Saucy Chartreuse: 1890s Walking Suit for Frontier Fort Days with the DFW Costumers Guild

Making Sunday’s Best out of Walmart’s Worst

I mentioned that I’d found a chartreuse shirt at the thrift shop recently. Well, the timing couldn’t have been better because I was invited to go to the DFW Costumers Guild’s Frontier Fort Days train ride. I could have worn my Mrs. Mauve dress, but I didn’t want to deal with the huge sleeves in the wild Texas wind, so a new dress was in order– short order!

I had found some super-cheap cherry blossom print cotton at Walmart in the clearance section for $2 a yard. It was love at first sight, even if the first 4 yards of it had snags all over the place!

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Japonism was hugely popular in the 1890s. These cherry blossoms are perfect! I think I actually squealed when I found it, but I don’t clearly remember. I do remember hiding the bolt so no one would take it while I finished grocery shopping, though….

Since there were only 7 yards of the cotton print and one full dress would take 6.5, I had to use every last bit, even the snagged parts. I cut the lining and enormous back skirt panels from the chewed-up bits. The pleats hide any little nips perfectly! The pristine fabric was saved for the skirt front and bodice.

I used Simplicity 4156 again (my Precious), but I modified it a lot. So much so, in fact, that I really had no idea what the dress was going to look like in the end because I’d deviated not just from the pattern design, but my own design as well!

The original Simplicity 4156 design

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My first draft design: smaller puff sleeves and no lapels, standing collar, or peplum.

Originally, I was going to pair the grey fabric with some buttery yellow velvet, but when I put the two next to each other, it just didn’t work. Then, on a whim, I tried the chartreuse shirt…MAGIC! So I redrafted the design again:

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Design draft #2

I omitted the lapels and stand-up collar, and didn’t have to fuss with a peplum and facing, so the bodice was a breeze! The sleeves, however, were a hot mess:

I took TONS of in-progress shots…all of the finished sleeves. Yeah. Just the sleeves. Mostly because I was so glad to be done with them!

I used Ol’ Trusty, my favorite sleeve pattern again. Usually sleeves fit too tightly on my upper arm, but bag around my wrist because my arm is very muscular up top, but twig-like by the time it reaches my wrist. Perfect for 1890s sleeves, but I used applied balloon sleeves instead of drafting a tapering mutton chop sleeve. I just like the look better, but golly, was it a pain! I had to resize the fitted sleeve about three times and re-sew the puffs twice, once because I sewed one on inside out and another because I caught up some of the pleats. Since I wasn’t using the huge, original sleeve-puff pattern included in the envelope, I drafted my own complex sleeve-puff pattern which involved calculus, cracking the Da Vinci code, and blood sacrifice….

Actually, I just took Ol’ Trusty, figured out how far down I wanted the puff to go, then traced around the entire thing 5 inches out:

sleeveAnother one of my highly-technical illustrative masterpieces displaying my intense pattern drafting (and computer illustration) prowess.

It wasn’t elegant and likely could have been done much better, but it worked! I’m usually not much for cuffs, but the sleeves (even with the puff) were much too plain. I cut some triangular cuffs out of the chartreuse silk and was delighted to discover how Starfleet-eque they looked! Two covered buttons later, I was promoted to Lieutenant:

Starfleet Forever

Ah, tiny touches of geekery…

I tacked back the collar with some matching covered buttons to tie the look together. Since I had omitted the lapels and collar, the bodice was rather plain on its own. I had some lovely, drapey lace I had bought to make into 18th century engageantes, but the lace was just a tad too limp in my opinion, so I’d stashed it. However, it was just right for a jaunty jabot, so I upped the haughtiness level of the bodice with a swag of smarmy lace:

Smarmy” and “lace” aren’t usually paired together, but jabots always make me feel like one of those pretentious rich ladies or an Edith Wharton character. It’s like a costume’s costume: I’m playing the part of someone playing a part!
…I think my English Major is showing…

So at the end of day (a rather late end to the day, too), I ended up with something that, while slightly reminiscent of my original design, was much fancier than I originally planned on making:

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I used every last bit of the chartreuse shirt! All that’s left are tiny bits and strings scattered everywhere throughout the house thanks to the kitten.

