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! ❤

Subscribe so you never miss a post! New adventures in history and sewing every Tuesday.

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! ❤

Subscribe so you never miss a post! New adventures in history and sewing every Tuesday.

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! ❤

Subscribe so you never miss a post! New adventures in history and sewing every Tuesday.

Victorian Parasol Restoration: The Beginning and Prep

Project 10, part 1 – Contracting in a Field

AAAAAAAAAAAA!

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. 😀

Subscribe so you never miss a post! New adventures in history and sewing every Tuesday.

Edo Period Coat Restoration: The Cleaning

Project 9, part 4 – It’s Not Cotton (Part 1, part 2, part 3 here)

I’m just going to put this image of the collar, pre-cleaning, up here for you. As a reference for later. Don’t worry about it…

Welcome back to the Edo period coat restoration project! Thank you so much for your patience – I now have a new cooktop, a pile of new flooring for my kitchen, and a little more time to spend on my projects! This week I got around to cleaning my Edo coat, and…well. You’ll see. It was definitely a surprise.

Seriously, though, Vintage Textile Soak — hit me up. I’m your biggest fan!

I started with my bae, Vintage Textile Soak. There was no way I was going to risk other modern detergents considering the age of this garment, and also considering that I don’t have the equipment to chemically analyze what dyes were used on the fabric. I could see traces of blue in the creases of the fabric, so I was relatively sure that indigo was used at the very least. Indigo is technically colorfast…but this garment is over 150 years old. I was willing to accept some dye loss in order to clean it, and also to ensure that if the coat got saturated again I wouldn’t find myself dripping blue all over the carpets. 😀

Forbidden soup.

The minimum recommended time for Vintage Textile Soak is four hours, and I felt like that would probably be enough. I had enough to do a second round if necessary, but I figured I’d start low and see how things went. The photo above was taken no more than two minutes after submerging my coat. Spoiler alert: that is NOT DYE. I will leave you to imagine the expression of both terror and fascination on my face when I realized this.

If you want to restore antique clothing, have dogs, or do home improvement projects, I highly recommend owning a huge pile of towels.

After four hours I emptied my tub (yes I had to clean it again after this…ugh…), and rinsed the coat. It took about five minutes of rinsing for the water to run blue instead of brown. At that point, it looked like all the grime was released, and instead some of the indigo was washing free. I rinsed it for another few minutes, but eventually called it good and carefully laid it out to dry. A fair bit of indigo washed out, but again, I’m comfortable with this. I do think learning to use plant-based dyes would be a really fun project at some point – let me know in the comments if you might be interested in such an adventure!

So now we get to the crux of this post. Take a minute, and scroll back up to the top, and look at the collar of the coat. I’ll wait.

…you good? Ok. Well, here’s the collar post-wash, once it dried:

Not pictured: my scream of horror when I realized how filthy this really was.

The collar and bias binding at the top is not, in fact, dark brown cotton. It’s golden tan silk. Do you need a minute?

I did, too. It never even occurred to me that the collar might be a different color, let alone a completely different material. My nightgown, which is of a similar vintage, was no where near this filthy. Of course this made sense to me when I stopped to think about it – my nightgown was worn as just that, and possibly as a car coat, and then only through the early 1900s. It’s been carefully preserved since then. This coat was no doubt worn as a daily garment by a man for who knows how long, then possibly continued to be worn for many years after the original owner. Then it passed into the the secondhand clothing market rather than being preserved as a family heirloom. It is entirely sensible…but I am also still a little grossed out by just how much dirt it accumulated.

I didn’t notice my lens cap until editing, haha. Tamron makes some fine lenses though – I can highly recommend them!

Other than my Lovecraftian revelation, I am entirely pleased with the results of my cleaning. The color is much lighter now, overall. It’s in no way even – a result of staining and dye shifting over the years – but I rather like it. It looks like a nebula! All of the rice paper adhesive that remained from removing the toggles came off – it turned to a jelly in the water and I was able to simply wipe it away as I was rinsing the coat. The parts that are actually cotton are a little stiff, but wearing the coat and working with it will soften them back up.

