Milky-Chan the Fawn Restoration: The Beginning

Project 5, part 1 – Meet the Dress and Lolita Fashion

Don’t even pretend this little blushing fawn and her bunny friend aren’t the cutest things ever.

Welcome back to Mukashi no Sewing! Today marks the beginning of another restoration project – this one a bit more modern (but with deep historical roots and inspiration!). The dress in need of restoration is Angelic Pretty’s Milky-Chan the Fawn Necklace Style JSK from 2009.

“2009?!” I hear you saying. “That’s not historical – that’s only 11 years ago!” (Or possibly more, depending on when you’re reading this. If you’re from 2321, wow, I’m really honored, and also – how’s the colonization of Mars going?) Still, at the time of writing, it’s not even vintage. However, the stylistic ancestors of lolita fashion (a street style from Japan), were in the Rococo (see my friend Mocha’s essays on the subject) and Victorian eras, as well as in the playful fashions of the 1950s and 1960s.

But WAY more kawaii.

Lolita fashion has its roots in Harajuku, Tokyo, in the 1970s, when Japanese girls (like their Western sisters) were finding all sorts of ways to fight back against patriarchal ideas about their place in the world and what kind of futures they should be aiming towards. Many of the styling cues initially looked back to the 1950s (such as Lana Lobell) and 1960s youthquake culture (puffy skirts, Mary Janes, and modest necklines and hemlines reminiscent of children’s clothing and a more innocent time). Panniers (or petticoats) that were straight out of the 1700s, and ruffles from the 1800s completed a historically-inspired fashion that was intended as a complete rejection of the male gaze and dressing to “attract.” Therefore the fashion became a hyper-feminine assault on the senses that allowed (and still allows) people to dress for themselves and to have their clothes be perceived rather than their physical attributes or characteristics.

Look, this video will only take you 5 minutes to watch – give it a shot!

Ok, now hopefully you’re on board with me about this delightfully extravagant Japanese fashion and its historical roots! So let’s talk about my dress, shall we?

I could just look at it for ages!

Lolita dresses have a manufacturer, or “brand,” a print name (the name of the design printed on the dress, and sometimes simply the design of the dress itself), and a colorway (the official name for the color the dress came in when it was released). Japanese lolita brands often release their dresses in only one size – you either fit the dress, or you don’t. (They also utilize measurement-based sizing rather than “S/M/L” which means you can easily tell what clothes will fit you!) Metamorphose is a notable exception, and additionally many Chinese and Western brands release multiple sizes.

This particular dress was made by Angelic Pretty, a very popular Japanese brand. The name of the print/dress is Milky-Chan the Fawn Necklace Style JSK (JSK stands for jumperskirt, meaning it’s meant to be worn over a blouse instead of by itself), and the colorway of mine is white. I purchased it from an online friend this year (shout out to candy_kumya!), with the full knowledge that, while the dress itself was in marvelous condition, it was in need of some restoration work.

Front view, brand new (credit Lolibrary)
Back view, brand new (credit Lolibrary)

First, the ribbon pinned to the front neckline on my dress has some light – but visible – purplish blue stains:

Not a huge deal…but I like my dresses to be as pristine as possible!

Second, and more importantly, it is completely missing the waist ties. The waist ties are long pieces of fabric in the same print as the dress, attached at the side by buttons, and used to provide definition at the waist (you can see them tied in a bow in the back view on the image of the brand new dress above).

Mine is missing even the buttons where the waist ties attached – you can just barely see here where they were removed.
And you can see in this photo of Crystal Dream Carnival (another Angelic Pretty dress in my collection) where the waist ties attach normally, and how they look when loose.

This means I have two challenges for this dress’s restoration! First, to clean the ribbon. I’m feeling quite confident in that, considering my success with the Victorian Era nightgown! Second, to source buttons, fabric, and ribbon/lace, and sew replacement waist ties. I’m feeling a little less confident about this one only because I’m not 100% certain yet what my strategy will be. So join me in the next installment to see how I fare!

Mary Quant Minidress: The Cutting

Project 4, part 3 – 1960s Tiki Culture and Lots of Pieces (Part 1, part 2 here)

I’m always genuinely surprised by how much fabric sewing projects can take up!

