Find of the Month: Victorian Quilt Blocks (Part 1)

April 2017

Once again, I found April’s FotM at Maine Barn and Attic Antiques! Seriously….I may have an addiction….

This month’s find is small, not exactly in size, but certainly in price: $8.

 I actually did the official “finding” the very first time I went, but the antique shop only takes cash or check, so when it comes time to decide what to buy and what to leave, I always left these in favor of other treasures. Do you ever leave something behind only to have that nagging feeling of remorse that you can’t shake hours or even weeks later? Boy did this month’s “find” haunt me when I left them behind, languishing in a dusty basket ion the floor in the darkest shop corner all those months ago.

Who knew quilt blocks could nag?!

Yes, I bought a bunch of 19th century quilt squares even though I don’t quilt. Why? Well, I like the bright, happy, wild fabrics– and these are bright like new! Most look like they date to the 1840s-1860s to me, but I am not a calico expert, so any help dating them is welcome.

I made a slide show below of each one, front and back so you can see all of them. There are some great patterns!

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There are also some interesting highlights, including…

An apparently fugitive dye:

This block has three squares of this same fabric. One has all the stripes left, this one is fading, and one has no stripes at all left, just the flowers!

Awesome hand sewing:

All of the blocks are handsewn together. They have tiny seam allowances and use a mix of thread colors, but mostly red.

Lots of creative piecing:

I know quilts are literally pieced, but this quilt is like quilt-ception: it’s got pieced pieces in it’s pieces. This is the most pieced piece of the lot: this little 2X2 square is made up of 4 seperate pieces!

Evidence of a mishap that occurred during a previous incarnation:

One of my favorite fabrics is the “alien flower on a book” print. It is the most stained however, but when I was looking at it, the stains are only on the white fabric, not the surrounding fabrics! So the fabric was stained before it was added to the quilt. I wonder if it was part of a ill-fated dress…and what it’s stained with…

As it turns out, this wasn’t going to be the last brush with quilt blocks I’d have this month. Stay tuned for more!
(If you’re a bit fabric-crazy like me)

Other Find of the Month posts you might like:

Find of the Month: English Silver-Gilt Button

Find of the Month: Stuart Crystal Breeches Button

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Georgian Picnic 2016: Rainbow Regency and a Normandy Bonnet

I hardly got to attend any events this year since work is short-staffed and work weekends always seemed to fall on guild days. I am so thankful to Carol for covering for me so I could attend my favorite event: Georgian Picnic! It was the first event I ever attended with the DFW costumers Guild and it is still my favorite. It’s laid back and relaxing.

The costuming chaos leading up to it, however, is a different story. This year, as every year, was fraught with last-minute perils. On my plate this year was the ever-variable Texas weather (will it be 85° or 58°?), a new Regency tailcoat (remember how well that went last time?), and a Normandy Bonnet (Wha—???).

After the disappointment of making a costume last year for a friend only to have it languish when she was unable to attend, I was wary making costumes for anyone other than Chris and I. But while I was able to escape work on the 19th, he was not so lucky. So I laid aside my fear of rejection and asked our friend Jen to go with me. She had never worn a historical costume before, but was interested in sewing and was willing to go through multiple fittings. Regency menswear struck her fancy, so we settled on a tailcoat made from Butterick 3648:

Butterick 3648 used to be out of print, but is now available through McCall’s Cosplay website in the “Vault Collection” as M2021. I used the old Butterick version I purchased off of eBay. I didn’t use the trouser pattern, but the coat pattern was very easy to use, if a bit complex. Bag lining is always a bear! I just can’t wrap my head around the pseudo-topology of it sometimes, but I worked it out. I actually got the inside fairly neat and tidy! It’s a miracle! The jacket pattern itself is quite handsome, and I highly recommend it. Depending on the fabric choices and styling tweaks you make, it can work for 1970s to 1830s. Here are some of my inspiration images:

“Portrait of Nicolas-Pierre Tiolier” by French painter François-Édouard Picot, 1817

 

Men’s ensemble with piqué vest and nankeen pantaloons, 1813
This is one of my favorite Regency outfits ever.

Fashion plate, 1813

Fashion Plate, circa 1802

And here’s the final result:

Photo Courtesy of Festive Attyre

This pattern has a waist seam (not usually found before about 1820 for those concerned with HA) and uses modern techniques to put together–a boon since tailoring is not a skill I possess! I used the size XS for the jacket to get a close fit and it was still a little large even after alterations. I treated the coat as a Victorian bodice rather than a suit jacket for fitting. I learned a handy new alteration, too: forward-sloping shoulder. It is the total opposite of HA (most period coats have shoulder seams over the back of the shoulder, not at the top and definitely not in the front), but the fit and comfort level improved 100% with just that one change. Modern folks just sit more, leading to forward-leaning shoulders. If you struggle with shoulder fitting, this might solve a lot of heartache!

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You can’t see it in this picture, but I also raised the armpit, lengthened the sleeve and reduced the sleeve cap to increase movement. Modern suits have a very sharp sleeve drop-off whereas Regency coats have a more sloping line. The forward-shoulder adjustment was significant, almost an inch!

Since the last few picnics were on the cold side, we decided on a soft, warm cotton flannel in a light slate blue. Cotton flannel is great stuff to sew with, it’s fairly cheap, and it’s easy to find, making it a great option for outerwear if you can’t find/afford wool!

With the addition of some vintage pants, white shirt, gauzy scarf, and a tricket-filled fob, Jen was transformed into a proper, if slightly dandified, Regency gentleman!

Overall, the pattern was a good one, but there were two things I didn’t like. First was the bag lining. This is a personal hangup. I hate slogging through the method even if the results are nice. Trying to line the edges up and sew them crisply was a PITA! The little turn where the standing collar and revers/lapels meet turned out so wrinkled because the many think layers all bunch there despite trimming and notching the seam allowance. This is mostly on me, though. Like a always say, my sewing skills are harried at best, vicious at worst, so it’s no fault of the pattern, just a technique I don’t like/am not used to. The second problem, though, was the pattern’s use of iron-on interfacing for the jacket front. Many good, experienced seamstresses and tailors swear by interfacing to give a nice smooth, full appearance. The period correct method of interfacing/interlining is to pad stitch in horsehair canvas. Since this pattern is designed with modern techniques, the instructions recommend iron-on interfacing to make the front of the jacket, its collar, and revers lay smoothly. I’d never used iron-on interfacing before…NEVER AGAIN.

