Fashion and Feminism: Dr. Inès Gaches-Sarraute and the Hunt for a Healthful Corset

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Portrait of Dr. Inès Gaches-Sarraute in an article commenting on her corset research and practice (among other things), 1890s.

Before I proceed, I am going to ask that you read this post with the following disclaimer in mind:

I do not fluently read/speak French. Therefore the translations provided below are courtesy of Google Translate, which is not perfect. I tried to verify the translations through multiple dictionaries to ensure that I am not misinterpreting the author’s intent, but sometimes things can be lost in translation which is why I have provided the original French alongside the Google English translations.

 

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Wikimedia’s photograph archive from the book “Le Corset” written by Dr. Inès Gaches-Sarraute c. 1900 showcases a wide variety of body shapes in the late Victorian/early Edwardian period. The book has illustrations (photographs overtraced by hand) of women of many body types modelling the “old” corset style from the 19th century and the “new” corset style we call the S-bend or flat front corset, which was supposed to prevent lower tummy expansion and be healthier than the older style.

captureClick here to see all the illustrations.

As you go through the photos, notice all the women the have lower belly paunch that comes from age, childbirth, medical conditions, weight gain, gravity, and from wearing corsets which push belly fat and organs downwards– effects which Gaches-Sarraute wished to correct with her new corset design.

This revolutionary and controversial book is one of the most famous pieces of corset literature from the early 20th century.
(The other, also titled “Le Corset” but by a different author, contains the infamous corset x-rays)

You may already be familiar with some of the images from the book, if not the book itself:

Dr. Inès Gaches-Sarraute vehemently opposed the Victorian corset because of the health problems she observed–like hernias, constricted ribcages, displaced organs, and weakened muscles–in the women wearing them. At first glance, the book may seem decidedly anti-corset and has lent much to the modern hatred/fear of the garment. However, the author herself states that she is not anti-corset:

“I could not think propose the abolition of the corset, we have seen elsewhere that has its uses; it is towards the elimination of its main drawbacks I directed my efforts.
Original French: “Je ne pouvais songer à proposer la suppression du corset, nous avons vu d’ailleurs qu’il a son utilité; c’est vers la suppression de ses principaux inconvénients que j’ai dirigé mes efforts.”

In fact, she is pro-corset, but only if the garment was made to more healthful standards. Her goal was quite a noble one: to improve the overall health of women by changing what she saw as the root cause of many female health problems— bad corsets.
Thus she designed a new support of her own:

Fig. 7 – Corset Gaches-Sarraute

It is very similar to the girdles that we see later in the century and still wear. In many advertisements, the short, light-reduction version of the S-bend corsets closest to Gaches-Sarraute’s original design are called “girdle corsets.”

It was meant to support the organs from below, free the chest from compression, and encourage “proper” posture. She believed her new corset design not only helped women’s organs, but improved their beauty and mental health. This design became the basis for the S-bend or straight front corset that took the fashion world by storm during the first decade of the 20th century.

With an abdominal corset that supports and relaxes her, the woman has less drawn features, eyes less circled, she is more vivacious, more energetic…Many women, sick without the cause of their condition being well determined, condemned to an almost constant repose, are now vigorous, healthy, able to walk, and without exaggerating, are reborn to life. Did the simple change of corset produce such results? Yes, because to this day all corsets, constructed without rules or laws, acted in the opposite direction to natural indications, and thwarted all physiological functions.”
Original French: “Avec un corset abdominal qui la soutient et la repose, la femme a les traits moins tirés, les yeux moins cernés, elle est plus vivace, plus énergique…Bien des femmes, malades sans que la cause de leur état fût bien déterminée, condamnées à un repos presque constant, sont aujourd’hui vigoureuses, bien portantes, peuvent marcher et sans rien exagérer renaissent à la vie.Le simple changement de corset a-t-il pu donner de tels résultats? Oui, parce que jusqu’aujourd’hui tous les corsets, construits sans règles, ni lois, agissaient en sens inverse des indications naturelles et contrariaient toutes les fonctions physiologiques.”

As we know now, the S-bend was not the cure-all Gaches-Sarraute hoped for. It came with its own set of problems.
Though the distended lower stomach caused by the older style of corset was considered unsightly and unhealthy, it had the advantage of allowing viscera some means of expansion. The S-bend/straight front corset did indeed keep the organs from being distended downward, but instead, it pressed them up, much as pregnancy does. The long, rigid front of the S-bend corset could become very uncomfortable since pressure from meals, gas, urine, menstral/hormonal changes, etc. has nowhere to expand except up against the diaphragm. This was not directly the fault of Gaches-Sarraute’s medically-minded design, but the effect was exacerbated by fashion adaptations made by mass manufacturers (as is so often the case, isn’t it?). Many straight front corsets made for the mass market extended too high on the body to allow for expansion of the ribs and upwards movement of the organs.

W. H. K. & S. “Ascot” Straight Fronted Corset Ad, 1902
Notice how much higher it extends compared to Dr. Inès Gaches-Sarraute design.

Modern corsets suffer from similar problems as we value the straight front, but crave full coverage to avoid unsightly bulges. This hybridization contributes in large part to the corset’s uncomfortable reputation as mass-manufacturers focus on overall slimness rather than the comfort of their wares. Without room left at the top and bottom of the corset to allow for the expansion and movement of flesh, tubular fashion corsets press too much everywhere, leading to chafing, numbness, breathlessness, and constriction. Coupled with general ignorance of how corsets should fit and be worn, it’s no surprise that the garment has gained such a painful reputation.

Inès Gaches-Sarraute and corset-lovers everywhere are cringing so hard right now.

The size/looks-before-comfort method of corset wearing has always been a problem.
Yes, even Victorian and Edwardian women wore ill-fitting or improperly worn corsets, often purchased “off the rack” in shops or through catalogs.  It’s a common myth that everything was perfectly tailor-made to fit by the women themselves. By the mid-19th century, corsets were manufactured in large factories and purchased much as we purchase a pair of jeans today.
Victorian women were number-conscious just like us, too!

Women have heard from their friends about a corset that looks good, which makes a pretty size [waist] – that is the only fact that interests them: they want to wear it, hoping to benefit also from an aesthetic point of view; But as their physiological state and conformation differ, if the corset is applied under the same conditions it produces the contrary effect and hurts them.
Original French: “Elles ont entendu parler par leurs amies d’un corset dont on se trouve bien, qui fait une jolie taille — c’est le seul fait qui les intéresse: elles veulent le porter, espérant en bénéficier, elles aussi, au point de vue esthétique; mais comme leur état physiologique et leur conformation diffèrent, si le corset est appliqué dans les mêmes conditions il produit l’effet contraire et leur fait mal.”

