Friday, January 31, 2014

HSF '14: Lowell Mill Girl Dress

In the summer of 2009, I was incredibly lucky to land an internship at the American Textile History Museum in Lowell, Massachusetts, about an hour north of Boston.  While there, they were preparing for a new permanent exhibition and I got to help with one of the components--in between inventorying their machinery collection and making hat mounts.  That component was a comparison between how many clothes a modern teenage girl has, and how many a mill girl would have owned. The photo below shows their respective closets before the mill girl's one was filled.

You can probably guess the point.

So to help with this, I made three dresses to go in the mill girl's closet, each a version of the Past Patterns Lowell Mill Girl Dress, which was copied from a dress worn by an actual mill girl.  I made two cotton day dresses, and one silk dress for Sundays and special occasions.


At the end of my internship, I wanted to commemorate the experience by making one of these dresses for myself.  But grad school and life intervened, and I never got around to it, until now.

The Challenge: Innovation!  " To celebrate the way inventions, introductions and discoveries have impacted fashion, make an item that reflects the newest innovations in your era. "

The Innovation: This dress actually uses a couple of innovations.  One: roller print textiles were becoming widely popular by the 1820's resulting in a flood of cotton prints available to the home seamstress.  Two: the dress is copied from that of a worker in the Lowell Mills in the 1820's and 30's.  The mills themselves were a new innovation (new to the US anyway) in that the entire cloth making process was done in one mill, and used a lot of new machinery to make the process faster and cheaper.  Three: my actual reason for doing this dress--the Lowell Mill girls!  This dress signifies a new era for female workers.  The first employees in the Lowell mills were mostly farmer's daughters who wanted to earn their own money and discover the world outside the farm.  They saw work as an opportunity for advancing themselves personally, and often to earn economic independence for themselves.  This changed later, as more workers were needed and immigrants began to work in the mills more so wages were slashed leading to some turn-outs and strikes...but the concept that a woman could work outside the home and earn her own money had been established. Wikipedia has a really good article about the factory girls, how the late 20's in the mills was very different from even a decade later.

Fabric: 100% cotton in 'Turkey Red'.  Part of the Sturbridge Village IV collection by Judie Rothermel.  Purchased in 2009 in Shipshewana, Indiana.  When I first bought it, it was the best option, but I always worried it looked a bit holiday-esque.  Like poinsettias everywhere.  But now that I've made the dress, I like it a lot more.  Oh, and sturdy black cotton for the lining.

Pattern: Past Patterns Lowell Mill Girl Dress.

Year: Late 1820's with modifications done in the mid-1830's.  (One of the interesting things about making a copy of a dress that was probably worn for a decade.)

Notions: couple hooks and eyes, around 4 meters of cording, thread.

How historically accurate is it? The pattern is spot-on.  The fabric is as close as I can get.  I hand sewed quite a bit of it, so I'll go with 'very'.

Hours to complete: I want to say 30, but probably more like 35.

First worn: Today for photos.

Total cost: I already had the fabric, the pattern was $36 and I had to buy the cording for about $2, so $38, though I hope to use the pattern again at some point.







Thursday, January 16, 2014

HSF '14: Blue Regency Flats

I have a problem.  I can't seem to do small projects for the Historical Sew Fortnightly.  When planning for a challenge, and I want to do something small, I'll pick an accessory.  A bag, or recovering shoes.  But then I think, well, this is small, and won't take much time, so I can either a) not start till next week, or b) add some embroidery to make it more challenging.  I'm pretty sure last year my 'small' projects, as a rule, took longer than my big projects.  And I've started 2014 no differently.  Recovering shoes.  That can't take that long, can it?  And in truth, it certainly didn't take as much time as my mitts last year or the crochet collar.  But the nature of sewing shoes meant I could only do a couple hours per day--my poor middle finger couldn't take any more than that. (Side note, I still need to learn how to use a thimble. I keep trying, and it keeps not working.)  So while these shoes are absolutely gorgeous, and I LOVE how they turned out, they really didn't fit my 'starting small' expectations.



The Challenge: Make Do and Mend.  I took one pair of ugly shoes and transformed them into something I'd actually wear.  Not really a 'mend' but it fits perfectly with 'make do'.

Fabric: Blue silk shantung and (probably) poly bias binding.

Pattern: Draped from the shoe I was recovering.

Year: Regency.

Notions: Just the bias binding and thread.

How historically accurate is it? It's a modern shoe re-covered, so not much.  But I did base as much as I could from looking at extant examples.

Hours to complete: About 15.

First worn: Just around the house so far.  I need to find a ball to wear them to!

Total cost: The blue silk was leftover from my Regency mitts, and the binding was about $2.  The shoes I picked up at the thrift store for $4.50.  So $6.50.