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IT LOOKED AND FELT SO BAD YOU GUYS. Like, maybe I chose the wrong type or weight or whatever, but…NO! It felt like damp paper towel and made the front of the coat look like it was made of craft foam. Thank heavens I had double the amount of the flannel yardage in my stash, otherwise I would have been in a world of hurt. So I had to re-cut and re-sew the entire front of the coat, but this time I used some vintage linen my Nana had given me. It wasn’t nearly as stiff as horsehair would be, but it got the job done and is still soft, more HA, and didn’t make Jen feel like she was being suffocated in a kitchen trash bag.

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You can see that the linen give the revers some oomph.

When given the choice between fabric-covered and metal buttons, Jen chose my favorite brass button from Walmart to give her coat some flash. They are the same type of button I used on my merchant gentleman’s coat. They are cheap and fabulous—I highly recommend them! Plus, they mimic the look of new gilt buttons from the era. Just a few weeks ago I found some original buttons at a local antique store. The Walmart ones are much lighter weight and way shinier, but look at how similar they are:

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Guess which ones are are the Whal-mert buttons!
…yeah, the ones on the right.
They’re not perfect dupes, but for their look and price-point, you can’t beat ’em!

The waistcoat I improvised from the coat pattern by omitting the tails, standing collar (though early Regency waitcoats had standing collars, too), and sleeves and cutting the back as one piece. The striped fabric is way too precious to use my usual slap-dash sewing methods. I’d never made a properly lined vest before, but it was waaaaay weirder than I had anticipated, yet with lots of help of Google and some awesome bloggers who took really helpful pictures, I succeeded.

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The vest has small white plastic buttons down the front because I didn’t have enough vintage mother of pearl buttons that match. I was so proud of myself: I finally gathered the gumption to use the buttonhole function on my machine to spare myself the embarrassment of making hideous hand-sewn buttonholes! Though now, I wonder if that contributed to the death of my sewing machine….

Yes. That happened, too.

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On Thursday, my Singer Simple ground to a halt. Despite all my best efforts oiling, faithfully de-linting, and changing needles, wrenching the flywheel forward felt like it is full of gravel, it sounded like death, and it would only sew at top speed, whumping like a thrash metal drumline with each stitch. And yes, I did try all the usual fixes. I took out the bobbin apparatus. I oiled every bit that could conceivably need oil. I took off the plastic cover and checked every part I could access. I am no sewing machine expert and while I was upset since the machine was a gift from my parents, I had no time to get it serviced before the event and it was more cost effective to buy a new machine. So I did.

I will confess that–and it’s a bit silly, I know– when I brought the new machine into the house, I made sure to box up the old machine and lay it quietly in the downstairs closet before I even took the new machine upstairs because–yes, it’s so ridiculous, but I didn’t want to hurt the old machine’s feelings….ya know? The last thing I need is the ghost of Sewing Machine Past haunting me in the middle of the night as I tossed and turned in my bed, tormented by a guilty conscious and the sound of grinding flywheels.

When I typed in “haunted sewing machine” into Google, this was one of the first results. Pearls Before Swine never fails me….unlike a certain sewing mach—nooooooooooo! It’s coming for meeeeeee!
Jokes aside, it was pretty emotionally traumatic and incredibly frustrating since it was so close to the deadline. It actually wasn’t actually the buttonholes that did it. My machine continued to sew well until I had finished my bonnet and started my dress mockup. There’s just something out of plumb in a place I can’t reach.

As soon as the new machine had ascended the throne, I launched right back into sewing. I’d been far too unproductive this year and I felt the burning need to finish something. One too many bowls of mac n cheese had piled up on my hips, so nothing fit anymore, so I had to sew or go plain-clothes! NOOOOOOO!

By slicing and dicing my old version of sliced-and-diced Simplicity 4055, I made a bodice that fit well enough to be wearable:

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That top left photo shows this alteration in progress. I also performed a FBA and changed the gown from a back closure to a front closure and only inserted a drawstring in the front instead of all the way around.

This was not Pragmatic, guys. I will be the first to admit it. It’s a ton of work to size up a pattern that much! It’s great alteration practice, though, so there is a bright side. For example, this pattern will now fit between a 40 and 46 inch bust, so even if current weight trends continue, this pattern will still fit for a while.

Speaking of bright sides, I used a possibly-poly-linen-blend from the Walmart value fabric section in yolk yellow for the fabric. Simplicity 4055 is a great pattern, but the sleeves can be obnoxious. The illustration and notches are kind of confusing. We’re so used to putting the sleeve seam at the back of the dress and the illustration appears to show that set-up, but when you set the sleeves that way this happens:

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The top photo shows the angled wrinkles as the sleeve fullness bunches at the front of the shoulder and you cannot reach forward. When I lift my arm backwards, the wrinkles follow the movement naturally. As I discovered in my previous striped version, the seam goes in the front, quite high up, too! Then you have a nice, full range of motion.

I also made an apron from a sheet, but I didn’t take any pictures. I just freehanded a top shape and used the front overskirt panel from Simplicity 4055 as a guide. I cheated and used the pre-hemmed edge of the sheet–one less thing to hem!

Photo courtesy of Festive Attyre

As garish as the ketchup and mustard combo is, the dress and apron are not the stars of the show, though. That honor might go to my bonnet:

Photo courtesy of Festive Attyre

It’s certainly not your average regency coif! Indeed, this isn’t like any Regency bonnet I’d ever seen before. (While Chris was helping me take pictures of my pattern draft, he asked me why I was making a chef hat out of coffee filters). It’s quite a statement!  So why did I choose this peculiar bonnet instead of, say, a classic turban or pokebonnet?

Depending on how much you’ve read on my blog, you may remember this particular Find of the Month:

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You can read all about it here, but the TL:DR version is that I bought this early 19th century Saint Lo paste cross on eBay. Much like my weird concern for my sewing machine’s feelings, one of my lovable eccentricities is the warm fuzzy feeling I get when I “reunite” something old with the fashions of it’s youth, for example, wearing an 1890s jacket in a Victorian house or pairing an 1850s book with a crinoline dress. I like to imagine their surprise at seeing something from their distant past after decades of watching modernity grow up around them. This battered old pendant has a particularly soft place in my heart. It’s not as eye-catching as my bonnet, but this is the true star of the show. It deserved to worn in the sunshine on a velvet ribbon once again! But what would it have been worn with?