On this point, Gaches-Sarraute and modern corsetiers absolutely agree: do not sacrifice fit for looks! Fortunately for modern corset makers, the corset’s recent rise in popularity has increased awareness of proper fit. Gaches-Sarraute’s principles play heavily into modern corset design, like reduction points closer to the hips, cupped ribs to allow room for comfortable breathing, and embracing the underbust cut for ease of movement.

Gaches-Sarraute’s underbust design was revolutionary. For the first time in over 300+ years of corset evolution, the female breast was not held within the corset. This was a big change. The low front leaves the bust unsupported and pulls weight from the abdomen upwards, creating a top-heavy apple shape with natural-state breasts, which didn’t suit the Victorian feminine ideal of defined hourglass curves. Dr. Inès Gaches-Sarraute saw this as an bothersome, but positive side effect:

There is therefore a reform to bring to the costume, tedious reform, but which is necessary. The woman who wishes to wear the abdominal corset must not allow herself to be stopped by this modification; She must not hesitate to subject her clothes to the radical transformations required by the apparatus.
Original French: “…il y a donc une réforme à apporter au costume, réforme ennuyeuse, mais qui s’impose. La femme qui veut porter le corset abdominal ne doit point se laisser arrêter par cette modification; il ne faut pas qu’elle hésite à faire subir à ses vêtements les transformations radicales exigées par l’appareil.”


This is the sort of loose, unrestrictive clothing Gaches-Sarraute was probably expecting.

Fashions did change, but not quite as Gaches-Sarraute might have hoped. To adapt to the new corset shape, the dresses of the early 1900s are different than any feminine fashion before them: the waist moves low to the pelvis, bodices hang full and loose, and women in fashion illustrations appear to be rushing forward so fast they are leaving their skirts behind them.

Fashion Plate, 1903

Fashion Plate, 1904

Les Modes, 1904

Because the new style of corset moved the point of reduction to the soft abdomen rather than over the floating ribs, women discovered they could achieve greater reductions than before, an effect Gaches-Sarraute obviously was not aiming to achieve originally. She notes with some amused befuddlement in her book:

Before ending the long enumeration of the modifications made by the Abdominal Corset , I must point out a curious phenomenon, which is difficult to explain; I mean the general thinning of the woman and the slimming of the whole area covered by the apparatus.
Original French: “Avant de terminer l’énumération déjà bien longue des modifications apportées par le corsetabdominal, il me faut signaler un phénomène assez curieux, assez difficile à expliquer; I mean the general thinning of the woman and the slimming of the whole area covered by the apparatus.

We would call this effect “waist training” in our modern vernacular. Gaches-Sarraute noticed that the shape and weight of her patients changed after they had worn the corset regularly. From her Observations section later in the book:

Madame. H, 48 years old. Obesity, heart palpitations, very bad condition, does not leave the couch, varicose veins. First corset, October 1898. Since then, a lot thinner: 40 cm of belly circumference [15.75 inches], Since then, has thinned a lot: 40 centimeters belly, circulatory disorders have decreased and general health is much better, the patient walks very well”
Original French: “
Mme H…, 48 ans. Obésité, palpitations de cœur, état général très mauvais, ne quitte pas la chaise longue, varices des membres inférieurs. 1er Corset, octobre 1898. Depuis lors, a beaucoup aminci : 40 centimètres de tour de ventre, les troubles circulatoires ont diminué et la santé générale est beaucoup meilleure, la malade marche très bien.”

It probably wasn’t just the cinching power responsible for Mme. H’s transformation. She might have been able to move around more due to the lower back support provided by her new corset, boosting her impressive weight loss results with increased physical activity.

Back support has long been one of the main functions of corsets and corset-like garments. To provide the back support which Gaches-Sarraute believed Victorian corsets lacked, her corset design was very sharply angled at the lower back. This created artificial lumbar hyperlordosis, commonly called swayback. Some people develop this naturally, but by modern medical standards, it is considered a form of bad posture because it places stress on the lower disks, hip joints, knees, and, with the added pressure from the corset, the kidneys. However, this sort of posture was considered both powerful and graceful– and quite masculine. It was the posture of well-pedigreed gentlemen and soldiers standing at attention with their chests puffed out in confidence.

Early 19th Century British Uniforms

German Soldiers, 1901

Dr. Gaches-Sarraute’s design gave women this same posture, and straight-front corsets were often advertised as “military front” for that reason:

Foster Hose Supporter Ad from 1901

Corset advertisement, circa 1901-1905

This hyper-extended ideal posture was adopted by models, fashionistas, socialites, and famous personalities like Camille Clifford and Edith Lambelle Langerfeld:

Camille Clifford is famous for the curvy figure and is known to many as the original Gibson Girl. She embodied the epitome of the new S-bend look: flat abdomen, swelling bust, and prominent derriere. Her extraordinary photos must be taken with a grain of salt: she is also one of the greatest examples of early photo retouching. The retouching is evident here by the unnatural smoothness of everything from her hips up where the wrinkles of fabric suddenly vanish.

Edith Langerfeild “La Sylphe” was an exotic dancer known her extreme flexibility and extreme forward-arching posture, though not for wearing corsets (she regularly danced semi-nude). She combined the fashionable swayback posture and her contortionist skills to create an exaggerated version of the look sans-corset. Her career– and signature style–extended the forward-leaning trend into the 1910s, though the waistline moved up from the hips to the just under the bust.

Outside fashion photographs and illustrations, the average woman did not usually adopt the exaggerated posture–as this informative article, “The S-bend in Context” by Marion McNealy, shows– and some created the illusion of the shape with padding rather than posture.

Women walking, circa 1902-1905
Edwardian women in day dresses going about their daily lives for comparison to the fashion images above.

Photograph of a working class woman walking, circa 1905-1908
A great example of how the underbust design affects the fit of the bodice over the bust compared to a Victorian corset.

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Padding options from the 1905 Sears Catalogue
They are still called bustles, though they are quite a bit smaller than those of the 1880s!

