Category Archives: Vintage Sewing

A Chapeau de Bras of One’s Own.

Oh, how I want to create one of my own.  Any suggestions, advice, book recommendations, or chapeau de bras millinery construction diagrams would be appreciated more than anyone could ever imagine!  The collapsible chapeau de bras is foremost in the brain of mine (which I yearn to cover with one of these magnificent hats!)  But learning how to construct a bicorne would be (nearly) equally wonderful.

My goal in constructing a chapeau de bras is simply that I want to learn how (and also want to know how my round head will look beneath such a fantastically grandiose hat!)  Cosplay, Larp, and Reenactment are areas I’ve only recently studied – but I think surely there are milliners and costumers out there who might be able to help me achieve this personal millinery goal.  I love these types of discussion and always believe the comments you leave here may also benefit someone else as well.

Here’s a link to my Toile La La at Art Fashion Creation post about the splendid chapeau de bras, bicorne, and cocked hat.  Enjoy there – at Art Fashion Creation – all the great hat images, and if you too have seen Master and Commander and appreciated the hats – please leave a comment.  If you’ve made your own chapeau de bras or collapsible bicorne (or even a blocked and steamed regular bicorne), I would love to see your comments below this post – do please tell me how you constructed the spectacular thing!

1805 Chapeau de Bras or Bicorne Hat image.

1805 Chapeau de Bras or Bicorne Hat image.

Bicorne and Chapeau de Bras, Stadlinger 1856.

Bicorne and Chapeau de Bras, Stadlinger 1856.

1800 Chapeau de Bras image.  Collapsible Chapeau de Bras carried beneath the arm.

1800 Chapeau de Bras image. Collapsible Chapeau de Bras carried beneath the arm.

1831 Journal des Dames et des Modes image Chapeau de Bras or Bicorne hat.

1831 Journal des Dames et des Modes image Chapeau de Bras or Bicorne hat.

There are many more chapeau de bras, bicorne, collapsible bicorne, and cocked hat images at the Art Fashion Creation above –  third paragraph of this post.

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Clever Vintage Blouse Construction…and a Grand Bell Hat: VPLL.

If fashions of the past make your heart thump a little faster, don’t miss out on Vintage Pattern Lending Library’s great design collections. Earlier in the year I’d learned of VPLL’s Titanic project, which involves recreating 1912 fashions from La Mode Illustree – a major turn-of-the-century sartorial arbiter. As a project volunteer, I test-sewed a hat, two women’s blouses, and a child’s apron.

Test-sewing the hat was an unusual experience for me – as I’d never created a hat with a wire armature. However, the Ladies’ Spring Hat depicted a frame… so I produced a small-scale practice model. As life goes, other responsibilities began to demand my time – but I still like to check VPLL’s Titanic progress… and was ecstatic to discover a new hat pattern there tonight!

Check this link to see the beautiful hat project – this time it’s a Bell Hat (much like the ones Marc Jacobs presented in his Fall 2012 Louis Vuitton collection!) You’ll see this hat is also based on a wire armature – but, using a stiffer fabric, one might avoid the necessity for the framework structure.

Louis Vuitton Fall 2012 by Marc Jacobs. Runway collections image at

Now, the other thing that may excite you (especially if you sew) – is this 1912 La Mode Illustree blouse design, which is fabulously engineered so that the side-body and sleeve are in one piece. You just have to see it to understand, so don’t miss the link directly above.

Small-scale toile created to test La Mode Illustree 1912 Blouse 0219. Toile La La toile and photo.

VPLL has recently announced they have a sufficiency of volunteers, but don’t fret… you can still investigate the website to see the great work of VPLL’s testers, view vintage fashion illustrations, and look for great sewing patterns!

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Heirloom Embellishments for Vintage Sewing.

In the 25th anniversary issue of Sew Beautiful, there appear many wonderful examples of antique embroidery and French sewing techniques – many dating back to Victorian times. Included are directions for embroidered eyelets, granito dots, joining lace to lace, adding entredeux panels, puffing, shark’s teeth points, and adding shaped lace embellishments.

During the time I was test-sewing La Mode Illustree Patterns for Vintage Pattern Lending Library’s Titanic Project, I would have particularly appreciated reading about these techniques.  Now I’ve moved on to other projects, but thought some of you might like to see these instructions for eyelets and for embroidered granito dots.