I really, REALLY highly recommend the Simplicity 4156 to intermediate costumers, or even ambitious beginners, in need of an 1890s pattern. The basic pattern goes together well, plus it’s easy to manipulate, fit, and redesign by mixing and matching the pieces. It is currently out of print (a tragedy! Please reprint it, Simplicity!), so it is expensive. It goes for about $35 online, but I was lucky enough to find a copy for $10 from a theater costumer closeout sale, so there are bargains out there!

Construction Notes

The front closes with hooks and eyes and I used 1/2 inch wide cable ties to bone the front, sides, and center back which helped the fit immensely!

For coolness, I didn’t add a full-sleeve interior lining.

My dress form is about 2 inches longer in the waist than I am, so pardon the gap! I am much stockier than Simplicity the Dress Form is, so the bodice actually meets the skirt when I wear them.

I also need to add a waist tape and some hooks and eyes to hold the bodice and skirt together, but I ran out of time. This dress is my new “event” dress, though, so I have lots of time to finish it up for the next go-round. For the train ride, a few strategically placed safety pins in the bodice held everything together nicely!

This braid was in my stash for YEARS because I had no idea what to do with it. It’s really shiny (the picture makes it look less so, but it’s 1980s costume-jewelry gold) and stiff, so it holds the hem out nicely without being too heavy. Plus, it was cheap. I remember paying something like $2.50 for 10 yards of the stuff!

To get the hem to flare out in the 1890s lily shape, I used some gaudy metallic upholstery braid. The green and yellow 1890s dress in my collections used two rows of cording around the bottom to the same effect. Other options include: crinoline (horsehair), cotton duck/canvas, interfacing, and/or lots of fluffy petticoats!

Accessories

No walking outfit is complete without a hat, so I decorated a thrifted straw sunhat with the leftover lace, a black feathered bird ornament, and a pleated fan shape made from the cuffs of the chartreuse shirt:

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I’d originally bought this hat to wear with an 1860s dress, but I decided at the last minute I needed a big sunhat since I didn’t have a parasol. Boy howdy, am I glad I took a sunhat! I would have been (even more) red as a beet by the end of day if I hadn’t. Sun protection is important, folks!

I also made sure to wear a good pair of walking shoes.

AVERT YOUR EYES! THINK OF THE CHILDREN!

They started off as metallic pastel 1980s shoes, but I painted them last-minute with some cream acrylic. They flaked a bit in the creases, but overall, they worked well. I plan to remove the acrylic and repaint the shoes with some proper leather paint later.

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Before

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During

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After

I need a good pair of taupe pumps! These are nice because they have a low heel and make my feet look fashionably long and skinny despite them being wide and duck-like. They are almost comfier than a pair of tennis shoes…almost!

A little scuffed and flaky after walking all afternoon on the bricks, but no blisters, no bunions, and no sore arches!

My sister’s elegant ivory purse and an antique silver locket rounded out the ensemble:

This beauty is currently listed in my Etsy shop.

We all had an excellent time at Frontier Fort Days in the Fort Worth Stockyards, surveying the longhorn cattle parade through the streets behind columns of Civil War era troops,  attending a mortar (cannon) loading and firing demonstration, and, in my case, ordering a burger and fries:

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Dressed a decade too early for the hamburger. Just call me food-fashion forward!

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Chris investigating the artillery.

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A lumbering lot of longhorns!

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Some of the lovely ladies of DFWCG representing every decade from 1870 to 1900.

Jen of Festive Attyre took tons of photos of the event and everyone’s handsome costumes. You can find them all on Flickr:

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See more pictures here!

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The Walmart Fabric Trio!
Each of us made our dresses from Walmart fabric finds.
(Photo by Festive Attyre)

It was 90+ degrees outside (32° Celsius), so I was really glad I took a hat and fan! By the end of the train trip, we were all madly fanning ourselves, glad to be back in the air-conditioned coach. Despite the afternoon heat, I was actually quite comfortable until I sat in the “parked-in-the-sun-baking-all-day” car!

Me and my no-fuss frizz both fizzled out!

