Edo Period Coat Restoration: The Embellishment (Stage 2)

Project 9, part 6 – Who Wore it Better? (Part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5 here)

To clarify – the twill itself is organic cotton; the color is not “organic dark roast.” 😆

Welcome back to the Edo period coat restoration project! Last week was particularly busy at my day job, but I managed to sneak enough time over the weekend to fabricate the replacement toggle I wanted to add to my coat.

I hate working with paracord now lol. It’s so finicky!

I needed such a small amount of cotton twill for the base of the toggle that I decided to just order a sample. Via Fabrics from Chicago on Etsy has a tremendous selection, and was so reasonably-priced that I ended up ordering two different colors to ensure I got the right shade. It is a bit lighter than the extant ones because I was unable to clean them! From arm’s length or further away, though, it’s a really good match – and the texture is spot-on. For some reason the iron-on interfacing I was trying to adhere refused to do so, however. So I just pinned the pieces together and the tacking stitches to affix the toggle base to the coat served to attach the two layers as well!

I really should have done the tacking stitches underneath where the spiral was intended to go. At this point I’m going to live with it, but I know better for next time!

Then it was time to spend just HOURS cursing paracord and its slippery texture and tendency to twist constantly. 😦 Still, at the end of the experience, I had a completely passable sibling to the extant toggle, and I’d managed through no small amount of good fortune to align them perfectly. 😀

So why add this in the first place? Well, although I do have some speculation that the extant toggle could have been used to hold the coat open to clear access to the wearer’s swords, it does seem from photography that likely it had a partner toggle on the other side of the coat to fully close the flaps against the weather. In trying on the coat, I can confirm that without the additional toggle, the coat opens constantly which rather defeats the point!

So the real question is, then: who wore it better?

He has a stylish hat and geta…
…whereas I have a Van Paugam shirt and a camera for a face. 😜

I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing the creation of the last piece of passementerie for my coat! Up next is the lining, which will all have to be hand-sewn in, and after that only the collar and hem facings will remain! So join me next time as I finally make my coat cozy and warm! ❤

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Spotlight: More Singer Featherweight Accessories!

Spotlight 8: More Singer Featherweight Sewing Machine Accessories for the Hoard!

At last! Zigzagging capability is mine! 😀

Welcome back to Mukashi no Sewing and our eighth spotlight here on the blog! I managed to snag two more attachments from eBay for my Featherweight, and thought you might enjoy getting to know them with me!

Why do all of these attachments look like crazy torture devices??

The first piece I picked up is a zig-zag attachment from 1950. Weirdly, not being able to do zig-zag stitching has been one of the few things I’ve missed not having a modern machine. Zig-zagging can be used in place of serging, and I really don’t have space for another machine – but I also would like to be able to finish jerseys and other modern fabrics occasionally! I’ve had some of Finn’s fleece pajamas in my alterations pile for quite some time awaiting this technology. 😀 Another reason is being able to make my own silk ribbon to match my outfits – silk ribbon is super pricy, and matching colors is nigh-impossible online. The Dreamstress just posted a great tutorial on making your own silk ribbon using the zig-zag feature to finish the edges, and I’m really excited to try it!

Maybe no one but me is interested in cording…but this is going to really unlock some passementerie options for me!

There are tons of other uses for this attachment, including edge joining, hemstitching, and attaching elastic, so I can’t wait to flex the power of my new zig-zagger on some upcoming projects!

My second piece is a little less all-purpose, but no less useful:

Look, hemming is a pain, and anything I can mechanize is a boon!

I love me some hand-sewing, but I’m not super into endlessly hemming by hand, especially invisible hems. My new blind stitch attachment from 1949 is going to make my life a lot easier, particularly for lighter fabrics, so I can do relatively quick and easy hemming on my machine!

Skirts, dresses, AND lingerie. Well, all my bases are covered… 😀

I find silk particularly trying to work with by hand, as it can be prone to fraying when fussed with too much, and as I’m staring down the oncoming train of a full dress project sometime this year, I figured it was worth the effort to get as many things as possible to make my life easier!

The crazy thing is how good these little instruction manuals are. They’re small, but so thorough!