Welcome back to the Mary Quant minidress sewing project! Having made my toile, it was time to get brave and actually cut into my fashion fabric. I love this fabric more every time I handle it; it’s just so summery and fun! Considering I originally bought this yardage for a different project, I was a little worried about having enough, but the problem actually lay in my fusible interfacing (also bought ages ago):

Just a teeny bit of overlap…oops!

I only had a yard of it, so I Tetrised the pieces as best as I could. I figured, since it will be fused to the fashion fabric anyway, I could probably get away with cutting some small pieces up to fill in the gaps. In the end, I only had to do so for the rear facing piece!

I’ll report back soon on if this plan worked!
Then I just had to verrrrrrrrrry carefully angle the remaining pattern pieces. Success!

Having all the pieces finally cut out is so satisfying! Of course, the actual dress assembly will be a decent amount of work, but there’s something about looking at all the fabric parts laying around that makes it feel real in a way that just the bolts of cotton didn’t. Plus, while I was working on this, a mini heat wave hit my town, and it definitely feels like summer even though it’s early June. I can already taste the mint (from my patio planter) muddled into all sorts of tasty fruit smoothies and cocktails – which are very appropriate for this 1960s dress, as well! Tiki culture was booming in the early ’60s, driven by hotels and restaurants cashing in on the craze that began over two decades earlier. My favorite musical of all time, South Pacific, was made into a movie in 1958 that further fueled the idea of tropical islands (or their mainland commercial counterparts) as hedonistic and relaxing getaways. (Seriously, I’ve seen the musical at least half a dozen times in person. One year I went to visit my grandparents in Los Angeles, and they couldn’t get me tickets so they bought me the movie on DVD so I wouldn’t miss out! That’s real love, right there!)

I’m humming “Bali Ha’i” right now! Also this is a lot more chunks than I was expecting. Is “chunks” the right descriptor?

If you’re interested – as I was – I also wanted to share a couple of links regarding the legacy of colonialism that lies behind tiki bars and style, and the appropriation of Polynesian cultures that continue to be unpacked even today. Rather than feeling bad about my love of tiki, I’ve been researching it, and listening when people of those cultures speak up about how they would like to be represented. For example, Mariah Kunkel, of mixed Native Guam and African-American descent, was recently interviewed in the New York Times:

“A recent movement aims to shift from the word “tiki” to “tropical” and Kunkel is on board. “I just don’t think it’s necessary to use stereotypes or appropriate cultural elements to transport folks.” She says, however, that tiki can lead people to learn about the culture of Pacific Islanders.”

Although, as I mentioned, I have family born in Hawai’i, I am not myself Hawai’ian. I chose my fabric for this dress because of its beauty and historical elements that tie it perfectly to the era its design originates from. There are problematic aspects of history just like there are many problematic aspects of the modern world, and I think it’s super important to acknowledge them so we can work together on creating a better world. I also just bought the tropical cocktail book written by another woman mentioned in the New York Times article, Shannon Mustipher, so I look forward to reporting back!

I love a good checklist.

So what’s next? Lots of sewing, of course! I’ve decided to use green thread for the project as the leaves in the print are echoed in the leaf buttons I’ll be using. I do have to make a decision in short order about whether or not to flatline this dress as well – it will make it a little less cool in hot weather, but I think I’d rather have a bit more opacity between my skin and the general public. If I do go that way, I’ll just use the pieces I already cut out for the toile, so it won’t take too much more effort. Either way, join me next time when I put it all together and sew the actual dress!

Spotlight: Victorian Era Purse and Handkerchief

Spotlight 2: 1883 (maybe?!) Purse and 1860s Handkerchief

Why don’t modern purses have cool hinges and closures like this?!

Welcome to 昔のSewing’s second spotlight! Since I recently finished up a Victorian Era restoration project, I thought it would be fun to share some ladies’ accoutrements from the same era that didn’t require any restoration work!

The same friend who gave me the nightgown also gave me these heirlooms – a velvet and leather purse with metal closure from 1883 (maybe – more about that in a moment), and a handkerchief (likely from earlier, more like 1860-1870ish).

The purse in question – so stylish!