The S-bend posture ideal had lasting effects. In 1932, Elizabeth Arden released a newsreel urging women to abandon the now “old” swayback style of posture Gaches-Sarraute’s straight front corset encouraged:

Elizabeth Arden advises women to adopt the modern straight posture we still strive for today. This posture ideal has much to do with our focus on unisex athleticism and greatly slimmed-down fashions (athleisure, anyone?). It’s quite impossible to hide the edge of a rigid corset under a pair of yoga pants! Many women wear only one or two layers which hug the body and is often cut to reveal skin and structure. We no longer deal with the bulky layers and heavy skirts our female ancestors considered fashionable, which leads to another of Gaches-Sarraute’s reasons for not throwing out the notion of corsets entirely:

The main role of the corset should be to support the clothes and prevent constriction of ties around the waist, so as to prevent overflow of the viscera downward under the influence of this constriction.
Original French: “Le rôle principal du corset doit être de soutenir les vêtements et d’empêcher la constriction des liens autour de la taille, de façon à éviter le refoulement des viscères vers le bas sous l’influence de cette constriction.”

This same sentiment is shared by Robert L. Dickinson who wrote “The Corset: Questions of Pressure and Displacement” for The New York Medical Journal in 1887:

“In the woman who wears no corsets, the many layers of bands about the waist on which heavy skirts drag are sufficient to cause considerable constriction”

Just like the fashions of the Victorian era, the fashions of 1900 were all about layers that relied on a tight fit at the waist. Women sought to make these layers as lightweight and full as possible to avoid bulk, but there was still many hidden supports under those beautiful outer skirts:

I covered more about historical clothing layers in earlier posts: “With and Without: How Wearing a Corset Affects You and Your Clothes” and “Lifting Skirts and Loosening Ties: What goes under an Edwardian Dress?

A corset takes and distributes the weight of the skirts, supporting all the layers so they do not dig into the skin– the very definition of a “foundation garment!”
Gaches-Sarraute’s low-cut corset lead to the creation of a new  foundation garment: the brassiere, though not quite as we know it now. Gaches-Sarraute was emphatically against altering her corset design to provide breast support, devoting an entire chapter in her book to her argument against it. She believed that the new design provided enough support to the breasts by means of the expanded, upraised ribcage it created and that:

Trapping the breasts in an impermeable fabric promotes wilting and atrophy of the gland.
Original French: “Le fait d’emprisonner les seins dans un tissu imperméable favorise le flétrissement et l’atrophie de la glande.”

Gaches-Sarraute’s entire mission was to spare as many organs as possible from pressure, including the mammary glands. She even describes a problem many modern women who have worn an underbust corset with a modern bra have experienced: the dreaded pinch that happens to the flesh trapped between the corset and bra band.  Modern tastes and social mores press Western women today to wear bras, especially in conservative American culture: modern American women are expected to have high, round breasts that do not show nipples– a goal that mandates daily bra wearing under our relatively thin, sheer clothing. Edwardian women, in contrast, wore multiple layers of cloth over their breasts, so show-through wasn’t as much of a worry. Their concern with the lack of breast support was out of habit (used to old corsets) and practical (the need for support while working/exercising) which is why  some women found the underbust unsatisfactory. This meant that underbust corsets didn’t take over the world in a blink. Instead, Victorian styles and high, demi-bust versions of S-bend corsets were sold right along side the shorter style, much, I am sure, to Gaches-Sarraute’s chagrin:

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Corsets Department page from the 1905 Sears Catalogue. Left side shows older Victorian style corsets while the right side corsets are S-bend straight front corsets.

As any large-breasted woman–myself included– can attest, unsupported breasts have many painful complications of their own. Once they are past a certain size and age, they no longer are self-supporting, creating both comfort, health, and aesthetic issues. She brushes these notions aside, saying, “there are few women with breasts sufficiently large for it to be necessary to provide them with a support/il y a peu de femmes pourvues de seins assez volumineux pour qu’il soit indispensable de leur fournir un appui.” However, she begrudgingly acknowledges the criticism of her design and offers a solution. One of the most famous images from the book shows her brassiere design of choice:

She was far ahead of her time when it came to the design: fifty years later, women would be wearing a very similar look:

Formfit Ad, 1949

Spencer Ad, 1959

Inès Gaches-Sarraute’s corset design, whatever our personal opinions of it, undeniably revolutionized fashion even though the woman herself cared very little for any of the outside frills and fashion. She was concerned only with the internal workings of women, not that of their needles and thread. From her earliest design trials in the late 1890s (her first recorded recorded observation is dated 1895), she recorded the health improvements she saw in her patients after wearing her new corset design, claiming to have observed nearly 4,000 cases of successful recoveries ranging from healing incontinence to treating infertility.

When studying old texts like “Le Corset,” it is important to remember that medical practices and knowledge 120 years ago were very different than today. We cannot verify all of Dr. Inès Gaches-Sarraute’s claims. Her writing must be viewed with some skepticism, as she is writing to promote both her work and designs as well as writing with the limitations of Victorian medical knowledge. As even she states, it was hard to find enough uncorseted women to form a control group, making it difficult to tell which medical conditions were caused by corsets, exacerbated by them, relieved by them, or completely unrelated. For example, many 21st century women have rounded, low bellies like those pictured in “Le Corset” even though they have never worn a corset in their life– it’s just how some bodies store fat and where loose skin forms after childbirth.

 One thing that is clear, however, is Gaches-Sarraute’s steadfast devotion to the healing and liberation of women’s bodies. She was determined to improve and advance women’s lives via her new corset design:

Woman has glimpsed the possibility of altering her way of life; she wants to take part in the work and physical exercise of men; On the other hand, she is incommoded by the present dress, she is ill, and, consequently, ready to accept its modifications. I appreciate this happy disposition, convinced that nothing can be done for women except with their own consent, and I shall be happy if my work, based on scientific and physiological data, is appreciated by the medical profession and by hygienists. It will be much easier for me to fight against fashion and prejudice, which take no account of the needs of our organism.
Original French: “La femme a entrevu la possibilité de modifier son genre de vie, elle veut prendre part aux travaux et aux exercices physiques des hommes; d’autre part, elle est incommodée par le vêtement actuel, elle est malade, et, par suite, prête à en accepter les modifications. Je saisis cette heureuse disposition, convaincue qu’on ne peut rien faire pour les femmes qu’avec leur propre assentiment, et je serai heureuse si mon travail, basé sur des données scientifiques et physiologiques, est apprécié du corps médical et des hygiénistes, car il me sera alors beaucoup plus aisé de lutter contre la mode et les préjugés qui ne tiennent aucun compte des besoins de notre organisme.”