From my understanding, this attachment in particular takes some dialing in, so I expect to do a few test runs to get things right. Once I do, though, it should neaten up my garments and give a more professional finish than my current “fold over twice and topstitch” strategy. 🙂

Wait, this isn’t a Featherweight attachment…

I actually got one more piece of kit recently that isn’t for my sewing machine, but is where I took all the photos for this post! My husband bought me this Studio Cube and it’s just fantastic for taking pictures of smaller objects. One of my goals for 2022 is to improve my photography, and the powerful LED lighting and backdrop sheets in my Studio Cube are stage 1 of the plan! He bought me a fancy flash for my camera as well, so I look forward to learning how to use that to overcome the dreadful lighting in my sewing room.

I hope you’ve enjoyed meeting the two (well, three!) new additions to the family, and I look forward to seeing you back here at Mukashi no Sewing next week for more history, crafts, and sewing! ❤

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Edo Period Coat Restoration: The Embellishment (Stage 1)

Project 9, part 5 – Collaboration (Part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 here)

I know you probably can’t tell at first glance, but I swear I’ve done like 10 hours of work to get to this point…

Welcome back to the Edo period coat restoration project! It snowed all week while I was doing this work, lending some urgency to my desire to finish the project and get to wearing it. 😀 So I got some traction on the embellishments on my coat – both reattaching previously detached passementerie, and adding some new flourishes.

I matched every wiggle of the markings to ensure the toggles went back into precisely the same place.

Thanks to my careful labeling of all the toggles I removed for cleaning – and also thanks to the marks from the rice paste adhesive that remained – clipping the toggles back into their original positions was super easy. The tedious part was sewing them back into position. It took about three hours just to sew the five toggles back down, but once I had them secured it just didn’t look right.

Wonder Clips are the besssssssssssssst. Pins absolutely would not have worked here.

Looking at the original images, the cotton twill backing for the cord toggles was stretched down over the paper interfacing, giving the whole piece a more finished look. They were stable so long as they were untouched, but when I removed them from the coat it was clear that the fibers would not hold up to such treatment a second time.

They just look…unfinished, I guess? In any case, I wasn’t happy with how they looked.

So, I bought a metric ton of black paracord (why does it only come in humongous bundles?!), and cut lengths to edge each toggle. This was the really time-consuming part – it was a solid hour+ for each toggle because I had to first secure the paracord to the disc, and then carefully circumnavigate each disc a second time to tack it to the coat itself. Luckily I had a lot of back episodes of the Uncanny Japan podcast to listen to!

Also powering me through the tedium was my friend Dave’s fabulous game review YouTube channel All Games New and Old!

I’m a big fan of Dr Eleanor Janega and her fabulous blog Going Medieval. She writes about a lot of really important things like sex and politics and plagues in the European medieval period and connects them with the same important things going on in the modern world which is often both hilarious and concerning. Back in November she wrote a post called “On Cathedrals and Cooperation,” and I really have to urge you to take a minute and go read it. Her closing thesis is particularly poignant:

The past is never done, we are still working with it and as a part of it all the time, cooperating to make the next chapter for humanity as a whole.

Dr. Eleanor Janega

She’s talking about cathedrals here, and she lists some incredible examples of cooperation across time on that front like St. Albans Cathedral which was built, expanded, and repaired across about three and a half centuries. When I went to Athens about ten years ago, I had the privilege of standing in the Temple of Olympian Zeus that was erected during a span of nearly 600 years. Cooperation and collaboration across centuries, each person respecting the work of the person before them, yet adding their own embellishments, ideas, and skills to the whole.

I deeply respect the work of the woman who sewed my coat – the sheer amount of work just to restore it is nothing to what it must have taken to construct it in the first place!

This is precisely how I view my own restoration work – it’s never a case of me imposing my will, but rather a dialogue with the original creator. This is why I re-used all the original toggles, and chose to not re-dye the fabric of my coat. I did, however, want to leave some mark of my own that was more visible, and decided to add a mon – or crest – to the center back.

Your eyes aren’t bad, my photography is. 😆 But I can’t exactly go back in time to retake the shot lol…

After a great deal of deliberation, I selected 霊 – rei – which is the kanji I use for my name if I’m not writing it in hiragana. There are many ways of writing rei that range in meaning from “formal etiquette” to “small bell” to “zero,” but this particular kanji means “ghost” or “spirit.” I love it because for me it’s a memento mori, as well as a reminder of the great debt I owe to all those who came before me. I picked a metallic gold embroidery thread, and in about an hour I had made my mark! 😉

I’m so happy with it! ❤

I’m now in a really good position to keep moving forward. I am going to create a sixth toggle to allow the bottom flap to be secured, as extant photography seems to indicate one would likely have existed. I can actually start attaching the lining while I wait for the fabric for that to arrive, however, so join me next time as I hand-sew multiple yards of quilted cotton to my coat and question my life choices! ❤

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Victorian Parasol Restoration: The Reveal

Project 10, part 4 – Promenade With Me (Part 1, part 2, part 3 here)

Did any Victorians sport purple hair? I’d argue they would have if it had been an option! Violet hair powder was definitely used in the Regency period, however.

