Sorry for the delay, friends! I haven’t just been snoozing with Finn, I promise. We had a massive heat wave that put me behind on photography, and now that I’ve gotten somewhat caught up I still need to edit everything and write the next post. Today’s blog post will be up tomorrow; until then please enjoy my sleepy greyhound! ❤
Project 6, part 1 – Almost a Spotlight, but Not Quite…
Welcome back to Mukashi no Sewing! Today is the beginning of a short project (in terms of number of planned posts), and also an extremely long project (in terms of time required to complete it). Actually, this was originally intended to be a Spotlight, but…it’s not. It’s definitely a Restoration project!
Let’s dive in! My amazing friend who has gifted me many of my Victorian Era items gave me this velvet and glass perfume case as well, containing a single glass perfume bottle. Like the purse, it’s dated in family records to about 1883. The case seems to be made of wood, with a fuchsia velvet covering and silver fittings. It’s a wild color to modern sensibilities, but aniline dyes were invented in the mid-1850s and these garish hues were tremendously popular throughout the Victorian era! The top is cut glass with a simple push-latch, and the interior is lined in ivory silk.
The bottle itself has no maker’s mark, nor does the case, although based on some similar pieces it’s very possible that it’s Baccarat. The bottle is cut glass, with no damage of any kind other than the stopper is stuck. There are a few remains of what was likely the label on the neck (you can see a similar pair here), which is why I haven’t yet tried to soak the bottle to loosen the stopper. You can see some similar antiques here, here, here, and here!
“At the onset of the reign, the vast majority of perfume was derived from botanical sources, distilled from plants and, in a few cases, extracted from animals. These substances were expensive, as large volumes were required to produce the concentrated oils. But, as the century unfolded, chemists were synthesizing an increasing range of scents from the most unpromising sources. …Oil of pear, apple, almond, and pineapple could all be produced from coal tar, as could the phenomenally popular lemon oil. …The new chemicals democratized perfume, spreading it further and further down the social scale until, by the 1870s, even servant girls were buying scented soap.” (Goodman 135)
So even if I can’t open the bottle, it’s possible to guess at what popular scents might have filled it! Bergamot and lemon oil were extremely popular in the 1880s; if the original owner of this bottle was wealthier, it might have even featured Otto of Roses.
It should be obvious, with my single bottle in a case built for two, what the restoration consists of! I’m not particularly fussed about making any repairs to the case (since the only issue is the pile on the velvet being rubbed off in a few spots); so I just need to locate a sibling for the existing bottle. However, I’ve been looking for almost seven months now with no luck… So look forward to the next post, where I will share some of the travails of the search, and – hopefully – have a success to share as well!
Welcome back to the Mary Quant minidress sewing project! I can’t believe we’re finally here – the sewing is complete! The first half or so took me about 3 hours of actual sewing (with about 6 more hours put into preparing the fabric and making the toile), and this half was approximately another 3 1/2 hours. I definitely was grateful for having the video tutorials that accompanied the instructions as there were some techniques (such as the “burrito roll” for finishing the armholes) that I hadn’t done before, and it was very helpful to see someone doing them live.
I had a little bit of trouble at the keyhole neckline – I didn’t line it up perfectly, and so the fabric didn’t “catch” when I was sewing it all together:
It was easy enough to fix, though – I was able to ease the fabric back into place by hand and then whipstitch it into place!
Of all the parts that really made me feel finished, hemming was probably the most substantial – even though after I hemmed I still had to attach the waist belt and collar button!
The hibiscus flower that adorns this fabric is the state flower of Hawai’i, symbolizing beauty and joy – perfect for this cheerful and fun summer dress. (Technically, the yellow hibiscus is the designated flower now, but from the 1920s until the current designation in 1988 all colors were recognized!) And in 2019 a rare hibiscus that was declared extinct three years before was found by a drone flying through the cliffs of Kaua’i which is pretty joyful in my book! It seems that the pink-flowered hibiscus is also from Kaua’i, so maybe I should rename this my Kaua’i dress. It’s been seven years since I was on that island, so I think it’s time to go back soon! 🙂
Is any project ever really done? There are still a couple of minor things I’d like to update such as tacking down the waist belt at the corners (and I’ll probably take care of that, at least, before the reveal post). However, as far as the instructions are concerned, the Mary Quant Kaua’i Dress is done!
I’m so happy with it! It’s easy to put on (although a little tricky to take off because of the lack of both fasteners and stretch in the fabric), and it looks super cute. It’s also a huge validation of where my skills are at – it’s been so long since I sewed a complete piece of clothing for myself that part of me was wondering if I was going to get critically frustrated. The techniques I’ve been practicing as I’ve sewn/restored other things have turned out to stand me in good stead; however, and I’m now tremendously motivated to keep creating! So join me next time for the big reveal of how it looks on me, as well as what fruity drink I decide to accessorize with!
Project 5, part 2 – Restoring Ribbons and Failing at Fabric (Part 1 here)
Welcome back to the Milky-Chan restoration project! I’m grateful yet again that the body of my dress is in such excellent condition because it took way more effort than expected to get this into a finished state. Well, at least on the waist ties. The ribbon pin was the opposite – ridiculously easy! I just pre-treated the stains with my trusty Delicate Wash from the Laundress, then soaked the whole pin in cool water mixed with more Delicate Wash for about 30 minutes. A quick rinse later, and, voila!
