Easy DIY Georgian and Victorian Watch Fob: Historical Accessory Tutorial

I’ve got Fobs that jingle-jangle-jingle as I go walking merrily along…

Back in ye olden days (aka 2014), I attended a very chilly Georgian Picnic with my husband, Chris.

To dress up our outfits, I made him a simple Regency fob/watch string and I wore a portrait miniature of him on a fob of my own. Since then, I’ve made lots of such fobs for costuming purposes. They are great for displaying watches, trinkets, miniatures, jewels, and more for 18th and 19th century costumes.

Napoleon and Josephine Tea 169 ps

Photo by Decor to Adore

For Laura’s Napoleon and Josephine Tea, I wore Christopher’s miniature portrait again and got a few requests for a tutorial on making one.

In addition, I found an original man’s fob from the 1880s, and I just recently got a few pocket watches from my grandma, so I have proper watches to use as examples!

Two of the watches are pretty recent, but the rose gold one is circa 1900-1920. Only one of them runs (the big one), but since I carry around a cellphone, I don’t really need the watches to function so much as look the part!

This is the oldest of the watches and the Victorian ribbon fob I found.

Before purchasing your supplies, consider who will be wearing the fob and what they will be putting on the fob. For example:
An 18th century man has a fob pocket on his breeches under a long waistcoat. He would tuck his expensive watch in the pocket attached to a highly decorated watch string long enough to show from under his waistcoat.
A Regency man will have a fob with a watch on one end and trinkets like tassels, watch key, seals, etc. on the other. He wears his watch tucked into his fob pocket with the ribbon hanging out over his breeches, displaying the accessories. You’ll want to buy a few charms to gussy-up the end of your fob!
A Victorian man, on the other hand, may keep his watch in a vest pocket with the watch on one end and only a bar on the other end to secure the fob to a buttonhole or he might keep a very short ribbon fob with a charm on the other end to dangle out of his pocket. This is a great opportunity to use silk ribbon, display some embroidery, or add an initials charm (like my antique example)
A Regency lady will wear her watch on one end and pin the other end to her dress or drape it over a sash, displaying the watch out in the open.
This method also works well for making chatelaines, equipages, or simply displaying a hanging pendant. Get creative!

– SUPPLIES –

– Ribbon Findings (I used 22mm ones, ordered from Etsy)
– Ribbon (I used 1 inch wide velvet ribbon from Hobby Lobby)
– Jump Rings
– Hoop/Bar, Lobster, or Spring Ring Clasps
– Needle Nose Pliers
-Scissors
– Watch, charms, miniatures, etc. to hang
– Pin/Brooch *optional
– Chain *optional

– MAKING THE FOB BASE –

Cut your ribbon to a comfortable length. If find 3-4 inches to be a good length for Regency fobs. 8-10 inches, if you want to secure it by looping it over a sash or if a gent needs it to reach from their waistcoat buttons to side pocket.  Keep in mind that your watch and the clasp will add extra length. If it helps, you may wish to use a flexible tailor’s measuring tape to “drape” on your outfit to get a measurement goal (for example, from a vest buttonhole to the watch pocket).

Next, place the ribbon clasp finding over the end of the ribbon. Then use the pliers to gently chomp the alligator teeth down onto the ribbon. Don’t use too much force or you’ll flatten them! They need to bite the ribbon firmly to hold it in place. Repeat with the other end of the ribbon.

If you have a ribbon wider than your findings, don’t fret! You can get a nice effect by folding the edges of the ribbon in the back so it fits.

– CHOOSE YOUR CLASP CONFIGURATION –

Depending on how you plan to wear your fob, there are a few options for which clasps to use. For example, the Victorian original has two types of clasps on it: a spring ring clasp and a pinch clasp.

Here are some other configuration options:

Loop and Bar/Toggle Clasp. The loop works great if you want to hang multiple things from the fob. Add lobster clasps to your suite of accessories to make them easy to clip on or remove at your leisure (or, for a more permanent attachment, use large jump rings to attach your accessories directly to the loop). Plus, there are tons of fancy designs to choose from, like heart shaped or twisted wire ones. The bar, if not used to secure the fob to a buttonhole, can easy be folded

Bar and Lobster/Pinch Clasp. Allows for easily taking a singular watch/accessory on and off. If you make your fob like this, you don’t have to add clasps to all your accessories or break out the pliers to remove jump rings every time you want to change out the watch.