I set about researching the costumes of Saint Lo in Marche in the Western part of Normandy, France, not expecting to find much about something so particular and obscure. You think I would have learned by now that if you ask the right questions long enough, the internet is full of surprising answers:

 There are two other images as well, but I do not have a license to post them directly. :(
One is here.
The other, which is my primary inspiration image, is here.

I never in my wildest dreams thought that’d I’d find one, much less three, original engravings of the traditional costume of Saint Lo and from the exact period my pendant was made! What an amazing time we live in!
The book they came from is “Costumes de femmes du pays de Caux, et de plusieurs autres parties de l’ancienne province de Normandie” by Louis-Marie Lante and Pierre de La Mésangère with engravings by Georges Jacques Gatine, first published in 1827. The book is full of full color engravings of the local costumes of the cities, villages,a and countryside in Normandy. There is even a digitized version from the New York Library you can see online! Sadly, not all of the plates were scanned in color and it seems to be missing some (and there a few doubles) so it may be an incomplete copy or some plates came out in a different edition.

Looking through the photos, I noticed that throughout the region there were lots of bright colors, pinned on aprons, and fichus/neckerchiefs/shawls. Oh, and bonnets!

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The shape of my bonnet ended up being a cross between Saint Lo and Lisieux.

Normandy is famous for its traditional costumes, especially extravagant bonnets/coifs/caps! The caps styles vary greatly from town to town, family to family, and woman to woman, but they are generally lacy and full or tall and frilled…sometimes both! I couldn’t find a pattern online, especially on my short deadline, and my drafting skills are rudimentary at best. So as much as I’d like to make an exact replica, I decided it’d be best to design my own take on a Normandy bonnet. I took the main elements of the Saint Lo Bonnet and broke it down into components:

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Tall body, accordion pleated frill, and puffed top.

I used Swedish sewing paper Becky had given me to draft the bonnet. It’s non-woven and stiff enough to stand on its own. A fabric bonnet would be more work to get it to look right. First, I needed a fabric that was thin, lightweight, but strong. Orgnady would be a good choice, but I already had this sheer white cotton shirt from Goodwill on hand:

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After cutting and assembling the main part of the cap, I starched it…A LOT. I used this recipe, but dunked the cap and un-pleated frill instead of spritzing them. To help hold the shape when it was drying, I made this highly professional hat block:

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Worked great, except the starchy water dissolved some of the paint, so the inside of my cap faintly reads “Taco Casa.”

The back frill was done in accordion pleats. Accordion pleats are tedious to iron, lemme tell you! This book has a great description of the process. Without a pleater board, you can’t get pleats much smaller than 1/2″ or so. One source even said that accordion pleats are best left to professionals only! You know how well that sort of challenge goes in my craft room.

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Accordion pleats stack up just like a handfan, so you are ironing on a tall, thin edge. I ended up having to pleat one half of the frill and then pleat the other half, meeting as close to the middle as possible, otherwise, it became too tall to iron! To keep the halves together as the pleats set, I whips stitched them. Heavily starching the fabric helped immesly because it gave the fabric the texture of paper, so it was similar to working with construction paper.

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 The fanned frill is a separate piece that I basted on to the back of the cap. The tips of the frill are held open using small straight pins (which I had to do without the benefit of a mirror at the picnic. The bonnet is too tall to wear in the car!).

The day of the picnic had just enough wind that I needed two bobby pins to secure it in front since it’s so tall and wide it acts like a sail!

Overall, the picnic was a success! We played a skittles/tenpins, took a few turns trying out the bandelore (yo-yo), and generally enjoyed the refreshing autumn air.

My friend Jen pointed out that we were Disney Princess colors!

I’m looking forward to next year!

Find more photos on Festive Attyre’s (Jen Thompson) Flickr Album:

2016 Georgian Picnic

And on my meager Flickr page:

Georgian Picnic 2016

The Original Red Death?! An Antique Victorian Fancy Dress Costume Fit for a Phantom

The perfect outfit for threatening guests at your next Masquerade!

Hello and Happy October, world! This blog began over 5 years ago this month when my very first post went live on October 5th, 2011.

Great Galloping Galoshes, how things have changed!

My blog is now old enough to be trusted with knives, open flames, and witchcraft according to antique greeting cards.
I’m so proud…*sniff*

5 years ago to the day (on October 28th, 2011), I posted a photo of a delightful vintage fancy dress costume in honor of Halloween:

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To pay homage to that anniversary, here’s another amazing fancy dress costume I recently found on eBay: a STUNNING Victorian version of a Tudor gentleman!

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Or perhaps, since this fabulosity hails from France, we should call this a Third Republican version of a Valois/Bourbonic gentleman, but that doesn’t sound quite as romantic…

From the seller’s description:

“This is a complete outfit for a young nobleman of the Renaissance, 5 pieces:
– the doublet, (inner front is padded)
– the breeches [trunk hose]
– the cape
– the hat and
– the scabbard belt”

The original eBay listing can be found here.

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It’s encrusted with faceted jet black glass beads and buttons– an elegant look in full sunlight, but even more decadent and  glittering in the light of gaslamps and candles!
(And I can’t be the only one getting Phantom of the Opera vibes, right…right?!)

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Judging by the colors, shapes, and especially the trims, this handsome outfit likely dates between 1885 and 1895–more likely the latter (that’s when black beaded trim was in vogue and just look at that cape…it screams 1890s!) This fabulous fancy dress costume could have either been worn for one of the many costumed balls popular during the late 19th century, made for a sumptuous Shakespearean spectacle, or donned during an opulent opera. Whatever the event, the costume has survived in superb condition! It is made of, as the seller perfectly put it, “soft red silk satin, the finest lightweight silky clothing velvet, very thin brown and cream polished [cotton] for the inner linings of the doublet and breeches.”