Unlike today, when many women carry immense purses or bags full of everything they might need over the next week, historically most middle-to-upper class women carried very little in their purses, so they were often much smaller. (Travel, of course, was a whole different story – as were the larger bags or baskets carried by working class women.) My purse is a thick green velvet reinforced at the bottom with a leather that seemed to once possess either a plaid or checked pattern (barely visible in the photo above – it’s quite faded now!). The top is a gilded metal with a row of eight gems (probably glass, though I haven’t had them appraised yet) set into the front.

The lining is much more practical, a ribbed black fabric that feels like a silk blend.

Family records date the purse to 1883, which is not totally unreasonable given the style. It doesn’t look dissimilar to chatelaine purses of the era, and the velvet and leather also track. There are only two problems. One is the aforementioned hinged closure – the only extant examples I could find seem to be from the 1920s. The second is the ball chain handle – the ball chain was patented in 1918. However, when I look at handbags and purses from the 1920s, mine really looks nothing like them!

Given that the owner prior to my friend was the same person who possessed the nightgown, I do have a theory – that the body of the purse was indeed Victorian, but that the last owner had the closure and handle updated to fit 1920s styling. Without disassembling it to look for clues like unpicked stitches, remnants of old fastenings, etc, I can’t be sure, but I think it’s a decent theory! If anyone has any better ideas, or more information, please do let me know down in the comments! ❤

I cannot imagine blowing my nose with this…

I’m on much more solid ground with the handkerchief! The fabric and sewing techniques are extremely similar to those of my nightgown – it’s within the realm of possibility they were made by the same person. Handkerchiefs were ubiquitous in the Victorian era, and there was even a flirtatious language of hankies similar to that of flowers!

Seriously, this must have taken absolutely forever to sew.

If I go with my assumption that the body of my purse was indeed Victorian, then what might it originally have contained? Women, particularly upper-class women, did not often carry money (instead shopping on account at various stores), so the contents were liable to be few. Absolutely a handkerchief would have been there, and in the 1880s it’s likely that the owner would have also packed her favorite perfume, and a few calling cards. So here’s a re-creation of what this purse’s first owner might have seen at the end of the day:

Purse & handkerchief – antique, calling card – handmade (modern) – perfume – Tocca “Florence”

By contrast, here’s my modern purse and its contents:

Purse – Fossil, phone – OnePlus, iPod – ancient, wallet – Etsy (no longer available). Keys, pen, hand sanitizer, and assorted paper – various.

Just a few more items! 🙂 I have tried carrying an even smaller purse, but in fairness it didn’t quite work for me. I do like to have a bit more room, if only so I can fit extra things like tickets or snacks while traveling. Based on what I keep in there, my purse is more similar to what a lower-middle class woman of the Victorian era might have carried – not so big that I’m carrying my lunch or sewing in it, but big enough to carry some money and additional necessities that a wealthier woman wouldn’t have bothered with.

I hope you enjoyed learning about the items from today’s spotlight as much as I enjoyed researching them! I have many more interesting artifacts from the past tucked away in my home, so you can look forward to more spotlights in the future!

Mary Quant Minidress: The Toile

Project 4, part 2 – Second Wave Feminism and Testing Fit (Part 1 here)

Who needs pattern weights when you have Wonder Clips? (Me, maybe eventually…but for now the clips work great!)

Welcome back to the Mary Quant Minidress project! After slightly altering and cutting out the patterns, it was time to make my toile and find out if the alterations were enough or if I would need to make further changes for a good fit. My muslin was on the narrow side, so I cut out the front and back on the fold rather than mirroring the pieces side by side.

It’s a good thing I have a long sewing table, haha!

Even though it’s only cheap unbleached cotton, I was still kind of nervous cutting into it! I’m really glad I tested it out first rather than cutting into my Hawaiian fabric so that I could properly see where to cut on the patterns and how everything should lie. I didn’t feel like I needed to test out the facings or belt, so I only cut the front and back of the dress to determine fit.

Some people use basting stitches to hold toiles together, but this dress is so simple I decided to just pin it.

I probably shouldn’t have been surprised, since this is quite a simple pattern, but…it looks like a real dress! 😀 I did pin the bust darts as well as the top and sides since I wanted to see if I needed to adjust any fit there as well. So here is the initial fit from the front:

Sorry about the weird headless photo…it was easier to take these in the mirror than set up the tripod or ask my husband for assistance!