Heirloom embroidery techniques: eyelet, granito dot. 25th Anniversary Issue Sew Beautiful 2012.

Blouse 1000 La Mode Illustree (at VPLL) featured granito dot embroidery, scalloped edges, pintucks, and a peplum. The blouse pattern did not include embroidery instructions, although specific placement of the granito dots was pictured on the pattern.

I was happy to discover these stitches illustrated in Sew Beautiful (which featured the work of Margaret Boyles -appointed “First Lady of Needlwork” by Sew Beautiful.)

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Early Twentieth Century Sewing Sampler Journal.

Overcasting Stitch Quilting Swatch from Great-Grandmother’s Sewing Sampler.
Scanned by Toile La La.

Small Pillowcase in Great-Grandmother’s Sewing Sampler. Scanned by Toile La La.

Small-scale Apron Toile from Great-Grandmother’s Sewing Sampler. Scanned by Toile La La.

Great-Grandmother’s Apron Toile Close-Up. Scanned by Toile La La.

Closure Techniques from Great-Grandmother’s Sewing Sampler. Scanned by Toile La La.

Buttonhole Samples from Great-Grandmother’s Normal School Sampler. Scanned by Toile La La.

Sock and Stocking Darning Sample from Great-Grandmother’s Journal. Scanned by Toile La La.

“Hem Stitching, Tucking, Rolling and Whipping” – Stitch Techniques from Great-Grandmother’s Sampler. Scanned by Toile La La.

Embroidery Detail on a Patch-Sample from Great-Grandmother’s Journal. Scanned by Toile La La.

“Straight and Bias Darn, Three-Cornered Darn, Darn with a Patch” – Great-Grandmother’s Sewing Sampler. Scanned by Toile La La.

Detail of Cover and Twine Closure for Great-Grandmother’s Sewing Sampler Journal. Scanned by Toile La La.

My Great-Grandmother Myrtle attended a “normal school” (which was a turn-of-the-century training institute) when she was a young teen and there she learned to weave and sew – among other things.  My great-great-grandparents came from meager means and Myrtle was one of thirteen children – and the school was 90 miles away, but somehow she went.  And, somehow this sewing sampler journal survived.

My Nana married Myrtle’s son and must have been impressed with the little booklet because she saved it and I can remember her showing me the miniature pillowcase and apron when I was a child.

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Construction Analysis: God is in the Details.

Close study of historic garments reveals the fine design and workmanship invested even in everyday clothing of the past.  

Construction quality of such clothing  repeatedly surprises me and the question arises:  What happened?  Maybe the answer is – mass production.  Granted, ready-to-wear saved most individuals considerable time and was worth the money – but in the process of creating quantity to yield profit, some of the clever and beautiful construction techniques became forgotten and died out with the great minds of their origin.  

To rediscover these construction arts has become one of my personal goals.  Reading fashion history and studying patterns has been an enlightening education in the art of fashion design.  

Granted, our modern textile innovations have eliminated the need for many of the construction elements once deemed necessary:  stretch fabrics conform to the body, requiring fewer darts and seams.  

Our active lifestyles, too, have streamlined the garments we wear.  Think of the simplicity of a tee-shirt and leggings.  They have no shape until we put them on.  

But, there was a time when the clothes themselves were engineered to have structure – sometimes to the point of being freestanding.  

With secret methods for rounding out the hip and bust or building up the shoulder, the modiste or tailor had the gift of refining the appearance of the client.  

I want to recapture that gift… to learn how to build a garment that lends its wearer proud bearing and poise.

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Test-Sewing Blouse E1000 (Quarter-Scale) – La Mode Illustree 1912.

Quarter-Scale Blouse E1000 Ready to Assemble for VPLL Project. Photo Toile La La.

With a “Little-Engine-That-Could” mentality, I began this third Vintage Pattern Lending Library Blouse pattern.  Folding the eight quarter-scale pleats at blouse center front, I began to feel like Gulliver in Lilliput.  Though my hands are too small to easily span a piano octave, the pleat manipulation rendered me too big and clumsy.  Sewing the upper and under-sides of the collar halves, I finally admitted it:  Quarter-Scale is too small for a practice toile of this type.  A practice toile should be a helpful tool, not a tedious impracticality.  Still, I didn’t want to abandon ship… so, I kept chugging along.