Dr. Inès Gaches-Sarraute, as a female doctor, saw her unique opportunity to influence female freedom. As a medical doctor, she had the knowledge of anatomy, physiology, and biology that seamstresses, fashion designers, and corset manufacturers at the time lacked. As a woman, she personally understood feminine needs and sensibilities in a way that her male medical colleagues could not. In addition to designing a new corset, she advocated for sensible dress, championed bicycle riding, and was even willing to let women wear pants if they agreed to stop wearing old-fashioned corsets.

Bike Riding with a Corset

Bicycling in lounge pants and and old-fashioned corset. Whoopsie! Sorry, Dr. Inès!

Her legacy continues today in the form of medical corsets/braces (which help thousands find relief from back pain/scoliosis, postnatal complications, hernias, and more), modern corsetry design principles, and, for better or worse, our cantankerous relationship with one of the most controversial garments ever made.

The full text of “Le Corset” is available in the original French on Wikimedia.
It is available in multiple formats, including a wonderful scanned PDF version.

When it comes to corsets–and clothes in general–everyone has different needs. Corsets are certainly not one-size-fits-all, and they aren’t all one-style-fits-all either! Some find the underbust S-bend corset suits their body and is just as pleasant to wear as Gaches-Sarraute hoped it would be. Other people find the flowing curves and high front of the Victorian corset more comfortable and supportive. Many more still have no want for any corset at all, and that is perfectly fine, too.
As for my tastes: Remember those too-tall S-Bends from earlier? Yeah, those work great for me if patterned right! I like the flexible demi-bust front of a Victorian corset for support, but the curve of my back and titled pelvis work best with the back and hips of the S-bend, so long as there is plenty of extra room in the ribs and hips for all my luscious lipids to move around in!
This sort of knowledge is not inherent or concrete. It is something you learn over time with experience. Remember: a corset is just a garment. It is the person filling it with that matters most!

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Animated Edwardian Stereograph by Thiophene_Guy

Hat Trick: Instant Edwardian Glamour Using a Wreath and Wide Straw Hat

The title of this post says it all! This is the easiest way to decorate a hat ever—it’s so simple I’m a little embarrassed I didn’t think of it sooner!

I love hats, but for whatever reason, I struggle to decorate them. I can never seem to get the feathers to fluff, flowers to sit just so, or bows to stand properly. However, I was wandering the cavernous aisle of the the local “At Home” (“The-Home-Store-Formerly-Known-as-Garden-Ridge”) looking at Christmas ornaments…in August…during a 105°F heat wave…

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Like Hobby Lobby, At Home always goes Christmas Crazy early. This photo is from an article written in August of last year.

I was looking at the Christmas ornaments and vulturing around the Halloween merch hoping to catch an earlybird sale of some type. Alas, no sales on clip-on Christmas birds yet! I got a whole flock a few years ago and now I always keep my eye out for them. They are perfect for perching on late Victorian hats:

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Deprived of a deep discount on feathery friends, I was about to leave the store when I saw two giant displays of faux flowers. At Home is full of fake greenery, so I had ignored these displays on my way in. However, planted beside the plastic potted petunias was the most glorious seasonal bloom in the whole of the store: the RED LINE CLEARANCE SIGN!

A photo of a treasured red blossom of the 50% off variety.

Redline Clearance in At Home usually means either 20% or 50% off the tag price, but thanks to the brazen commercial exploitation of one of the most beloved holidays of the year and the need to fill the shelves with glitter-crusted burlap Santas before school’s even started, all summer floral was a whopping 75% off! And while I was high on the rush of sudden sales and the heady smell of ten-thousand different air freshener packets from the next display over, I was suddenly struck by the need to buy wreaths wreaths wreaths because FLOWER CROWNS:

I probably could have bought all the wreaths in the world— heaven knows my heart was screaming YAAAS GURL! YAAAS! as I thrust my arms elbow-deep into a glorious pile of polyester roses—but I am strapped for cash and really don’t have any more room to store stuff. So, I settled on a few choice pieces:

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I spent less than $20! It’s a miracle!

I found two wreaths in light, more spring-like colors, and while I was loading them into the cart, I was struck by another sudden epiphany: IF A WREATH FITS ON MY HEAD, IT WILL FIT ON A HAT!

Edwardian hats are huge, drowning in waterfalls of curled ostrich plumes, cascades of silk ribbon, and sprays of flowers. They are opulent to the maximum and, up until my fateful faux flower find, they were well beyond my hat-decorating comfort zone.

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My style is usually a bit more restrained, but looking at the piles of bargain wreaths mounded up like a magical hillside from a fairytale, I knew what needed to be done!

You see, I have this wonderfully wild 1980s straw hat:

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It’s perfectly shaped for 1900-1910, but that zebra crown isn’t the most period-looking finish. So I took one of the wreaths I’d bought on clearance…

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When choosing a wreath, it’s wise to pick one on the fuller side. The more dense/bigger the blooms, the more lush your hat will look (and the better it will hide any *ahem* idiosyncrasies).

…plopped it over the brim to hide the the crown…

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Sushi-roll hat!

…and voilà! An instant Edwardian hat, no millinery skill required!

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There was no agonizing over color scheme, no tedious arranging and rearranging of every single flower, and no waiting! It’s like the Jiffy mix of hats!

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My attempt at an autochrome-esque photo.

Another bonus? Instant restyling options! If you have only one hat, you can just switch the wreath instead of having to get a new hat base. The original full price of the wreath was $15, which is still a bargain if you consider the number of flowers you get for one price and the fact that it came pre-color coordinated!
If you are dedicated to decorating a particular hat, I recommend taking it with you so you can fit the wreath over the crown before buying it. The wreath I fell in love with as a tad too small, but by clipping the wire holding it together, I was able to resize it to fit.

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I used nail clippers and re-tied the ends in place with a stripped twist tie.

If you need to spread the wreath more than an inch or two, you can fill in the gap with a big ribbon bow or a matching bloom. My wreath fits snugly enough that it stays on securely, but if you are happy with your hat and want to keep it just as it is, hot gluing or sewing the wreath in place will keep it from falling off in the wind or when you bend over.

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Edwardian Hat Trick Cost Breakdown:

Wide brimmed straw hat – $4.99, Thrift Town
Floral Wreath – $3.75, At Home (Huzzah for clearance sales!)