Brooch and Clasp. For ladies, brooches are a great option for securing your fob to a waistline. Why use a plain sewing pin when you can jazz it up with a cool antique piece? Take those old jewels out for a spin! Many Victorian brooches have a safety chain on them. If yours does, simply use a jump ring to attach your fob to the loop! Otherwise, simply pin the fob on directly through the ribbon.
A less practical method is to add a small length of chain to slide through the pin of the brooch. This method is tedious to put on (you must nip the pin through your dress, thread on the chain, then nip the pin through your dress fabric again before securing it), but if you are using a ribbon you don’t want to put pin holes in, it’s a viable option.

Once you’ve got all that sorted, just pick out a watch or some charms you like and get your hoity-toity swagger on!

For a more in-depth examination of the history behind fobs/watch strings check out one of my other blog posts:

Keeping Track of Time: Georgian Watch Chains, Equipages, Fobs, and Chatelaines

Reclaiming a Hat Icon: How to Turn a Trilby into a Victorian Lady’s Hat Tutorial

This post is a bit of a weird ride– from Charles Dickens to Trolls to Britney Spears. But you could get a great hat out of the deal!

I should have written this post almost a year ago when I went to Dickens on the Strand with Mistress of Disguise back in December of 2018, but I really fell off the blogging wagon and didn’t. So, finally, here’s a blog post about my costumes for Dickens on the Strand 2018– beginning with my thifty hat makeover:

While it’s not the most flattering hat on everyone, the trilby (commonly misidentified as a fedora) comes in a vast array of materials and sizes. In fact, after ballcaps, beanies, and cowboy hats (here in Texas at least), the trilby is the most readily available male hats. You can even buy them at Walmart for less than $10.

via Quora

I have a massive love of hats! I have at least 30 of them, some of them vintage, some new, and many modded for costuming. Some of them are also my husband’s hats, like his tricorn, cowboy hat, and numerous old fedoras/trilbies. However, both fedoras and trilbies have gotten a sour reputation recently because of their association with internet trolls and creepy pick-up “artists.” Due to these bad stereotypes, my husband hasn’t been wearing his old trilbies as much anymore, so they were just gathering dust in my closet.

But did you know that fedoras actually started as a popular unisex, feminist fashion in the 1880s and trilbies are perfect for transforming into Victorian lady’s hats? Yes, indeed! So when I needed a last minute hat to go with my flannel 1880s bustle dress, I decided to take the trilby back from the trolls and give one of those old hats a new life.

During the 1870s, bonnets began to be replaced by hats as the fashionable form of daytime headgear for ladies. The ancestor of the modern fedora was actually created in the 1880s as a hat worn by all-around badass Sarah Bernhardt, who wore the first fedora during a play called, well, Fedora!

I couldn’t find a photo of Sarah Bernhardt in her original Fedora, but here she is in a different cool hat. You can see how you could easily make a similar hat by modifying a modern fedora.

In 1894, The Trilby hat was invented and also got its name from the hat style worn in the theatrical production, but the trilby was worn by a male actor and has thus been a man’s hat from the start. However, the shape shows up in women’s hats of the previous decade, making all our currently-much-maligned trilbies the perfect base for last-minute-panic Victorian bustle hats!

Natural Form Era hats. The Vintage Dancer has an excellent article on 19th century ladies’ hats! Click the fashion plate above to visit.

Lady’s Hat, circa 1885 via the Met Museum

I took trimming inspiration for my last-minute trilby transformation from 1880s hats like the lady’s on the left.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take any in-progess pics of my Dickens on the Strand hat because– in my usual fashion– I made it literally the night before Megan and I left for Galveston! However, I did absolutely nothing to the base hat, just trimmed it (haphazardly).

I used 1 roll of cream-colored ribbon from Walmart, a netting remnant, and pinned an antique silver dime brooch to the front.

Now, there is a secret to every successful hat…and I’m going to spill the beans just for you.

As I have stated before, this is just a plain old man’s store-bought trilby. Even under all the trimmings, it’s still very visibly a modern trilby…probably because it’s a good two sizes too big! It’s my husband’s, so it’s an XL hat made to fit a 6′ 2″ dude. If I just plop it down on my head, it’s so huge it engulfs half my noggin!