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I do believe the trunk hose are displayed backwards. The buttons probably went in back and the open “butt” was worn in front– filled in with a (now missing) codpiece, of course! Since it’s a Victorian recreation, it probably wouldn’t have been a very exciting codpiece by 16th century standards, though. ;P

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The full list of detailed measurements:

Cape height : 29″ width at top: 17″ width at bottom : 107″ 
Doublet Armpit to armpit : 20″  (chest about 40″) length : 20″ 1/2 collar : 17″ waist flat : 21″ chest flat : 19″ 1/2 
Breeches  waist : 15″ 1/2 to 16″ 1/2 legs opening : 21 ” length : 17 ” 
Hat inside: 21″ 1/2 length: 11″

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Such a miraculously fine bit of fantasy to survive in such condition for 120 years!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Click for base image source

Find of the Month: Early 19th Century Gilt Buttons

October 2016

My new favorite antique store, Maine Barn and Attic Antiques, has oodles of raw, dusty crusty buttons for 10¢ to $2 each, depending on the bin you dig them out of. Usually I paw through the enormous 10¢ button bin, but this past weekend, I ventured over to the smaller more expensive bins (50¢ each. Living the high life!) and was excited to find what I thoughts were 18th century buttons:

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All of them are smooth and plain except for this gaudy little guy.

They are very weighty! These would definitely have to be attached using the taped method used on men’s coats during the 18th and early 19th century. Taped buttons are attached to the coat by making an eyelet where the button sits, poking the shank through to the back of the garment, and threading a narrow ribbon or woven tape through the shanks to hold them down. American Duchess has an awesome guide for this handy technique here.

This is the best illustrated guide to the technique ever! Thanks, Lauren!

Attching buttons that way makes sure they stay flat, flush and firm instead of flopping around. That’s how all those enormous, ornate buttons you see on 18th century coats stay so neatly in place despite being so heavy!

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They have large, round “omega” style shanks.
Button Shanks Guide by Button Country
Guide to dating buttons by shank style: DAACS Cataloging Manual for Buttons

All of them have detailed stamps on the back with interesting sayings like “Orange Colour” and “Treble Gilt London.”

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In reality, they are not quite as old as I first believed. Research led me to lots of metal detecting and mudlarking websites where I learned that these buttons are commonly dug up across the English and New England countryside. My buttons date from about 1810 to 1840. The English discovered a process for gilding buttons in the late 18th century and by the 19th century the manufacture of gilded buttons was in full swing. For a more detailed account, I’ll direct you to this short, well-written PDF on the subject.

I tried to do a bit more detailed research on the individual button back stamps, but haven’t delved too deep yet (too busy prepping for Georgian Picnic!). Still, I took pictures of each button back so if anyone else finds one, we can compare notes. :)

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“B & BURNHAM – TREBLE GILT” with a chain design around the shank

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“—-GE (Probably “ORANGE”) COLOUR” with dotted borders
This is the back of the smaller engraved button.

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“TREBLE GILT – STAND (D) COLOUR” with dotted borders

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“STAND (D) TREBLE GILT – LONDON) with stamped sun design around shank.

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“WARRENTED – FINE GOLD SURFACE” with dots and sunburst/starburst design around the shank

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“BEST QUALITY” with eagle
I think this button may be later, closer to 1850-1860, judging by the font and styling. It is also the thinnest and lightest of the bunch.

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“LONDON GILT” with a laurel/leaf design and two rings of dots around the shank

Other Find of the Month posts you might like:

Find of the Month: English Silver-Gilt Button

Find of the Month: Stuart Crystal Breeches Button

Review of the Historical Fashion Flip-Up Book “Fashion Through the Ages: From Overcoats to Petticoats”

Subuculas, Stays, and Slips!

I like going to Half-Price Books. They have all sorts of out of print and hard to find books, plus a great antique/collectible section! Their Fashion selection, however, is sometimes seriously lacking. I spent one day frantically trying to find the Fashion section after they apparently moved it. I was looking for a copy of The Tudor Tailor, so I asked the front desk after searching through the Art section, the Craft section, the History section, and even the Collectibles section (where books like Fashion in Detail had appeared before) to no avail. Turns out they had no clue where to put fashion books, historical or otherwise, so they stuck them in the “Salf-Help” category! They had very few historical fashion books of any type, but just before I gave up hope, I found this book:

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“Fashion Through the Ages: From Overcoats to Petticoats”
by Margaret Knight with awesome illustrations by Kim Dalziel

Inside, there were stylish illustrations of historical fashions from ancient Rome to the 1960s, all with nifty flip-up clothing layers! At $5, I had to have it!

Inside, there are there are 28 thick cardstock pages that detail fashions for men, women, and male and female children in chronolgical order from earliest to latest fashion, starting with the Roman Empire (27 BC to 467 AD), then the Middle Ages (500-1500), the Fifteenth Century/Early Renaissance, Sixteenth Century/High Renaissance, Seventeenth Century, Eighteenth Century, Nineteenth Century, 1901-1920, the 1920s, the 1930s, the 1940s-50s (combined), and the 1960s.

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Besides the illustrations, each category included a generously-sized foldout describing the changes in fashion and society during the era. Along the edges of the pages are additional fashion tidbits, like hairstyles, hats, and other information not included on the main feature of the book: the flip-up clothing layers.

Each figure has at least one fancy flip up/open/down piece that reveals information about the layer. For example, the “1635” man’s doublet/coat folds open to reveal his shirt beneath and a brief description of it:

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And the “1750s” woman has a layer for her gown and a separate one for her petticoats which both lift to reveal her shift, stays, and panniers underneath:

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The adults clothing has more details than the children’s clothing, but the children’s clothing flip-ups do contain bits of information about popular children’s clothing colors and fabrics.

That’s the basic description of the book. Now, for the review!

This such a cool idea! I love the illustrations and the discovery with each turn of the page and lift of a flap. Children and adults alike are curious about the “weird” clothing our ancestors used to wear and this book is a fun way to explore the basics without feeling like an intruder (how many times have you as a reenactor, cosplayer, costumer, or vintage-lover faced that awkward question or unwelcome groping hand?). The basics are all contained in this book, so it acts as a jumping off point for multiple eras without the intimidating immensity of a fashion encyclopedia.

The illustrations are well-balanced with the double-sided flaps containing the detailed text portion so it’s neither too child-like nor too text-heavy. The colors are well-thought-out and suit the general mood of the chosen eras (lighter colors for Rococo, earthy colors for the Middle Ages, and, of course, bright primary colors for the 1960s).

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There are a few places where I was disappointed, however. The sections, especially for the earlier fashions, are very broad– some covering 500 years or more! I admit that I am not a scholar of the nuances of these earlier eras, so I am not as disgruntled as, say, an expert in the 1340s would be. For example, the Tudor era (1485-1558) is almost entirely skipped, save for Elizabeth I’s reign.

