05 September 2009 @ 08:31 pm
I know there are a few people on my friends list who have read Patrick O'Brian's novels about Stephen Maturin and Jack Aubrey. They are, quite frankly, absolutely delightful, as well as being dramatic and thoughtful and never ever lazily written. They are a superb series.

Stephen Maturin is a doctor, and so a deeply scientific man. He's also a spy and Irish and speaks Gaelic (among a dozen other languages) and has a strangely developed sense of compassion mixed with worldliness -- Stephen Maturin may, in fact, exist in four dimensions, rather than the usual three. Thus he is, on the whole, rather strange. I don't even think you could say that he marches to the beat of a different drum, because I don't think he marches to the beat of a drum at all. Stephen marches to the beat of . . . good lord, a barometer, maybe. The clink of dissection pins as they fall into a metal basin. A drum? That would be pedestrian.

So, what does this have to do with knitting? In Post Captain, Stephen appears in this rather perplexing garment, of which he is intensely proud, but of which everybody else is . . . well, certainly not proud. Confused, maybe. Amused. Horrified. Jack Aubrey refers to it as "subhuman" and "that vile thing". The Garment is brown, knitted, and covers Stephen from neck to ankle. It's like a union suit, but singularly ugly. It allows him to retract his head into the collar like a turtle, and was knit according to Stephen's design by another character in the series. Stephen describes it as:

"My wool garment? You have noticed it, have you? I had forgot, or I should have pointed it out. Have you ever seen anything so deeply rational?"

Deeply rational. No wonder Stephen is so enthused!

He also assures Jack that he is having one made for him. Fortunately for Jack, it never comes to be.

A Raveler, Knit1805, has been working on a recreation of the garment for a (one assumes) willing volunteer. She's discussing the process thoroughly on her blog, as well with many other very lovely historic knitting projects. She talks about it from her very first post, but the next post has more detail, and really shows The Garment in its full horror. She's also been talking about it Lesser of Two Needles, the Aubrey-Maturin series group on Ravelry. Unfortunately, you have to be a Ravelry member to read those posts. Here is one of the threads.

I cannot wait to see the final product. I expect it to be absolutely breathtaking, if only because it is, in fact, the most deeply rational garment I have ever seen.
01 October 2008 @ 01:56 pm
I've been thinking, with the plaid fabric is still on my dummy and me looking at it every day, that maybe I could drape the bodice over modern undergarments and then be able to wear it with jeans and a skirt.

Now, I may be smoking crack on this one, by simple virtue of the fact that the silhouette of modern undergarments is completely different from a corseted silhouette. A corset gives you a raised bustline and a smaller waist and a smoother line from waist to hips. A modern silhouette is . . . bulgier. But can it be done? Can a Victorian garment be made without a corset and then transition to modern wear?

[Poll #1270611]

I'm probably smoking crack.
27 September 2008 @ 03:00 pm
Yesterday afternoon, Mom and I went to the thrift store and I found a yard of brown, sage green and steel blue/gray wool plaid for . . . fifty cents! It's nice stuff -- soft, a little stretchy, a little fuzzy. I think, having spent entirely too much time watching Mad Men, that it's from the late 50s/early 60s. My initial thought, having watched way too much Mad Men and loving seeing Joan rocking all her early 60s clothes, that I'd make myself a little curvy, retro skirt out of it, but then a voice in my ear breathed, "Victorian."

Also, my god, what was I thinking, curvy retro skirt in plaid? I'd need a pretty aggressive girdle just to avoid looking like I'd gained 90 pounds all in my hips.

So, I threw the fabric on my dress form and got pinning, to mock something up and think about it.

Here are the images I looked at: 1880 walking dress with shawl collar (left), 1877 house or street dress with faux revers/collar, 1885 wine-colored dress with faux revers.

As a side note, it always amuses me how much of sewing something involves draping the fabric on myself or on my dress dummy or over a chair and going, "Hmm." If I could hmm my way into a dress, I'd have roughly a million.