Happy New Year, and welcome back to the Victorian Parasol restoration project! If you saw the final reveal for my Steampunk Utility belt, you’ve already seen a sneak peek of Bonnie in action. But I thought that she deserved a full reveal of her own, and since I didn’t want to wait until I’d finished a matching dress I decided to pull out all the purple stops and combine photo shoots! 😀 Considering silk taffeta really shouldn’t touch water, I had to take advantage of a rare dry day as well so it worked out perfectly.

I didn’t retouch the colors here at all! They’re really this harmonious in person. I’m definitely going to need to buy more of this taffeta…

Promenading, or walking as a means of not just exercise but showing off one’s garments and social standing, was fashionable for both women and men at least as early as the 1600s, and really took off in the Regency era. Particular clothes were worn when a person wanted to both see and be seen, and parasols were hugely popular accessories – not just for shading one’s eyes and skin from the sun, but also to show off taste and wealth with a parasol perfectly matched to the dress.

Personally I burst into flames if the sun touches my skin, so for me they’re a practical accessory! I 100% do not support the historical belief in pale skin equating to worth or beauty – I just happen to burn easily and need to keep out of the sun. ❤

…[T]here was always the possibility for politeness and gentility to become a performance, and a means of competition that served as a means of distinction; this was nowhere more evident than in London’s spaces of entertainment, especially the promenade. In representations of London’s promenades over the course of the century, tensions created by the performance of genteel behavior within a range of social spheres became a central trope, with men and women depicted as competing for status within the space of the Park. The pedestrian promenade emerged in the seventeenth century and, by the eighteenth century, any town of importance had its fashionable promenade, either for pedestrians or carriages. Paris had the Tuileries, Copenhagen Tivoli Gardens, while in some European towns, such as Antwerp and St. Petersburg, a particular avenue or circuit emerged as the town promenade. The habit of walking as a form of sociability, to meet with friends and gather news and gossip, became a prominent feature of London life and was soon imitated in provincial towns throughout Britain. As John Brewer has explained, many cultural sites of the eighteenth century served as places of performance for those attending. Theatre and exhibition audiences, for example, did not passively enjoy the spectacle on display, but actively participated in the broader spectacle of performance, in which social display and self-presentation played an important part. (Walking, Rambling, and Promenading in Eighteenth-Century London: A Literary and Cultural History, by Alison F. O’Byrne)

Staring off into the distance, hoping the rain holds off long enough to finish the photo shoot. 😀

It’s easy to think that the fashion of promenading went out with the 19th century, but I recently read a tremendously interesting article pointing out that we’ve really just changed our promenades from the seaside to the spin class. In his article, Jason says:

The word Victorian tends to evoke old-fashioned ideas: women confined in corsets, strict gender roles, and a prudishness about all things sexual. In a world where conspicuous consumerism and self-expression rule, these nineteenth-century notions of self-restraint and self-denial seem hopelessly outdated.

But the Victorian ethos is not dead, not by a long shot.

It lives on, manifesting itself in our contemporary upper middle class’s behavior. While some aspects have gone the way of the waistcoat, the belief that the bourgeoisie holds a place of moral superiority over the other classes persists.

Today, spin classes, artisanal food, and the college application process have replaced Sunday promenades, evening lectures, and weekly salons. But make no mistake, they serve the same purpose: transforming class privilege into individual virtue, thereby shoring up social dominance.

I really encourage you to read both Jason and Adam’s articles linked above! There’s a tendency to presume that we, in the present day, are “better” than those who came before us, when really in many cases it’s only the outward mode that has changed while the motivations remain remarkably similar.

Pictured: basically just a Victorian.

