Why the 17th Century?

2 Jul

Questions that people ask me quite a lot when we get chatting about my interest in historical dress are “Why? When are you going to wear it? It’s such a lot of effort for something that you’re only going to take out and look at. Can’t you get involved with a theatre group and then it would at least be used?”

Then someone usually points out that despite owning the relevant clothes, I’m never going to wake up in the time period.

To be fair, I’m not a complete idiot :P.

I found the Jane Austen dress easy to justify: there’s a festival every year in Bath, and it can be one component of that wardrobe. But I struggled to justify the Versailles dress (so called because it’s a ridiculous colour, with gold and pearls and lace and nonsense).

The 17th century is a horrendously underlooked portion of history. So many amazing and ground-breaking things were going on all over the world, yet we don’t seem to celebrate it, particularly in the costuming world.

As a child, I was obsessed (and I mean properly OBSESSED) with Terry Deary’s Horrible Histories books, particularly those covering the ancient world, early Britain, the Tudors and the Victorians. Weirdly, that huge gap in the middle covering the 17th and 18th centuries, is what my imagination longs for now. But as an 8-year old, reared on a diet of Roald Dahl’s dark humour, I was seeking out books about horrific deaths and unjust punishments, not graceful courts and ostentatious dress.

This is a wider issue than just my own though. There is a wealth of information available for costumers about the Tudor period, probably propelled by the popularity of things like Ren Faires and The Tudors on TV. The Georgian period is also incredibly well-covered, and if you were to get stuck on how to make underpinnings or a little jacket from this part of history, chances are that there are a few dozen blogs and websites out there that can show you the answers. Late 17th century? Not so much.

Inspiration Picture

Courtesy of Wikipedia: Honthorst Roodere detail

I plodded along quite happily in a state of 1660s-ignorance until I arrived at university. I made friends with Emeline, resident of France, who bought me a DVD of the musical Le Roi Soliel for Christmas. And just like that, I was hooked.

I wanted to know everything about the 17th century. What they ate. Where they lived. What they wore. How power was distributed. Who was in love with who. How you go about looking like one of the sleepy-eyed gems of Lely’s court.

This Faustian need for knowledge continued alongside my sustainable development studies for another 3 years, and finding myself graduating last month, I decided to do something about it. Having read more books on Louis XIV than on wind turbines, and looked at more paintings than allotments, I got Googling and found Nehelina Patterns’ Baroque Dress pattern. I bought 6 metres of orange and gold shot taffeta, moved the Jane Austen dress off Maisie and got sewing.

6 weeks later, I’ve got a bodice and the beginnings of a skirt, and every time I look at it, I feel like my pining was worth it. It might not be the most perfect replica, or the most technically brilliant piece of dressmaking, but it’s all mine, and to me it sums up what the 1660s were all about. When I listen to Je Fais de Toi Mon Essentiel, it’s the dress I see in my mind’s eye, walking defiantly along Versailles’ mirrored corridors.

I’ll be back soon with a take on a chemise.

Until then,

The One With the Amazing Woman Talents.


Almost finished bodice :)

24 Jun

Almost finished bodice :)

I’ve been terribly neglectful, so I hope this will make up for it a little bit. The bodice is DONE, and just awaits its orange sleeves to top it off. Then I promise I’ll write something again 🙂


Too Exciting Not To Share….

25 May

Too Exciting Not To Share....

The début of the early stage of my 17th century dress, held together with pins, and cut out while watching a Louis XIV documentary. I CAN’T WAIT TO WEAR THIS DRESS!!!!

Playing Catch-Up: The Jane Austen Dress

25 May

Hello all!

I’ve finally persuaded myself it’s time to put hand to keyboard and write this post, as much as the idea makes me feel ill…this is my third attempt, because even my laptop seems to want to stop me from getting it done!

The last time we were talking Regency fashions, I left you with an image of the bodice of the dress in a rather fetching shade of high-shine purple. Fear not: the finished dress is a white-on-blue model, with not a mention of purple in sight. I used white cotton lawn for the outer layer and sleeves, and blue-grey cotton (formerly a bedsheet) for the underskirt and underbodice. I sadly didn’t have enough bedsheet to stretch to undersleeves, but I don’t mind this, because then the dress will be much lighter and cooler in the warm weather.

I was planning on doing a kind of photo-documentary of the dressmaking process, but my camera wouldn’t refrain from dying. Instead, I have a few snatched photos from here and there, which I hope will give the general idea of the process.