Total – $8.74

—– Other Hat Posts ——

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

Darn string!

Flower Pots and Romanticism: The 10 Second Poke Bonnet

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Update!

Look what I found!

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Her hat looks just like mine!

Let’s Try This Again: A (Better Fitting But Still Imperfect) Edwardian Dress from Butterick 6093

Cotton Candy Colored Edwardian Barbie!

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Butterick 9063 is based off of general fashion trends from 1912 (some possible period inspirations can be seen here). The construction is pretty straight forward and modernized, so Butterick calls this an “Easy” pattern. It’s simple exterior hides a slightly more complex garment, and after phutzing with it for a while now, I would call it more “advanced beginner.” My first version was very enlightening (and very blue):

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I made a lot of mistakes with my first version— chief among them being choosing the wrong size! However, it turned out pretty cute for a first try. My sister liked it and was bummed that it wouldn’t fit either of us. We share similar measurements even though our body types are quite different, so I decided to make another mockup attempt which, if it fit better, Amelia could have. I had a few more inexpensive cotton sheets lying around, so I let her pick one she liked. Laura, the queen of Shear Madness, had sent me a lovely embroidered dupatta which I though would make a good accent for collars and cuffs. A thrifted cotton shirt donated some UFO-shaped fabric buttons for a final touch:

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Amelia decided she liked the contrasting pop coral pink against the teal and while the single-sided collar is snazzy and all, maybe a symmetrical collar setup would suit her better…?

So I plotted:

Amelia Pink Dress Design

And together, we settled on a triangular collar similar to my first dress attempt, but this time on both sides of the neckline (the design on the left).

Previously, my dress had been much to small, especially in the hips. I could barely sit! If you ever tackle B6093 for yourself, pay close attention to your hip measurement and how much ease you’ll need to sit down otherwise:

With thoughts of wardrobe disasters floating in my head, I thought it might behoove me to cut the pattern according to the size chart on the back of the envelope. According to the chart, the best option for Amelia and I would be a size 16. However, the finished waist size would have been 34.5″– a whopping 4.5 inches of ease in what should be the most fitted part of the dress! Remembering how the size 12 waist was too small and knowing that the size 16 waist would be much too huge, I cut the hips a size 16 and tapered the waist down to a size 14. The fullness of the bodice in my first version seemed like enough to me, so I cut the bodice pieces out in the same size as before: 12.

That’s a lot of numbers. Unfortunately, they don’t all come in one envelope, either. However, I had raided Hancock fabrics during a pattern sale, so I had both size selections. After working with this pattern now for a second time, I have learned that mixing and matching pattern numbers in key areas is the way to go for a better fit. The way the dress is constructed means that most size adjustments need to be made on the sides of the pattern pieces rather than in the middle (like, say, slicing something for a FBA). Making post-construction alterations are also very tricky because of the side zipper and because the loose-fitting bodice is gathered to a tight, darted skirt, meaning you can’t let it out or take it in without taking the entire dress apart.

Thus, I prayed that 12b+14w+16h=excellent!

I didn’t take many progress shots, except this shot of me testing the fit on DumDum since Amelia is in far-off Colorado and thus unavailable for fittings:

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This is also right before I put the sleeves on. Seriously, the sleeves in this pattern confound me! As you may recall (and if you don’t, it’ll be fairly obvious in the picture below), my previous dress suffered from a case of muffin top sleeve caps:

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It’s like rabbit ears or plate armor…..or GAGA!

If you happen to be an extraterrestrial/pop star with shoulder protrusions, this is the pattern for you! However, if you are an average human attempting to mimic Edwardian fashion, the shoulders poofs are maddening. No one else who has made this pattern ended up with lumpy shoulders, but I ran into the exact same problem again with Amelia’s dress. Even with TWO rows of ease stitching, the sleeve cap was well over an inch too tall. I ended up just sewing further down the sleeve cap to achieve a smooth shoulder line. I can only conclude that I am either an idiot or cursed by some vengeful pattern witch.

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It always seems I must turn to sleeve voodoo to get things to work. Perhaps it is coming back to haunt me now?

In between tackling the sleevils and adding the collar buttons, I took on a temporary second job (just for this month). Lack of freetime notwithstanding, I finally got Amelia’s cotton candy Edwardian Barbie dress done!

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If the skirt looks a bit long, you’d be right. Amelia is much taller than I am. She wasn’t available for fittings, so I was pretty liberal with the addition just in case she wants to wear heels. I’m actually wearing my tallest pair of platforms (5″) underneath and it still puddles! I also took advantage of the sheet’s already finished hem, so hopefully she won’t need to hem it up (if you do, I’m sorry, Minnie!).

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The color of the cotton sheet really varies in photographs depending on the light. Sometimes it photographs as  as blush rose, other times, orange shrimp. It’s kinda funky.

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The pretty lace dickey is an antique, and unfortunately, not quite strong enough/big enough for wearing. It does make a nice dummy cover, though!

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I pleated the back instead of gathering it in this version to help combat the awkward back-poof I got with the first dress.

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I decided the skirt looked to plain and, well, bedsheet-like without some sort of accent, so I fudged an applique made from the dupatta scraps.

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The waistline of this dress really benefits from a belt or corsage to cover the awkward join where the faux wrap front meets. The pattern includes a belt, but I opted to add a little bow at the corner. It’s made from an antique stamped steel buckle that is handily dated on the back!

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I added a pin back so it can be moved if Amelia wants to wear a belt or wear it on her shoulder or something of that sort. I paired it with a cheap gauze scarf from Walmart as an impromptu sash with moderate success.

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Despite my (in my opinion) clever patterning, the dress still ended up larger than expected! It’s not horribly baggy, but I’m afraid that on my slim sister, it might look like she’s wallowing in a duvet. Ah, well! I have to send it off to see. If nothing else, it will make a passable Halloween frock!

Candy Colored Edwardian Dress Stats:

Queen-sized cotton sateen flat sheet – $3.99, Thrift Town
1 yard cotton fabric (to line collar and applique) – FREE! (Thanks, Nana!)
Embroidered teal georgette dupatta – FREE! (Thanks, Laura!)
22″ invisible zipper – $2.49, Hancock Fabrics
Thrifted white shirt (for buttons) – $4.59, Goodwill
Antique stamped steel buckle – $6.18, eBay
Invisible zipper foot – $11, Joann Fabrics
(Okay, so not part of the dress, per say, but very much needed!)

