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!! Historical sewing: Late Victorian - Early Edwardian

 
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The more I learn about sewing, the more fascinated I become with historical clothing and techniques.  

Although I've dabbled in medieval costuming, I find myself drawn more and more to the Late Victorian and Early Edwardian (circa 1880-1910) style of clothing and I want to try my hand at making some items from that time period.  I have the idea that this exercise will teach me new skills and to better look at clothing and how it fits on a person.  Also, I'm curious if I can take some of these items and adjust them for my daily clothing.  Maybe.  

The biggest attraction is that there is so many primary references available.  Not only do many of the clothes survive, but somewhere on the internet are books from that time period that tell us how the clothes were made and how I can make some myself. It doesn't hurt that most of my textile tools date from around that time period (although my main sewing machine is 1919, it's basically the same technology)

I'm going to start with the foundation layers, particularly the Chemise.  It's simple to sew.  It won't be seen, so it's a good place to practice different techniques.  It doesn't have to take a lot of fabric.  It's also an item of clothing I love to wear in the winter but I haven't been able to find one that is comfortable for many years, so it's something I want to sew anyway.

I'm just starting my research, but basically I know I want to make it out of linen, because that is most comfortable next to my skin.  I don't want much/any lace because itchy.  And I want to use a pattern and techniques from the period.  

So far I've stumbled on these resources for the chemise:

https://withmyhandsdream.com/2019/05/03/hand-sewn-victorian-chemise/
which uses this book: https://archive.org/details/krl00366374

and this one here for an envelope chemise for girls: https://chestofbooks.com/crafts/needlework/Garments-For-Girls/Chapter-XVII-Envelope-Chemise.html

My biggest problem is making sure the cloth doesn't pull down on my front (chest) and pull me into a hunchback shape, like most modern clothes do.  
 
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I love these! Though I'd not even attempt it, by hand (with my hand problems, it would take months to finish, if it ever even got finished), it might be something I'd eventually, at least try on the treadle.
 
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Here are some references my friend recommends.  She's a friend who is serious about things like hand sewn Victorian fashion.

Victorian and Edwardian Fashion : A Photographic Survey

Making Working Women's Costume: Patterns for Clothes From the Mid-15th to Mid-20th Centuries

Victorian & Edwardian Fashions for Women: 1840-1910


The attached image is the one she most recommends.





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It would make sense to me, using a straight-stitch machine. I would imagine the proliferation of stretchy knits and zig-zag stitches would change the way people look at designing clothes.
 
r ranson
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Carla Burke wrote:I love these! Though I'd not even attempt it, by hand (with my hand problems, it would take months to finish, if it ever even got finished), it might be something I'd eventually, at least try on the treadle.



another boon with this time period is sewing machines existed!  it is a comfortable starting place.
 
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Jordan Holland
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I'm not one for dressing up, but I have to admit they had their moments back then. When I saw the Penny Dreadful series, the costumes really stood out.
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Penny Dreadful
Penny Dreadful
 
r ranson
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the sew and fell seam seems to be common in this period as a strong way to join two raw edges by hand

 
r ranson
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Jordan Holland wrote:I'm not one for dressing up, but I have to admit they had their moments back then. When I saw the Penny Dreadful series, the costumes really stood out.



wow, that's a pretty coat!  
 
r ranson
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Here's a cute Chemise pattern (PDF) http://www.thesewingacademy.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/2010Chemise.pdf
Found it at this amazing site: http://www.thesewingacademy.com/compendium/
 
 
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Raven, have you seen Bernadette Banner on youtube? In case you haven't, she makes Victorian/Eduardian clothes and has an asymmetrical figure from scoliosis. She goes into it quite a bit in this video.
 
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I saw a neat coat in a movie (didn't make it through the movie) If I don't get the time stamp right, it's visible in the first 6 minutes of the movie.

He puts in on then walks the beach. It's short, has 1/2 length wide sleeves, and a collar. Looks easy to make, and neat looking.

 
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That's an interesting era. But maybe my idea on the clothes of that time are not the same as yours. Here in the Netherlands styles were different from USA.
At the start of the 20th century women (of the higher classes) started fighting for liberation and they didn't want to wear corsets anymore. In the lower classes corsets were not worn because they were too expensive and one needed help (a maid) to get a corset on.
The styles developing then, the dresses without a thin waist, those are what I'm interested in. BTW also a century before, in the time of the French revolution and the reign of Napoleon, there were also dresses without corsets, with a 'high waist line'. I never understood why they returned to the corsets during the 19th century.
 
r ranson
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That's a good point.  There is a lot of variation in clothing style around the world, even today.