…and from the side:

Is having a camera head better or worse than having a timehead?

Brilliant! I prefer my waist to be more defined, but that will be accomplished with the waist belt that’s part of the pattern. It’s better to use that in this case than to take the waist in further since this one-piece dress has to slip on over my shoulders which are broad compared to my hips and waist.

One of the reason I chose a 1960s pattern to use for this fabric is the way that fashion and feminism intersected in that era. Obviously, I love fashion and style, and I am acutely grateful to the women of that era for the improved sexual and social condition that women enjoy today. (I would like to note that I use “women” to include any person who identifies as such, regardless of assigned gender at birth or physical characteristics. And I know there are still many advancements to be made…but things are a lot better than they were 60 years ago!) Sexuality and women’s reproductive rights were at the center of this revolution, and became expressed in the daring and playful fashions of the time. Jenny Lister, who curated a Mary Quant retrospective at the Victoria & Albert Museum, says that Mary Quant “expressed the way in which women’s lives were parting from traditional stereotypes. Her clothes provided a language to express the empowerment of women at a time when words like sexism had barely been invented.” Quant was “…synonymous with some of the era-defining styles of the 60s – namely the miniskirt. Emerging alongside second-wave feminism, Quant revelled in rule-breaking fashion design and her higher-than-high hemlines are still very much associated with the sexual revolution and women’s liberation movement.” (Leah Harper, writing about the museum exhibition.)

Pictured: women’s liberation.

With that history in mind – plus the fact that I don’t care for the way knee-length dresses look on me – I made the decision to raise the hemline by about 4″ on the pattern. I will likely raise it by another 2-3″ on the final dress, but I had to consider the fact that the seam allowances may end up shifting it slightly upward as I sew the dress. It’s quite easy to just make the hem wider to raise the hemline when I get to that point, so my plan is to get the dress close to the finish line and then pin the hem at a few different heights to find the one that looks best. I’ll also have to do some tests while sitting, bending over, and walking, since I’m not a London go-go dancer! 😀

Cutting 4″ off the bottom of each pattern piece.

Once I cut down the pattern pieces, I was ready to go! So join me next time I as I dive into cutting out all the final fabric pieces, and start sewing them together!

Victorian Era Nightgown Restoration: The Hounds

Project 3, part 6 – Outtakes and Bonus Greyhounds (Part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5 here)

Ashleigh loves giving kisses!

Welcome back to a bonus episode of the Victorian Era Nightgown restoration project! I had a few goofy outtakes from my photoshoot, and I thought it would be fun to share those with you, as well as introduce you more properly to the greyhounds I share my home with! It’s particularly relevant as dog breeds as we know them mostly date from the late Victorian era. Prior to that they were primarily defined by function, rather than by physical or behavioral characteristics. In 1873, however, the UK Kennel Club was founded, and more and more breeds began to be recognized over the years.

Some of them goofier than others…

Greyhounds, or greyhound-like dogs, have been accompanying their humans for centuries, so it’s not surprising that I was attracted to the breed due to my love of history! However, it was when I got involved with volunteering at an organization that rehomes retired greyhounds that I really fell in love with them. They are incredibly sweet, sensitive, and snoozy little beings that just want to spend their day sleeping next to their human (and then about 5 minutes zooming around the living room like crazy).

Finn, wandering into frame at precisely the wrong time!

Finn, my black greyhound, is 8 years old and is a retired racer from Florida. He came to my home after 77 races, at the age of three and a half. His pedigree goes back to 1820 to a no-doubt clingy sweetheart named Pilot. He’s a true Velcro dog – he teleports instantly to any room with a person in it, and is happiest when he’s getting his tummy rubbed.

Ashleigh, my brindle girl, is 6 years old, and she’s a retired coursing hound from Ireland. (Coursing is a sport of hare-chasing in Ireland, and Ashleigh is still quite interested in bunnies…) She came to my home a year after Finn, at the age of only two and a half. She also counts Pilot in her ancestry, but on her mother’s side her pedigree goes all the way back to a fawn lady named Toy who was born in 1793! Ashleigh is more shy than Finn, and prone to hiding behind him if she gets frightened, but when she trusts a person she’ll run up to them and lick their face all over in excitement.