Total: $28.25
$17.25 if you don’t count the zipper foot. :P

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UPDATE!

Some of Butterick’s possible inspirations directly from the Delineator, Butterick’s ladies’ magazine!

Butterick 6093 Inspirations

From left to right:
Oct. 1912: Cross-over bodice with squared collar (from view A of B6093) and the lacy, squared cuffs with long button closure (View B)
August 1912 and September 1912: Brief fashion for single-sided curved revers/lapels/collars. The Aug. 1912 dress on the right has the lace overlay and single-sided wrap of View B.
Oct. 1912 again: Illustration of sleeves fashions including the lacy, squared cuffs with long button closure (this seems to have been a brief trend in fall/winter ’12)
Nov. 1912: THE SKIRT! This is the exact skirt design of View A in B6093 consisting of a tri-pleated/tucked wrapped overskirt and bow-bedecked belt!
April 1912: Another curved, single-sided lapel like View B (also paired with a square collar as in View A) and the possible inspiration for the lace overlay used in the promotional pictures. It is from a Bedell’s Fashion Book ad for Easter and Spring dress styles.
Sept. 1911: Shows an older dress (left) transformed into the newer fashion (right) with a single-sided lapel and wrapped overskirt (and lovely contrasting underskirt!)

Here’s the amazing link to scanned issues of the Delineator (Thanks again, Terri!) where you can find these images and so much more: http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/000545715

Butterick 6093: Hiccups, Mixups, and a Mockup

My Too-Tight 1912

So this project began as many of mine do: a challenge. Back in August of 2014 (yes, it HAS been that long!), Butterick released two 1912 patterns in their Retro line, B6108 and B6093.

Butterick’s Retro line is made up of re-released/reworked patterns pulled from the Butterick archives. Most dresses are from the 1930s-1950s, carefully chosen to appeal both to the vintage loving crowd and modern seamstresses. So when Butterick boldly threw two 1912 patterns into the mix, the modern sewing community was less than impressed. One blogger even called them “the latest innovation in birth control!” And, judging by the release pictures, I can understand the confusion:

I actually like the styling of this one and the coat looks very well made, but I can see how with long line paired with such gloriously wide lapels would intimidate the modern fashion palette.

Again, nicely made, but the model is a bit overwhelmed by it (and the hair). Again, it’s not exactly to modern tastes.

1912 isn’t exactly a fashionable year by modern standards (and that polyester lace doesn’t help matters), but to the costuming community, the patterns held potential. B6108 was instantly a favorite and while the long-sleeved example dress frightened folks at first, once people realized that B6093 had a short-sleeved, lace-less option, the patterns flew off the shelves!

For a while, I couldn’t find them anywhere because they were bought up almost as quickly as craft stores put them on the shelves. However, earlier this year, I finally hit a pattern sale at the right time and snatched up a copy for myself. The cover bears the line drawing of both design options. Universally preferred View A lady in green on the left appears in her large, fashionable hat while the poor line model for View B casts down her eyes as though even she knew no one liked her.

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“God, Francis! I told the ladies you were going to be fabulous. I vouched for you, and you show up with handkerchiefs stuffed in your cuffs and only one lapel! Take your stupid little purse and go!”

Poor View B! I felt like it was getting way more hate than it deserved, so I decided to do a little research to find which original pattern Butterick based it off of. I contacted the company hoping that they would have more information, but they sent only a very vague reply: “These patterns are inspired by vintage patterns from Butterick in that year. Beyond that it would take some digging to get more answers from you.

I didn’t press them much further, but turned to my usual Googling method and found out that the lacy cuffs were a brief fad around 1912:

View F in this Sears Catalog ad has the same squared lace cuffs.

And the single-sided lapel? That was a larger trend that was popular throughout the 1910s, especially in 1911 and 1912:

The Delineator, 1911
The Delineator was one of Butterick’s pattern advertising magazines and I wish there full issues to comb through on the web so that I might see if there is either of the B6093 designs in them! How awesome would that be?! But, alas…

The Delineator, November 1911

Day and walking dresses, from 1912, “De Gracieuse”

Silk Dress, circa 1911-1915 (the seller dates it to 1915, but it looks earlier)

Donaldson’s of Minneapolis Evening Gown, circa 1914
This gown is from the Glenbow Museum website which has a tendency to not hyperlink well, so I am including the item number here: C-4600. This is one of those gowns that is dangerous to wear–I might drool all over it!

However, the illustration that most caught my attention was this one:

Mode Illustree, November 5th, 1911
From a now-defunct eBay auction, sadly. But at least the image survived!

I liked everything about it and it looked like a perfect candidate for transforming View A from shamed to acclaimed!

Aside from the single lapel, this dress design has fan of lace that stands out from one side of the collar. Perhaps this was what the designers were trying to emulate in their design? Having an asymmetrical lace drape was popular and could be bought pre-manufactured to add to your dress.

The American Dressmaker, April 1912

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Collars with side ruffles in the Sears, Roebuck, and Company catalog from 1912 (see the whole thing here!)

Here’s the dress plan I came up with:

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I planned to use some nice faux silk and a sari I had to make a nice dinner dress (I love dinner dresses), but I ran into a few hiccups along the way.

First, I couldn’t find a nice faux silk I liked at a price I could afford. Also, I decided that a nice cotton sateen would be better and more breathable. However, I failed to find that either. I usually find lots of cotton sateen sheets at the local thrift shop, but I failed to find ANY for nearly a month! So I settled for a plain deep blue cotton sheet. Turns out, that sheet would be both a blessing and a curse. I did luck into a 100% silk shirt that I plan to use to make a dickey…at some point…

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I cut out the pattern a few months ago, but then life happened and I hit a major sewing slump. By the time I picked the project back up, I realized I’d cut the dress a size too small! This pattern really does run true-to-size, so according to my measurements, I needed a 14 or 16. I’m between sizes thanks to my large bust, so I usually cut a 14 and do a full bust adjustment. This pattern, however, is designed to fit very loosely up top, so the bust size is more flexible. I should have cut a size 14, but instead, I cut a size 12! Guess I was in Simplicity rather than Butterick mode that day. Both companies follow different sizing charts and I fit a size 12 in Simplicity patterns. Oops! So I shifted focus from making a full dress to just creating a wearable (if I lose 5-10 pounds) mockup. Using the cheap cotton sheet worked to my advantage because I didn’t worry about wasting materials and it was easy to sew.