I can excuse some generalizations because this is designed as a children’s book meant to present the very basics of fashion history in an entertaining and quick manner. In a world when most folks know Medieval fashion only from the Lord of the Rings movies, learning even the most basic real Medieval fashion concepts can be confusing to a beginner. The layers and undergarments, which is the main purpose of this book’s illustrations, are all pretty well-covered (ha ha!) despite the broad time swathes. For the most part, petticoats, garters, stockings, stays, and shifts are introduced in the eras they should be.

There was one era, though, which I thought was done a huge disservice: the 19th Century.

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Since this is a book about layers and showcasing the mysterious underwear worn beneath them, it would seem natural to include the many different types of undergarments in the 19th century. It was, after all, probably the most exciting, underwear-centric time in history! There were the short Regency stays and slips, the long stays and crazy-huge sleeve-puffers of the 1830s, the steel-busked corsets and hoop skirts in the 1850s and 1860s, the advent of the bustle in the 1870s and its construction ingenuity in the 1880s!

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Were they centaurs? They must have been centaurs.

Yet, the book dedicates only one section to the entire century and only illustrates the 1810s at the very beginning and the 1850s in the middle– with no children’s outfits to boot! So many shapes that I was bewildered by as a curious child (and even as an adult) are skipped over. The bustle is relegated to a few notes in the top right corner. I would not be as disappointed if the 20th Century decades weren’t given their own sections and illustrations despite the relatively uneventful underwear and layers involved. The 20th Century pages have fewer flaps, and there is little change to the undergarments after the 1920s. The most exciting bit is probably the corset and bullet bra on the 1940s/50s woman:

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The copy of the book I bought was preowned, but despite that, many of the flaps in the later eras had never been touched even though the flaps of the earlier styles, particularly the Roman, Medieval, and Victorian eras, were more “worn in” from use. Whatever person(s) had the book before me was clearly less interested by the modern era! The underpinnings of the 1400s were far more mysterious than the 1940s, at least in this case. In a few decades, perhaps the 20th Century sections will seem more exciting since they will be more distant from the now.

With that said, this book is all about layers and undergarments, so you are literally undressing the illustrations layer by layer down to their skivvies. Some folks might not be particularly comfortable with this, especially since the Middle Ages allows you to see under the lady’s chemise to see her stockings and she’s nude (of course) underneath:

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The illustration is not heavily detailed, but she does have curves denoting her breasts, a little belly button, and the tiniest V where are thighs meet her trunk. Being nude under her shift is historically accurate, but you can easily paste down her shift to make her more modest if you are concerned about it. The children’s layers are not as detailed, so they don’t go down that far and neither do most of the men’s outfits, though the 1960s keeps the playing field even:

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The fashions are Euro/Anglocentric (the author worked for the Victoria and Albert Museum), some of the terms are out of date (the book was written in 1998), the corset/stays/bodies information retains a slightly sensationalized tone, and the 1590s woman is wearing inaccurate pantaloons, but at that point, I’m letting my current knowledge outpace the level this book is intended for.

According to Amazon, this book is for ages 5-7 years, but I believe that’s way too young for this book: not because of the revealing nature of it (the whole point of the book is to reveal the hidden parts of fashion), but because this book has a lot of text and details that a younger child might not appreciate. However, for a 7-14 year old, this book would be a really fun, informative introduction to the world of historical fashion! I would have loved a book like this as a tween and I still appreciate it even though I no longer need it. For $5 or even $15, this book would make a great gift to a budding historical fashionista. The quality of the book itself is very high (great paper, wonderful layout, etc.) and it will answer many questions, prompt new questions, and encourage further research.

Overall rating:

Great fun for a fashion history newbie!

Never Again Until Now: A Review of Corset Story’s Waist Taming Overbust with Hip Gores

My Victorian Corset Story Corset Story (So Far)

I have heard many horror stories about Corset Story. Indeed,they are still probably the most controversial corset brand out there. Corset Story isn’t their only name, either. You may know them as Corsets UK or CorsetDeal or any of their other 40+ names. While the sale sites are different (perhaps owned by different individuals, like franchisees??), the manufacturer for these brands is the same, so you will see many of the exact same designs from “different” shops. This manufacturer has been lambasted for having the lowest quality corsets on the market. So low quality, in fact, that their corsets have lived up to the modern myth that corsets hurt you: people reported bruises and even stabbing caused by the heinous combination of horrible boning made of non-corset steel (literally pieces of metal for construction work, not corsets) and shapes so tubular that they didn’t even touch your waist, causing many people to hurt their hips and ribs trying to close them (and thinking it was normal because “corsets are supposed to hurt, right?”)!

I had my own encounter with these tubular corsets early into my corseting journey. After my wonderful experience buying my first Victorian corset off eBay, I was gung ho about buying another. I found Punk69’s corsets way back in 2013 before I knew of anything about them. I had just closed my 24 inch corset and was excited to try an underbust in the next size down. I picked a cute cherry one that seemed nice enough to my then-untrained eye:

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When it arrived, I was sad to discover that it wasn’t as curvy as the picture– far from it! So far, in fact, that it has been relegated to holding my makeshift mannequin’s innards together. Lesson learned: corset seller photos lie!

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I use her to model the tiniest of Victorian bodices. Now, tubular corsets are not entirely useless. Not everyone wants to reduce their waist when they wear a corset; they might just want the look. There are also lots of people who are less curvy and/or rather slim and tubular themselves, so a fairly straight corset suits them. Apple body shapes who have large waists, but small hips and busts may find a corset with a very gentle curve is more suited to their needs than a curvier model. But, for me, this shape just would not work!

Disappointed, I swore off eBay corsets altogether, and as my knowledge of proper corset fit increased, I also swore off Corset Story and their like because I found nothing but faults with their products.

Then, tragedy struck:

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My beloved white satin eBay corset suffered a catastrophic bone breech at Georgian Picnic. While fixable with some flossing, after three years of unforgiving wear, the poor soul was barely clinging to life. No longer able to contain my excess holiday pounds, I fear that its time is at hand. I needed a new inexpensive multi-tasking corset to take its place. Despite its many flaws, I really wanted the same model, but the company no longer makes it! I know because I asked multiple times, offered to buy any deadstock, and pleaded with them to see reason and start stocking them again. Alas, it was not to be.