All in all, a good, old-fashioned day out with the gals (and some handsome cowboys)!

Dress Stats:

7 yards of cotton print – $14, Walmart
Chartreuse silk shirt – $4.50, Goodwill
Cream silk knit shirt – $4.50, Goodwill
Queen-sized cotton sheet – $1.99, Thrift Town
1/2 inch cover button kit – $4, Joann Fabrics
Hooks and eyes – $1, Hobby Lobby
1 full spool of thread – $2.99, Hobby Lobby
5 yards gold braid – $1.25, personal stash1 yard net lace – $4.99, Etsy

Total: $39.22

If you’re in the Dallas-Fort Worth area (or willing to meet up), the DFW Costumers Guild is an open group that welcomes historical and fantasy costumers alike. You can read more about the group, read the guild blog, and get details about future events on the DFW Costumer’s Guild website or Facebook page!

Hat Trick: Turn a Placemat into an 18th Century Hat in Three Steps

Alternate Title:
Le Chapeau Rusé – Using Bad French to Disguise Excellent Hat Trickery

To complement my Robe pas Cher and to ensure that I was suitably dressed for an outdoor excursion, I needed a hat to wear for Georgian Picnic. In addition, I had sorely neglected the past, oh, ten or so Historical Sew Fortnightly challenges and I wanted a good stepping stone project to get back on track.

Enter Le Chapeau Rusé!

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I had plunged myself so deeply into making a suitable costume for Christopher that by the time I got around to my own costume, I was a little burnt out and very very far behind schedule. I managed to eek out a wearable muslin from my test pattern, but I always feel under-dressed without accessories, so I decided I needed a hat. I didn’t have time to order one and I had foolishly missed out on all the post-Halloween sale merchandise. However, there was no need to worry because I had long ago discovered this post about placemat hats by the Thread-Headed Snippet:

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With a title like that, how could I resist?

Inspired by Miss Snippet’s thrifty, simple solution to my problem, I set out to make my own version.

What follows is the three basic steps to making a super-cheap 18th century “Chapeau Rusé” out of an old placemat.

1. Pick a Proper Placemat

15 inches is a good, easy-to-find placemat size, but if you can find larger rounds, they’ll work as well. Hats were rather sizable during the 18th century, so don’t be shy!

If you can find genuine straw placemats, more power to you! Mine was a completely fake polypropylene straw placemat I found for $1 at Garden Ridge (the picture is the same brand on Amazon). Fake straw placemats have the advantage of being very springy and forgiving, but they are not historically accurate in the least. Real grass or straw mats are more period appropriate, but straw can be brittle and crack, so how you plan to wear the placemat/hat dictates which material is more suitable. While a natural, tawny straw color is a safe choice for both materials, almost any color of placemat will work as long as it matches your outfit (though I’d avoid brighter colors if you want an authentic look). Also, if it has bands of decorative braiding or a little extra color woven in, that’s perfectly fine for an 18th century hat.

2. Settle on a Shape

18th century hats for ladies come in many shapes and sizes, but the quintessential mid-century hat is the bergère, a wide brimmed hat with a low crown:

“Portrait of Eleanor Frances Dixie” by Henry Pickering, circa 1753

This is the type of hat the Thread Headed Snippet made her placemat into; it is also the shape I chose for Becky’s hat. Originally, I was planning on making another bergère hat for myself, but I was horrendously jealous of Christopher’s tricorne, so I decided to make a folded straw hat which, while more uncommon, was not unheard of:

“Portrait of a Lady in a Straw Hat” by by Christian Wilhelm Ernst Dietrich, mid-18th century

Another option is a giant D-shaped hat, like these:

“Portrait of Lady Elizabeth Foster” by Angelika Kauffmann, circa 1785

D shaped Hat

D-Shaped Dutch Straw Hat, 18th century

If you can find a big enough straw mat or if you want to make a smaller version, just carefully cut off one edge of your placemat and finish it with glue, or when you decorate your hat, place the “crown” closer to one edge.

If you were lucky enough to find a real straw mat, you can even reshape it to have a crown. My fake straw placemat, however, wasn’t malleable in the manner traditional straw is, but it folded beautifully. To figure out the shape I wanted, I held the folds in place with pins so I could adjust the placement and size as needed before I tacked everything into place with sturdy stitches. You will find that pliers are exceptionally helpful to get a needle through all that plastic!