Yet, most modern hats– even ones sized correctly for your head– sit far too low on the face. If you’ve ever gotten photos back from an event only to discover your face is all shadowed over and hidden by your hat, it’s because modern hats have very wide, deep crowns to sit far enough down on your head to keep them in place at the expense of your forehead.

But don’t worry, you still look fabulous!

Historical women’s hats, however, were designed to perch on top of elaborate hairstyles, particularly buns. Often, they hardly touched you head at all, sitting entirely atop a nest of fluffy hair instead.

 

And instead of relying on a deep crown to stay in place, women used hat pins.

Call the Police! I’m Wearing an Illegal Hatpin!

Even if a hat had a deep crown, it often had an interior fabric “cap” or drawstring ring that kept the crown from swallowing your head.

Some well-designed modern hats still use this feature. This is the inside of my favorite modern “church lady” hat that I wear for Edwardian costumes. You can see the drawstring ring inside that adjusts to fit your head so the enormously tall crown doesn’t eat your face.

Any of these things can be done to modify a modern hat to fit in a historical manner. In the case of my trilby-turned-Victorian hat, I didn’t have time to put in a fitting ring, but I did have plenty of hair to stuff into it. This kept it aloft.

In fact, the true secret to historical hat success isn’t just the hat itself: it’s the hair under it!

Properly styled hair– even if it’s the most simplistic version of a period style– instantly takes you from hat rookie to hat champion!

To demonstrate this better, here is a series of hasty, terrible bathroom selfies I took.

Let’s start with a modern trilby I have that actual fits me correctly:

If you want to use a trilby to make a Victorian hat, I recommend starting with one that actually fits, or one slightly too small.

As you can see, it fits much better than my big brown one! But with the deep hat crown and modern hairstyle, the farthest back in time this hat takes me is high school in the early 2000s. No thanks!

BRING IN THE HISTORICAL HAIR!

This is my go-to basic hairstyle. It’s my collarbone length hair pulled up in a simple bun and then my beloved “curl loaf” slapped on the front. Nothing fancy.

This style is perfect for the 1880s and 1890s, but it can carry you from the late 1870s to the 1910s if you really need to. Plus, it works especially well with hats! The bun gives you something to perch your hat on so it stays off your face, and it give you something to safely stab hat pins into to keep everything in place. The curls up front also help lift the crown of the hat away from your face and, if you’ve got strong features or a large face like me, the curls peek out from under the hat a bit to soften your face. Plus, the hairstyle looks good on its own, in case you have to remove your hat.

Now that you’ve got your hair in place, you can play with how you wear your hat! To instantly take a trilby from modern to old-fashioned, wear it on the back of your head for a more bonnet-like appearance:

A fashion plate from the late 1870s showing bonnet-like hats worn on the back of the head to take trimming inspiration from.

You can also wear the trilby backwards so that the curled part of the brim is at the top of your head to help disguise the modernness even more. Covered in trimmings like puffy bows and feathers or covered in fabric to match your dress will further transform it!

Covered in lace and fabric, a modern trilby could be used as a base for these 1870s bonnets! Notice how these bonnets/hats are sitting way up high on a giant mound of hair, as was fashionable in the 1870s. The hats aren’t even touching their faces or necks. Worried you don’t have enough hair? Don’t worry! Most Victorians used plenty of hairpieces to make such fab hairstyles.

Another way to wear it is perched up on your hair completely, tilted forward a tad. Rather than disguising the shape of the trilby, this angle shows off the full shape and works well for the more tailored looks of the 1880s:

Of course, wearing it this way also puts your hair on display more, so make sure the back is nice and neat (unlike mine, ha!).

So many trim options! From the 1870s to the 1880s.

No matter how you choose to wear it, however, you will want to trim it. Depending on your trilby’s material. you might be able to get away with a few ribbons or spray of flowers, but the Victorians loved trims and, as you can see in the fashion plate examples, the base hat is often buried under a mound of bows, lace, feathers, flowers, and other crazy-fun whatnots! So get creative and go wild with the trims!

For my 1880s dress, I wore my/my husband’s giant trilby perched on top of my head. It was so huge it still kind of ate my head, but it worked perfectly for a last-minute hat with not a lick of hat blocking required! Plus, it was inexpensive. Since I recycled an old hat, I only had to spend money on the ribbon, which was, like $3. I guess if you wanted to count it, the $10 brooch was the biggest expense, though I had that on-hand, too, or it could easily have been replaced with a big button. Is this method perfectly HA and the pinnacle of design? Ha, no! But all-in-all, it worked just as I needed it to!