Don’t get me wrong! I love a good promenade. 😀 I adore dressing up and walking on the bluffs above the sea in fancy dress with my two fancy dogs. I also use the opportunity granted by my indulgence to talk to my neighbors, get people interested in greyhounds (and maybe hand out a card or two for our rescue agency!), and educate passers-by about history, other cultures, and fashion. So hopefully it’s not entirely a luxury! 😀 Also hopefully, you have enjoyed getting to see the results of this restoration. I’ve still got a couple of projects outstanding, as well as many more fun things in the works, so I look forward to seeing you back here next week for more history, crafts, and sewing! ❤

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Guest Project: Komebukuro

Guest Project 1 – Food is Love

Pattern by Karen Stevens, photo by Sue.

Welcome back to Mukashi no Sewing! I’ve got a special treat for you this week – my aunt Sue just finished a really cool project, and she was willing to send me her photos and process and allow me to share it with you!

She has loved sashiko and yukata fabric for a long time, and when she was introduced to Karen Stevens’ komebukuro (rice bag) pattern, she knew she had the perfect project to make as gifts for her friends!

This is a fantastic way to use up scraps of fabric from your stash! Photo by Sue.

米袋 is the kanji for komebukuro – the first one, kome, means rice, and the second, fukuro (the “f” changes to a “b” in this compound word), means bag – so no mystery here about the word! Extant komebukuro vary from 6″x6″x6″ to 10″x10″x10″ and are typically from the late Meiji to early Taisho eras – in other words, from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. They were used to carry rice or beans to temples or shrines for religious ceremonies like Setsubun and Segaki, or to wrap special gifts much like furoshiki are used today.

Carry History SriThreads Komebukuro 3
Extant komebukuro, photo credit Sri Threads.

In the case of my Aunt Sue, she already had plenty of vintage yukata fabric and her own sashiko samples just chilling – these sorts of things happen when you’ve been sewing for long enough, as I can attest! She ended up only needing to buy the wooden beads from Joann, but she did mention to me that sashiko kits and pretty much everything else from the pattern’s supplies list are available at TheQuiltShow.com!

Boro, or Japanese patchwork, is quite popular right now, particularly in quilt communities as it is a similar tradition. However, as noted by Sarah Jean Culbreath, a fashion historian, …whereas Western quilt traditions create something new from scraps, boro uses scraps to preserve. One of the biggest distinctions between Japanese boro and the Western quilt tradition, is that quilt culture in the West (specifically in the US) is centered around shared work and community. Boro is generally a solitary activity. Just as quilts are infused with the energy of the group (or generations) of women who worked on a single piece, boro offers information about the single individual who worked on an item. “ It’s easy to look at my aunt’s bag and see the precision, thoughtfulness, and love that she puts into everything she does!

Ok, I gotta step up my game – I really need sweet “made by” tags for all my projects now! 😀 Photo by Sue.

My aunt made her bags 6″x6″x8″ – so right about in the middle of the road size-wise compared to antique bags – mostly so she could gift her friends with some rice to go in their bags! Depending on where you are in the world, you may not have experienced this, but in the Pacific Northwest at the start of the pandemic it was almost impossible to get rice. Stores in my area were completely sold out, which was pretty terrible for me as I eat a LOT of rice! It was my aunt who found some at a Costco in her area, and got my cousin to smuggle it across state lines to me so I didn’t run out. ❤ So I find the gift of rice to be particularly generous and meaningful!

Pictured: love, in the form of delicious carbohydrates! ❤ Photo by Sue.

I asked my aunt about how long the bags took her to make, as that’s always something that I track in my own projects – if only to note that I could never mass-produce them! 😀 She said:

“I cut up a sashiko square from a kit that was completed many years ago.  Great traveling project.  The bag itself is not too time consuming, but of course I had to play with all the patchwork fabric options and also adjust the size of the bag by adding a 2 inch finished top strip.  My bag ended up with a 6 inch square base and 8 inches tall.  Typical…I seem to always tweak a pattern!  So, honestly, I don’t know how long it took.  Plus I made four of them and it did go faster once I made all the patchwork pieces.”

If you’re interested in making your own the pattern is available from kzstevens.com and currently is only $6! And in case you’re wondering – all my aunt’s friends absolutely adored their bags!

…and Kate!