Once you settled on a shape, add ties so your hat won’t fall off. Most 18th century straw hats had ribbon ties that were secured to the underside of hat near the place where the brim and the crown connect:

Hat Ribbons

Bergère Hat, 18th century

I used 48 inches of 7/8″ grosgrain ribbon for mine, but most ribbon between 1/2″ and 3″ wide will work:

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 For flat hats, the farther from the center of the hat you sew your ribbon, the more bowed downward and bonnet-shaped your hat will become. If you want the hat to lie fairly flat on your head, I recommend tacking the ribbon down 3-4 inches from the center on each side. Use pins to hold the ribbon in place before you sew it on so you can fiddle with how the hat will sit on your head.

3. Decorate!

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Real straw placemats pretty much become suitable hats the instant you apply the ribbon in Step 2, but without decorations, a synthetic straw placemat hat will look like you’re wearing..well..a placemat, so don’t be too miserly when it comes to trimming.  There are infinite ways to decorate your hat. Popular trims include:

Poufs of fabric or ribbon
Bows
Flowers and wheat
Feathers and plumes
Embroidery/appliques
Fabric and Coverings

I chose to use fabric scraps left over from my dress to create ruffled white trim and two types of bows from pinked purple fabric (I love saying “pinked purple” out loud, no matter how many weird looks it earns me!).

I used a large bow called a Double Ruffle to trim the back:

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I found the free tutorial on the wonderful Ribbon Retreat website which has plenty of other tutorials for different styles of bows. I was also inspired by the Flower Loop bow because it reminded me of 18th century cockades, so I made two for each side of my hat and put a silvery button in the center of each for a little textural contrast (all the fabric and ruffles gets a little too fluffy for me sometimes and I need to balance it out with a harder edge).

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To turn a placemat into a bergère, add a small circle of puffed ribbon to create the illusion of a minute crown. Otherwise, trim, trim, trim until you can’t see the straw anymore or leave it fairly plain with only a bit of ribbon or a light net veil— it’s up to you!

More 18th Century Lady’s Hat Resources

18th Century Women’s Hats” research collection at Larsdatter – Great for inspiring your creativity. This site is downright amazing!
How to make an 18th century hat. A tutorial in pictures.” by Dressed in Time – Sew your own hat from scratch.
An 18th Century Hat” by The Fashionable Past – How to cover a straw hat with pleated silk.
Tutorial: How to turn a straw sunhat into an 18th century bergére” by The Dreamstress – Exactly what the title says!
The Amazing Crafthat Pt. Deux : Finishing!” by American Duchess – How add a stylish, floppy fabric crown to a straw hat.

..and this.

HSF Stats

“Le Chapeau Rusé” – 18th Century Folded Straw Hat

The Challenge: #23 Gratitude
Fabric: White cotton and purple polysatin scraps
Pattern: None
Year: 1760-1780
Notions: Poly cotton thread, buttons, grosgrain ribbon, and I guess the placemat would count as a notion???
How historically accurate is it? 40% It is entirely handsewn and trimmed with appropriate trimmings inspired by extant examples, but it’s made from a faux straw (read: plastic) placemat.

I am grateful to: The Thread Headed Snippet for sharing her placemat hat (http://threadheaded.blogspot.com/2012/08/so-you-want-hat-but-you-have-will-power.html) and Ribbon Retreat for their free bow tutorials (http://www.theribbonretreat.com/Catalog/free-hairbow-instructions.aspx)

Hours to complete: 3 hours
First worn: In my bathroom for fitting, but officially at Georgian Picnic in the park
Total cost: $1 for the placemat, 50 cents for the buttons, $2.50 for the ribbon

I must disclaim that my French is limited to what I remember from an old library book I read in 6th grade and what Google translate can help me piece together. Many 18th century fashions came from France and thus had French names, so in that tradition, I decided to play around a bit with giving my cheeky 18th century creations equally cheeky French names (unless you are fluent in French; then you are council to all my poorly-translated secrets)!