I always think of "Victorian" and "Edwardian" as referring to English and to a lesser degree, styles seen in other parts of the Empire and Commonwealth.  

As for corsets, it's an interesting area.  During the Victorian time, the word grew to encompass a whole range of different boned support garments.  It's basically the same function of a bra only there wasn't a bra-like garment until well into the 20th Century.  

The shaping of the torso to the fashionable silhouette was a secondary function of corsets more for the rich and social climbers.

It's also interesting that just about every social class in Victorian England wore corsets, whereas most of Europe, corsets were restricted to the upper classes (but the lower classes still wore boddices or stays or other supportive garments).  This has a few reasons - one, the manufacturing techniques in England greatly reduced the cost of the fabric, making it more accessible to the working woman.
 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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r ranson wrote:...
It's also interesting that just about every social class in Victorian England wore corsets, whereas most of Europe, corsets were restricted to the upper classes (but the lower classes still wore boddices or stays or other supportive garments).  This has a few reasons - one, the manufacturing techniques in England greatly reduced the cost of the fabric, making it more accessible to the working woman.


Yes, women wore bodices in the Netherlands as part of traditional costumes. Even nowadays there are still some old women wearing traditional costume, in a village nearby where I live (Staphorst) and in some other villages. Those bodices are outer garments, they go over the blouse, which off course isn't called a blouse, in some villages they call it 'sleeves' ('mouwen' in Dutch), because the sleeves are what you see of it. The bodice is often the most colourful part of the costume.
 
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here is a method for piecing together small scraps to be more conservative with cloth.
https://historicalsewing.com/fabric-piecing
 
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Piecing together, so you can make more out of your fabric, I already learned about it long ago (when I had sewing lessons). Very useful! F.e. I made me trousers (pants) from a linen fabric someone gave to me. The width of the cloth was not wide enough, but By 'piecing together' (like also shown at the site you linked to, r.) I managed to make nice linen trousers! Sorry, no photo ... maybe later
 
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Just a heads up: Foundations' revealed membership is open for a few days: https://foundationsrevealed.com/fr/#join

It's a group for learning about historical sewing techniques.

here are some example videos: https://cathyhay.lpages.co/sleeve-workshop-part-1-oct-2020/
available for a few days
 
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r ranson wrote:here is a method for piecing together small scraps to be more conservative with cloth.
https://historicalsewing.com/fabric-piecing

Planning the "pieces" to make it look intentional is a bonus. I was given some heavy cotton fabric along with a comforter that needed a new cover. The fabric wasn't wide enough, but rather than just matching the pattern and sewing one seam wherever the first bit of fabric ran out, or having the seam right down the center of the cover which seemed too "in my face", I used a full width of the fabric for the center of the cover, and then added a strip at each side to extend the width with the seams landing right at the edge of the mattress. Because the comforter is "bending over the edge" at the same spot as the two seams are, most people looking at the cover don't even realized it's been made out of 1 wide and two narrow panels.

The comforter cover was so successful (sew successful?), I decided to repeat the same trick when I was given some gorgeous gold and blue fabric that if cut *just* right, with a large center panel and two narrow side panels, would fit my dining room table. I've received several compliments on the lovely table cloth and although to me the joins are much more obvious because of the nature of the shiny gold thread in it, no one seems to notice.

So I support the link r. supplied - don't be afraid to piece something. But also, don't necessarily piece it "where the fabric runs out" but rather where someone looking at the outfit will assume it was intentional!

Similarly, sometimes the way to hide a flaw is to make it stand out more. Dress it up with a bit of trim or matching fabric, or have it be the edge of a pocket, or a row of decorative buttons etc.
 
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Jay Angler wrote:  But also, don't necessarily piece it "where the fabric runs out" but rather where someone looking at the outfit will assume it was intentional!

Similarly, sometimes the way to hide a flaw is to make it stand out more. Dress it up with a bit of trim or matching fabric, or have it be the edge of a pocket, or a row of decorative buttons etc.



And if you think about it, things you sew have seams anyway. Having seams is normal. Add seams that work with it, and no one cares. 95% of the world will not notice. The other 5% will say 'oooh, nice save!!"

