Thursday, August 30, 2012

Gold Corset?

So I've been holding off making my corset because I wanted to have some good silk for the outside of the corset. However, I've spent all of my pocket money on other fabrics and need to wait until payday. Well, I was reorganizing my fabric and setting aside my historical fabrics when I found some gold silk I had acquired a long time ago. I do believe I have enough to make a corset! The only thing, is that I was planning on purchasing some white silk. This gold stuff is really a dark, almost brassy gold. (see below) How will this look through a white Regency dress?! Will I need a corset cover of some kind? I want to be resourceful and thrifty and use what I have, but dark gold? Hmm... I'll have to think about this one.

The texture on the silk actually would have made it a less-fine, lower quality silk.
However, today, it's considered desirable to have that kind of texture and you have to pay a pretty penny to buy it!
Funny, huh?

Corset or no corset from this stuff? What do you think?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Gettysburg & A Fabric PARADISE!

Inside the Needle & Thread

We are very blessed in that Gettysburg is only an hour away! We took a family trip there on Saturday and it was a nice visit. We mostly just walked around the town, had a picnic lunch, and visited the Soldier's National Cemetery. No battlefields or museums or anything. Relaxed and free. We only spent money on the gas! I love trips like that.

Well, in my online searches for period accurate fabric for my Regency dresses I found a fabric shop in Gettysburg that caters to reenactors called the Needle & Thread. So.... while we were there I asked a lady in a costume shop where it was and she was able to tell me (of course!). And after we were done walking around, we took a little detour out of town to the fabric shop. Boy, was it worth the trip!

This store was in a medium-sized warehouse type building and it was chock full of historically accurate (1860s mostly) cotton prints, sheer cottons (swoon!), silks, cotton velveteens, one entire row dedicated to linens (unheard of!), and two rows just for wool! I was in fabric paradise! I wandered around in a bit of a daze. I seriously didn't know what to look at first. See, usually, I have to hunt and scour a fabric store just to find a handful of fabrics that are passable for historical costume. Being surround by countless bolts of possibilities was a shock to the system. In fact, I'm still recovering!

My poor husband, I know, was in torture, and my kids were running around screaming happily in the maze of fabric rows. After about 20-30 minutes I tore myself away and vowed to come back soon. Alone. With plenty of time and a little stash of cash. :-) Ooooooh, I can hardly wait!!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Boone Frock & Cap

I finally started into some historical clothing sewing. It was a bittersweet experience. It felt so good to do sewing that was so familiar to me that I didn't even need instructions. The bitter part was that I couldn't help thinking of my historical sewing mentor, Suzanne, and how much I missed her. I kept thinking I should call her up to tell her about my latest projects but then I would remember that she's passed away. It was difficult, but like I said, it was bittersweet.

I decided to start small and sew a dress for my daughter. I've had these children's Civil War clothing patterns for something like 10 years and never had children to use them for. I even had fabric I had purchased as a single, childless teenager for my future children which is what I used for her dress. How insightful of me! It's not the prettiest fabric, but I didn't have to go out and buy it, so that was great!

Boone Frock by Period Impressions

So, I decided to make a Boone Frock for my daughter. It's an 18th century dress, but it's so simple and versatile. I remember seeing a little girl in one at a Civil War event and she was adorable and looked very comfortable. The problem was that I had the pattern, but no actual instructions. I was able to print off the picture (above) and use that as I guide, but I was a little nervous. I didn't even cut it out in scrap fabric, but just dove right in. Not really recommended, but there were only 5 pieces to cut, so I figured it was simple enough that it would be hard to mess up.

Thank goodness I have 9 years of historical sewing under my belt! There was one piece that was not included because you have to know the chest measurement of the child and just cut out 2 rectangular pieces of the right length to gather the front and back panels to. I guessed on the width. It took me just one day and I even whipped together a matching, blue linen cap with lace from another pattern I had. Wow! I was so proud of myself! I feel as if I haven't had a 7 year break from historical sewing. It's amazing how easily I slipped back into it. That bodes very well for my next project - my Regency corset! (I got the pattern and the wooden busk in the mail yesterday. Yippeee!)

Boone Frock with two growth tucks.
I just realized the square neck is much smaller than the one in the picture, but I didn't want to have it hanging off her shoulders.

A sweet little print, even if it's not the prettiest of colors....