I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing the work of someone besides myself – especially something so full of love! Please do let me know in the comments if you’d like to see future guest posts here, and I look forward to seeing you next week here at Mukashi no Sewing for more history, crafts, and sewing! ❤

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Steampunk Utility Belt: The Reveal

Project 8, part 5 – No, YOU Look Fabulous (Part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 here)

Surprisingly, the ties hold very securely! Not surprisingly, I own a lot of purple. 😉

Welcome back to the Steampunk Utility Belt project and the final reveal! I had bought a lolita dress specifically to wear with this, but when it arrived it didn’t suit me at all. 😦 So I resold it to a lovely lady in Spain, and was back to square one for my photo shoot. Then I remembered the absolutely fabulous Mac Nakata and his fusion of steampunk and traditional Japanese clothing:

Photo from macnakata.com – please visit his INCREDIBLE website. His house and fashion sense are unbelievably cool. Eagle-eyed viewers may note the manji symbol on his sword – it’s a Buddhist symbol! Swastikas face the other way, and you can read up more on this here.

He is an absolute style icon, not to mention an incredible artist. I’m no where near his level, but you also don’t have to ask me twice to wear kimono or hakama! And it just so happens I own a purple haori that looks smashing as a top… 😉

Trying really hard to not spill my tea here since everything I’m wearing can’t be cleaned. 😅

Said haori was purchased from Harajuku Chicago, which is in Harajuku (in Tokyo), and is not in Chicago. 😀 It’s a thrift store that mostly carries second-hand clothes from America and Europe, as well as a huge selection of vintage kimono and other wafuku. When I was there I bought this haori as well as another one in all black with an embroidered wave pattern, and a skirt that was remade out of a vintage kurotomesode. My hakama are from one of my very favorite Japanese brands, Alice Auaa. Alice Auaa even has an international web shop now, and they’ve dressed some pretty famous people including Lady Gaga! If they’re good enough for her, they’re definitely good enough for me. 😀

It’s a little weird wearing a belt over my hakama instead of under as I’m used to for iaido, but the belt fits perfectly!
The larger pockets are quite comfy on my hips. I definitely chose the right size for my belt. I believe the original iteration of the belt is intended to go under a corset, but with the high-stiffness interfacing I used it holds up perfectly well on its own.

Jeff Vandermeer, in the Steampunk Bible, writes “Taking from [Jules] Verne the gift of a fantastical and playful imagination, and utilizing [H.G.] Wells’s sociological approach to facilitate changing the future, Steampunk rewrites blueprints, reinvents steam technology, and revamps the scientific romance to create a self-aware world that is beautiful and at times nostalgic, but also acknowledges dystopia. Social awareness is pivotal to the best practitioners of Steampunk, which has always been conscious of the the nineteenth century’s less inspiring moments. While that era featured great strides in aesthetics and technology, politically it was tainted by colonialism, imperialism, and racism…” This was another good reason for me to wear Japanese-inspired steampunk rather than pure British/American Victorian clothing. It’s important to me that my steampunk be informed by a diversity of cultures and ideas, and equally as important to me that wafuku isn’t seen as “native dress” or a cultural relic, but as the vibrant and living fashion that it is.

You remember how I made two fan pockets? Turns out the smaller one is PERFECT for a tea strainer! My past self is a genius! Boots are Tavistocks by American Duchess, wig is Dreamholic/Dcoucou.
After a long day of promenading and caffeine consumption, the refined lady traveler enjoys the finest in printed entertainment: Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure.

While the focus of steampunk is often the inventions or the tea, I recently learned about the Noble Art of Compliment Duelling, and it felt like the absolute best way to close out this post! The idea is to overwhelm your charming opponent with clever and verbose compliments to the point that they become tongue tied and blushing and must cede the field. So, my astute and intrepid reader, I very much laud your remarkable patience in waiting so long for the final reveal of this project, and I cannot wait to be in your glorious presence again next week! ❤

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Spotlight: Victorian Era Cake Box

Spotlight 7: Late Victorian Cake Box

Why have a cake stand when you can have a cake box??

Welcome to Mukashi no Sewing’s seventh spotlight! Although I cannot in fact let you eat cake, I can share with you this gorgeous cake box from the late Victorian era. It belonged to some dear friends of mine, and I happened to admire it profusely when helping them move into their new house. Several days later, they gifted it to me, saying that I clearly would treasure it. I have pretty cool friends. 😀

Also how could I not admire this?! It’s so cool!

In an era before refrigeration, food still needed to be kept safe from pests and mold-producing moisture. Bread and cake boxes discouraged mice and ants, contained crumbs, and (depending on the type of baked good) could prolong your cake or bread’s shelf-life up to a week. Cake boxes also permitted easy transportation, if needed, and looked beautiful on the shelf as well! Bakeries also used them as store displays both to draw in customers and hold goods for sale.

