Ten Minute Tutorial: 18th Century Garters

For the Embroidery Illiterate such as Myself…

As I have confessed multiple times, sewing and embroidery are not my strong points (You can see one of my better attempts here). However, I am stubborn and enjoy conquering challenges no matter how gnarly my stitchery may be! The challenge for HSF this go-’round is titled “Under It All” and since I had been planning to make a set of garters for about a year now, I figured this would be the perfect opportunity to spur myself to action.

“Femme en Robe à la Polonoise” circa 1778

18th century garters came in many different forms from simple ribbons to tasseled, elaborate bows that close with clips,  but I wanted to make something half-way between the two. The garter collection in the Museum of Fine Art Boston is fantastic! While the fancy ones are lovely to look at, my favorites are the deceptively simple looking ones like this:

French Embroidered Silk Garters with Motto, 18th century

American Geometrically Embroidered Garter, 18th century

English Embroidered Garters, circa 1784

The first pair of garters has an embroidered motto. Many 18th century garters of this type had sayings, mottos, or couplets embroidered on them ranging from sweet to scandalous. Others portrayed messages through symbols like Cupid’s arrows and roses. Most of these are lovingly hand-embroidered, but the look can be replicated with the right sort of ribbon.
This method isn’t as fancy or historically accurate as embroidering one yourself, but it’s a good starting project that can be done in less than 10 minutes!

How to Make an 18th Century Ribbon Garter

Garter Tutorial

You will need:
At least 20 inches of Decorative Ribbon (1 inch to 2 inches wide)
 2+ yards of plain Silk Ribbon (same width as your decorative ribbon)
Needle and Thread

While finding a proper, historically-acceptable ribbon to mimic embroidery can be a challenge. If you can find an actual embroidered piece, kudos to you! Otherwise, a jacquard woven pattern can do in a pinch. Here are a few ribbon types and motifs that work:


Hearts and Florals


Sari Borders
You can trim some sari borders down to the correct width. You’ll need to secure the edges, though, to keep them from fraying. Thin bias tape or simply folding the edge back and tacking it down with a simple handstitch is usually enough to tame fraying. Many 18th century garters were also beaded (especially with silver spangles/sequins) and sewn with gilt threads, so other beaded trims will work as well.

Geometric and Zig-Zag Patterns

Step 1: Decorative Ribbon

The Pragmatic Costumer Garter Tutorial

Note: Cotton, silk, wool and other natural fibers will grip historical stockings more securely. I ordered this ribbon online and while it is lovely and very good quality, it is mostly polyester, so it does not grip stockings enough to support them. Despite their polyester content, however, my garters work well with my modern thigh-highs and on bare skin (I will drive historians mad by wearing my garters with shorts and no stockings)!

Your decorative ribbon choice should be 1 inch to 2 inches wide. Once you’ve chosen your ribbon, measure the circumference of your leg just above or just below the knee–depending on where you wish to wear your garters– to determine how much ribbon you will need.
Historically speaking, you’ll want decorative ribbon around at least half the circumference of your thigh, but no more than three-quarters around (you want to leave room enough between the ends to tie a bow).

For example, I settled on a design that went about two-thirds the circumference of my leg. I have ridiculously scrawny 16 inch thighs, so I measured out 10.5 inches of decorative ribbon.

Step 2: Adding Ties

The ties of most 18th century garters are made with silk ribbon. Pick a silk ribbon that matches or compliments the color of your decorative ribbon and is the same width or smaller. I chose ribbons that are both 1.25 inches wide.

“RIEN/NE/PEUT/E/GA/LER” (Nothing can be equal) Garter, circa 1790
This garter is just over 2 inches wide.

Cut two sections of silk ribbon 10-15 inches long. For bigger bows or to wrap it twice around your leg for more hold, make your ribbons longer–around 18-24 inches (there are historical examples over 50 inches long, so don’t be miserly with the ribbon).
Put the “pretty” side of your decorative ribbon against the silk and fold the edge of the silk over the back so the decorative ribbon is sandwiched in the middle, like this:


Use a backstitch to make a strong seam that goes through both layers of silk and the decorative fabric.


No matter how ugly your stitching may be at 11 o’clock in the evening, the backstitch has got your back! The ribbon will rip before that seam will.

Repeat with the other side of the ribbon.

Another way to attach ties is to sew your decorative piece applique-style onto one continuous piece of silk ribbon (add 12-18 inches to your thigh measurement to get the length of the ribbon you’ll need). This requires more ribbon, but if you are using a polyester decorative ribbon like me, the silk backing helps improve grip!


You’ve just made an 18th century garter!


My finished 18th Century-ish Garter. :)

For more about 18th Century garters, check out these links:

“Late 18th Century Garters” by the ever-fabulous Aristocat– She hand-embroidered hers and gave them springs for tension and hook closures.