I turned back to eBay and for months hemmed and hawed over the hundreds of thousands of cheap overbusts flooding its pages. I am still considering one because I like the conical bust shape my white corset gave (because of its too-small bust, ironically). It was good for 18th century wear and I already have my custom Hourglass Attire Victorian corset, so I wasn’t looking for another one.

However, in my search, I tripped over Steam Ingenious’s review of the new Corset Story Waist Tamer line from Spring 2015. That got my attention because her blog was the one that introduced many, including myself, to the horrid reality of Corset Story/CorsetsUK/etc.’s sub-standard quality. However, as I read through the post and studied the pictures, I began to feel that perhaps this newer style of corset, the Waist Tamer with Hip Gores, would be worth a try…

But at $135, I balked. At that price, I was halfway to a What Katie Did corset or even another basic custom corset from Hourglass Attire (both still on my wish list!). Did I really need another Victorian-style corset?

But, as luck would have it, a week later, the style went on massive sale and I decided to take the plunge and give this new stock a try! Here’s my experience:

Ordering: Easy, fast, with no hiccups.  I chose the same model as Steam Ingenious: the Waist Tamer Overbust in Black Satin with Hip Gores. There are other styles, including underbusts in this line. I picked the satin fabric over the brocade because my brocade Orchard Corset was very thick and stiff which I do not like. I hoped that the satin would be thinner and more pliable, like my white eBay corset. I normally buy 24 inch corsets and wear them with no problems. However, studying the size chart for this model, I realized that even with the touted hip gores, a size 24 wouldn’t fit over my hips. I opted for a size 26 instead. With shipping, I paid $63.00 = $55 for the corset + $8 shipping. I chose untracked shipping for maximum cheapness.

Shipping: I’m in the USA. Corset Story ships from overseas, so I was expecting anything from a two-week to two-month wait. I was pleasantly surprised that it arrived in only 8 days!

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Packaging: It was packed in a plastic mailer (non-padded). The corset was in a crisp plastic bag of its own. There was a sticker “invoice” of sorts listing the model number and price, but no return labels (you must pay for your own exchange shipping). Out of the bag, the corset is tied together down the busk with a cord to keep it from opening. There is also a product card with a short, thick spiral steel bone sample.

The Corset Itself: I am not as much of a corset-construction expert as Lucy from Lucy’s Corsetry, so my review isn’t as in-depth as hers would be, but here are the basics:

  • This is apparently a two-layer corset: one layer of the poly satin and one layer of the twill. Both are very stiff and heavy, securely stitched.

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  • There is an exposed woven waist-tape and satin ribbon garter tabs. There are also loops at the top of the corset for bra straps(?), a feature I’ve never encountered before.

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  • The wide, unstiffened modesty panel is sewn into the corset, so you cannot unpick the seam to remove it without releasing a boning channel in the process. I immediately cut my modesty panel off with scissors. It left a ragged edge, but I hate modesty panels more than I hate raw edges, so I am perfectly fine with it.

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  • Laces are a good length: plenty to let out to get the corset on and off, but not so long they are overwhelming. They are easy to tighten and do not slip too much.
  • The grommets in the back are color coded at the waist. The third grommet from the top of my corset has a interior split. It doesn’t show well, so I can’t get a photo, but I can feel the laces snag and hear the dragging when they are pulled through. The laces are sturdy, so they haven’t frayed yet, but I imagine this burr will begin to fuzz them up soon enough. (Steam Ingenious noticed a similar burr on her corset as well).

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  • The boning channels are funky to me. At first it felt almost like they doubled up the bones in each channel, one on the other! In actuality, there are applied cotton channels on the inside where the boning is inserted, but the satin outside is double-layered (welt seamed) over them, making the boning lines on the corset extremely thick– almost 1/2″ over the bust curves! This creates a very prominent ridge over the bust, especially the left side where there is also a deep structural wrinkle in the fabric where it caught incorrectly into the binding. I won’t be able to wear this under thinner dresses, but for a heavier bodice, it works okay.

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Terrible picture, but you get the idea. This bodice was shaped over a higher-waisted corset, hence the odd fit over my new one, but otherwise, it works nicely. The shirred inset hides any lumps and bumps from the corset’s thick boning channels.

Silhouette/Shape and Fit: I measure 38-30-36 with an inverted triangle body type. This corset design is nicely curvy on my figure. The waistline is lower than some corsets: it gradually tapers in down the side, then sweeps wide over the hips which I really like. My bottom half is very tubular (my hips are  only 6-7 inches larger than my waist when I’m uncorsetted), so I really like how this corset gives me some va-va-voom in that area! But the biggest treat was that this corset actually fits my bust! I wear a 34F bra, so finding an OTR overbust with enough room for the girlies without smashing them or causing them to bubble over the top is like finding a rare unicorn. I guess Corset Story should rename this model “The Mythical Beast” because, surprise! It fits and it is the exact same shape as the pictures portray! I think this corset would fit a C-G cup best.

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Corset Story advises that the Waist Taming corsets are designed to be worn with a 2 inch gap after an average waist reduction of 3-4 inches. I didn’t quite get my gap down to 2 inches because the hips, though very nicely shaped, were at capacity even on my small-side-of-average hips. The gored design is still very flattering and does not pinch, but if you have more than a 7 inch natural hip spring, you will probably find the hips in this style too small. I am short-waisted (9 inches from underbust to lap) and this corset was about my limit lengthwise. I can sit in it, but it does bump into my lap and boost my breast up. This corset would be the perfect length if you are ~10 inches from underbust to lap. I would recommend this to my fellow inverted triangles who have longed for a flattering, comfortable Victorian corset!