Now that we’ve set the context, let us begin 🙂

I began be assembling the bodice the same way that the day-glo mock-up was made. This time, I cut out one bodice in white, and one in blue, and then stitched them together along the seams. After this, I ran a gathering stitch along the top and bottom of the bodice, as directed in Arnold’s instructions, set in the sleeves, and then began work on the skirt.

The skirt. Ohhhhhhhhhh the skirt. I thought that this would be the easy part. But apparently the bedsheet had other ideas. Being ever so slightly too narrow, parts of the blue underskirt had to be pieced together, giving it the appearance of a cross between a patchwork quilt and a practice at sewing straight lines. Thankfully, the white skirt hides the bedsheet disaster, so all is fine 🙂

Then began the gathering process: getting 75 inches of skirt down to 33 inches to fit the bodice. This requires A LOT of pins.



This is the point where my ‘holier than thou’ decision to sew the entire dress by hand began to irritate me.


It took 45 minutes to get from the right hand side of the bodice to my thumb. Then I wished I’d used a sewing machine.

However, the feeling of knowing that I’d accomplished all this sewing without a machine was a good one. A really good one 🙂

All that remained after this was to sew blue ribbon round this wrists and hen the bottom of the skirts, and the dress was finished! I must thank my new mannequin, Maisie, for assisting in the hemming process.


The dress on Maisie, waiting to be hemmed. (Please excuse the surrounding mess!)

So now all that remains for me to do is show you the finished piece with me in it! Apologies for my gormless face – my brother was yelling ‘directions’ for how I should stand, and I was about a hair away from falling over laughing…



It’s very difficult to get poker straight, bobbed hair into a Jane Austen updo. But it IS possible. And please excuse the gaping back closure…it has now been fixed.

I hope that I’ve now done my sewing duty, and that this post has been somewhat diverting 🙂

I shall be back soon, with some exciting 17th century news…

The One With the Amazing Woman Talents

AWT How To: A Duck in a Day

18 May

Hello there readers!

Before I launch into my first ever How To (exciting!), I thought I’d do a quick little catch up about the Jane Austen dress. This morning, I put the final stitch into the hem, and consider it finished! If the weather turns out to be nice tomorrow, I’ll get someone to take some pictures of me in said dress so that you can see what it looks like 🙂 I’m also going to write a more in-depth post about it later on, discussing what did and didn’t work, what I’d like to change, and what I’ve learned.

But back to the matter at hand: ducks, and how to make one 🙂

This endeavour has all been in aid of one of my friends, who is due to have her first baby at the end of this month. We don’t know whether Little One is a girl or a boy, so I wanted to make a present that is appealing and lovable to either gender….and who doesn’t love ducks?

I suppose you could call Horatio (I can’t help but name things!) a ‘primitive’ style duck, with his little oilcloth feet, stripy tummy and charming expression. He’s based on an Indian Runner duck, but has definitely got some kind of goosey genetic background, which has manifested itself in his beak. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It adds to his character.


Horatio and his slightly goosey beak

If you want to know how to make your own duck, and have a rainy day to kill, you can easily hand or machine sew a Horatio of your own in a few hours – read on to find out how!

Step 1: Colouring In

First things first: decide what you’re making. I like to do a couple of doodlings first, to decide what I want to create. This process is also very helpful in allowing you to work out seam placement, because you can draw your duck/duck-goose from lots of different angles to see where legs can be inserted, stuffing will be added (cotton stuffing, not sage) and shape can be given. Remember that your drawings are only in two dimensions, whereas Horatio will exist in three: again, taking the time to doodle and break your project down into component parts allows you to visualise how he will fit together.


Horatio in two dimensions. Note that I’ve drawn in the seam that runs down to his beak for reference.

I also like to use this stage to plan the combination of materials I’ll be using, to see what compliments or clashes, and importantly with Horatio, making sure there are lots of different textures for Little One to play with. My final fabric choices were:

  • Sunshine yellow cotton jersey, which is really really soft and snuggly
  • Bright orange oilcloth
  • Stripy blue and green cotton
  • Sage green baby cord
  • Orange cotton with stars in paler and lighter shades

The colours were a big consideration in Horatio’s design: I wanted to make sure he was gender neutral, but also avoid the usual pale, insipid colours used for baby toys. Babies love to play with interesting shapes, colours and textures, so I tried to incorporate as many of these as possible in one duck. And he’s only little.

