HSM 2017 Challenge #1 Firsts & Lasts 

Sophia here! It’s been a long time since we last made a post. I am going to try and participate in more HSM challenges this year I even have them planned out in a spread sheet. So for the first challenge of the year Firsts & Lasts I’m submitting my new linen chemise and fully boned stays with stomacher. 
The details: 

The Challenge: #1 Firsts & Lasts 

Materials: Vintge block printed cotton from Cheney Brothers a mill that was full operational from 1833-1929, it continued to produce industrial fabrics after the Great Depression. The rest of the stays are 100% cotton coutil lining, kid skin leather binding and stomacher.The chemise   is 100% linen.

Pattern:  I used American Duchess for Simplicity 8162 as a base for the stays. I dropped the armscye, removed the straps, fully boned them, and changed the criss cross lacing to spiral lacing. For the chemise I started by laying out the simplicity pattern but decided to make it more traditionally out of rectangles with under arm gussets. 

Year:  the intention of the American Duchess pattern is to fit the time period from Outlander so 1740, but I think they create a sutible silhouette into the 1770s. 

Notions: All my thread and lacing were stash so I can’t count for their fiber content. I used industrial zip ties for the boning to simulate whale bone. 

How historically accurate is it?  The chemise gets a much higher rating as it’s hand sewn although the mystery thread knocks it down to a 90% . The stays are a mixture of hand and machine sewing, I think they would be passable in their own era so 70% .

Hours to Complete: The chemise took less than 10 hours, the stays took a long time over the course of a few months. 

First worn: Today for photos, but I hope to wear them to an event next weekend. 

Total Cost: The stays were around $30 and the chemise around $15. 

The inspiration : 

From top right clock wise; Memory of the Netherlands, Augusta Auctions, Met Museum, Met Museum. 

I’m going to take a chance to have a little rant, can professional Museums and Auction Houses learn to properly display and lace stays! The Augusta Auction pair are backwards and incorrectly laced, the navy blue set from the Met are also incorrectly laced. Spiral lacing is more attractive and balanced for both sets. 

Can’t wait to share my next challenge I’ve already started! 

Challenge #7: Monochrome – 1880’s Corset

Sorry for the absence, Sophia and I were busily working on our Costume College outfits.It was our first time going to College Costume and it was an amazing experience, but more about that in another blog post!

I want to preface this post by saying that I’ve been neglecting a huge part of historical sewing until now – this is my very first corset! Fitting garments and making a correct shape for a garment is totally different pre-1920, and I made a ton of mistakes. I hope if you are reading this before making your first corset you can avoid some of the mistakes I made.

I used the Norah Waugh 1880s corset pattern for shape, and the style of an 1880s corset in the collection of Kent State University Museum.  Check out the original details here!

I didn’t take many detail photos, but the museum description details list this corset as two layers, one layer of silk brocade and one layer of silk moire lining. Because generally corsets are made of coutil, I purchased a brocade coutil for the outer layer and a cotton coutil inner layer (because I couldn’t find a silk moire lining that wasn’t taffeta, and I could only find a cotton moire fabric in the correct color).

I made a muslin of the corset as is without boning, and the bust was definitely too big but the waist and hips were debatable. This was my first mistake. If you decide to make any corset pattern sew in bias strips to encase the boning, and do not get lazy about boning! I had an idea that the corset would get smaller when I put the boning in, so I ignored the fact that I only had a 1″ lacing gap in back when I made the muslin (if you’re not already aware, there should be a 2-3″ gap in your corset when you first wear it- if I’m wrong about this please let me know!).

I put together the body in coutil and the lining in cotton moire separately. First I added the cording between layers in a similar way to The Dreamstress tutorial, then I sewed both layers together separately. I added the boning channels to the outside of the corset as bias strips made from the brocade coutil. Then I topstitched them down, so the channels were on the top of the corset and the stitching was visible on the lining.

After all the channels were sewn, I added the spoon busk (using a method from Bridges on the Body here). You can also use a second method that’s a little cleaner- draft a facing pattern and sew them together with gaps in the stitching for the “hook” side to stick through. Then I inserted the boning – I used a spiral steel boning, my second mistake! Never, ever use spiral steel boning in your pre-1920s corset. It’s too stiff, and it does not form to the body the original 19th century (or earlier) or even early 1900s corsets do. Always use plastic whalebone or, less expensively, plastic zip ties. These are so much closer to the original whalebone, because when they heat up (due to body temperature when you wear it) they form to the body. You can even preemptively iron whalebone on a tailors ham to the correct shape. I didn’t learn this until after I completed the corset and took a class at Costume College from Luca Costigliolo, a true master of historical costuming who is a true master of historical sewing techniques and wrote a couple of doctrinal books along the way.