Granito Update:  After writing this post, I found a helpful YouTube video – Embroidery:  How to Satin Stitch – by shinyhappywendi, which shows how to outline a shape in split-stitch then fill in with satin stitch.  Click this link to view the video tutorial.

As a test-sewing trial for this VPLL 1912 Project – I wanted to try to follow the original La Mode Illustree directions, without consulting the internet for sewing advice.  Deciphering the pleats was not too complicated. The blouse illustration was very nice and depicted stitching along the pleats. 

Prior to the pleat-folding obstacle was the problem of pleat-marking.  Chalk-paper wasn’t reliable – because the slightest discrepancy is magnified in quarter-scale.  With little room for error, I decided to reduce the eight front-pleats to four – and to reduce the four back-pleats to one on either side of the button-placket.  I also widened the pleats, making them easier to handle.  In the large photo above you’ll see the blouse front folded in half – with black thread-lines indicating the pleat markings.  My idea was to then remove the stitching, which left perforations, then fold the pleats, pin them, iron them, then stitch in the crease… and Voila! – it worked! 

Fleur and Bebe Bouton with Blouse E1000 from La Mode Illustree. Photo Toile La La.

VPLL Ladies Blouse E1000 – La Mode Illustree 1912.

I liked the look of the basque/peplum, but felt it would have been helpful to have markings indicating its placement at blouse front.  There were two circles marking the area to be gathered along the blouse bottom, but it seemed the gathering interfered with the pleating.  I decided to try Blouse E1000 later – after I find an attractive method for achieving the “padded granitos”, and after I think of a nicer way to attach the collar.  Then, I will add the pretty (facade) row of buttons at the front.  Or, instead of having a hard-to-reach back button-placket – perhaps add a center back-pleat and make the front row of buttons functional.

It was vicariously enjoyable to see my cat attack the directions with her claws and teeth at my peak of frustration.  I felt like giving the instructions a few bites too.  But most of the frustration stemmed from sewing the pattern quarter-scale.  I’m still glad I tested the pattern first and would definitely construct a full-size test toile before sewing the blouse for myself.  The test toile provides a way to remedy pattern glitches.

Bebe Bouton in Ladies Blouse E1000 VPLL La Mode Illustree. Photo Toile La La.

Finally, I decided the quarter-scale, unfinished blouse (with basque removed) is a nice cover-up for Bebe Bouton. 

Now, one final thing to mention:  If you look at the large photo at the beginning of the post again – you’ll see notations at the side-underarm of the blouse-front piece.  The notation reads:   “Match Underarm Seam of Sleeve To This Line”.  I will be sure to mark that point when I sew the blouse full-size, since it is an unexpected way of assembling sleeve-to-blouse.  Generally the underarm seam is in line with the side-seam.

Bebe Bouton in Tree – Before the Completion of Blouse E1000. Toile La La photo.

Bebe Bouton has spent her life dressed in a flashy harlequin oufit.  After removing it, I discovered her Missoni-looking arms and legs, glove-hands, and Prada Mary Jane boot-feet.  More than a blouse – Bebe Bouton needs a body.

Vintage Pattern Lending Library Checklist:

1. Pattern Name: Ladies Blouse E1000.

2. My Skill Level:  Experienced/Intermediate

3. Pattern Rating:  Pattern layout and instructions were good, but vague in describing attachment of collar and completion of back-closure.  I would have loved instructions for “padded granito” embroidery.

4. What Skill Level would someone need to sew this pattern?  The blouse construction was more complicated than I had imagined.  Collar, back button-placket, and waistline belt construction rely on guesswork.

5. Were Instructions Easy to Follow? Except for the pattern/fabric layout, there are no diagrams (as in modern patterns).  The written instructions are good, but don’t quite cover all the questions one encounters when sewing this blouse.  My questions were:  How should I attach the collar if I want it to look like the  illustration?  How much space should I leave at blouse front – between the basque/peplum halves?  How do I achieve a nice round embroidered “granito” (as opposed to an oval…)?

6. Fit/Sizing:  The pattern is sized to fit a 36-inch bust.  I practiced sewing the pattern at quarter-scale, so I cannot judge the fit, but the Alterations recommendation is very good:  “Before placing pattern on material, pin pattern together.  Fit or hold it up to the wearer, to find out how much alteration (if any) is needed.”

7.  Necessary Alterations:  I was impressed by the alteration suggestions from Leila at Three Dresses Project (whose post appears in the E100 blouse category).