This must have looked stunning new. It’s still incredibly detailed!

My cake box was designed by Schepp’s, and manufactured by the Silas A. Ilsley firm which was renowned for tin lithography. I found a twin on an auction site, which notes:

“It’s decorated in front with a lithograph of Wilhelm von Kaulbach’s painting of “Goethe’s Lotte” and on the sides and top with “Goethe’s Lili” also by Kaulbach. The romantic scenes on this tin cakebox represent themes of love and strength in the writings of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and the artistry of Wilhelm von Kaulbach.”

You may as well advertise on your own product!

Schepp’s manufactured these tin cake boxes between 1895 and 1930. I’ve seen a couple others for sale that look to be in similar shape to mine that are tentatively dated to 1910, so mine may be either late Victorian or early Edwardian. Naturally, that meant I needed to go hunting for a late Victorian cake recipe since lots of people tend to bake during the winter months and even if you don’t have time to do so (like me), you can still ogle delicious historical recipes! 😀

Pictured: a cake box without cake.

I settled on the Battenburg, or domino, cake for two reasons. The first is that the recipe for it was first printed in 1898, and there are many extant images and recipes from the Edwardian period as well. The second is that it’s fancy. Because I love her writing – and because her recipe was nice and clear, I have decided to recommend the recipe on The Past is a Foreign Pantry!

I wish my schedule at the moment permitted me the time to bake one, but rest assured if I find some I will certainly do so and share the results. But not the cake. The cake is all for me. 😀 I hope you’ve enjoyed this peek into kitchen “appliances” of the past, and I look forward to seeing you back here at Mukashi no Sewing for my next adventure! ❤

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Victorian Parasol Restoration: The Finishing

Project 10, part 3 – Silk and Scallops (Part 1, part 2 here)

Tell me this isn’t the best color!! 😀

Welcome back to the Victorian Parasol restoration project! This week I got the images edited from the second day of the restoration class I took through Black Orchid Atelier, and just re-living the experience was such a thrill. Day 2 was all about the fashion fabric, and I had chosen a phenomenal amethyst silk taffeta from Renaissance Fabrics. Most parasols from Bonnie’s era (1870s) were covered in silk, and the tight weave of silk taffeta makes it a perfect choice for this endeavor.

There are a TON of options for trimming a parasol, but I decided to go for simple scallops to match the original canopy that came on Bonnie. Scalloped scallops – aka, scallops cut with scalloping or pinking shears – were a major fashion trend in the Victorian Era, and they look a little more interesting than a simple rolled hem. I also learned how to do pleated or ruched ruffles, silk fringe, and a full lining…so I guess I’ll have to restore another parasol at some point! 😀

I’m seriously proud of how I managed to match up the seams to keep the scallop going nearly perfectly. ❤

Keeping it reasonably simple worked for me on this project, since I really wanted to finish by the end of the class, and also wanted the simplicity of this cute little parasol to speak for itself. There were other little things like the prevents, baffles, and notch covers to craft as well, so it’s not like sewing less trim was going to mean I didn’t have anything to do!

Center – baffle & under-baffle. The purple on the left is the prevent (pre-vohnt) – it protects the canopy from the joint on the rib there.

Sunday’s class was quieter – we all mostly knew what to do at this point, so we were just chilling in our assorted sewing rooms across the country drinking tea (in my case) and stitching away on our fabric.

A canopy without its parasol always looks so deflated!

In case you’re curious, rather than sewing into a circle to start, the wedges were sewn to each other in pairs, then the pairs into pairs (giving me two sections of four), and then finally those two halves were sewn together. There’s a hole at the top for the finial of the parasol to fit through, and I had to leave a bit larger of an opening since I had a slightly wider ferrule to fit the fabric around.

At this point I ran into a bit of a problem. Against Maegen’s recommendation, I used an entirely different fabric for my mockup from my final canopy. Her suggestion was to use dupioni silk as the mockup fabric for people utilizing silk taffeta as their fashion fabric. My fashion fabric was already $35/yard though, and I didn’t want to buy more silk for the mockup…so I used cotton muslin. Aaaaaaaaaaand…promptly discovered why that was a bad idea. Cotton stretches, but grain-cut silk taffeta most certainly does not. So my parasol would no longer open fully when I pinned on my canopy.