HAPPY COSTUMING, M’LADIES! ;)

My Ugly Step Sister Shoes: Making 1850s Shoes for Not-So-Petite Modern Feet

Keeping Your Sole on the Straight and Narrow…Mostly

Finding proper shoes for 1830s-1860s costumes is hard, mostly because square toes are completely unfashionable at the moment on anything other than cowboy boots. In addition, ideally, early Victorian shoes should be flat. Heels had been out of vogue since the early 1800s and didn’t full circle back around until the late 1850s. Tiny heels (under 1 inch) can be found on walking shoes and boots, though.

Evening Slippers, circa 1830-45

Leather Slippers, circa 1855-65

Walking boots, circa 1845-65

There are modern square-toed flats available, but the toes always seem to be just a little “off” (usually too chunky) or are way too expensive. Square toes are pretty plentiful on vintage shoes thanks to the 1960s and 1980s, but the square toes are often accompanied by a massive, chunky high heel set at the oddest, most unhistorical angle possible:

Yay! …. NOOOOOOOO!

Since I’ve spent months of thrift shop lurking with no success (everything in the right size is the wrong style and everything the right shape is a size 4!), I’ve been saving up my money for a good pair of mid-century shoes. That’s a far and away dream, so I decided to look into making my own pair of slippers based on the many patterns you can find floating around the web.

Slipper tops like this one were popular housewife handicrafts and were usually embroidered and attached to leather soles to be worn as house slippers for both men and women. They were popular throughout the 19th century and into the early 20th century (this pattern is from 1912). The overall shape changed little throughout the era, mostly because square toes on men’s slippers and shoes stayed in vogue. I’m the worst embroiderer ever, but the shape was simple enough and needed only a sole to go along with it. Victorian shoes are notoriously narrow. Thin, delicate feet were considered the mark of a refined lady. I have a pair of evening boots from around 1840-50 that are only 2.25 inches wide (for comparison, one of my modern flats is 3.5 inches wide).

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Since our modern sensibilities drive us to comfortable shoes for everyday wear like sandals and tennis shoes, our feet are much wider than many of our ancestors. I’ve noticed that after I stopped wearing solid dress shoes on a regular basis, my feet spread a bit. Other factors like weight, how much time you spend on your feet, and pregnancy also change how your feet are shaped. Also: genetics. My entire family has large, wide feet.

After a bit of trial and error (and three mock-ups), I’d found a sole shape that was “straight-lasted” and still wide enough that I could just wedge my modern foot into it.

The two pieces are sewn together using tiny 1/8th inch seams.

Lots of extant shoes are made with extra length for a slimming effect, but since my shoes are so soft, any extra length just made the shoe fit sloppily. I used brown cotton duck left over from the Merchant Gentleman’s Coat. It’s stiff, but it stretches– a blessing because it molds quickly to your foot, but a curse because it doesn’t hold the shoe’s shape very well on its own.

I wanted a pair of very basic square toed flats, like these:

Leather Slippers, circa 1850
These were constructed using a two or three piece top rather than a one piece top, but the effect is the same, just with side seams.

For the final shoe, I decided to use a layered approach. I didn’t have leather for the sole, so I used a double layer of duck topped with a “insole” of cotton sheeting. The tops I made from a terrible synthetic fabric that is actually freakishly good at mimicking the look of both leather and silk. The tops are interlined with more cotton duck and then lined with cotton sheeting.

Not bad for a first time sewing together a shoe! I was a terrible person and machine-stitched everything together using a heavy weight quilter’s thread instead of hand sewing, but once everything was patterned and cut, the assembly only took about an hour. I also left the seams inside exposed instead of doing a proper “seamless” lining, but I can always flip the shoes inside out and use bias tape to cover everything if I start feeling ambitious. As they are, though, the seams aren’t much of an issue since I wear stockings with them.

Since I didn’t have leather for soles, these are truly house slippers. They can survive a short jaunt over the pavement, though. The delicately thin slippers of the era were well-known for being too flimsy to withstand more than a few wears anyway, so I’m historically accurate on that count, but so far my slippers seem to be holding up valiantly as I dither around the house in them.