So regal. So noble.

I’m so very lucky to share my home with these two weirdos! Not only is it fun having living history in my home, but Finn and Ashleigh have such hilarious and sweet personalities that it’s impossible not to laugh when they’re around. ❤

You’ll no doubt see them bouncing or snoozing their way into future photoshoots, so I hope you’ve enjoyed meeting my hounds! And I’ll be back soon with more projects and spotlights, so stay tuned!

Victorian Era Nightgown Restoration: The Reveal

Project 3, part 5 – Buttons and an Art Nouveau Photoshoot (Part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 here)

Everyone should have a greyhound assistant for their photoshoot!

Welcome back to the finale of the Victorian Era Nightgown Restoration project! This project has been so much fun, and honestly I’m a little sorry it’s over. Taking an antique textile from stained and ripped to glowing white and wearable was a real thrill! The lovely thing about clothes as a project is I will get to enjoy wearing them again and again, so at least I don’t have to say goodbye forever. 🙂

The mother of pearl replacement buttons I found on Etsy at ButtonBarrelShop were listed as “Victorian to vintage” in age. I chose them for size (this time they fit!), color, and general vibe more than a perfect match in date. My goal was to have the two replacements not appear wildly different from their cousins, so that at a distance you couldn’t necessarily tell. However, I wanted it to be clear upon close inspection which ones were the replacement – that way, in case the nightgown ended up in different hands it would be easy to tell which were original and which were added later.

Considering these are at the bottom, it’s almost impossible to tell when the nightgown is worn!

All that was left was to model it! For the first set of photos I wanted to show more what it would look like if worn as the nightgown it is intended to be. My hair is quite short so I picked a wig with ringlets for a more Victorian-inspired look, and a gauzy bonnet by Angelic Pretty to be the nightcap.

The neck is just the slightest bit tight, and the sleeves just a little short, but otherwise it fits perfectly!

I don’t really wear nightgowns, though, and honestly will be more likely to wear this as the coat it was originally identified as! So for the second set of photos I changed into “daywear” and a fancier bonnet, and pictured myself attending a fancy outdoor tea or perhaps an art exhibition. The art on my dress is by Alphonse Mucha, who was born in 1860 and was active as a painter through the Victorian Era. The Art Nouveau style he worked in was most popular from 1890-1910, so about 30 years after the date of my nightgown, but still within the right era!

Dress & tights – Innocent World, bonnet – Triple Fortune, shoes – American Duchess, greyhound – Greyhound Pets, Inc

I’m really happy with how the outfit came together! It’s the perfect mix for me of modern and antique. The light cotton nightgown when worn as a coat is ideal for warding off spring breezes, and the size of the skirt means it fits perfectly over petticoated dresses like this one. Plus, Finn enjoyed hanging out with me in the sun! (My other hound, Ashleigh, is a little harder to capture on camera…maybe I’ll share some of the outtake photos featuring her!)

You can’t even tell that my “coat” is 160 years old!

I am so excited to wear this again sometime soon – hopefully for a picnic or casual stroll with friends before it gets too hot to think about wanting an extra layer! Until then, I’ve got my nightgown stored in a textile conservation box, wrapped and padded with layers of acid-free tissue paper. It will live safe in a stack with my other antique garments, ready for a fancy occasion (or just a sunny Saturday!).

It’s important to keep it from creasing too much, as creases can become rips later on, so I’ve stuffed the sleeves and upper part of the garment with more tissue.

Thank you so much for joining me on this restoration journey! I’m working hard behind the scenes on so many more exciting things, including finishing my minidress, spotlights on some more fascinating antique objects, and another (slightly more modern!) restoration, so I look forward to seeing you back here soon!

Spotlight: Singer Featherweight

Spotlight 1: 1961 Singer Featherweight Sewing Machine

Meet the machine that powers 昔のSewing!

Welcome to 昔のSewing’s first spotlight! Spotlights are for for fun vintage or antique items in my possession that don’t require any restoration work, but that I still want to share with you. Today’s spotlight is extremely important to the blog since it’s the sewing machine I do all my machine sewing on!