Frock and cap. I only had a minimal amount of hand sewing to do on the dress.  And on the cap - none at all! How lazy is that! haha! I was even able to sew the lace on by machine, which is how I was able to put it together in under an hour.
I finished the dress late at night, so the next morning I showed it to my 2-year-old daughter and put it on her. She shouted "No!" and wanted it off right away. When I put the cap on her earlier yesterday, she also said, "No", and pulled it off. Hmm. I guess because it doesn't have doggies or kitties on it, it's not awesome enough. I really sewed this dress for the possibility of us going to the 150th Gettysburg event next year. I want us all to dress up as a family! Hopefully by then, she'll be more happy to dress in costume. We'll see! I wonder if a child's corset and corded petticoat would be pushing it a bit for her?.....

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


My husband and I went to an English Country dance last night. It was so much fun! It was my husband's first time going and he was a little reluctant at first, mostly because it was a new thing, but he admitted to having a good time and I think he did pretty well too for a first timer! (For me it was only my second time.) I was very happy that they taught one of the dances that you see in Pride & Prejudice - the one where Elizabeth and Darcy dance together. I recognized the tune and it's such a pretty dance. It's so much fun to actually do it myself!

I have started collecting patterns and some material. Ever since I did Civil War reenacting I have never thrown away a piece of wool, linen, or silk that came my way. I'm very glad for that! Some of it will really come in handy.

So far, for my Regency-style costumes, I have gotten patterns for my underthings, Spencer jacket, and dress from And I recently just ordered a corset pattern and a wooden busk from the Mantua Maker's website. I really can't get to work on a dress until I have my corset made up, because the shape will be all wrong if I try and fit my dress without the corset.

It's been quite the project to rummage around the internet to find all the bits and pieces required for a period Regency-style look. I'll be compiling a list of links for everything that I've found from period shoes and silk stockings to bonnet-making supplies! That way the resources will be all in one place for myself and for anyone else.

As for fabric... I always love being on the hunt for historically accurate fabric. It is especially difficult to find sheer cottons with any color or print on them, let alone them being historically accurate. I went to the fabric store yesterday, not intending to get anything, but I was especially diverted by this gorgeous rust-colored 100% linen and a deliciously smooth, lightweight white cotton/linen blend. I'm thinking of using the blend for some underthings and the rust-colored linen for a Spencer jacket which will go nicely with my white cotton print I'm planning on making up into a dress. I was also very tickled to find a roll of black cotton velveteen laying forlornly and almost lost underneath the acetate velvets. If only they had another color besides black!

The linen is about the same exact color as those rust-colored flowers.
The red-on-pink print I was planning for a dress as well. (I was thrilled to see a  similar, if simpler, red on pink dress in Pride & Prejudice on Mrs. Bennet.)
Both are recycled fabrics from some of my Civil War gowns.
4 1/2 yards of skirt fabric goes a long way for Regency-era dresses.

Now all I need is a bonnet pattern and supplies! I'm still deciding on a style. It's hard to know which style will look nice on me. Jennifer over at suggests making a mocked-up version of the bonnet out of plain white poster board, which I think is a fabulous idea!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Trimming an Old Gown

This blue day dress was one of my later ones in my Civil War reenacting time. I really like how the shape of it turned out and it fit me surprisingly well (except for that right shoulder maybe) considering I didn't have a dress form or anything.

The 150th Gettysburg is coming up next year and it's been on my mind. The last time I went to the 135th Gettysburg at 16 I lived in Indiana and it was quite the drive! Now, 15 years later I live only an hour away. Even though I don't reenact anymore, the hobby has been calling to me. 15 years ago I committed to going to the 150th anniversary event and now that I live so close, I really have no excuse and I would regret it if I didn't go. And if I didn't go in costume, well I would regret that even more. 

So, I thought it wouldn't hurt to finally add the trim I'd been planning to add all this time. Just in case... 2 kids later, I actually don't know if it even still fits. So, I might need to make a new dress anyway.

Here you see the dress with the blue trim only on the sleeves.

A long time ago, I hand stitched these buttonholes myself! There were a lot...

I added on the blue velvet trim to the cap sleeve like I've been wanting to do all these years.

An inside look at the skirt gathered and hand-stitched pleat by pleat to the bodice.
I'm thinking that I now want to cover the buttons buttons in blue velvet and add a blue velvet collar. I actually have a blue velvet hat that goes with this dress. Would that be blue velvet overkill?