Finally, I added the flossing, and then the binding as a finish! I used a silk satin ribbon for top and bottom binding, you can also use a bias strip of matching coutil. For even further finish, you can use the lace finish of the original at the top edge, and thread a little ribbon through it (the original term for this escapes me, I’ll update this post when I remember!).

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Things I learned:

  1. Always add boning during the fit stage! This is extra important, because a corset will stretch during wear and a 2″-3″ gap is necessary to achieve the correct shape when you lace it! When you get a 1″ gap like I did, it’s impossible to create the correct shape and will eventually stretch to be unwearable.
  2. DO NOT under any circumstances use spiral steel boning. It’s not accurate, and it’s incredibly uncomfortable. You will not get the correct shape of the 1880s era or any era pre-1930s. I cannot emphasize this enough. I spent days and hours on the pretty flossing for this corset, but I will remove this to replace the spiral boning with plastic whalebone from Wissner or just regular zip ties.

I’m sure I should have learned some 3rd or 4th things, so please add a comment if you’ve learned some tricks that I haven’t mentioned here. My finished 1880s corset photos are below!

The Challenge: #7- Monochrome

Material: Cotton Coutil, Cotton Moire, Spiral Steel Boning (DO NOT USE THIS!), Steel Spoon Busk via Corset Making Supplies, Cotton thread for flossing (also not correct!), lace, silk ribbon, cotton rope for cording.

Pattern: Nora Waugh’s 1880’s corset pattern

Year: 1880s (ish- not specific!)

Notions: Cotton thread, lace, silk ribbon

How historically accurate is it? 60%, I’m not sure how cording was actually inserted, boning is incorrect, thread for flossing is incorrect!

Hours to complete: 30-ish.

First worn: at Costume College, Friday Night Social- July 29, 2016

Total cost: A shameful amount… I think I spent around $150. Don’t use spiral steel boning!

HSM #11 The Addams circa 1938

IMG_1636For the Silver Screen HSM challenge, conveniently due the day after Halloween, I decided to outfit my family as The Addams Family. As they were in the original cartoons from The New Yorker from 1938-1964. Most people associate The Addams Family with either the 1964 television show or the 1990s movies. Charles Addams the artist and humorist that created the Addams Family started working for The New Yorker in the early 1930s he officially introduced the unnamed Addams Family in 1938. His creation was a gothic version of the 1930s up-class, I can imagine Morticia wearing Coco Channel, Elsa Schiaparelli, Vionet and Gomez wearing the dapper double breasted suits of the time. Wednesday was certainly dressed as a young lady. Lurch had to wear a rented tux unfortunately. Addams

Cartoons from The New Yorker by Charles Addams


Charles James 1939, Travis Banton 1934, Info not available, Sulka & Co., Ltd 1930s


My Inspiration for Wednesday’s dress

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Morticia is carrying a true vintage black beaded hand bag and vintage shoes

What the item is: Morticia is wearing a bias cut satin gown with long sleeves, Gomez is wearing a smoking jacket with quilted lapels and an ascot,  Wednesday is wearing a cotton frock.

The Challenge: #11 Silver Screen

What’s your onscreen inspiration?: The Addams Family being traced back to the 1930s New Yorker cartoons by Charles Addams. I drew inspiration from the look of the 1960s television show but kept the costumes in the 1930s

Fabric: Morticia poly satin, Gomez mystery beige/black fabric and black satin quilted over felt, Wednesday black cotton gauze and white cotton sateen.

Pattern: Gomez 238 Le Smoking Jacket, Morticia self drafted, Wednesday self drafted but influenced by a children’s pattern.

Year: 1938

Notions: Both Gomez and Wednesday’s costumes have true Victorian jet buttons.

How historically accurate is it? I would say the patterns and look are fairly good if The Addams were to really exist but some of the fabrics are synthetic. 75%

Hours to complete: I worked on this project in little chunks over two months.

First worn: Halloween!

Total cost: Morticia $25, Gomez $90, Wednesday $40






November HSM- Erté and the Silver Screen

Hi everyone, Erin here! I am thrilled to be back in the game and on the blog with finally another HSM project!

For this challenge, I wanted to capture some of the flamboyance of early silent films. I have always been inspired by photo stills of Theda Bara in Cleopatra (I will always be a little heartbroken that this film is lost), and I love over the top costume films like Don’t Change Your Husband, with Gloria Swanson dressed in the height of Orientalist fashion. (You can find this film online, it’s worth a watch for the costumes if you can stand the plot)

Gloria Swanson in Don't Change Your Husband Screen Shot 2015-11-14 at 12.08.39 PM Gloria Swanson in Don't Change Your Husband

I decided that instead of copying a costume directly, I would play costume shop and make something from an illustration. Erté is one of my favorite art deco illustrators. In addition to designing costumes for theater, he moved to LA in 1925 to design in Hollywood. His illustrations are delightfully over the top, and also famously difficult to recreate

I chose an illustration from Fashion Drawings and Illustrations from “Harper’s Bazar” that I thought was dramatic enough for Gloria Swanson, and also challenged my technical ability.