Step 2: Cutting Out

Now you know what you want your duck to look like, it’s time to draft the pattern. My soft toy pattern drawing mantra is one part experience and nine parts sheer luck, and for the most part, things turn out how I want them to. My advice to anyone who doesn’t have my ‘talent’ for fluffing things along (it really is a case of hoping for the best most of the time!) is to keep some newspaper handy for making a mock-up of your pattern. Once you’ve managed to make your first pattern, you’ll start to understand how pieces fit together in 3D. This is why Step 1 is so important, because it seriously cuts down on time later if you are able to visualise a real world object on a flat piece of paper. You can see the shapes I used for Horatio below, to help give you an idea 🙂


Horatio in his component parts. Clockwise from top left: Neck and front tummy, under tummy, main body, wings, feet tops, leg backs, beak bottom, beak sides and feet bottoms

Then it’s simply a matter of pinning your pattern to your fabric, and doing some more snipping! Remember to cut out enough of each piece for different sides and fronts-and-backs…and to make sure the side of the fabric you want to show on the outside of your duck has been cut the right way round. I learned that the hard way!

Step 3: Easter Eggs

…by which I mean cool stuff. In this case, I really wanted Horatio to have ‘crinkly’ wings, like you might have on a baby toy in a shop. This was really easy to do! To get the crinkle into your toy, all you need is the outer wrapper from something like a packet of sweets – in this case, strawberry laces. Make sure you clean it thoroughly, and that there are not crumbs or sugary bits left inside. I rinsed mine out to make sure, and then let it dry thoroughly. The last thing we want is a mouldy duck.

Once you’ve got your wrapper prepared, simply cut it out like another pattern piece – I was putting the crinkle in the wings, so I cut out two more wing pieces from the wrapper, one for each wing. When you are assembling the crinkle ‘unit’, remember that the crinkle component has to end up on the inside. To do this, pin together the wing with right sides (what will be on the outside) facing together. Then just add the crinkle onto on side. It doesn’t get sandwiched in the middle of the two wing pieces – if this happens, your crinkle will be on the outside once you turn your seams in.


Crinkle placement: you can see the crinkle on the left, then the two wing pieces. They are facing cord sides together so that once they are sewn up and turned the right way out, the crinkle will ‘become’ the inside of the fabric and be hidden in the wing interior for scrunching

Now all you need to do is sew round two sides of the wing, leaving the short, straight edge open. Turn the wing the right way out by turning it ‘inside out’ (or is it outside in?) so that the crinkle and all the seams disappear. Whip stitch up the short side you pulled the wing through, and you’re done! Successful Easter Egg hiding has been achieved!

Step 4: Construct the Duck

This is the fun part. Gathering together all your pieces, pin them right sides together ( so that the side that will show on the outside will be on the inside), and stitch along the edge, leaving a seam allowance of about 1.5cm, or whatever feels comfortable. You can choose to do this step by hand or by machine. It’s entirely up to you. If you are doing this by hand, I recommend small back stitches to make sure that the body stays nice and tight with minimal holes for stuffing to come out or rips to happen.

The beak was put together and then inserted between the top of the neck and the end of the head, with the tip of the beak facing IN towards the body cavity. I sewed the legs in before attaching the front and bottom tummy to the rest of the body too, so that I could make sure they would face the right way when turned out. I then left a hole of about 6 cm diameter at the tip of the tail to turn the whole duck the right way out.

Step 5: Stuffing

Not the tasty, herby, breadcrumby concoction you have at Christmas, but toy stuffing. A bag of this fluff can be bought for between £3 and £5 in most craft shops and haberdasheries. You will always need more of this than you think, but remember this is a baby toy, so stuff your Horatio accordingly. In other words, don’t cram half the bag in, but keep him squashy yet sturdy – the consistency of a marshmallow is about right. Once you’re happy with the stuffing levels, use tiny whip stitches to close up the hole you left to pull him the right way out and put the stuffing in.

Step 6: Bring Horatio to Life

You should now have something that looks remarkably like a duck. But he still has no eyes!! Take a very light pencil or crayon, and LIGHTLY draw in where you’d like his eyes to be. Because Horatio’s a baby toy, I embroidered his eyes on, rather than using buttons or eyes that could fall out and be choked on.This is very easy to do using just a basic back stitch.

Et voila!

You have just successfully made your very own duck-goose-Horatio 🙂

Remember that part of the charm of handmade things are their imperfections: Horatio’s eyes aren’t quite level, he has a goose beak, and his feet are slightly odd sizes. But all these features give him character, and  character is what you want in a toy.

