, the fabric isn't quite right and it's much too narrow, but woven stripes were popular, and the fabric had a sort of washed out, sun bleached, worn look to it that I thought would do for everyday.

I never got any decent pictures of myself from the actual event (though I can be seen in a couple of these), so I took proper pictures the other day. The weather is a lot warmer now than in April, so I could ditch the knitted spedetröja I had to wear to the event, despite it feeling too fancy. For the pictures I wore the bodice and skirt over just an unbleached linen shift (for an everyday shift I’m not sure if it should have a collar or not...), and accessorised it with the ever present apron and head kerchief. As the temperature is pleasant I went without stockings or any form of shoes. I want a pair of wooden clogs, but all in good time.

The outfit might have been a little later than the event called for, as most of the sources I base it off are from Ca 1825-50, and I generally aim for the 1830’s-40’s in my fancy version of the folk costume, but ah well. I’m still not quite sure how historically accurate this outfit is, but at the very least I think it's plausible and believable. I may have to revise it in future, but then we always do, don’t we?

My Pinterest board of extant clothing and period images from the area. Mostly fancy versions.
Allmogedräkten i Oxie härad, (1978) by Helge Andersson.

Wednesday 14 June 2017

Petticoat Makeover, Part Two

When preparing for an outing in 1840’s attire, I realised I didn’t have the number of petticoats I wanted. That is, I could have had an acceptable number, if one wasn’t way too short, the result of a previous makeover. Ooops. Thinking about extant mid-19th century Swedish petticoats, I decided to give it a second makeover. You can see the before(s) here.

I looked through my stash and found a sturdy cotton bobbin lace that was long enough to go around the hem. I whip stitched this in place. I then took a piece of cotton fabric of the same quality as the petticoat, cut a wide strip that I folded in half, seam allowances inside, and whip stitched this to the lace, as seen in the picture below.

And just like that I had a petticoat of a proper length that I really like the look of. Pretty white petticoats are one of the main things that attracted me to the mid-19th century when I was a girl, and I confess I still like them a lot.

Like most Swedish mid-19th century petticoats, mine closes with tapes in the back. That may not seem as secure as buttons, but I’ll tell you one great advantage: if you’re pregnant and feel like you don’t really need any additional girth over your bump, you can put the petticoats on back to front and the plackets can open over said bump, putting a lot less fabric there, letting the fullness go in the back instead, where it's much more wanted. The tapes will make sure you’re able to wear the petticoats no matter what your current size. Of course, this only work for about 1830-1865, when petticoats were pretty similar all the way round. And speaking of pregnancy adjustments to your skirt supports; you might want to use a slightly fuller bum pad to somewhat balance your rear to your currently prominent front.

The three petticoats I wore to the event (one corded, one plain and this tucked one with lace insertion, the first two starched) did a decent job of supporting my skirts, but I still think I need more to get proper oomph... One can never have too many petticoats.

Tuesday 13 June 2017

1840's Knitted Garters

I felt the need to make myself a pair of suitable garters for my 1840’s outfit. I had raided my closet and cut down a pair of too small white cotton tights to make a pair of over knee stockings (a budget variety, if you like me can’t afford reproductions – just make sure to stitch the tops, so they don’t unravel), but like their 19th century counterparts, they wouldn’t stay up on their own. I felt like knitting and knowing I had come across knitted garters in the mid-19th century before, I went to the internet to see what I could dig up.

After a short search, I found that a description of how to make knitted garters were present in The Workwoman’s Guide from 1838, which suited my period just fine, though I have yet to find an example of knitted garters from this period in Sweden. I looked through my stash of yarn, and picked out a soft blue wool, not too thick. I used knitting needles 2 mm (US 0, UK 14), and with 14 stitches I got a width of 4 cm, not too far from the “nail, more or less, wide” mentioned in the description. To really have them a nail wide (a nail being equal to 5,7 cm or 2 1/4”) seemed too wide for comfort. I also made mine shorter than the 2/3 of a yard (about 60 cm) stated in the Guide, as 46 cm worked just fine for me.

I knitted in a hole at one end, described as optional, which might be why I didn’t need the full 60 cm: I just wrapped the garter round my leg, pulled one end through the hole, and tied it off.

This was a quick and simple project, just what one needs once in a while. The garters are really comfortable to wear, and though no one will see them, I like the fact that they are blue. When in active use, I fold my stockings down over the garters though, I feel it makes it more secure and comfortable, as the stockings will just roll down to the knee otherwise, which is really annoying.