Pictured: pins, regret.

Then I had a thought – instead of securing the ribs 1/2″ from the edge of my canopy, what if I gave them more room by securing them 1/8″ from the edge? It would leave more fabric at the top, but I could fix that in post-production easily. So I re-pinned the canopy to check, and…success! The top was indeed a little saggy, but everything worked great otherwise.

My lighting was a disaster during this portion, sorry for the blown-out whites. My husband has promised to teach me some techniques using a flash soon!

Let’s be clear – I absolutely could have gone back to the drawing board, re-drafted my pattern, and sewn a new canopy. I had plenty of silk taffeta, and the skills to adjust the pattern. I went with this adjustment for two reasons – the first being that I really did want to just finish my parasol. The second is that I’ve seen enough antique garments and accessories to know that this wonky “eh, I’ll just live with it” mentality is absolutely period-accurate. I’m not the only one who’s ever needed to finish a project within a time frame, and I certainly won’t be the last! 😀

So I cinched up the excess fabric at the top, stitched it tight, and then did the absolutely most Victorian thing possible to cover up the mess: tied a bow on it.

I’m the sort of person who has lavender silk ribbon just chilling and ready for this sort of emergency! 😀

Is there still a little bit of rumpled fabric at the top? Sure. Am I incredibly happy with how Bonnie turned out? 100%. I literally could not be more delighted. I now have a brilliant purple parasol that will look divine with any number of historical and modern outfits, and a charming piece of history has been given a new lease on life. I use parasols constantly so she’ll absolutely be getting use in the years to come, and I’m very excited to try out my new skills again on another antique frame! And maybe sew a purple silk taffeta dress (or at least accessories) to match… 😀 So join me in the final installment for the full reveal and photoshoot with Bonnie, including a perfectly coordinated purple haori and some stylish wool hakama that just arrived from Japan! ❤

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Victorian Parasol Restoration: The Patterning and Mockup

Project 10, part 2 – Toile-ing Away (Part 1 here)

I was confused when our materials list included a medium Priority Mail tube, but I quickly learned that it’s the most important piece of a parasol restorer’s kit!

Welcome back to the Victorian Parasol restoration project! This week I got the photos edited from the first day of the class, and my goodness was it a fun one! I normally sew in 3-4 hour blocks at most, so eight full hours of work was exhausting. It wasn’t just my back that hurt, but also I had to do a lot of problem-solving so I was mentally wiped out too. Learning new skills is pretty much my favorite thing though, so it was the good kind of tired! 🙂

The tin foil is for patterning, not for keeping out alien mind-control rays. Although it does that, too! 😉

The class was described as requiring intermediate patterning skills, and I was honestly a little worried about this part. I’ve followed commercial patterns, of course, but I never really thought about the free-form things I’ve sewn as being “patterning,” per se. I don’t know why? Maybe because in my mind, patterning was something professionals do, and I’m just sort of goofing off? 😀 The truth is, not only do I do tons of my own patterning already, I’ve been doing it by eye, so when it came time to actually use math to build a pattern it felt like easy mode!

Pictured: easy mode – aka, 1/8th of a parasol canopy. 😀

What wasn’t easy mode for me was sewing the mockup. (Are toiles only for clothes? Is it a mockup when it’s an accessory, and only a toile when it’s a garment? Someone please advise!) My sewing machine was much older than anyone else’s (and older than many of the other participants, haha!) – which I didn’t realize would slow me down until I saw Maegen’s fancy electronic machine automatically backstitch at the start and end of every seam for her whereas I have to flip a lever, sew in reverse, flip it again, and sew forward to continue. This doesn’t bother me on the daily – the ratio of time spent actually at the machine to time spent ironing, marking, cutting, and pinning fabric is heavily in favor of the latter, and unless I happen to go pro I will never notice the small increments of time saved on a project. In the class, however, it was pretty interesting to observe that I would get ahead of other people during the drafting and cutting portions, and then fall behind during sewing since everyone’s machines were faster than mine.

I did learn to not be careless with my rotary blade though. 😦 Please admire my makeshift bandage – I didn’t want to take the time to go hunt down something else at that moment! 😀

Maegen’s instructions were so clear that I likely could have done everything up to the mockup just from following them. Where her expertise really came into play was in the fitting stage. When I first pinned my mockup to my parasol, it was nearly flat instead of the bell-shape I’d envisioned. My first thought would absolutely have been to shorten the triangles – taking some fabric off the bottom. However, Maegen advised narrowing them – first about a quarter-inch on each long side, and then a further curve toward the bottom. Brilliant! Thanks to her expert eye (SO hard over Zoom, too!), I ended up with a beautiful mockup on the second try!