My messing around )

Conclusions: It's definitely going to be Natural Form, and I might treat it as a mock-up for the unfinished pink/green burgundy gown. It's also definitely going to be a walking dress, rather than an evening/dinner gown or something fancy. Soooo, I might end up buying some cotton for the skirt, just because I'd have difficulty using velvet for a walking dress. It doesn't do dirt well.

I'm pretty much set on a shawl collar, which I think is pretty charming, but I also like the huge bow on this fashion plate. (I also think the print, which appears to be either roosters, bats or squirrels, to be adorable.) It's possible to have exchangeable collars, but I'm not sure I want that work.

And that dress on the right of the bow dress plate would work perfectly for some yellow/black changeable (synthetic) taffeta I have. And my endless supply of black velvet. But, no! I can only make one dress at a time.


1) Should I go with the burgundy velvet for the skirt and collar? I have another four or five yards of it, so I'm not worried about having enough for the flower embroidered bustle dress bodice (which I still want to make). Or should I buy more brown satin and go with that? Or blue to bring out the blue in the plaid? There's some for an affordable price at Fashion Fabrics Club, but ordering from them is always a crapshoot. Also, I'd like to use the cash kicking it in my PayPal account to order, so I'd probably have to order from eBay or Etsy. Another possibility is to use the burgundy velvet for the collar/cuffs and get a pretty cotton to coordinate with the plaid. A PRINT!

This is Victorian, people. If it appalls my modern sensibilities, I'm probably on the right track.

I don't think I have another question, really, other than to ask for your opinions.
Current Music: Loves Me Like a Rock -- Paul Simon
08 July 2008 @ 09:04 pm
Has everyone seen this site?

From Piecework, November/December 2002:

Les Petites Dames De Mode (The Little Ladies of Fashion) is a collection of more than fifty scale model mannequins, each 29 inches (73.7 cm) high and costumed in the intricate fashions of the Victorian and Edwardian eras that were created by John R. Burbidge (see "Redesigning the Past," PIECEWORK, January/February 2000). Their website,, includes information on the merchandise related to the collection and schedules of lectures by Burbidge and exhibitions of the mannequins. The ladies are on display through November 2, 2002, at the Fairfield Historical Society, Fairfield, Connecticut.

OK, obvious that information is out of date, but the website does have pictures of the mannequins. They look pretty amazing. There is a book, as it appears that no exhibits are planned in the near future or are currently ongoing.
Current Music: 50% -- Splashdown
30 March 2008 @ 08:56 am
Check out this piece of powerful prettiness on Antique Dress. It's a wedding dress from 1875, and it's in near mint condition. The bustle has those weird stacked pleats, which have always baffled me. I find the neckline enchanting, and the lace-up back is a fastening I've never seen before on a high-necked bodice like this. I even like the fringe on the skirt drape, and I kind of hate fringe on Victorian dresses.

It has seduced me. *gaspshockhorror* Yes, pretty dress, I am under your spell, and shall file you away for future reference.

I am also very much in love with this dress from the 1960s and this Irish lace crochet dress, ca. 1908. The construction on the crochet dress is really interesting, because it looks like the leaf/vine motif was used to establish a princess dress seamlines on the front and back. It also looks like the yoke was worked as a circle. Hmm, interesting.
Current Music: O' William, O' Sarah -- White Whale
The 1875 edition of "The Young Englishwoman" is really exciting because it contains clothing diagrams and couple of neat knitting patterns. One is for a knitted slipper that looks very sweet and practical in the engraving. There are also some very nice fashion plates -- the engraved one under the cut has convinced me that I need to wear silk bows in my hair when I finally get my Natural Form outfit done.

Note: It says there are pattern diagrams, but I haven't found any yet. I know the fold-out patterns aren't there. Ideas? Do you think they mean the images of the individual pieces of clothing?

A sample of images and receipts )

Um, there's lots more, but I think I let everyone else find it.
12 December 2007 @ 12:44 pm
This post is really for my own reference than anything else, since I know I'm going to be too lazy to look this up again on Google Notebook.

So, I discovered last night that Google Books has a bunch of ladies' magazines and handwork manuals from the 19th century. I've saved many knitting/crocheting manuals to my library, which I've no idea how to link to. This might take you there. Most of them are from the 1840s, when there appears to have been a boom in the printing of handwork manuals. Surprise, surprise, one of the knitting patterns includes a gauge measurement. I gasped, and then promptly forgot what book it was out of.