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I made the opening a little too rounded. Next time I will make it squared to emphasize the shape of the toe.

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I drafted the slippers to be tight at the sides the toe in order to get a flattering shape. Victorian women would have been wearing tight shoes like this since they were young, so their feet would have molded a bit to the shape. Tight shoes got almost as much vitriol flung at them as corsets, but they were necessary to get the proper silhouette.

Everyone always wonders how on earth our ancestors could stand having straight-lasted shoes. We’re used to obvious left/right lasting, but for straight lasted shoes, especially soft slippers like these, wearing them a few times is enough to mold the shoes into a subtle left/right shape. My feet are wide with an distinct left/right shape that quickly left their imprints on my slippers. I wish I had narrower feet so they would look more like the delicate feet of an 1850s Cinderella, but alas! Even making the shoe tight on the sides can only do so much. Because of that, the square toe isn’t as pronounced and ends up looking more like a matador or Chinese slipper than an 1850s lady’s slipper (though I did find this pair that has the same width and shape as mine).
Duck foot strikes again!

The color helps. Even on your feet, black is slimming!

____________

HSF Details

The Challenge: Under $10

Fabric: Cotton duck, cotton sheeting, and synthetic-whatever

Pattern: Self drafted, based on fashion journal patterns from the era

Year: 1840-1860

Notions: Heavy duty quilter’s thread

How historically accurate is it? Hmm…50%? The pattern is spot on as is the fitting method and shape. The soles should be leather, though, and the uppers should be silk, leather, or embroidered.

Hours to complete: 3 hours to gather the gumption and figure out the fitting, and 1 to actually sew the final shoes, so 4 hours total.

First worn: Laundry time!

Total cost: The cotton duck was technically a scrap, but I used about 1/3 yard, so about $2 worth; the cotton sheeting was scraps from lining my 1890s dress, so free; the black synthetic-whatever was $1 yard from Walmart and I used 1/4 yard, so 25 cents; and the most expensive of the bunch was the thread, which was a gift (thanks, mom!), but new would cost about $2.95. Total: $5.20

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These were tons of fun to make! Quick and easy with lots of room to experiment and play with materials. The same pattern works for Regency slippers, too. Just make a pointy toe instead of a square one. Butterick makes a historical shoe pattern that has a pair of medieval shoes that can easily be modified if you prefer to work with a pre-made pattern rather than drafting your own from scratch (though, honestly, drafting this pattern is the easiest drafting project you could do). If you can get ahold of leather for soles, they would do very well for ball shoes, but the method will need some changes to account for the leather sole.

Tutorials from Around the Web:

Miss Charlotte’s Shoe TutorialThe tutorial is for Regency shoes, but the final shape is more 1830s. This is pretty much the method I used for my slippers.

Making Mid 19th Century ShoesA slide-lacing boot tutorial that has a leather sole and requires no last. Anna’s shoes are almost perfect reproductions and she shows you how to work with the leather soles since they require a few more steps to apply properly.

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UPDATE

Here’s a basic sketch of the process:

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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:

threadheaded

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)!

I’ve been Scent from the Past: 17th and 18th Century Perfumes

How to Smell like Kings and Queens

Have you ever been stuck next to someone who had put on too much perfume? The experience can be either highly pleasant or highly intolerable depending on how the scent works. Modern perfumes are categorized by their “notes,” or scent types mixed together to create a full-bodied scent:

pyramide_parfum

Source

  • Top/Head notes: The scents that are perceived immediately on application of a perfume. Top notes consist of small, light molecules that evaporate quickly. They form a person’s initial impression of a perfume and thus are very important in the selling of a perfume.
  • Middle/Heart notes: The scent of a perfume that emerges just prior to when the top notes dissipate. The middle note compounds form the “heart” or main body of a perfume and act to mask the often unpleasant initial impression of base notes, which become more pleasant with time.
  • Base notes: The scent of a perfume that develops as the other scents dissipate. The base and middle notes together are the main theme of a perfume. Base notes bring depth and solidity to a perfume. Compounds of this class of scents are typically rich and “deep.”