Aerial shot!

My Singer Featherweight 221K was born on January 10, 1961 in Kilbowie, Scotland, UK. It may seem a little unusual to have such detailed information, but these machines are easily dated by their serial number. I checked mine at the Singer Featherweight Shop – an incredible resource that also has tutorials, sew-along events, and a whole storefront for Featherweight accessories (which is where I acquired the pictured reproduction instruction manual!).

The machine itself was a gift from my aunt, who is an expert quilter.

Seriously, how does she get all those teeny tiny points to match up perfectly?!

I’ve actually been sewing for what seems like my whole life – my mother taught me both hand-sewing and machine sewing when I was a young girl. (Thank you, Mom!!) I started out by hand-sewing clothes for my troll dolls (one of my trolls had over 100 different dresses in her wardrobe!), and when I was a teenager I got some help from a next-door neighbor in creating a dress and cloak to wear at SCA events. I’ve always enjoyed hand-sewing, but didn’t have a machine of my own until Aunt Sue came to my rescue with not only this gorgeous machine, but all of its original feet and attachements! (Thank you, Aunt Sue!!)

That crazy torture device is actually a ruffler! I have yet to be brave enough to try it out…so look for some ruffling in a project soon.

My Featherweight also came with a gorgeous case designed and built by artist Sarah Crumly (thank you!!).

It’s pretty much perfect.
Not pictured: the baggie of silica packets I keep in here with my machine when it’s not in use to prevent rust in my boggy environment.

I keep it maintained myself, for the most part – it is in perfect condition – but if it needs any love I do have a local sewing machine & vacuum shop I go to. They know me as “the girl with that case,” haha! When not in use it stays in its case which fits perfectly into the shelving I have set up for my sewing projects:

Crates are my jam for organization!

However these days it usually just stays set up on my sewing desk next to the Brother embroidery machine that was a gift from my husband (thank you!!) so I can quickly attend to any phase of a project!

The spool holder visible in the bottom left belonged to my husband’s grandmother, as well. Lots of history in my sewing room!

Honestly although my Featherweight has very few stitch options, I have never felt limited by its capabilities. I love its simplicity and sturdiness, and sewing on such a lovely piece of history is very aesthetically appealing as well! So far I’ve been able to do everything I need on it, so I’m quite happy to keep stitching away on my 60-year old machine.

Zipper foot attachment in action on the obi makeover project.

I hope you’ve enjoyed meeting my Singer Featherweight in this spotlight as much as I enjoyed introducing it to you. I look forward to sharing some of my other vintage/antique items in future spotlights!

Victorian Era Nightgown Restoration: The Cleaning (Stage 2)

Project 3, part 4 – Cleaner, but Still With Missing Buttons! (Part 1, part 2, part 3 here)

This post is in no way sponsored by Vintage Textile Soak… (but if they want to reach out, they can contact me here!)

Welcome back to the Victorian Era nightgown restoration project! A few days ago my order of Vintage Textile Soak arrived, so I was excited to see how it would work. The instructions said that items could soak for up to 24 hours so I decided to let it go as long as I could. I mixed up the powder in a bucket (6 gallons of water is really heavy!), and poured it over the nightgown in my tub again. I started the soak at 10am, and let it go until 7:30am the next day. The next two pictures are a little dark because the only post-processing I’ve done is to change the White Balance to auto on both of them, and crop them slightly. This way you can really see the difference without any editing changes!

10am, the soak begins! The nightgown is pretty yellow, and the water is clear.
7:30am the next day – the nightgown is white, and the water is distinctly yellow!

I’m totally blown away by how well this worked! It didn’t damage the fabric in any way, and all my mending remained intact. The buttons also seemed unaffected. The initials on the inside collar were somewhat faded, but fortunately remain visible. All the spot stains were either completely removed, or faded to the point of not being able to see them from a normal viewing distance, and the general yellowing was almost completely removed.

Here it is still wet, fresh out of the bath.

The collar and cuffs, in particular, were a really pleasant surprise – you’d have to get uncomfortably close to the person wearing the nightgown in order to see the remnants of the stains that were formerly quite visible.

We’d better be REALLY good friends if you’re standing this close to me!