It still drapes beautifully though!

The silk collar is clean, now, and the luster has been restored. It was not in great shape to begin with, but it hasn’t substantially degraded from the cleaning process. Considering that there was only this small amount of silk on the coat (there were a couple of other smaller patches that I removed prior to cleaning), it makes it even more precious. Was the owner a lower-ranked samurai retainer? Perhaps he had enough wealth to afford a smooth silk collar, but had to work hard enough that sturdier cotton was more sensible for the body of the coat? Or a bushi, perhaps, who worked the land unless called up to fight, who had earned enough for small luxuries?

I may never know the answers, but I have to say I love my coat more than ever, now! The next step will be embroidering the mon I’ve picked onto the back, and preparing it for lining. So join me in the next installment when I begin the arduous task of embellishing and reassembling my coat! ❤

Subscribe so you never miss a post! New adventures in history and sewing every Tuesday.

Short Hiatus This Week!

Windstorms are really spooky when you’re a greyhound! Especially a greyhound with an injured paw…

Sorry for the delay, friends! Along with the windstorms keeping Finn and Ashleigh on edge, I’ve had my own perfect storm of an increased workload at the office, visiting family, and home repair issues ranging from my kitchen floor to my stovetop that suddenly stopped working. All of this has left me with several projects on hold and no time for photography, much less sewing! The good news is, starting next week I’m taking some time off, and I already have several days blocked off for finishing projects (you’ll see the final reveal on the Steampunk Utility Belt soon!) and starting some incredible new ones (I don’t want to spoil anything but… PARASOL!!!!). I really appreciate everyone’s patience and love while I balance my life and my hobbies, and I can’t wait to see you back here next week with my next post! ❤

Subscribe so you never miss a post! New adventures in history and sewing every Tuesday.

Spotlight: 1943 Singer Dressmaking Manual

Spotlight 6: Fun in Diagon Magpie Alley

I wasn’t thinking of returning this, but that stamp makes me wonder how many people have tried to do so! 😀

Welcome to Mukashi no Sewing’s sixth spotlight! A few weeks ago, I alluded to a gem that I found in an antique shop in Port Townsend, and I thought this week would be perfect to share it with you! I spent most of my trip enjoying the natural beauty of the area, but I did stop off in Port Townsend’s adorable waterfront district to peek into a few antique shops in the hopes of finding something fun. The first place I went was more what I would consider an older style of antique store — crowded, dusty, and not particularly well-organized. When I walked into the next store, though, I knew I was on home ground. Magpie Alley was well-lit, organized by both theme and item type, and the owner (and her sister, who happened to be at the shop while I was there) was incredibly friendly and kind. I honestly wish I could have bought more just to support them, but I was very happy to at least buy this!

I can’t even express how much I wish I could visit the Singer Sewing Center!

For ten whole dollars, I have acquired this incredible Singer Illustrated Dressmaking Guide from 1943! I would have been excited about any vintage sewing guide, honestly, but to find one that was specifically for my sewing machine was particularly thrilling. For example, it has all kinds of additional information on using attachments I own such as the ruffler and buttonholer:

True story – when I last got my machine serviced, the gal told me how these accessories are cheap because no one uses things like rufflers anymore. 😀
I still kind of have PTSD from the last go-’round with buttonholes…

Having more examples of how do things with these attachments beyond just the “how-to” in my manuals is really helpful because it’s not like I can pop down to a Singer Sewing Center anymore for assistance. Although this manual predates my machine by about 18 years, the attachments really didn’t change much in that time so the information is still really relevant.

The other reason this is so great is that it’s a primary source for how women were actually constructing their garments – and for what purposes. It’s all well and good to look at clothes from a particular era and design something that looks like them, but that’s not history. History is understanding how clothes were sewn and why. For example, in the 1940s zippers were hard to come by due to the war, so clothes tended to be fastened with buttons. Designs were plainer and used less fabric because of rationing as well. Primary sources are incredibly important to understanding the people, politics, and economics of an era. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with making a 1940s dress with a zipper if that works better for you! I just urge everyone to first find out why and how clothes were originally made, so that modifications can be made thoughtfully and sensibly. 🙂

If you’ve got 25 minutes to spare, I can’t recommend this video enough! Abby Cox really explains the research process and how to improve yours!