Top view…
…and inside view! Super cool!

By the end of the day, I was totally exhausted – but I had a working pattern and was ready to start cutting into my silk taffeta for the final product. So join me in the next installment to see my second day’s work and marvel at my bold choice of color! ❤

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Victorian Parasol Restoration: The Beginning and Prep

Project 10, part 1 – Contracting in a Field


Welcome back to Mukashi no Sewing! I am beyond excited to share this new project with you. Of course, the Victorian Era (or late Edo/Meiji periods, in Japan) is my absolute favorite, and it’s becoming something of a specialty here on the blog. I mentioned in my Virtual Costume College review that the class I most enjoyed attending was Maegen Hensley’s lecture on trimming Victorian parasols, and that she was planning to do a full intensive masterclass on the subject at a later date. Well, my very excellent husband purchased the class for me as a birthday present, and I was able to spend a weekend restoring a parasol from around 1870!

Some of the parasols that were restored during the class. My Bonnie is fifth from the left. Photo credit Maegen Hensley.

The class was through Black Orchid Atelier, and I cannot encourage you enough to take one of the courses that Kristen hosts through her site. Everything from purchasing the class to the pre-course info to how smoothly it ran was phenomenal. Maegen of course is an excellent lecturer, and I still can’t believe how cheerful she was at the end of 16 hours of talking and sewing! We had only one minor Zoom issue and it was resolved in under 5 minutes, which is pretty impressive considering how long the class ran and how many people were attending. Enough gushing though – let’s talk parasols!

The point of the class was restoration, but Bonnie was in exceptional shape from the jump.

My ticket to the class included an antique parasol from Maegen’s collection, and I selected Bonnie, a smaller parasol from around 1870. I picked her for a few reasons – one is that I have a lot of larger modern parasols already, so I thought it would be nice to have something unique. Another was her era – I knew I only wanted something from the 1870s or 1880s since those are the eras of Victorian dress that I’m drawn to, and I wanted my parasol to match. Finally, I was smitten with her carved wooden handle! 😀

It’s subtle from a distance, but up close it has so many lovely little details! And it’s so smooth.

Parasols were one of the Victorian accessories. Emily Dickinson compared women with their parasols to butterflies –
From Cocoon forth a Butterfly
As Lady from her Door
Emerged—a Summer Afternoon—
… Her pretty Parasol be seen
Contracting in a Field

There’s evidence of parasols in ancient Persia – there are some cool carvings of kings from around 485 BCE being shaded by them – but after the fall of the Roman Empire they mostly disappeared from Europe until the 1600s. (They never disappeared from China or Japan; there they were typically made of paper for commoners or silk for the upper classes, and from about the 1300s in Japan there were oiled paper umbrellas as well!)

Look! Sakura! Another reason to love Bonnie – she’s got a little link to Japan. 🙂

Like my Bonnie, early to mid-Victorian parasols were often smaller – more face-shades than full-body-shades. If you see parasols listed online as a “child’s parasol,” you might actually be looking at a carriage parasol or other similar adult parasol that just happens to be smaller than what we consider proper size today! Handles ran the gamut from wood to ivory to metal, and could be plain or carved, and the canopies likewise might be anything from plain silk taffeta to an explosion of lace and fringe. They could even have a stiletto hidden in the handle, per a patent from 1851! If only I could find one of those… 😀

Bonnie’s original canopy was a thick black cotton, which is probably why it was in such good shape still.

In order to prepare for the class, I had to remove my parasol’s original canopy. It was fairly easy – I just had to snip the threads securing it to the ribs, and then slip it over the ferrule at the top. When I’d finished the disrobing, so to speak, I noticed that the ribs were a little on the rusty side, so I also pulled out the super fine grit sandpaper I use for refinishing wooden weapons and gently buffed out the rust so it wouldn’t spread (or stain the new canopy).

I’ve kept the old canopy intact – I’m not sure I could use it on another parasol, but I’ve been considering refashioning it into a reticule!

This left Bonnie all cleaned up, and ready for her makeover! So join me in the next installment, when I learn how to create canopy patterns and also why you don’t cut toward yourself with a rotary cutter. 😀

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