Pattern Review Checklist:

1. Pattern Description:  Ladies Blouse E1000 –  pleated front, sleeves, and back with scallop cutwork at collar, cuffs, and peplum/basque.  Transfers for embroidery are included.

2. Pattern Sizing:  Pattern is sized for a (corseted) woman of 1912 – with a 36-inch bust.

3.  Did finished product look like the pattern illustration?  I only practiced pattern assembly with a quarter-scale toile.  It was difficult to assemble the small double-thickness collar and cuffs at quarter-scale size.  It was also almost impossible to execute the total eight pleats at blouse front in quarter-scale, so I had to decrease the total number of pleats.

4.  Were the Instructions easy to follow?  I would recommend the Blouse E1000 pattern only to someone who is comfortable setting-in sleeves and making pattern alterations. Much of the construction is left to guesswork and do-it-yourself-research:  The scallop-embroidery technique is described, but not illustrated – although transfers are included.  The granito-embroidery is not described, but transfers are included.  Pleating lines are printed on the pattern, but instructions for pleating are not included.  Collar-to-blouse assembly, back button-placket, and waistband finishing are not fully described.

5.  Pattern Feature Likes/Dislikes:  I loved the description of the padded granito embroidery (and the look of the blouse illustration), but was disappointed to find no instruction for the embroidery technique.  I love the look of the pleats, basque and waistband, and the 3/4-length sleeves.  I dislike the vague description of collar construction.

6.  Fabric Used:  Discard sheet fabric.  When I make this blouse for myself, I will use a muslin-weight fabric – or line a sheer fabric.  I think it’s best to use a light solid-color to showcase the pleats.

7.  Pattern Design Changes:  I would probably leave out the scallop-work, since I don’t own an embroidery machine and would not invest the time-intensive handwork – but I am going to keep looking for a way to achieve nice round little embroidered circled – because I would take the time to embellish a blouse with those.

8.  Would I recommend this Pattern?  See 4 above.  The design is very attractive, but the pattern instructions need further explanation.

Conclusion:   In researching clothing of this time period, I realize this design was rather ahead of it’s time.  The collar lies flat, instead of rising around the neck – which enables the wearer to enjoy freedom from collar-stays or boning.  Also, wearing blouses (or waists) was a fairly new concept – as women had previously worn dresses, rather than shirt and skirt combinations.  (See my previous post about Wearing Edwardian Clothing – which includes commentary from people of that era.)  I like this pattern and hope to see VPLL enhance its directions.

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Wearing Edwardian Clothing: Contemporary Viewpoints.

The psychology of dress (no matter the era) fascinates me.  I want to know why people chose to wear certain garments and find it interesting to see the influence of historical events, artistic movements (literally any type of “happening”) being translated into our wardrobes.

Browsing costume and fashion compendiums, I came across Norah Waugh’s The Cut of Women’s Clothes 1600-1930, which includes fashion commentary – as well as patterns for historical garments.  Having a current interest in the Edwardian / La Belle Epoque period, I was particularly eager to read the “Quotations from Contemporary Sources” of that time.

It seems I have romantically glorified the wearing of corsets, petticoats, high collars, and long skirts of the Edwardian era.  My idealization would be comparable to theatre historian Walter Macqueen Pope’s observations – his Goodbye Piccadilly autobiographical excerpt appearing in The Cut of Women’s Clothes…describing the appearance and demeanor of Edwardian ladies:  “Women wore a tremendous amount of underclothes, as compared with today.  They wore many petticoats, fringed with lace which formed an enchanting foam around their ankles… .” His likening of a woman to a sea vessel continues, as he remembers the sight of Edwardian women stepping out of their carriages to shop in their favorite stores:  “The lady swept across the pavement like a queen, like a procession of one, for she knew how to move and carry herself.  She had balance and poise, she had elegance and she was one hundred per cent feminine.  She paid no attention to the world around… but she proceeded like a ship in full sail, a gracious galleon into the harbour of the favoured emporium.” 

Focusing on the elegance of women dressed in Edwardian attire, Pope’s account does not reveal the true discomfort and inconvenience disclosed by his female contemporaries –   Gwen Raverat, Lady Duff Gordon, and Cynthia Asquith.