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Waist Reduction: I was able to get about 3.5 inches of interior reduction (26.5 inches). However, the material and bulky boning channels add a lot of thickness back to waist, so my exterior measurement is only 1.5 inches smaller than my natural waist. This isn’t much a of a deal breaker unless you are hoping to squeeze down a size or more for an event. I know many people buy corsets to wear under formal and other special occasion gowns.
BE ADVISED: This is not a short-notice piece of shapewear!
I’ve worn mine four hours a day for 7 days and it is nowhere near seasoned. It’d be very uncomfortable to try to lace yourself down quickly in a corset this stiff, especially if you are new to corseting. If you buy this corset, be prepared to give it plenty of time to break in, much like you would break in a new pair of shoes.
It’s a bit of a myth that the thicker a corset is, the better the quality, and I think C.S. fell for that myth HARD. Victorian corsets achieved amazing shaping with only a single layer and my eBay overbust, cheap as it is, survived over three years of abuse even though it’s paper thin and light as a feather. That was what I really liked about it: lightweight, cool, and easy to wear. My Waist Taming corset appears to be very durable, but I was really hoping for a softer corset (which is why I chose the satin in the first place).  I’m still grieving over my first corset, so I might be a bit biased, though…

Note on the Design:

Above: What Katie Did Storm Overbust

Above: Corset Story Waist Taming Overbust with Hip Gores
You can see the similarities between the What Katie Did design and the Corset Story one. You can see in the photo that their version is not as cleanly executed, exhibiting the same bumpiness over the bust that my corset has, though mine is not as wrinkly. This image is from the Corsets UK site, the British parent company of Corset Story, one of its many offshoots.

I think the Waist Taming line is Corset Story’s attempt to compete with higher-tier OTR brands like What Katie Did. WKD is known for their smoothly sculpted black satin corsets that are famously a little stiffer and heavier than other OTR corset brands and have gored hips. Corset Story didn’t copy WKD’s designs exactly, which I appreciate because stealing designs is a huge problem in the corset community, but I see C.S. wanting to mimic certain design features in order to appeal to a new clientele. That’s okay. I am glad they are seeking to improve their products based on customer feedback.

Final Thoughts:

Pros: Excellent shape for 1880-1890! A good basic corset that could work as an undergarment or as outwear (would look especially nice with a gothic ballgown skirt!), shape is exactly as advertised and photographed on the website, lots of bust space, nicely shaped bust cups, hip gores provide some extra space and lots of contrast (making the waist look even smaller), very sturdy construction, amazing value if you can catch it on sale, pleasant shipping experience, comfortable if seasoned properly.

Cons: Material is very thick, the boning is very stiff (Steam Ingenious took her corset apart and found the same non-corset steel bones being used in the back channels, but the rest is wide spirals), hips might be too small for some and the bust too large for others.

Overall Corset Rating for Corset Story’s Waist Taming Satin Overbust Corset with Hip Gores:

corset rating

3 out of 5!

I want to score this corset 3.5 or even a 4, but I’m hung up over the bulky boning…otherwise, I really enjoy it!

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This is not a solicited review. I am not affiliated with Corset Story and they haven’t paid or given me anything for this review. I purchased this corset with my own money for my own private use as an undergarment for 19th century costumes, so I am approaching it from that angle. I am not a waist trainer or costuming professional, so this review is based only on my personal knowledge and experience. Your experience may differ (and if so, please share in a comment below!). If you have any questions about this review or any of my other blog posts, please feel free to leave a comment or contact me through the Pragmatic Costumer Facebook page!

Five Snazzy Details to Add Pizzazz to Your Victorian Costume

Full, Exhaustive Title:
Five Snazzy Details to Add Pizzazz to Your Victorian Costume

found in Extant 19th Century Garments from Augusta Auctions

I enjoy poking around on internet auction sites for extant garments “in the rough.” Museums can’t hold every original piece of clothing. There are literal tons of antique clothing sitting in private homes and shops that no one has ever seen before! We are blessed in this age of internet commerce to see some of these treasures for a few brief days on websites like eBay, Etsy, or Ruby Lane before they disappear again into private collections. Many of these amazing private holdings posess design details and quirks that are often glossed over by sweeping generalizations about past fashions. Looking through these often less-than-perfect dresses in their wrinkled, as-found condition is a wellspring of fresh sewing inspiration!
Since I can’t buy every gorgeous gown that scrolls across my screen, I have taken to collecting them digitally on Pinterest, combing through online sales pages for pieces with unusual features or appealing designs. One of the many sites I try to check regularly is the Augusta Auctions page. They are an antique/vintage textile and clothing auction house that so kindly keeps pictures of previous auction lots long after the auction has ended (so many times auction sites remove photos soon after the sale is complete). They have garments of many types from the 1700s to modern, but my research recently has focused on the Victorian era (1837-1901). Many of their items are de-accessioned from public museums which means that the Augusta Auction website is often their last accessible record before disappearing from the public view. Rifling through the auction lots has yielded some unusual and strange pieces, but it also has brought to light a few simple, unique design elements that a modern costumer could easily adopt!

1. Mix-n-Match and Matchy-Matchy Accessories
(I guess that’s really two tips in one, so this list has 6!)

Morning Glory Cotton Sateen Day Dress, 1880s
“2-piece, maroon [looks brown in the photos, but it my be more reddish in person] cotton sateen w/ blue floral print, lace trim, cut steel buttons, matching fan.” – Augusta Auctions

I’m not generally a matching maven when it comes to my day-to-day modern clothes, but making my own historical outfits means I pay a lot more attention to color, pattern, and stylish shortcuts. This dress has a classic combination of dense print paired with a plain matching color. The printed bodice and bustled overskirt are separate from the simple tiered brown cotton underskirt, so they can be mixed and matched with other pieces. The solid colored skirt would be very easy to match other bodices with and it’s likely the dress’s original owner had one or two other pieces she could mix together to create a multitude of outfits with, especially since (unlike many bustle underskirts that have plain backs) this underskirt is decorated all the way around making it extra versatile:

A very simple bustle back suitable for an active woman on the job or on the go!

But sometimes you just wanna MATCH. Some women match their shoes to their purse. Others can’t leave the house unless everything from their underwear to their earrings are all the same shade. This day dress in particular comes with a unique matching accessory, especially for such an otherwise ordinary outfit: A custom matching fan!

It matches so well it’s nearly camouflaged!

If you are interested in making a matchy-matchy fan of your own, here’s a semi-tutorial posted on La Bricoleuse:

Making a Silk Folding Fan

As an added bonus, the fabric on the fan was protected from the sun when it was folded up, so it did not fade! It gives us a clue about how much brighter this dress used to be: just look at that pop of ultramarine and hint of crimson! It was a brilliant use of excess fabric. Other ways to use extra fabric scraps to create matchy-matchy accessories include small drawstring purses and coverings for hats and bonnets.