The only thing that's holding me back is that if I go in costume, I'd want my family to go in costume. That means I'd need to make an entire outfit (including period underwear) for 2 children and my husband. That is very intimidating! The funny thing is that a long time ago, as a teenager, I bought fabric for a boy's shirt and a girl's dress; looking forward to the day when I had my own children because of course we would be a reenacting family. haha! And it's also funny that I happen to have a boy and a girl.

Another challenge, though, is that I don't even have a civilian unit I can attach myself to yet!

I guess we'll see how it all works out.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

From the Archives: Instruction Manual for American Soldiers

I have a plethora of research that I've accumulated over the years which I'd love to share. It's just sitting there anyway. Someday soon I'd like to make something of it in the form of a few published papers or articles, but in the meantime my blog forum will have to do. So, occasionally I'll be posting things "from the archives" which will be interesting tidbits of history that I've uncovered through my research.

Starting with:

I saw this book at the Bodleian Library giftshop at the University of Oxford in England when I was on a study abroad to London. I didn't buy it though.

And I kept thinking about it. Regretting that I hadn't bought it.

Then, merely a week before we were due to fly home I used my last remaining train pass punches to take the train from London to Oxford just to buy this book. It may seem silly, but to me as a historian who is fascinated with American/British relations during WWII it was a must!

Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain 1942 was a book written by the U.S. government and given to American soldiers who were going overseas to Britain during World War II. The book was to introduce them to the British culture as a way of hopefully reducing cultural clashes and misunderstandings. It quickly became a very popular book among the British themselves, mainly because it was a unique, straightforward account of the way outsiders viewed the British; which is what makes it so amusing to read today!

Besides helpful advice, the book explained British weights and measures, British currency, and important do's and don'ts like "NEVER criticize the King or Queen."

This little book is filled with treasures, but below are a few of my favorites:

I love that line - "remember she didn't get it for knitting more socks than anyone else in Ipswich." hahaha!

This one is a gem too - "The English language didn't spread across the because these people were panty-waists." hahaha!

The closing line in the book says it all: It is always impolite to criticize your hosts; it is militarily stupid to criticize your allies.

Valuable advice indeed!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Shopping Challenge for Historical Costume Makers

Finding authentic or authentic-looking fabrics, ribbons, etc. for historical costumes is quite the challenge especially if you only have big-box stores like JoAnn's to go to. Doing adequate research and even keeping a fabric journal can help. Some things you will need to find online, but you can make do with a trip to JoAnn's or Hancock's if you know what to look for and where to look for it. I found this article from to be a great help, especially for beginners:

You'll also see on the right side of her page a place to sign up using your e-mail address to receive a free copy of "7 Strategies for Creating Realistic Historical Clothing from Chain Fabric Stores". It comes as a .pdf file and I found it quite helpful, even with some experience under my belt!

Monday, August 13, 2012

It's A...

Photo Credit


A bodkin is indeed used for lacing, in particular for lacing up a corset, as shown in the picture above. A bodkin has other uses, though. It can be used for making your own sashes or fabric ties (Think of a fabric "tube" - when you fold a long, narrow piece of cloth in half lengthwise, sew down the edge and then you insert the bodkin into the end, thread through the end and pull it through to turn the fabric tube inside out. This is very difficult to do without a bodkin. I've used safety pins before and it takes forever!)

A bodkin is a very useful tool indeed!

Thanks for all (2) who guessed! haha! :-)

According to a bodkin is:

a small, pointed instrument for making holes in cloth, leather,etc.
a long pinshaped instrument used by women to fasten up the hair.
a bluntneedlelike instrument for drawing tape, cord, etc.,through a loop, hem, or the like.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

What IS it?

Have you ever been to a museum and seen a displayed artifact that you had no idea what it could be used for? I love seeing these "history mysteries" and trying to guess what they'd be used for. Then I read the item's description to see how close I was. Usually I'm way off.

Well, I thought it would be fun to periodically feature an historical artifact that has an unusual name or is itself unusual.

Today's History Mystery feature is:

Photo from Jas. Towsend & Son, Inc.

What is it? (And not just what it does, but what it's called!)

Leave your guesses below in the comments!

Fabric Diary

Be sure to check my "Historical Threads" tab! I've added some more pictures.