I shall leave you with a photo of Horatio’s little oilcloth feet, which I absolutely love.


Cutest little feet 🙂 I’m so pleased with them!

I hope this has been helpful for anyone who is looking to make their own squashy chum, and please feel free to share your experiences and ideas in the comments section below!

Good luck in your sewing endeavours until the next time,

The One With the Amazing Woman Talents

The Great Jane Austen Wardrobe Project: It Begins.

6 May

Today has been most productive 🙂

Ever since handing in my dissertation, I’ve had itchy fingers, and been dying to start sewing.

So this afternoon, I whacked out Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion Book 1: 1660-1860, a whole load of squared paper, measuring tape, pencil and some tango music, and got scaling.

I chose the 1806-1809 morning negligee as my first project, rather than the bib-front gown I was planning on, mainly because the idea of all those strings and pins and whatnot confused me too much. I also discovered by happy coincidence that the original wearer of the dress (Arnold’s patterns are all drawn from extant garments, so the measurements in the book are those of the wearer), was roughly the same height and size as I am.Image

Epic, epic win 🙂

This saved me no end of bother, because I didn’t need to do any alteration to the pattern to make it fit, which must be pretty unusual! I then made a muslin (mock-up) of the bodice section to make sure that my freehand pattern scaling was OK. I had a bit of a panic attack when the bodice appeared to sit far too high…then remembered that I had to wear my stays every time I fit a dress. Panic averted, I can confidently start hacking into my ‘real’ fabric tomorrow. Alot of this new-found confidence came courtesy of a fantastic blog, ‘Tea in a Teacup’, I found today when Googling the pattern: http://teainateacup.wordpress.com/2012/02/08/my-regency-journey-making-an-embroidered-morning-negligee/

This blog is a great resource for the new Regency costumer, with its detailed guides, well-written explanations, and wonderful photos. I need to learn how to take better photos…Image

Today has been a good day.

Until the next time,

The One With the Amazing Woman Talents.

Dissertations, Graduations and Confections

4 May

I’m officially done.

The dissertation’s gone, the last pieces of coursework are submitted, and I’ve experienced the most stressful fortnight of my life. And in 47 days, I’ll be graduating, having reached the end of the education conveyor belt.

While this is an utterly terrifying prospect, this fear brings with it an amazing realisation that I’ve got a whole summer of sewing ahead of me. A WHOLE SUMMER. I’ve got so many things I want to do, try, and probably fail at.

As the list stands:

  • One of the Regency era dresses from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion Book 1. I’ve got 6 metres of white cotton crying out for some empire-line loveliness. I think I want the bib-front, 3/4 sleeve one.
  • A spencer – this is all actually part of what I’ve termed ‘The Great Jane Austen Wardrobe Project’ – as yet still in the early planning stages with regard to colours, materials and style. 
  • A late 17th century court dress. I’ve wanted one of these for YEARS. Ever since my now flatmate bought me a copy of Le Roi Soleil  in first year, I’ve been pining for an off the shoulder, huge-sleeved thing of gorgeousness. 
  • A shift to go under said ridiculous dress

I also need to acquire a dressmaker’s dummy, if for no other reason than to avoid maiming myself while trying to pin sleeves onto bodices, and to actually produce a straight hem. I’ve been putting this purchase off for a long time, partly because I’ve been living away from home in student halls and houses, and partly because these things cost a flipping bomb. But the time has come, and I can put some of the money I’ll get from selling textbooks towards buying a dummy.

I also require a haircut. I’ve got the finest, most ridiculously thin hair that has no volume in it whatsoever, and it’s got to the stage where it’s far too long (underarm level). When I was little, it was past my bottom, but since coming to university, it’s gone to pot. I think there’s going to have to be a drastic amount of work done to it by someone who knows how to make a good job out of a bad situation.

This summer, one of my friends is getting married, and myself and my flutey partner-in-crime are going to be providing music for the ceremony. It’s going to be lovely, and I really can’t wait. I plan on whacking out a Twenties-influenced ensemble for the evening, which I’ll post pictures of here.

Alongside all these other things, and a summer job, I’m going to make a serious effort of this blog. I admire bloggers who keep their audience updated on their plans, and who manage weekly (or even more regular) updates. To the committed, I salute you. So if I cook anything tasty, do anything interesting, or pick up a sewing needle, I’ll come and bore you with it. This is my goal. Make it a good habit.

I think that’s all the nonsense for the time being – back to packing and tidying!

Until we meet again,

The One With the Amazing Woman Talents