Needless to say, I’m a huge fan now of Vintage Textile Soak, and will definitely be using it again should I end up in possession of further antique garments that are both capable of being immersed in water and in need of a good wash. 🙂 I was definitely a little dubious about wearing it before with as many stains as it had, but now I’m very excited to model it!

Pictured: not me modeling it.

Instead, however, you’ll have to wait a little longer for the reveal, as I ran into another roadblock! I had purchased antique buttons on Etsy (thanks to a reader’s suggestion!) with the intent of sewing them on for this blog post. (They were from the late 1890s, so still Victorian-era, although nearly 40 years past the period of this nightgown’s construction.) I assumed that because they were listed as being 9/16″ that they were actually that size…but when I checked them just prior to sewing I found that they were in fact 10/16″ (5/8″)! What the heck!? It’s my own fault for not checking them immediately, so at this point I can’t return them. They’re really pretty, so I’ll just save them for another project, and I’ll be certain to measure the new pair I’ve just purchased as soon as they arrive. So I will see you next time, when (hopefully) I will have replaced the missing buttons and can pose in my backyard doing my best Victorian maiden impression!

Mary Quant Minidress: The Beginning

Project 4, part 1 – British Fashion meets Hawaiian Flair

When faced with fabric like this, how could I not want to sew something fabulous?!

Welcome back to Mukashi no Sewing! Today begins the first project involving sewing an outfit completely from scratch. It’s not the first time I’ve sewn clothes, but I also don’t really have a lot of experience doing so. I’m really looking forward to the challenge! (As before, if you’re reading this in the order it was published – don’t worry! Project 3: Victorian Era Nightgown Restoration is still in progress. I await delivery of the supplies I need to continue, so I’ve begun work on this project in parallel.)

I actually bought the fabric a few years ago, intending to sew the Arum Dress by Deer & Doe. However, the styling on that garment didn’t quite do it for me, which is why the fabric sat in my project box for so long. When I decided to use it for the blog, I started looking around for more historically-inspired patterns, and when I found the Mary Quant-style Minidress pattern from the Victoria & Albert Museum I knew it was the one. I love British comedy; my dad Mark is a huge fan and he introduced me to classics like Monty Python, Red Dwarf, Mr. Bean, Blackadder, and Fawlty Towers as a teenager. Additionally, one of my great-grandmothers was British; she came from Birmingham by way of Tamworth. Her daughter, my late maternal grandmother Ruth, gave me a love of British culture from a young age – I grew up spending summers with her where she put on full “High Teas” and told me stories about her mother’s early life in Tamworth. Even now I drink Earl Grey every morning instead of coffee!

One of my great-grandmother’s teacups I inherited

The Hawaiian connection is a family one as well – my Uncle Paul and his brothers were born there (and one uncle still lives there), and he and my aunt usually go back every year. My husband and I have spent a lot of time on the Hawaiian Islands as well – our goal is to eventually visit every one! So both the design and fabric I’ve chosen are very close to my heart. (I’ll talk more about why I picked a 1960s pattern in the next post – England and Hawaii remain intertwined!)

Plus, look at these palm-frond buttons. They’re perfect!

Having decided on the pattern, I downloaded it, printed it at home, and spent some quality time hunched over my worktable assembling it. If I were a little more experienced I probably could have only printed the sections I needed, but I didn’t want to miss anything so I was willing to accept a little extra paper bound for the recycling bin after the fact.

A testament either to the excellence of the pattern or my improved skill – assembling this wasn’t too difficult compared to the last pattern I tried!

This pattern has quite a few options, and I decided on the sleeveless version of the dress with a keyhole neck (fastened by another one of my cute buttons!) with rounded pockets and a collar to match. I have fairly broad shoulders so I went with the largest size of the dress from the waist up, but scaled it down in the waist and hips as mine are narrower.

The final cut-out pattern pieces I’ll need for my dress!

I’m not 100% sure how that will work, but that’s what mock-ups, or toiles, are for! So join me next time when I cut out the plain muslin pieces and begin the process of dialing in the fit prior to cutting into my fashion fabric!

Victorian Era Nightgown Restoration: The Cleaning (Stage 1)

Project 3, part 3 – Cleaning is Harder Than I Thought (Part 1, part 2 here)

I did quail just a little bit preparing to immerse it!