Reading some of the later articles in my manual, you can really get a sense for what was important at the time – for example, prioritizing practicality and ease of laundering for children’s clothes:

What I really want to know is why six dresses and six pairs of panties is enough, and not seven? There is no explanation given, sadly…

I’m so happy with my new acquisition, and I really hope you’ve enjoyed this peek into the past with me! I have lots more exciting things coming up, so I look forward to seeing you back here with me next week! ❤

Subscribe so you never miss a post! New adventures in history and sewing every Tuesday.

Victorian Era Undergarments: The Prep (Chemise & Drawers)

Project 7, part 2 – Myths Pre-Busted (Part 1 here)

It’s a little hard to make white patterns on white linen exciting. Maybe next time I’ll have to add some Gundam models to the photo! 😀

Welcome back to the Victorian Era Undergarments project! I decided to break this project up into three sections – the first will be the chemise and drawers as they’re both quite simple, then the petticoat, and then the bustle. This week I was able to get all the prep work done for the chemise and drawers – plus, my corset arrived so I’ve been able to start breaking it in (or “seasoning” it, as it’s called)!

7 yards of linen takes a LOT of ironing…

I’ve had linen clothes before, and I know how wrinkly it can get. But after pre-washing the seven yards of linen I bought from fabrics-store.com, I was definitely a little overwhelmed by just how much ironing I had to do! :O Fortunately, I don’t expect undergarments to be perfectly crisp – I just needed the fabric flattened out enough to ensure the patterns could be cut correctly.

Not aiming for perfection, here, haha…I just want to sew some undergarments!

Technically, the chemise is meant to be worn underneath the corset, to protect the corset from my skin and also to protect my skin from the structure of the corset. Chemises are washable – corsets really aren’t! However, I may end up wearing mine as a corset cover instead (over the corset, to smooth the lines and prevent it from showing under the fabric of my garments), as I prefer wearing Numi undershirts as my base layer. They’re not historically accurate, but I’m less concerned with accuracy and more concerned with preventing sweat from impacting my dresses! Corset covers tend to have lower necklines so that low-necked dresses can be worn with them, but that’s not really my jam anyway so I should be fine whichever way I choose to wear this!

Drawers are what ladies wore before modern underpants, and the crotch seam is left open for the very practical reason that when you’re wearing so many layers of petticoats and skirts you can’t easily reach up to pull down modern-style undies! They also help preserve modesty in a wind (or in case you have a curious greyhound who sticks her snoot everywhere), and provide additional warmth in the winter. I’m a big fan of bloomers under lolita dresses, so I’m right at home wearing Victorian drawers!

Thank goodness for someone else’s corset-sewing expertise!

Corsets are absolutely indispensable to the Victorian dressing regime regardless of decade to provide the right silhouette and – just like modern foundation garments – keep everything where’s supposed to be for the sensibility of the era. The corset I purchased will work for both of my preferred decades – the Natural Form era of the 1870s and the Second Bustle Era of the 1880s.

I feel like in this semi-enlightened year of 2021, we can probably all agree that we don’t need another corset myth-busting blog post? Corsets are like bras – if they’re properly fitted and the right one is picked for the right body (and what that body is going to be doing), they’re extremely comfortable and in no way dangerous to the wearer. In case you’d like to delve deeper into the subject, here are some links to people who’ve already done a great job setting the record straight:

Fainting couches weren’t a thing until the 1960s. (Although “fainting” was a great way for a young lady to grab the attention of a dude when they hadn’t been formally introduced!)

Extant corsets have been found for waists as large as 40 inches. (And there were corsets for things like pregnancy, swimming, exercise, and more!)

Men did not force women to wear corsets. (Also sometimes men wore corsets for the exact same reasons women did.)

Probably very few women in the Victorian era wore corsets with a Starcrafts t-shirt and a Sony camera though. It’s a distinctly modern look!