Artist, art critic, writer, (and granddaughter of Charles Darwin), Gwen Raverat writes in her autobiography Period Piece:  “The thought of the discomfort, restraint and pain, which we had to endure from our clothes, makes me even angrier now than it did then… . Except for the most small-waisted, naturally dumb-bell-shaped females, the ladies never seemed at ease, or even quite as if they were wearing their own clothes.”  Raverat describes the wrinkles and bulges caused by whalebone stays under dresses “always made too tight”.  Roads, explained Raverat, “were then much muddier than the tarred roads are now”, forcing the wearer of sweeping skirts to brush crusted mud from the hemline.

Lady Duff Gordon, who designed fashion as “Lucile”, wrote in her autobiography Discretions and Indiscretions –  of the uncomfortable high-boned collars.  “No woman who has not worn one can possibly imagine how horrible it was to have one’s throat scarred by sharp collar supports made of either whalebone or steel, which ran into one with every movement, so that the head had to be kept rigidly in a most unnatural position… .”

In her memoir Remember and Be Glad, English writer Cynthia Asquith says:  “Imagine the discomfort of a walk in the rain in a sodden skirt that wound its wetness round your legs and chapped your ankles.”  Humorously, Asquith admits – “I once found I had carried into the house a banana skin which had got caught up in the unstitched hem of my dress!”  Even the beautiful Edwardian hats had their drawbacks – according to Asquith – “Our vast hats which took the wind like sails were painfully skewered to our heads by huge ornamental hatpins, greatly to the peril of other people’s eyes.”

Asquith points out the greatest impracticality of Edwardian clothing:  It often rendered its wearer rather helpless.  “We were all humiliatingly dependent on help, most of the dresses we were forever changing being so constructed that it was a physical impossibility to get in or out of them unassisted.  Either they laced up at the back, or they fastened with quite un-get-at-able intricacies of hooks and eyes.”

Beginning to reconstruct a 1912 vintage blouse, (from a La Mode Illustree pattern), I understand Asquith’s complaint.  The blouse has two rows of buttons – a row in front and one in back.  However, the front row is only a facade.  The buttons at back provide the true entrance/exit… necessitating the help of a dresser  – or very nimble and well-operating fingers, wrists, and shoulders.

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Edwardian Magazine Ephemera: 1912.

Edwardian blouse image, scanned by Toile La La.

Edwardian blouse image, scanned by Toile La La.

In addition to these beautifully-rendered illustrations of an Edwardian shirtwaist and a Ladies Home Journal blouse-embroidery transfer pattern, you can see others at my Toile La La blog: . Look for additional images soon. If you are participating in Vintage Pattern Lending Library’s Titanic Project, these might give you insight and inspiration for your sewing project!

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Edwardian Grooming, and Mode.

Collector of vintage magazines, my father is my own personal librarian and archivist. Learning about my participation in Vintage Pattern Lending Library’s Titanic Project, he sorted his way through stacks, files, racks, and boxes of magazines from around the time of the Titanic’s sailing.

Life, Country Life in America, The Housewife, and The Rural Home – as well as Travel magazines – were in a box he loaned me for my scanning project. Now that I’m excited about sewing fashions from La Mode Illustree, I’m inquisitive about the first part of the twentieth century. Photos and articles from 1911, 1912, 1913, 1914 were especially interesting. Here are just a few – until I have time to add more… :

Edwardian advertisement, scanned by Toile La La.

Egyptian Deities Cigarette Ad image, scanned by Toile La La.

Edwardain Gimbel Ad image, scanned by Toile La La.

Edwardian Standard plumbing ad image, scanned by Toile La La.

Edwardian Paris Turban image, scanned by Toile La La.

Being unfamiliar with a “hair receiver”, I had to perform research:  Inside receptacles like the one below, women of the Victorian and Edwardian era saved culled hair from brushes and combs to pack inside pincushions, pillows, or even their own hairstyles – to create volume and height.

Edwardian Parisian hair receivers image, scanned by Toile La La.

Edwardian British Haberdashery ad image, scanned by Toile La La.

Edwardian Banner Tailoring ad image, scanned by Toile La La.

Edwardian Ladies Shirt-Waist image, scanned by Toile La La.

Edwardian Dresses and Hats Image, scanned by Toile La La.

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Edwardian Cruise Advertisement.

cruise ad

Edwardian Southern Pacific Steamships cruise ad, scanned by Toile La La.

Country Life in America cruise advertisement.

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