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B6093 has a curved, semi-circlar collar/lapel. My inspiration image and most of the period fashions I found have triangular lapel shapes, so I tucked and folded the pattern tissue until I got a shape I like. Folding the tissue rather than cutting it is a great technique because you can make alterations to this particular cutting without damaging the original pattern. That way, you (or someone else) can go back to the original design in the future.

Otherwise, I pretty much made the dress directly from the pattern. I did opt to mix it up a bit and use the short sleeves from View B to match my inspiration dress, but I followed the directions pretty much to the letter.

Butterick lists this pattern as an “Easy” design.

NO. FALSE.

Easy, to me, is something like a drawstring skirt or Simplicity’s Jiffy pattern line from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s (only 2 pattern pieces? Sign me up!). The Easy designation on this pattern is really a misnomer. While B9063 isn’t difficult, it’s definitely not Easy unless you have prior sewing experience. It has set-in sleeves, hand-tacked facing (for this mockup, I cheated and used iron on hem tape. Worked like a charm!), interfacing, lining, collars, sewn-in pleats, and an invisible side zipper all of which can be–and in my case, were–finicky.

When I got about 3/4 done (and got distracted with secretary dresses), I discovered that when I put the wrap top together, it gaped–a LOT: a whole two cups worth, and we’re not talking bra sizes…

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Ah, the flattering pictures I suffer for costume science!

Patterns are drafted for a B cup. I have DDD/F breasts, so usually I have to do a FBA to get my girlies to fit. Dresses in 1912 still had fairly full tops and are meant to skim over the breasts, not fit to them. Hence, this pattern has a ton of design ease built in (over 7 inches!). It is designed to be worn over a dickey or blouse to keep it appropriately modest, but this much gaping, even over a blouse, would be far too much! Turns out that you must fiddle with the amount of cross-over to get it to lay properly. In my case, that meant closing the V up a bit, subtracting bodice length, and fiddling with the distribution of the gathers in the front to keep my “two scoops” contained!

The invisible side zipper scared me, but it turned out okay considering that I don’t own a zipper foot. Indeed, I own an invisible zipper foot–which would be just the tool for the job if it wasn’t for that fact that it was invisible because it didn’t exist.
I own a very basic Singer “Simple” machine. It works great! But, it did not come with a zipper foot. It came with a button hole attachment and even a button attachment, but no zipper foot. What sort of weird logic is that? Most Easy and Beginner patterns out there require zippers, not buttons, so I don’t know why Singer chose to include button attachments with their beginner level machine. Ah, challenges!

So I sewed that sucker in without a zipper foot! YEEHAW!

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It is definitely not invisible, but it works! A raging success, considering I just jammed it under the regular presser foot and prayed.

Speaking of jamming and praying, with the help of my Rago 821 waist nipper, I was able to stuff my size 14/16 body into this size 12 dress to get few photos!

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I love the 821 because it does a good job of smoothing from underbust to hips like the columnar corsets of the time did.

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Here, you can see how blousy the top is. If I had the B cup bust this pattern was designed for, the flounce would be for even front-to-back. As it is, when I make a “real” dress out of this pattern, I will pleat the back rather than gather.

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Ah, those little sleeve crowns! They are from the sleeve head being too tall at the top. Otherwise, the silhouette is very flattering on my body type. The Edwardian era is gold for inverted triangle body shapes!

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The pattern has a very long, open kick-pleat on the side seam. It’s not historically appropriate, so I just added a gore made of the sari fabric to fill it in! It’s a nice little accent piece now.

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Sitting in this dress was a trick. While the top is very loose, the skirt is very slim. I don’t have huge hips by any means, but the skirt was far too tight even though I have the recommended hip measurement for a size 12 (36″). If you have a large derriere or thighs, going up a size or two in the hips would be prudent!

Here’s the dress on my more-to-size sewing dummy:

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I think I did a pretty bang up job of nailing the inspiration image. I have the trim for the bottom saved if I ever lose fit into this dress and want some more pizzazz.

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My dress form has a longer torso than me, so the dress hangs better on it. If you are short waisted, you may want to shorten the top of the skirt so the hips fall in the correct place.

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I haven’t made the dickey yet, so I tucked some antique lace into the neckline.

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I added the little rosette from the drawing by cutting motifs from the sari scraps and mounting them on a pinback.

 Despite my stumbles, this pattern went together quickly. It took about a week of sewing 2 hours a day, so 14 hours? Was it Easy? No. Is it suitable for a beginner? I’d say yes. It uses basic techniques and combines them to form an interesting, pleasant-looking design. If you’ve had a bit of sewing practice and are ready for a more complex project, this is a good candidate. I am not a serious seamstress and made a lot of errors from the start, so I wouldn’t say that my experience is what you should expect. If you have the right tools (*cough* zipper foot *cough*) and pay careful attention to sizing, then this pattern will go together very nicely. I certainly like my mistake-filled mockup and look forward to fixing the mistakes in a future dress!

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Dress Stats:

Butterick 6093 – $1.99, Hancocks or Joanns…I don’t remember
Full sized cotton flat sheet – $2.99, Thrift Town
Sari – $22.49, eBay (I still have the bulk of the sari left over since I only used the first yard. So, like $5 worth?)
Pinback – $0.79, Hoby Lobby
1 22″ “invisible” zipper – $4.43, Walmart
Iron-on hem tape – leftovers from a $1.49 roll so free-ish

Total: $16.69

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See my latest version and updated review!

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A Brief Trip to 1914: More Easy {Late} Edwardian Costuming on a Budget

I AM ADDICTED TO “SECRETARY” CLOTHES.

It seems that everywhere I go thifting these days, I find Edwardian-esque bits and pieces. I guess my eyes have just gotten so attuned to looking for costume stuff that I nearly forget to look for modern clothes for day-job-me to wear!

I’ve been using vintage blouses to make Edwardian outfits forever, but back in January or so, I found this late 1970s Sears dress on eBay, and it just screamed mid-teens:

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I found the same style of dress listed on Etsy  just today! That one’s listed as 1950s, but this dress looks more like late 1970s to me. Little polyester “secretary” dresses with elastic waists and puffy sleeves were very popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s, so they are readily available in lots of style, colors, and sizes.

Another 1980s cutie from Etsy with great color.

This one would look great with a red underskirt and a rose-covered hat!