17th and 18th century perfumes fell into two general categories: floral and musky. Floral scents of the time were made from flower oils or waters distilled from blooms such as roses, orange flowers, and jasmine. These scents float near the top of the modern note range. Musks are base notes– heavy yet subtle at the same time. They are often animal-based and were favored by both sexes because they blend well with the natural human scent, itself a musky note. In an age of inconsistent bathing practices (some bathed often, other did not), perfume served as a popular odor equalizer in the merchant and noble classes. During the 17th and 18th century, there was very little difference between men’s and women’s perfumes. A man might wear a wash of rose water to fresh his skin while a lady might don a heady amber toilet for a candle-lit dance.

He: “My, don’t you smell heavenly, dearest! Like orange flowers and vanilla”
She: “And, you smell, too…of leather and spiced liqueur.”
He: “Ah, so you’ve caught me stealing your perfume again, then…”

Perfume was important and perfumers guarded their secrets well, but today we have access to some of their revered recipes. Some perfumes were as simple as distilling the scent of popular flowers. Rose water, popular since ancient times as both a scent and beauty treatment, was wildly popular in the 17th and 18th century. You can actually make your own rose water at home, if you are up for a little perfuming experimentation!

Rose Water being Distilled

Other 17th and 18th century perfumes are much more complex. Take, for example, this recipe for “Aqua-Mellis, or The King’s Honeywater,” which, as Madame Isis points out, contains not a drop of honey!

  1. Coriander seeds An herb, with a citrusy flavor.
  2. Marjoram An herb with a citrus and pine flavor.
  3. Calamus Aromaticus A water plant used as a substitute for ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg
  4. Yellow sandalwood Aromatic tree. A common ingredient in scents.
  5. Orange and Lemon peels
  6. Nutmeg Spice
  7. Clove
  8. Cinnamon
  9. Pimento Can mean a red pepper, but usually Allspice, the dried fruits of the of the Pimenta dioica plant
  10. Cassia Sometimes called Bastard cinnamon. Has less taste and rougher texture than true cinnamon and is therefore cheaper.
  11. Storax the resin of the oriental sweetgum (amber)
  12. Gum Benjamin or Benzoin resin
  13. Labdanum A resin
  14. Venellios Tonka bean A substitute for vanilla
  15. Spirit of Musk Derived from the glands from various animals, like musk deer. Today synthetic musk is almost exclusively used. Probably the most common base note in perfumes.
  16. Spirit of Ambergris A waxy substance that comes from the digestive tracks of Sperm whales. Prepared, it smells wonderful and has been used as fixative and base note in perfume for a long time.
  17. Lavender oil
  18. Bergamot essence From Bergamot orange. Used to flavor Earl Grey tea.
  19. Rhodium oil or Rosewood oil
  20. Orange flower water
  21. Rose water
  22. Milk

What an exhaustive list, and all for one perfume! The process combining them is just as exhaustive and well worth the read. Such complex perfumes were popular amongst rich nobles. Nearly every lady received a toilet/vanity set as a wedding gift and with it, a few large flasks for precious, ostentatious perfumes such as the one mentioned above.

Pair of Silver Perfume Flasks, circa 1671-72
“Toilet services were traditionally given as wedding presents by a wealthy husband to his new wife for use in her bedchamber. They usually included a mirror, boxes for ornaments, jewellery and cosmetics and perfume bottles. These flasks were dug up in Parliament Hill Fields (between Hampstead and Highgate) in 1892 by an inquisitive child and sold to the V&A for a modest sum by his father.” – V&A Museum

Perfume came in a variety of consistencies: alcohol-based (perhaps the most familiar to modern audiences), oil-based, water-based, and wax-based. Alcohol and oil bases are what we traditionally consider perfume and would have been applied from a bottle using a dauber or a fingertip. Water-based fragrances were usually floral and used as face tonics. Wax-based perfumes are solidified and easy to carry in pomanders. Scent pendants were very popular, especially considering the putrid reek of muck in the streets that a fine lady had to contend with! A little scent in a handkerchief or on a locket at the end of a chain was invaluable. On that note, perfumes were not just applied to the body. Anything and everything that could hold a scent was perfumed, from gloves and rouge to garters and hair powder! In fact, gloves and perfume went so hand in hand (pardon the pun!) that in 1656, the Guild of Glove and Perfumers was formed. Perfumed gloves weren’t just worn on the hands, but could be tucked into waist sashes and hatbands. A lady might send her beloved a delicate glove soaked in her perfume just like we might send a perfumed love letter.