Let’s turn now to the odyssey that was replacing the waist ties. Originally, I wanted to match the print of the dress as closely as possible, so I considered photographing the print and using a print-on-demand service to print a yard or so of fabric from the high-res file. There are a few problems with that – copyright infringement, for one, and the fact that any file with enough resolution to capture the print well would also capture the weave of the textile – which would look super weird printed on a different fabric.
My second thought was matching one of the themes in the dress – bows, hearts, presents, jewelry, etc. After looking through 216 pages of “pink heart on white fabric” options from different sites (yes, literally that many), I ordered two swatches of potential heart options from Spoonflower. Regrettably, the fabric I really wanted was exclusive to their $250/year “Pro” service, so I tried their Organic Cotton Sateen after spending a solid half hour touching each of their fabric swatches with one hand and my dress with the other. I couldn’t find a fabric where the hearts were reversed in alternating rows as they are on the dress, but I figured no one would be looking that closely at my waist as long as the shade matched. (And if they were, they would definitely receive a parasol to the head for getting so close!)
I really had a difficult time with the color editing here, so you’ll have to take my word for it that the hearts on the left matched perfectly, and the hearts on the right were more peachy. It doesn’t matter because they’re HUGE. Sigh.
Luckily, I’ve got a husband who is both very artistic and completely willing to offer opinions about lolita fashion. He pointed out that trying to match the original waist ties would only lead to things looking obviously wrong/out of place, and suggested that instead I try to craft something complimentary that would look like an intentional design choice. Since the original ties were white with pink lace trim, I decided to reverse the colors and sew pink ties with white lace trim and ribbons. I already had plenty of pink cotton, so I grabbed the waist ties from Day Dream Carnival (because they’re the same shape – not all waist ties are square at the ends) and measured out enough fabric for four pieces.
After looking at way too many swatches of trim online, I finally decided on some pink and white heart ruffled eyelet lace from Trimplace. The width is a bit shorter than waist tie lace usually is, but the pink heart motif makes it match perfectly:
I hope it’s as cute in person as it is in the images! I only ordered a yard, but considering the waist ties are only about 4.5″ wide at the base I’ll have enough to do a double layer if it doesn’t look good in a single layer. So join me next time when everything (hopefully!) arrives in my mailbox and I begin sewing!
Welcome back to the Mary Quant minidress sewing project! After playing around with the fabric for a bit and deciding that the Hawaiian print by itself was just a teeny bit too sheer, I ended up deciding to flat-line the dress using the muslin from the toile. Flat-lining is super easy; it’s just cutting out a second piece of the pattern and stitching the two together. It’s not going to hide any seams like bag lining or other methods would, but it accomplishes my goal which is ensuring no one can see my underwear while I’m wearing this dress!
After flat-lining and sewing the bust darts, I took a break from my Featherweight and fused interfacing onto all the pieces that needed it.
Fusible interfacing is set with heat and steam. Typically instructions will recommend that you use a damp cloth and a dry iron, and hold the iron in place until the press-cloth dries out. I had a few problems with that – one being that continually dipping a cloth into a bowl of water seemed like a great way to get water everywhere, and the second being that a damp cloth dragged the interfacing off the fashion fabric constantly. So I switched to using a dry cloth, and the steam setting on my iron, and it worked great! (Other than having to constantly refill the water reservoir in my iron because, again…it’s a travel iron.)
With the interfacing complete, my next task was constructing the accessories. I have to say, even though I read the instructions and watched the videos several times, I didn’t realize that the pocket buttons are just for show, and that the pockets themselves don’t close. The pockets are real! Just not how I imagined, lol. I could have probably redesigned them to be more like what I imagined, but honestly I was more interested in getting work done on the dress than going back to the drawing table on construction.
Truth be told, this stage of the sewing was definitely an exercise in reminding myself that perfection is a process, not a static state of being. The abovementioned pockets weren’t quite what I imagined? No worries. They still look super cute, and now I know to check the design more carefully in future dresses.
I’m here to tell you that the sewing you’re doing is the perfect sewing because the sewing I’m doing is perfect too. (And if you’re not sewing – whatever creative endeavor you’re enjoying is perfect!) It’s perfect because I’m going through the process. I’m learning, I’m taking notes, I’m finding what works for me and what I need to work on more, I’m trying. I spent a solid twenty minutes attempting to invert the tube for my button loop like the girl did in the instruction video, then I got frustrated and simply stitched it by hand already right side out:
Perfect. It’s perfect because it works, and I didn’t let myself get disheartened. I just found a way to do the job that let me keep progressing. I am always improving, always moving forward – and always being ok with where I am right now, too. Perfection is a process.
According to the instructions, having pinned the collar to my dress I’m now officially halfway through! So join me next time when I finish up the sewing (and hopefully stab myself with pins a few less times!).
Project 5, part 1 – Meet the Dress and Lolita Fashion
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.
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.
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?
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.
First, the ribbon pinned to the front neckline on my dress has some light – but visible – purplish blue stains:
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).
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!
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):
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!
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!)
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!
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 2: 1883 (maybe?!) Purse and 1860s Handkerchief
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).
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.
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’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!
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:
By contrast, here’s my modern purse and its contents:
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!
Project 4, part 2 – Second Wave Feminism and Testing Fit (Part 1 here)
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.
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.
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:
…and from the side:
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.)
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! 😀
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!
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.
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, 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.
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!