Following in the footsteps of my mentor, Suzanne, I started keeping a fabric diary. I got a regular desk journal and stapled fabrics into it as I made different Civil War dresses. I am so glad I did this! It is one of my most treasured keepsakes. Many of the fabrics in my journal I no longer have even scraps of.

If you're really into historical costumes, keeping a fabric journal is a great way to preserve scraps of not only all the clothing you make, but of period-appropriate fabrics that you find at the store or online to use for reference. (You could even print off examples from websites like Reproduction Fabrics to paste in your diary.)

Here are pictures of my own fabric diary from my years of Civil War reenacting. I'll be adding to it as I make new Regency gowns.

Dress ideas/Underpinnings & linings
The lieutenant stripes are another story... :-)

Underpinnings/linings continued.
Yes, I really made a bright red flannel petticoat!
It's warm!

Workdress & Apron fabrics
Some wools along the bottom

Day dress fabrics
That rainbow one in the second row is not period. Sometimes as a broke teenager I just had to use whatever I had on hand - in this case a very flamboyant rainbow-colored plaid! (That was for a friend's dress.)

Daydress continued... 
Balllgown fabrics

Friday, August 10, 2012

I *HEART* My Remington

I acquired this portable 1930s typewriter at an antique store during a Saturday antiquing outing for a very reasonable sum. Oh, how I love the clacking and dinging of this wonderful piece of bygone technology!

I didn't buy it to sit on a shelf. I don't mind antiques for the sake of looking at - within reason. I really prefer them to have a purpose and function. So, I employ this typewriter to write a good friend of mine who is living overseas and who shares my same love of good old-fashioned letter writing. She told me she forgot how lovely a real typed letter feels in her hands. I would agree!

There is a quality and importance to these older technologies. To the rest of the world they may seem obsolete, but this functioning typewriter is a piece of our past, a part of our communication roots. And there's something about touching the real thing - touching our past - that is so magical. A reproduction can't do that. Just think of how many hours of typing and fingers this typewriter saw. Who knows what kinds of correspondence and paperwork scrolled through it's roll. It's got that special patina you just can't get instantly. Which, in this instant-everything world, is priceless.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Historical Threads

Check out my "Historical Threads" tab at the top. I'm slowly adding pictures of all the costumes I've sewn. Right now they are mostly Civil War-era, but I do plan on learning to make more - especially Regency-style! I can't wait!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

It's History Baby!

Yes another blog about history floating in the ether. And you're welcome. 

I might as well introduce myself. 

I'm Sarah.

No, I'm not a Union soldier, but I dressed up as one once. I even got to fire that shiny black powder rifle. It near tore my arm off! 

(Not to mention I was about 17 there, which I am NOT anymore...)

This is more what I look like. In this picture I'm an "ice angel" dressed in an 1860s work dress to carry a really heavy bucket of ice water during the Civil War reenactment of Billie Creek, IN for the parched reenactors who braved the elements (namely HEAT) in ridiculously hot wool uniforms. You BET they thought I was an angel! (The water I carried was also distinctly refreshing with ice and lemons in it. Mmmm!)

These days I'm a wife and a full-time mom of two adorable cutie pies.
I like history. A LOT. I also love photography, cooking & baking, doing historical research, writing, and sewing historical costumes, which you will see a whole lot of around here. (Even my wedding dress was an 1880s polonaise walking dress!)

Flip through the tabs at the top too. I'll be adding content about the topics you see there. I have a very particular focus in my interests as I'm sure you'll see.

And not that it matters, but as a stay-at-home-mom I just need to say that I have a bachelor's degree in History with a certificate in Museum Studies!!! And yes, I was one of those weird college students that would have written a 15-page research paper over taking a test any day! (15 pages is nothin', folks!) haha!

I've worked and volunteered for museums since I was 13, not to mention a 9 year stint as a Civil War reenactor. Among the lovely museums I have worked/volunteered for are:

Monroe County Historical Museum - Indiana
Benjamin Harrison Historical Home - Indiana
Conner Prairie Living History Museum  - Indiana
Museum of Anthropology at Utah State University - Utah
American West Heritage Center - Utah
Kinder Farm Park - Maryland

I have also had the distinct privilege of doing research at the Imperial War Museum in London, England.
My not-so-inner history geek was pretty much drooling the whole time.

Have some fun with history and enjoy your stay!