Anyway, beneath the cut, find a pattern for a mantle from 1859, from "The What-not; or Ladies' handy-book."

EDIT: Found another fashion plate to share, this time of a "casaque pelisse." It's really more the hat that I was drawn to, which is pretty heavily decorated on the outside. She looks like she has spaniel ears!

1859 Mantle )

The What-Not has some other fashion plates in it, too, but they're pretty spread out. The fashion sections are on pages 20, 41, 67, 91, 116, 137, 164, 188, 211 (or 215), 266, 290, and 314.
Current Music: Car Crash -- Cloud Cult
20 September 2007 @ 01:22 am
Since I needed a new chemise for the bustle outfit, I made one today. I was planning on using my 1860s chemise, but I hate it*, so I ripped it apart to make this one. It took me about four hours, from drafting the pattern to hemming. I used the 1889 chemise pattern from The Ladies Treasury, a online collection of patterns/articles from 19th century fashion magazines.

And I know I promised pictures of myself in my underwear sometime on this journal, but today is not that day. It's just laid out on my bed.

  • Fabric: about 2.5 yards of 36" wide cotton muslin
  • Thread: White Guterman polyester
  • Notions: White polyester/cotton eyelet lace, app. 1.5 yards

An Ode to Singer Sewing Machines OR Zig Zag Stitches I Have Known )

I am pleased with it. It took very little time, and it has a little bit of lace on it. It makes me feel girly. There's nothing especially to be proud about with the construction, but I know I can toss it in the washing machine and not worry. It balances out.

Of course, now I have the urge to make myself a pair of drawers with tons of embroidery and lace and tucks. But I'm out of white muslin, so it's going to have to wait.

*The 1860s chemise was the Simplicity pattern, the sleeves were too full to fit under anything. I can't figure out what the pattern designer was thinking with that.
Current Music: Musa Venit Carmine -- Mediaeval Baebes
25 February 2007 @ 02:16 am
I finally finished my mid-nineteenth century bonnet. It's a mishmash of the middle decades when it comes to decoration, but I'd wear it to a Civil War reenactment and not feel like too much of a farb. Well, except for all the craft glue.

I know, I kind of look like a goon, but all the others were blurry. I'll try to get some better ones tomorrow if there's enough light.

What: Mid-nineteenth century bonnet
Inspiring images: CDV 64, CDV 67, CDV 60, CDV 83
Pattern: Butterick 4210 Historical Hats
Materials: Buckram and milliner's wire from Judith M Millinery, black cotton velvet from the stash, pink silk chiffon from Fashion Fabrics Club, blue cotton muslin from the stash, fabric/plastic flowers from Wal-Mart, polyester satin ribbon from Wal-Mart, lots and lots and lots of craft glue, 1/4" black velvet ribbon, buttonhole twist

There are more photos, including a larger one of the above photo, and description under the cut.

I may have to be a shepherdess for Hallowe'en now, which means I need sheep. )

Would I use the pattern again? I don't know. I like this hat, but there features of the pattern I don't like. Like the way the brim attaches to the body of the hat. It makes for a very ugly connect, and you need to have it trimmed there or people will make faces at you behind your back. I'd like to use another view in the same pattern (the dinner table sized Edwardian hat), but I'm sure I'll modify it as highly as I did this one. The jury remains out.

What I would do differently: I'd be less lazy and use far less craft glue. I used an entire four ounce bottle on this project, which I think is a little ridiculous. If I made another bonnet of the same shape, I'd probably end up doing a chiffon/netting drawn bonnet on a wire frame with purple ribbon and pink flowers -- light as a feather and incredibly frilly. I'd also probably scale down the ornamentation a little.

Favorite part of the project: Decorating, by far. I still have an enormous ostrich plume that I may or may not attach, depending on whether or not I can bring myself to emulate fashion plates. Honestly, it might be more fashion than I can handle.
Current Music: Black is the Colour -- Niamh Parsons