According to the caption, the dress is made with “old rose silk fringe”, “grey jade beads”, and “grey velvet skirt”. I scoured the internet and trim shops in the Garment District here in NYC, and could not find fringe trim in any rose color long enough for this project. So, I settled on a 30″ midnight blue rayon fringe and pearl grey beads and silk satin for the skirt (alas, silk velvet was out of my budget, and I was worried about it holding up to all the fringe “weaving”).

After trying unsuccessfully to thread the fringe with a bead, I ended up using a sturdy, twill weave cotton base and first stitching on the beads. Then after, I took individual strands of fringe, threaded them through a large needle, and stitched these directly to the bodice to give the impression that it was made entirely of fringe.

Bodice Progress 1
As seen in this photo- I left a 1/2″ seam allowance around the outside of the armhole where the fringe embroidery does not touch. When I attached the lining, it gets sewn into this seam allowance.

After this, I attached the bodice lining to cover all the stitching and knots, and around the neckline and armholes added a layer of seed beads to cover even finishing. Next, I added the skirt, then two layers of fringe around the seaming to make the transition more natural.

Progress shot 2
After adding the bodice lining, I added seed beads to the edges of the neckline and armholes. I also thought the neck drop was too small compared to the illustration, so I cut a notch down the center. This shot was right after I added the skirt, I finished the second layer of embroidery to the bodice and started to play around with the fringe. (Please excuse the crazy studio hair!)

The most difficult part was embroidering the fringe into the satin. I have never been much of an embroiderer- so please bear with the atrocity of my technique for this. I drew the pattern onto muslin and then pinned it to the place where I wanted the pattern to be. I basted directly through the lines of the pattern and then cut away the muslin. Next, I threaded the individual fringe through a large-eye needle and then from top to bottom embroidered around the stitching. The beads attached to the fringe were sewn on by hand, and unfortunately it was just impossible to make the exact pattern as the illustration. By the time I got to this part, I was wishing I had interns and slowly going crazy. So, maybe it is better I went into fashion and not costume design! I hope Erte isn’t rolling in his grave over my lack of dedication to his design. The photo below shows how I did all the embroidery- not on a hoop but on a hanger. This probably was not the best technique, as it contributed to some puckering, but I could not think of a better way to create tension as the fabrics were very different (heavy, tightly woven twill and medium weight silk satin).

Progress Shot 3
Excuse the mess! And the heels! It was a hectic Saturday. This is not the normal situation!

Anyway, the end result makes me just like Gloria’s understudy! It’s still a work in progress, I would like to add more of the original embroidery to the skirt (as soon as I get an intern… haha). I hope one day I will have somewhere nice to wear this, and not just traipsing around my apartment!

Embroidery Detail Finished Front Detail
Back Detail
Back Bodice Detail- Satin Buttons are hidden under a layer of fringe
Back Detail – I didn’t get any good photos of the back while I was wearing this, but you can see how the buttons are partially hidden by a few layers of fringe

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What the item is: Proposed costume for a Gloria Swanson movie, based on an Erté sketch from March, 1918
The Challenge: “Silver Screen”
What’s your onscreen inspiration?: Don’t Change Your Husband, 1919
Fabric: 100% Cotton Twill (base for bodice), 100% Cotton Muslin, black, for the bodice lining, 100% Rayon chain fringe, 100% Silk Satin (skirt)
Pattern: Self made
Year: 1918
Notions: Poly satin covered buttons, painted glass beads for embroidery, rayon chain fringe, thread.
How historically accurate is it? 80%- My embroidery technique was definitely not up to par, and some of the materials didn’t exist yet. However, I believe the shape and construction is otherwise faithful to real theater/stage costume/fancy dress of the time.
Hours to complete: 3 months (not working on it everyday, don’t worry!)
First worn: I wore an early incarnation of this dress that was missing many of the embroidery and closure details for Halloween, but the finished product has only been worn around my house, since I finished today!
Total cost: Around $75, cotton twill and lining were in the stash. $30 for the satin, $10 for beads, and I think $35 for the fringe?

A little update including HSM

Colorful Fashion on Vogue from the 1940s and 1950s (18)

Sophia here sorry for the absence! I am proud to announce I start training for a new costume seamstress job tomorrow at a company that makes over 2 million costumes a year. I’m also working on several Halloween costume commissions and a friends wedding dress. That being said I am running a little behind on HSM. So far I have missed War and Peace from April and Brown from September. I plan on completing every challenge this year by the end of the year even if I have to rearrange a little. Also Erin has been working abroad in China and Japan and planing for her upcoming wedding! We still love running this blog and reading the comments also looking at other historical costuming blogs.