Lady’s Glove, circa 1610-20
Always a welcome gift, unless they are laced with poison!

If you are a lover of perfume, by all means indulge yourself even when in costume! Finding a modern equivalent for a 17th or 18th century scent can be difficult, unless you know what to look for. Stick with natural scents or even make your own! A good, oil-based organic perfume can be quite expensive (just like back in the day). For the scent scientist, there are plenty of authentic historical recipes online that you can experiment with.

There was as much scent variety in the past as there are today. People could choose floral, citrus, sweet, spicy, or milky fragrances. My favorite modern-made-ancient perfumes are base notes. They work best with my natural chemistry and fit my taste. 17th century perfumes tend to contain more musky base notes, so my preferences fit right in with my favorite era! I have two modern favorites that I like to wear when in character:

perfume

Shanghai Rose Solid Perfume in Amber

This amazing little fragrance tin (10g) is warm, earthy, slightly sour, and very musky. It mellows as you wear it, blending with your own scent. It smells very similar to a sample of 18th century cologne I had a chance to savor at the a museum presentation. The slight sour note may sound off-putting, but it keeps the perfume grounded. Many modern ambers are just too sweet smelling. I would equate it with the sourness of an unripe plum. Another fragrance in this line, Marine, is equally pleasant, but on the higher end of the note scale with a hint of ambergris and blossoms. I would call Amber androgynous and Marine a feminine perfume by modern standards. For historical presentations, however, they are perfect for either gender. The tins are more widely available in the UK, but I found mine stateside in World Market for the bargain price of $5! Since this is a fairly solid wax perfume, it is best applied directly to the skin. The best place for it? The bosoms. No court lady is complete with out a lovely, scented chest!

Chiaroscuro by Illuminated Perfume on Etsy

I recieved a tiny vial of this as a gift. It’s quite magical! I have only worn it twice because it is so precious to me, but the scent is beautiful– I enjoy smelling it from the bottle. The ingredients remind me of many of the perfume recipes I have read from the 18th century. The seller’s description speaks better than I can:
“Chiaroscuro as a liquid perfume begins quite dark and indolic laced with notes of roots and camphor. As you journey through the night in the deep moist woods a clearing of jasmine is illuminated with the light of myrtle. The robust fragrance features a very unusual scent evolution by moving from dark to light with deep, warm notes that linger like a dreamy lover. The perfume is sweet and dark, naughty and nice. The sweetness of the jasmine is amplified by myrtle and spice contrasting against patchouli and jatamansi (spikenard).
True perfumes such as this one react with your natural body chemistry and while they have a “basic” scent profile, your own body transforms it. On me, the floral is a little too heady, but on my sister, it smells like blossoms and warm autumn. I wore a dab on my neck the first time, but I like the scent much better on fabric. I dabbed a bit onto my neckline and it kept truer to the scent out of the bottle, which I love!

For more information about historical perfume and cosmetic recipes:

Madame Isis’ Toilette” – A wonderful blog dedicated to exploring the world of historical beauty from perfumes to hair powder!

How to Make Your Own Rose Water” – I linked to this earlier in the article, but making rosewater, while challenging, is more fun than just buying a bottle!

Traces of Marie Antoinette, Caught in a Phial of Perfume” on The Washington Post – Creating a perfume France’s most infamous queen would approve of

Making an Early 18th Century Stomacher from an Old Pillowcase

HSF Challenge #9: Flora and Fauna

I know I said I wasn’t going to post Historical Sew Fortnightly challenges here, but I’m all about making historical costuming fun and easy and making a stomacher for an 18th century gown is a project even sewing-machine-phobic me completed with little fuss. First of all, here’s my final stomacher:

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Early 18th Century style Stomacher, circa 2013

I based my stomacher’s look off of these examples I found online in the collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The bright colors, especially the yellow binding on the second one, appealed to me. The 18th century was all about crazy color!

C.I.56.38.2_F

Embroidered Linen Stomacher, circa 1710

Stomacher, circa 1710-1720
This stomacher has matching tabs that were fashionable during the first decades of the 18th century.

Embroidered stomachers were very popular, especially during the early decades of the 1700s. I am no seamstress and definitely not a skilled embroiderer, but I found a simple, cost-effective solution– an old  crewel embroidered pillow case with a perfect Georgian-inspired motif!