“18th Century Garters” on larsdatter.com – The best Renaissance database on the web offers 18th century sources, too!

The Garter Collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Recreating Christmas Caroling Costumes through the Ages: Part I

Getting in the Christmas Spirit!

– PART I –

This article is a continuation of Christmas Caroling Through Time: From Fur Capes to Fistfights

If you want to step out of the norm and take on the adventure of caroling, there are three fabulous eras to costume from: ye olde Middle Ages, the classic mid-19th Century, and the rootin’ tootin’ 1950s. Each era has it’s advantages (warmth, thank goodness!) and challenges, but all of them are so much more fun than just parading around in your reindeer sweatpants or a polyester dress that lets Jack Frost into places he shouldn’t go…

Now, that dress is trying really hard to go in the right direction– and with a few tweaks like longer underskirts could actually work– but for the price, you could buy a custom-made costume that’s a tad more appropriate (and reusable for non-Christmas events!).


Most of the costumed carolers you see are dressed up to pay homage to Charles Dickens’ novel A Christmas Carol. In addition, during the 1860s,  Christmas carol writing began to pick up steam, meaning a lot of new songs were filling hymnals and sheet music stores. Caroler costumes that mirror this era vary a tad in actual style, ranging in date from the 1840s to the 1860s. Most costumes take cues from all three decades, but the 1860s are particularly well suited for outdoor caroling because large, layered skirts and long sleeves. Don’t like plaid? Red and green make you dizzy? Good news! The mid-19th century saw the creation of new chemical dyes that allowed dresses to be made in a wide range of never-before-seen bright and rich colors! A caroler in blue or yellow? Why not!

An 1850s-1860s Caroler:

Full Dress or full skirt/blouse combo
Petticoats and/or hoops
Wool stockings
Button-up boots
Hat or bonnet
Cape, wraps, muffs, gloves, etc.
Corset and slip (if desired)


Custom by MartinsMercantile

Custom by lavonsdesigns

Custom by stitchintimedesigns

Hoops and Petticoats

New by GreatGloves.com


New by Garnet Hill

Button-up Boots

New by Fugawee

Vintage by marinawilliams

Hat or Bonnet

Custom by AnnaWordenBauersmith

Custom by Raine Aree

Warm Things

Custom by UnlimitedCraftworks

Vintage by OmAgainVintage

Vintage by JillKBags


Caroling has a long history, going all the way back to the Anglo-Saxons who would sing songs to the spirits of trees to ensure a good harvest. Today, we sing to songs around trees for a different harvest: Christmas presents! Singing carols while decorating the tree is one of the last remnants of the ancient tradition of Wassailing. You’ve probably sung “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and demanded figgy pudding, but I bet you’ve never realized you were supposed to be singing it to the richest person you know in your best Medieval peasant get-up, ordering them to present you with delectable adult beverages!

Medieval Wassailing Outfit:

Kirtle (Fitted, Long-sleeved Dress)
Belt or overdress
Wool Stockings or Tights
Flat-soled Leather Shoes

If you want to change-up your caroling routine, a Medieval gown is perfect: no hoop skirt to get in the way, no corsets, and no trouble to piece together!


Custom by jessicaziegler1

New by Holy Clothing

Vintage by Bethlesvintage


Custom by inkleing


Custom by murf56dubois


New by Sock Dreams

Flat-soled Leather Shoes

Make your Own! by Leather Unlimited




Tips and Tricks:

Corsets cutting into your glooooooooooooooooooooooooooorias? Try a looser corset or some modern shapewear. Many modern patterns for historical gowns take modern underwear into account.

Unless you’re a stickler for details, there’s no reason to freeze for the sake of historical accuracy, so take advantage of modern clothing technology! Who cares if you’re wearing Under Armor beneath your gown? It’s just modern long johns!

Medieval gowns for lower class ladies were pretty simple, but if you want to dress it up, 1980s velvet dresses with long sleeves work great! Layer on wide-sleeved robe and add some funky gold jewelry for more flair, but be warned: If you dress as the rich folk, you might get wassailed by peasants!

Want an overdress/surcoat but are deathly afraid of the prices? Make one yourself! Find a plain, long dress two sizes bigger than your true size then cut the sleeves off from the top of the shoulder down to about your hip in an oval shape. Dab any unraveled seams in fabric glue. Voila! Instant Medieval overdress! Cloaks are equally easy to craft. Do you have a blanket? Great! Drape it around you and pin it in place. Voila! Instant cloak!

If you are too busy to memorize the songs, carry a songbook decorated to match the period of your outfit. Use an antique book to hold your 19th Century carols together or make  a parchment-look girdle book for your Medieval costume by gluing strips of fabric to the outside of your booklets!


Coming soon in Part II: Christmas Caroling circa 1950!