HSM Challenge 8: My Western and Indian Heritage

RobeDeStyle06I don’t frequently make things that incorporate my Indian heritage so this project was a treat. My father’s parents were both born in India and he was born in Pakistan. My mother’s family has been in the U.S. since the 1800s. I decided to make a Robe De Style out of one of my grandmother’s Saris, I inherited boxes of them when she passed away. I felt that the gold woven border would make a great 1920’s dress and after looking through many styles I decided to make a robe de style due to it’s feminine cut. Although I probably never had a relative that wore such a style, I’m sure my Ammi Ji (Grandma) would probably have really liked this dress. She was born in 1943 and died in 2008 and I know her older relatives all dressed rather traditionally. My Ammi Ji loved fashion contemporary and traditional. My mother’s side of the family came from Appalachian farmer stock. I’m also wearing my Mother’s mother’s art deco ring. On the table is her gold mesh purse, a pen my grandpa turned, a Paris travel guide from 1921, underneath is my grandpa’s Hoffman radio and I am holding an 1880s Franklin Edition of David Copperfield. Sadly I did not take many in progress photos but the construction of this dress was fairly simple. The bodice is french seamed and the tiers are hand hemmed the rest of the inside seams are pinked.

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Milan 1929, 1920, Royal Ascot 1925, Unknown


British 1920, Worn by Mrs. John D. Rockefeller in 1920s, Callot Soeurs 1924


Seeta Devi 1925, Maharani Vijayaraje Scindia, Sisters 1930s

What the item is: Sari Robe De Style

The Challenge: Heirlooms and Heritage

Fabric: My grandmother’s vintage silk sari

Pattern: self-drafted

Year: Early to Mid 1920’s

Notions: none

How historically accurate is it? Fairly accurate I would say it passes the recognizable in its own time.

Hours to complete: Around 12

First worn: To take photos

Total cost: $0 thread was stash/ sari was inherited

HSF #7: Accessorize – with shoes!

Hi everyone! Erin here, and I’m back!! Finally! It’s been a crazy few months of work and travelling, but I am finally getting back into a regular sewing schedule with some ambitious projects ahead.
For the July challenge, I had a few projects in order (as usual) but the quickest and most practical was a pair of early 1920s summer shoes. I wanted to make some more accurate shoes for this year’s Jazz Age Lawn Party, because in years past I was always a little disappointed with the bedazzled gold options or T-straps with 4″ heels that I would end up going with last minute. I decided to make some crisp white summer shoes that might work for a wider range of eras. I put together some inspiration on Pinterest, and found my favorite trends: D’Orsay with Louis or Cuban heel, Mary Jane strap, minimal, and preferably French.

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Clockwise from bottom left: Etsy, Etsy, The Closet Historian, La Vie Parisienne July 1923

I found a pair of faux leather Hush Puppies from the 70’s(?) on Ebay that I thought I could fix up to make into an easy pair of summer shoes. The heel is low enough and the style is simple enough to work for 1920-1926. I picked up some Tarago White Color Dye (even though the shoes are not real leather, I thought this paint would give the amount of flexibility necessary for shoes) and went to it. I won’t be getting into the step by step here because The Dreamstress already put together a great tutorial that needs no elaboration.

The paint layer was already peeling off the toe very badly, I peeled even more until the toe looked smooth.
The full dye kit.
After one coat of dye
On the left, two coats. On the right, three coats

In the end it took about 6 or 7  or 9 (I lost track!) coats of dye to make these completely white. I was a bit worried it would end up looking like I took a bottle of White-out to the pair, but they dried a lot better than expected. Though they are still not ideal, I’m sure this dye would look much better on actual leather than my pleather pair. I still have more than half the bottle of dye left, so I will definitely be trying this again on actual leather. Anyway, I will let you judge for yourself- here is the finished project! I’m wearing them here with a 1980s does 1920s drop waist dress.

For a personal touch and to clean up the edges, I also painted the sole. I have never seen a historical example of this but I think it will be a nice touch for dancing!


The Challenge: #7 – Accessorize

Fabric: Faux Leather, dye

Year: 1920-1926

Notions: Brushes, scrub pad

How historically accurate is it? 0% for technique, 80-90% for look. They will definitely elevate any 1920’s look I add them to!

Hours to complete: less than 1

First worn: Only for this photo shoot! Hope to wear them in two weeks for Jazz Age Lawn Fest on Governor’s Island!

Total cost: About $25 total for shoes, dye, and scrubbers