Lined Drawstring Bag Tutorial
By In Color Order

Cardboard and Duct Tape Victorian Bonnet Tutorial
by Darling and Dash

2. Ribbon Flowers
(may be combined with the matchy-matchy tip above for decorating pretty much everything)

Detail of a Silk Visiting Dress, 1860s
“Three-piece buff changeable ribbed taffeta, trimmed with bright coral satin bands, scallops, bows, rosettes and Van Dyke points: front buttoning boned bodice with high neckline; belt with attached back peplum; trained unlined skirt, gold stamped label “Louis Hille Tailleur Pour Dames 398 Rue St Honore Paris”[…] Featured in April 1998 ANTIQUES Magazine” – Augusta Auctions

It’s fairly common to see garments decorated with ribbon bows and cockades, but when I found this dress, the big pink satin flower caught my eye right away. It is extremely similar to modern ribbon flowers that can be found on everything from toddler headbands to coffee cup koozies!

There are hundreds of ribbon and fabric flower tutorials, but for this particular design, there are three methods that will produce similar results:

Ruched Ribbon Flower
Tutorial by Nikki in Stitches

Scrap Fabric Flower
Tutorial by Melissa of Until Wednesday Calls

Round Petal Kanzashi Flower
Tutorial by A Pumpkin & A Princess

In addition to how modern the flower looks, the placement also gives it unique charm. There’s one at a fairly standard location at the small of the back, but another is placed just off the hip and another midway down the skirt. So cute!

The seamstress really liked trimming in general. Just check out the amazing design created with matching pink ribbon/fabric applied in a multitude of ways!

Rosettes, stripes, binding, applique, scalloped edging, bows… the works!

3. Embroidered Accents

Embroidered Visiting Dress, 1870s
“2 main fabrics: black silk faille & black silk satin, satin w/ narrow velvet stripe embroidered w/ wine, brown & blue flowers, polonaise bodice, cut steel buttons & lace, blue satin modesty insert, trained bustle skirt, B 36″, W 30″, Skirt L 40″-59″, provenance, Homans family Washington, D.C.” – Augusta Auction

Victorian costumes often feature lovely embroidery work. They didn’t have access to fancy in-home digital embroidery machines like we do now, but there are so many beautiful modern fabrics and trims that come pre-embroidered today so even if you can’t embroider, you can have the look! Even now, embroidered fabric can be pretty expensive. A whole gown of the stuff might be out of the question for most. A yard or two, though, is enough to add a rich touch to a dress like in this sophisticated frock:

The seamstress who crafted this dress made judicious use of the fine striped satin with embroidered flora, placing it front and center on the bodice and cuffs, but leaving the back plain while edging and gores in the skirt tie the look together.

There was quite a heated discussion on a forum about the legitimacy of using pre-embroidered fabrics in historical costumes. While handwork is always period, pre-embroidered fabric is a fantastic way to mimic the look. The embroidery on this dress in particular features a small, repeating pattern that looks very much like many pre-embroidered fabric available today.

Bonus points for the pieced front and late 18th century revival styling!

4. Bold Buttons

Silk Brocade Jacket, 1880s
“Black silk ground w/ Persian inspired brocade, small rondels in metallic gold, sky blue, maroon & yellow, fitted torso, constructed in style of gent’s 18th C jacket, black velvet trim & back pockets, cream & gold embroidered lace trim, 24 magnificent gold metal buttons inset w/ cut steel faceted beads in silver, cobalt & wine, bright yellow silk satin lining, B 32″, W 24″, L 27-30″, excellent. [De-accessioned from the] Brooklyn Museum.” -Augusta Auctions

The last dress had some pretty nifty cut steel buttons, but this jacket certainly ups the ante! Victorians loved buttons of all types and there are as many colors and styles as you can imagine. The buttons on this jacket are something truly avant-garde and different, though. They look thoroughly modern. They would be right at home on a 1930s suit or a 1960s mod mini dress, but here they sit on an otherwise unassuming brocade jacket!

Like many buttons and pieces of jewelry from the 19th century, these buttons are made of faceted steel studs riveted together. These are unusual for their added color and abstract dot pattern.

As they were 150 years ago, buttons can be an expensive investment, but they can really add a pop of character to an otherwise plain dress! Many Victorian buttons are more “traditional” than these, but Victorians loved quirky buttons of all types– from colorful lions and garden insects to distant planets and birds on a telegraph wire!
Etsy is a great place to look for unique buttons, both antique and modern.

With all the wild figurative metal buttons out there, you could probably use these awesome steampunk mechanism buttons or these ancient glyph buttons and no Victorian would bat an eye (they might even compliment you on them, considering how fond they were of industrial progress and ancient cultures). After all, they were the ones putting spiders, ears or corn, and fighting children on buttons first!

Fashionable fisticuffs, anyone?

5. Stunning Studs

Taupe Silk Tea Dress
“2-piece silk crepe, boned bodice w/ overlay of chemical lace studded w/ cut steel beads, grey velvet trim, label “Jermyn W. 45th St.”, B 36″, W 28″, L 41″” -Augusta Auctions
(This dress would totally fit me! If only I had snatched it up. It sold for only $120!)

Augusta Auctions dates this to the 1910s, but the shape, construction, and styling all scream 1889-1892, so I’m including it here.

Ah, my angsty teenage self sure did love silver studs! I treasured my gnarly Hot Topic studded faux-leather bracelet because it made me feel like an invincible warrior. Surprisingly, it’s not just goths and neo-Victorians who enjoyed being studded with glittery steel. The dresses above had silvery cut steel buttons. This particular dress cut out the middle man and has cut steel applied directly to the lace!

Cut steel jewelry and accessories have been around for centuries as a bright, sparkly alternative to diamonds. In the late Victorian period, cut steel was mass manufactured and widely popular. Steel-encrusted miser purses, opera capes, and shoes were de rigueur. While individual studs were less common, they were popular for wearing indoors because they were excellent at glittering in low light.
Studs weren’t just made of rounded cut steel. Some were spiky enough to make even the hardest-core punk rocker happy! Here are two bonnets with pyramid studs that defy the supposedly frail and fragile femininity associated with the Victorian era:

H. O. Hanlon Bonnet, circa 1887
Metal (the Met doesn’t list if they are steel or something else) studs in action. My favorite 1880s bonnet!

House of Virot Bonnet, circa 1885
Black glass pyramid beads add some fierce glitter to this otherwise plush bonnet.

Victorians loved the interplay between hard and soft surfaces and playing with textures. Some combinations are truly unusual and funky, but if done in moderation and with a careful eye for the design, even supposedly “modern” fashion elements can work in the Victorian era!