I can confirm that my custom corset is extremely comfortable, and really the only difference from wearing modern foundation garments from my perspective is that I can’t bend at the waist, but also my back muscles don’t hurt after a long day of sitting at my desk/sewing table. 😀 And now that I’ve got it, I can do proper fittings for the other undergarments! So join me in the next installment of this project, when I get to sewing the chemise and drawers!

Subscribe so you never miss a post! New adventures in history and sewing every Tuesday.

Edo Period Coat Restoration: The Disassembly (Stage 2)

Project 9, part 3 – Made With Love (Part 1, part 2 here)

This book doesn’t have essays like the V&A kimono exhibition one, but it makes up for it with stunning detail shots of not just kimono but also accessories, obi, jackets, and even shoes!

Welcome back to the Edo period coat restoration project! I was able to do all the disassembly on the Edo coat itself this week, and it was so fascinating! Much like with the Meiji era kimono project, I spent a lot of time wondering about the (likely) woman who made it. Was it for a brother? A husband? A son? There are some little details that speak of love (more on that in a moment!), so I felt particularly close to her while taking care of her precious work.

Here is the front of the upper right toggle closure…
The process of meticulously unpicking all the padded sections…
…and the reverse.
…and the result!

When disassembling antique garments like this coat I try to avoid pulling long threads through the fabric when at all possible since there’s no way of knowing how strong the surrounding fibers are. This meant stabilizing the fabric with one hand and gently cutting through each stitch, then removing the tiny pieces of thread one by one after the fact. It takes a lot more time, but avoids potentially shattering fibers weakened by age or dye processes. One of the loving details I found as I removed all the passmenterie was that all of the pieces were not only secured with stitches, but also with an adhesive – you can see it in the fourth photo above. I suspect it is probably sokui (続飯), or rice glue, as one of the reasons for its use is a lack of acids which would degrade the materials it’s adhering. The good news is that, although it is water-resistant, it isn’t completely insoluble, so the soaking that will occur when I clean this jacket will likely loosen it if not completely dissolve it.

If I’ve learned one thing from assisting my husband with car maintenance and upgrades, it’s to carefully label all your parts as soon as you remove them!

There are a few questions posed by removing these toggles and their reinforcing anchors – most of which I don’t have answers for yet. One toggle seems to be missing entirely – should I replace it with a convincing replica, try to find a period replacement, or go with something totally different? Should I attempt to remove the paper backing to the extant ones (replacing it with cotton batting), or just leave it? The piping along the collar just stops at a certain point – do I replace all of it, or just add on new piping where the extant is missing/was never added? The toggles in general seem to mimic those I’ve seen on jinbaori – a type of sleeveless vest or overcoat worn by samurai.

Detail of jinbaori, from the book mentioned above.

Beyond that, of course, there is further embellishment or embroidery to consider. Here again I’m drawn to jinbaori styling, so I may go with something similar:

Full photo and sketch, same book.

There are a few steps to go before I get to that point, so at least I have some time to consider my next move!

After removing all the padded additions, I had one final task which was to extract the paper padding from the collar. I initially thought I would be able to pull it out through the tear that had already formed in the top, but when I peeked in, I saw that the paper had in fact been delicately stitched in to the collar itself!

This woman did not cut corners, and her construction techniques are a huge part of why this coat survived as long as it did!

The fabric of the collar is honestly in pretty bad shape – it’s worn thin in many spots, and the top crease was starting to split in multiple places. So I made the decision to carefully cut all the way along the top of the crease to give me access to the interior. Once I did that, I was able to unpick the stitching holding in the paper – and I’m so glad I did:

When you zoom in you can still see the brushstrokes, and where the ink soaked into the paper!