In my head, this was going to be the easiest part of this project – just dunk my garment in water, and all my problems would dissolve away! I’ve had to clean stains out of modern garments, and I know how pernicious they can be – there are endless websites devoted to sorting out everything from blood to grass stains. So I don’t know why I decided that removing completely unknown stains as well as general soiling from a 160+ year old garment would be a snap! Here I am now, though; older and wiser.

Clean and filling up, ready to receive my nightgown!

An acquaintance who is an expert in garment conservation advised that the best tactic is to start with the most gentle option first and move up from there. I’m quite experienced in hand-washing clothes — when I had to wear business clothes for my last job I hand-washed everything instead of dry-cleaning, and I hand-wash all my lolita dresses/blouses and other Japanese fashion garments. However, my normal hand-washing bin isn’t large enough for this nightgown, so first I had to clean the heck out of my bathtub.

I want to be clear that I scrub my tub every week, but in order to hand-wash in it I had to clean it without chemicals that might linger and cause problems. I broke out the trusty Bon Ami and went to work. Twenty minutes later the tub was cleaner than it’s been in ages (and my arms were tired), and I was ready to go. I poured a bath of cold water, added a small amount of fragrance-free Unicorn Wash, and gently saturated the nightgown. (My go-to for normal hand-washing is Delicate Wash from The Laundress, but it’s scented and sometimes scent additives can play havoc with antique textiles. So I went with the Unicorn Wash instead!) I left it for 20 minutes, and there was almost no change when I rinsed it out so I repeated the process only with a larger pour of Unicorn Wash.

Everyone loves a nice cold soak!

There were slight improvements this time, but not nearly enough, so I upgraded to the next weapon in my arsenal – The Laundress’s All-Purpose Bleach Alternative. I add this to all my loads of normal laundry, and know that it’s very gentle. I activated it in a container of hot water, then poured the mixture into yet another cold water bath with the nightgown, and let it sit for another 20 minutes. (Why all the cold water, you may ask? There are quite a few categories of stain that will set permanently if exposed to heat. Therefore it’s better to start with cold water when you’re uncertain of the exact nature of the staining.)

Cleaner!

At the end of this cycle, there were definite improvements. Overall the color was lighter, stains had faded, and particularly the collar was cleaner which I was very pleased to see. I found four new (or possibly previously-unseen) damages to the fabric – one tear on the hem, one vertical split in one of the lower gathers, one horizontal split on one of the upper pintucks, and some damage to the lace on the collar. I decided to call it a day, let it dry out (flat on towels on my plastic work table, then hung up in the morning to remove the last bit of dampness), and contemplated my next steps.

My hallway is very narrow; hence the strange photography angle!

Some research turned up that my problem is not unique – naturally, many collectors and sellers of vintage and antique clothes face the issue of unwanted stains. After weighing my options and reading some reviews, I decided to try the highly-rated Vintage Textile Soak for another round of cleaning. It’s specifically formulated for vintage and antique textiles suffering from the precise issues my nightgown is: overall yellowing due to age, and brown spots due to the manner of its storage.

I want to take a moment to mention that to even reference the way in which this garment was previously stored is loaded, and I absolutely am not placing any judgement on anyone who owned this garment before me for its condition other than to be incredibly grateful for the fabulous shape it’s in considering its age. It’s almost impossible for an antique garment to not incur some damage/staining, especially past the century mark! Additionally, until I acquired it, I had no idea myself about proper storage procedures for antique clothing and would have certainly not stored it “properly.” I have a lot of clothes in plastic bins is what I’m saying! 🙂 Abby Cox, whom I adore, even says “Storing antique clothing at home will never surpass quality museum care.” My home has a heat pump and furnace, and great air quality and humidity/temperature control, but it’s still not anywhere near the climate control that a museum could offer. The best I can do is restore what I can, and store as best I can, and enjoy the incredible opportunity I’ve been given to do so!

Did I miss this before, or did it happen during cleaning? No telling at this point, so I just have to repair it!

That said, I mended the small rips that I’d discovered during the first round of cleaning, and ordered a package of Vintage Textile Soak. So join me next time as I try one more round of cleaning and see what comes of it!