Crewel Embroidered Pillow Case, circa 1975-ish

I’ve seen lots of crewelwork pillows in my time. They were really popular as a homemade or kit craft in the 1970s. If cutting into a pillow makes you queezy, there are also lots of crewel fabric samples available online, but be prepared to pay handsomely for them since most are designer and hand-embroidered. In my case, the crewel embroidery is wool thread on a cotton duck background.

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There are a few bits of missing crewel here and there since the pillowcase has seen better days. I consider the missing bits an element of my “costume dirt:” little imperfections and wear that make an outfit look like real clothes I live in everyday. After all, if this was really 1710, I would be wearing this stomacher day to day, and it would get grimy, thin, and patchy just like my favorite 21st century t-shirts.

Most 18th century stomachers were linen or silk, but since wool and cotton are both natural fibers and would have been available, I feel no shame using them at all. I did however, use poly-cotton blend double-fold bias tape to bind it, but I’m ridiculously cheap and miserly. Poly-cotton is what WalMart had, so that’s what I used!

outline

My goal was to include both of the large flowers in the stomacher design, which required cutting the stomacher a little longer than fashionable for the 18th century, but for an early impersonation (roughly 1710-ish), it’s a fine length, especially on a taller person. It works much better proportionally for my 5′ 9″ tall sister than it does for 5′ 6″ tall me! For a template, I used the “bodice” piece from the Simplicity Pirates of the Caribbean dress (Simplicity 4092), which I purchased for 99 cents at Hobby Lobby’s super-huge pattern sale! Huzzah!

The pattern’s thin tissue allowed me to see through to the design and position the flowers right where I wanted them. I then followed the pattern directions for boning the stomacher.*

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* It is important to note here that I have never sewn boning channels directly into a lining before in my life (I’ve always used applied casings) and I hate sewing on the machine, so I am super proud of my hideously ugly results! I even added an extra two channels for more support since the pattern only called for 3. For bones, I used 1cm wide zip ties from Lowe’s Hardware store. Zip ties work wonders! I highly recommend them.

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THIS IS WHY LIZZY NEVER SEWS ON A SEWING MACHINE.

It’s “sew” much easier to do it by hand, but I was crunched for time. I was a foolish, lazy individual and didn’t start working on this challenge until the day before it was due. I only used the machine for the back of the stomacher since I knew it would be hideous, but since the machine stitching was the back, no one would see it when I had it on. So, congratulations! You are now privy to my machine-sewing secret! I am not sure if this information should be considered a privilege or a burden…

Stomachers from the 18th century could be boned or unboned. The modern pattern I used required boning to support and smooth the fabric since most modern women do not wear stays under their dresses. I boned mine because I’ve worked with period Victorian garments long enough to know a few extra bones here and there really improves the way a garment performs on the body.

I then loosely whipstitched the raw edges of the lining and the crewel embroidered fashion (top) layer together and bound the edges with double-fold bias tape in a really bright yellow. I used basic fell stitches to bind the bias tape to the front.

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My handstitching is much better than my machine sewing, thank goodness!

I added four tabs to the sides by unfolding the half-fold of the bias tape and making loops. I must admit, I love the bright yellow. There are quite a few antique examples of stomachers with bright yellow binding, and it was what really inspired me to get moving on this project. Eventually, I plan to make an equally cheery yellow gown or petticoat to match.

Gown with Embroidered Stomacher, circa 1700-1729

CaptureI have some sunny yellow cotton in my stash that might make the perfect compliment to my flowery stomacher. I draped it over my dress form a tad and it looks like enough to make a dress. Now to find the time to sew it!

HSF Stats
The Challenge: #9 Flora and Fauna
Fabric: Cotton duck with wool crewel embroidery, cotton sheeting
Pattern: A stray bit of Simplicity 4092
Year: Early 18th century
Notions: Poly-cotton double-fold bias tape, cotton thread, zip ties
How historically accurate is it? 65%
Hours to complete: 3 hours
First worn: By Simplicity, my dress form.
Total cost: $24 for the fabrics, $2 for the bias tape, $6.75 for the zip ties (pack of 20) and $1.50 for the thread

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:

Ribbon

Hearts and Florals

Cross-stitch

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:

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

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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!

Voilà!

You’ve just made an 18th century garter!

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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