I read printed Japanese just fine, but I’ve only taken one lesson in shodo and I can barely read calligraphy. It’s nearly a different language, as each writer might have a slightly different way of condensing a character. Also, the padding is comprised of two pieces sewn together – the top part is correctly aligned, but you may notice that the bottom part is turned on its side and is mostly cut off. Luckily I have a Japanese friend who is not only extremely accomplished in traditional arts, but also very gracious with her time, and she was able to read the top part instantly. ❤ It says 謹賀新年 (kingashinnen) – Happy New Year! Specifically, this is a formal, written greeting used on New Years’ cards (nengajo) – the first two kanji (kinga) mean “wishes of happiness” and the second two (shinnen) mean “new year.” Whoever made this coat wanted to ensure that its wearer carried this wish for good luck and happiness with him where ever he went. I can just imagine her smiling as she sewed it in, hoping for his safety and success.

This is definitely the “ugly duckling” stage of the project!

With that, all the bits and bobs likely to be damaged by immersion in water were removed! The next step will be to thoroughly clean the coat (which, like with the nightgown, means another round of thoroughly cleaning my tub!), and then I can start making a few decisions about putting it back together! So join me next time for adventures in removing 160+ year old adhesive from fabric! 😀

Subscribe so you never miss a post! New adventures in history and sewing every Tuesday.

Edo Period Coat Restoration: The Disassembly (Stage 1)

Project 9, part 2 – The Opposite of Rapid Unintended Disassembly (Part 1 here)

It’s so easy to think of antique clothes as being drab. I love the colors here!

Welcome back to the Edo period coat restoration project! My package from Japan arrived this week, and I was able to get started on the disassembly of the donor lining for my coat. I originally intended to disassemble the coat as well, but picking out all the stitches on the silk lining from the secondhand haori I acquired took much longer than anticipated.

Purchased from Shinei as usual, one of my favorite standbys for more recent used garments!

The donor haori is actually super interesting. It was listed as “vintage,” which for Shinei means typically from the 1980s onward, and was only about $10. The description said the fabric was polyester, but I had a feeling from looking at images of the lining that it, at least, was silk. I decided to take a chance on it, and had Zen Market add it to my EMS package full of obi, books, and a lolita dress. 😀

When it arrived, the outer fabric was absolutely polyester. And, look – I have plenty of clothes made of synthetic fibers, and they’re totally comfortable and pleasing to the touch. I am also really against the classism inherent in stating “natural fibers are categorically better than synthetics” – especially since cotton is a terribly unsustainable and environmentally impactful fiber despite its status as “natural.” But holy cow, this polyester was some of the worst, crinkliest, most unpleasant poly that I’ve ever had the misfortune to hold. Fortunately for me, I only wanted the lining, and extra fortunately, I was right about it being silk.

Hand-painted silk. Just look at this!!!

This begs the question – what on earth is this doing in a poly shell? It could be the case that it was originally sold this way – silk lining for comfort and artistic merit, and cheap poly outer shell to keep the cost down. I have no proof, but I really like the alternative scenario I came up with – that this lining was transplanted into the poly haori, just like I’m planning to transplant it into my traveling coat!

I picked this piece specifically because of the theme of the artwork – someone setting off on a long journey, being bid farewell at the bridge as they go. It seemed perfect for a traveling coat, and I’m so glad I correctly identified it from the online images! The silk is very soft and light, and there are two different colors – pale blue in the center for the painting, and then a deeper blue for the sleeve lining.

Pictured: the result of absolutely hours of carefully picking out stitches.

I’m going to be honest – I didn’t even consider the possibility that my donor lining wouldn’t be a perfect fit. Sleeve width and sleeve length can vary wildly from coat to coat – many pieces in my permanent collection certainly do. Lucky me again: it totally works! I left the sleeves attached to the center/back piece during my long disassembly process since sewing silk is enough of a hassle and I don’t need to inflict more reassembly on myself than absolutely necessary! 😉 The layers of cotton and padding between the coat surface and the interior should protect the silk even if I get rained on (which happens quite a bit here in the Pacific Northwest!). Additionally, I’ll be covering the sleeve hems with facings in a harder-wearing fabric, so everything should go together fairly easily once I’m ready to start that process.

The next stage of disassembly will be removing all the passementerie from the coat itself in preparation for cleaning. So join me next time to see if I can successfully find all the hidden paper in my coat before immersing it in water! 😀

Subscribe so you never miss a post! New adventures in history and sewing every Tuesday.