The collar on this dress is so ADORABLE!
I…I may have an obsession…

Most are too short to wear as Edwardian costumes on their own, but with a long, fitted underskirt added, they’re smashing for 1912-1914 outfits! In those years, having a tunic or peplum look over a fitted skirt was extremely popular:

“Costume Parisiens,” circa 1912

“Costume Parisiens,” circa 1913

Fashion Illustration, circa 1913

“Fashion Plate No. 561,” circa 1914

I was in the midst of another Edwardian project when I realized the navy skirt would perfectly match this striped dress I’d bought months before. Add in a serendipitous pair of 1980s Goodwill shoes…

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…a Thrift Town hat…

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…and I had an outfit!

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1914 Outfit Breakdown:

Vintage dress – $12.43, eBay
Brown felt hat – $5.99, Thrift Town
Navy “lace-up” heels – $7.99, Goodwill
Navy cotton sheet (“underskirt”) – $1.99, Thrift Town

Total: $28.40

You’ll notice that the navy blue “underskirt” has a flappy panel that looks a bit odd with the outfit I have on. It’s because I’m actually wearing this over 3/4 of another dress, but I’m not done with it yet! It still needs sleeves and finishing touches, like the kick-pleat which, right now, is nothing but a scandalous open seam:

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If Angelina Jolie was a suffragette

When I’m done with the other dress, I will buy/make a columnar navy maxi skirt to underneath my striped secretary dress. Either way, though, it’s an easy-to-make and easier-to-wear costume that looks pretty authentic for being a polyester remnant of the disco era!

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Minka was jealous that mama was getting all the camera time. What a ham!

Find of the Month: Blonde 1890s China Doll in an 1860s Plaid Silk Dress

March/April 2015

This month’s FOTM is actually from March, but I only just got around to taking some pictures of her a few days ago. May I introduce, Miss L:

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Miss L was snatched up at Historic Camp Bowie Mercantile in Fort Worth. Though it is listed as an antique store, well over half of the booths are selling modern decor, clothing, and crafts (which seems to be an increasing trend in antique co-ops). However, there are some antique booths to be found amid the maze of partitions covered in framed still life prints, crackle-finish mirrors, and inspirational quote signage. This lovely lady was hiding in a dolly pile-up atop a German dark wood hutch at the very back corner of the store. When I first found her, I nearly tripped over a dining set in my excitement. Her price tag, however, hurt more than my stubbed toe! Forlorn and bruised, I set her back down and continued wandering the store trying to get my mind off her pretty pink plaid dress and adorably askew blue eyes.

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Silently judging you, resting bitch face victim, or holding a ridiculously long note on an invisible trumpet?

But love knows no monetary boundaries, so in a wallet-walloping moment, I flew back to her and paid her $85 ransom to a gruff grey-haired woman at the register.

Miss L is very handsomely attired. The main attraction is her brightly colored silk dress trimmed with lush silk velvet. It has a very full skirt and basque bodice- undeniably 1860s in silhouette.

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She has tiny “alien” hands. Aren’t they so oddly modeled? They are framed by velvet-cuffed pagoda sleeves with lace frills.

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It’s hard to tell from this photo, but the outside of the silk (top left) has, as is so often the case, faded while the underside has better maintained the vivid original hues. The skirt is cartridge pleated.

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The bodice has four beads acting as “buttons” down the front. The dress has two later snaps added to the front (likely to replace missing hooks and eyes).

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The back of the bodice. The seams all show signs of stress and fraying.

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The inside of the bodice showing the tiny 1/8 inch seams. it is machine sewn except for the trims and hems.

Finding a lovely doll with a such a pretty outfit would be treat enough, but, just like a full-sized outfit of the period, Miss L’s dress is supported by a full suite of minutely detailed undergarments as well– including a hoop skirt!

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Miss L’s outer petticoat is decorated with hand made broderie anglaise, a type of eyelet that was popular in the 1850s and early 60s.

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The hoop skirt has a single hoop attached halfway down the length. The outer petticoat and hoop skirt share a single waistband. Both are cartridge pleated.

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Underneath her petticoats, Miss L is wearing a chemise/corset cover tucked into a long pair of drawers (closed crotch, if you were curious). The drawers have four pintucks at the bottom of each leg and are trimmed in lace. A blue silk ribbon drawstring holds them on. They are sewn directly to her knees, so I cannot remove them to check the condition of her legs without cutting the threads.

I’ve been collecting dolls for most of my life, but I will confess that china dolls escape my expertise. Judging by the lack of detail, rather haphazard paint job, and general “bubbly-ness” of her hair, she appears to be a later Victorian model.

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Her only marking is the number 0 on her back.

1860s china dolls generally have more delicate features and less voluminous hair with far more sculptural detail.

China Doll Head, circa 1865
In the 1860s, dolls mimicked the popular hairstyles, which were generally smooth at the top, parted, and had volume mainly at the sides and back.

Frozen Charlotte Doll, circa 1880
An early incarnation of the classic high-loft, low-brow hairstyle that would become fairly standard on china dolls produced into the early 20th century. The black-haired china dolls from this period remind me of Betty Boop.

1890s china head doll

Hertwig German China Doll Head with Molded Collar, circa 1890-1900
Mass-production for these dolls hit its peak around 1895. You’ll notice that the hair is rather globular and the features are swiftly painted on, giving this dolly the same derpy look Miss L has.

Miss L’s dense hairstyle, face mold, and other china bits are characteristic of mass produced German china dolls manufactured from about 1890 to 1910.

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Her body is stuffed with sawdust. I know this because a) it was a popular stuffing material for cloth-bodied dolls and b) it ended up all over my desk.

It isn’t unheard of to find an old china doll head on a newer body or a new head on an older body. Doll bodies and heads were widely available though mail order catalogs. If a child dropped mommy’s (or even grandmother’s) old dolly, they might have simply ordered a new, inexpensive replacement.

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Clipping from the 1895 Montgomery Ward catalog advertising various sizes of plain china doll heads with painted hair and eyes.
Note: the doll in the illustration is actually a bulldog in a wig.

It’s also entirely possible an industrious doll maker could have composed Miss L out of a variety of salvaged antique parts. The possibilities seem endless!

The mostly likely scenario, however, is a collector discovered that Miss L, an 1890s German doll, fit nicely into the clothes of a now-absent 1860s doll. A German 1890s doll by herself is cool, just as an 1860s doll dress by itself is cool. But united, their coolness multiplies exponentially, forming a gravitational pull that no doll/costume/antique obsessed shopaholic can resist. And by golly, it worked!

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.

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)!