I had to do something unexpected to my best friend's wedding gown, when she was stressed about the wedding and added 10 pounds unexpectedly, after the dress was fitted. I added a long triangular piece up the back and put a line of close spaced pearl buttons on each edge, and it looked EXCELLENT! Accentuated the dress rather than make it look like I had to put 4 inches on the tummy at the last minute. Only one person noticed, and she knew about the weight gain and said "Oooh, nice save!"
 
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Hopefully today I can call the sewing store and order some fabric over the phone.

I want to make a couple of chemises, but I just realized I don't know what words to use to say "please can I buy XYZ fabric?"  I want cotton or cotton/linen blend.  Something lightweight, and hopefully affordable as I want to make four.  

Any words I can use?

I read "Batiste" might be a fabric or possibly it might not.  
 
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Lawn might be what you're looking for...
 
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From this historical sewing site (including, yes, batiste!):

Fabric Suggestions for Undergarments:

Muslin – good starter fabric but be sure to feel the piece before buying. Muslin (known as calico in the UK) is produced rather quickly as a cheap textile. You’ll find the hand (feel) is different on bolts sitting right next to each other in the store. Select the lightest weight you can.

Broadcloth – watch out for poly/cotton blends! They are everywhere and do not deserve to be used for a precious chemise or drawers. One hundred percent cotton broadcloth can be heavy so make sure you can feel the material before purchasing. A wool broadcloth is too heavy – keep that for a petticoat.

Batiste – perfect for undergarments. It can have a slight sheen to it but is thin and opaque – a good choice.

Voile – very sheer cotton that will work well for late Victorian and Edwardian chemise & drawers. Early 19th C. chemises should be made with thicker fabrics. Voile is simply too sheer.

Lawn fabrics are beautiful. Unfortunately for us they are mainly sold as prints today. However, I’ve seen solid colors at a couple online vendors. Lawn is a soft cotton between a voile and batiste that has a stiffer drape like a shirting but sheer. Although mainly used for dresses, the stiff hand shouldn’t be too detrimental to undergarments if you want to use it.

Shirtings – although cotton and can be used for undergarments, shirting fabrics work best for dresses and petticoats. Look for something else if you can.

Kona cottons and other quilting cotton solid basics – although 100% cotton, these textiles are rather heavy and don’t drape well for chemises. But quilting cottons will work for drawers.

Cotton or wool flannel is wonderful for drawers for cold weather if you need something heavy. I wouldn’t recommend flannel for a chemise as it’s just too heavy and with all the other dress layers is not necessary for the chemise. Be cautious though: wool drawers around the legs may be irritating.

Linen – I have fallen in love with my linen undergarments! It’s simply beautiful to wear, breathes well, and is opaque. Stick with a lightweight linen between 3 and 5 ounces.

 
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If you imagine ever using your chemise as a stand-alone garment, be aware that each of these: batiste, voile, and lawn, are varying degrees of see-through. So, maybe not appropriate for a nightgown, or maybe perfect.

Oh, and the Kona cotton feels just awesome!
 
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r ranson wrote:


What a lovely thread, and what a great video, thanks for this!

Bernadette Banner was mentioned. I only discovered her recently and I found her video on the accurate rendering of costumes in movies very interesting:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5uNZpoBoKFM&ab_channel=BernadetteBanner

I wish I had time (or concentration) for bigger sewing projects at the moment, but currently I am doing more utilitarian sewing: more face masks, a bag - although a nice pattern: I made a Japanese Rice Bag or Komebukuro.

A couple of days ago I paged through my Alabama Chanin Book and thought I should really start to do some handstitching.

I will be following this thread and cheer for you!
 
r ranson
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I don't know if I linked to this one yet: http://www.sewhistorically.com/my-victorian-underwear-chemise-drawers-and-petticoats/

Some inspiration for a chemise!  

It references some primary sources, namely these pages in the Workwoman's guide published in 1840.  https://archive.org/stream/workwomansguide00workgoog#page/n62/mode/2up
 
r ranson
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I wonder if it's possible to print a page from this book? https://archive.org/details/krl00366374/page/n115/mode/2up?q=chemise
 
Carla Burke
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It looks like it's set up for printing, but just one page...? That might actually be more on your end, than on the site.
 
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#2 Son put where I can find it, something he calls "Snipping tool" which I was able to use to copy the diagram of the chemise and save to my computer.
chemise.JPG
Is this the page you're looking for?
Is this the page you're looking for?
 
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