When I thought about doing this project, I was inspired by all the HSF entries last year for changing modern shoes into ones more period appropriate.  A lot of people painted their shoes (see here or here), or added trimmings (see here or here), or even glued fabric on top (see here), but I wanted to sew my fabric on.  So I thought I'd show my process, and some helpful tips, in case any one else wanted to undertake this 'small' project.

So first up, you need to find a reasonable shoe.  These were a lucky find at the thrift store, and I knew if I screwed up completely, I would have only lost about $5.  The shaping of them seems to indicate they've been worn, but there aren't any marks anywhere, and the insole looks brand new, so I really don't know.


Remove trimmings and discover what goes into making a shoe.

My shoe had three layers.  A thin cotton twill for the inside, some sort of spongy middle layer, and the cotton fashion fabric exterior.  My layers were stuck together at some spots, indicating they had been spray glued together.

Because they spray glue wasn't really holding the layers together anymore, I decided to use a running stitch along the top to hold everything together.  This made my covering process a lot easier.

I also removed the bias strip covering the back seam, discovering something I hadn't considered--that the seam of the shoe was on the outside.  In hindsight, this seems obvious, as you don't want a seam digging into your heel, but I had thought it would be hidden in between the layers like you (usually) do when lining clothing.  This strip continued under the shoe into the sole, so I had to cut it as close as I could at the bottom.  (Side note, while researching other peoples' projects online, I came across someone who suggested you could pry back the sole a bit with a butter knife, wedge your fabric in between, and re-glue.  I tried that to get the back seam covering strip out, and later with the front toe area, but it didn't work with my shoes.)

Drape the mock-up material over the shoe, trying to match the grain lines of the floral fashion fabric as much as possible.

Keep pinning and cutting until it looks like an even uglier brown shoe.  Around the bottom edge, I left some extra fabric, knowing I would rather have too much later on than too little.

Once you're satisfied, take the mock-up fabric off and Presto! You have a rather rough looking pattern.

Lay this out on your (new) shoe fabric and cut, leaving a bit extra around the edges, again just in case.  You don't need to mock-up both shoes, as they're mirror images of one another, but it is a good idea to write on your mock-up fabric which side is up, and which shoe you used.  I got mixed up a couple times before I did this.

I also cut a slit down the middle to ease in the pinning later.

Start pinning your fabric on to the shoe!  This doesn't need to be perfect right from the start, you'll be constantly pinning and re-pinning as you sew.

Once you've got it all roughly in place, sew along the top edge with a running stitch.  This doesn't need to be perfect, as you'll be covering this with your binding later.  Trim the top after you're done to make it easier to handle.  (Tip: I trimmed the top edge down flush with the original layers of the shoe.  I wish I would have left more fabric there and trimmed later.  I still had many hours of handling the shoe and by the end my fabric was frayed in a couple spots a lot more than I would have liked.  Thankfully I realized my mistake early and applied some fray check, eliminating most of the fraying.)

Tuck under the bottom edge, trimming as you need to.  I only did one side at a time, but it could be all done at the same time.  The pinning still isn't perfect, as I continued to pin as I sewed.

This is more representative of all my pinning!

Starting at the heel and leaving the back seam free, stitch along the fabric as close as you can to the rubber sole.

And continue along the side.  You won't be able to get as close as the original shoe maker, but you should be able to get pretty close.  I used a back stitch for this process, but you could probably use a running stitch.  I tend to over secure all my stitching.

The inside will look something like this.  Fortunately I have the insoles to cover all that up.

And now for the tricky part.  I'm still not sure if my decisions about how to do the toe area were correct, so if anyone has a better way, please let me know.  For the heel and the sides I was able to sew normally--needle comes out of the shoe, needle goes in the shoe--like normal sewing.  But I knew I couldn't really do that with the toe, there's no way to grab the needle from the inside, there's just not enough room.  So I didn't.  The toe was sewn entirely from the outside, catching as many layers of the fabric as I could, back and forth.  I'm not sure how to explain it in words, so hopefully the photo explains.  (Tip, have a long piece of thread to work with when starting this, as it's hard to tie off anywhere along the toe, and this ladder-like stitching takes up a lot of thread.  Also, having really good matching thread helps with this step.)

In the end, your toe area looks like this--like two rows of stitches, but it's really going back and forth between the two.  I tried to keep my upper row as tiny as possible, and as close to the bottom row as I could to minimize the appearance.  I got better the longer I worked at it.

And this is the result.  Barely noticeable from even a foot away, and no one is going to be looking at your shoes that close.

I like this picture.  Have I said enough that you'll keep pinning and re-pinning?

Once the bottom is done, sew up the back seam.  I sewed each side to the shoe, very close to the seam, instead of through the seam itself.  This also doesn't need to be perfect as it will be covered.

Trim the excess away and Voila!  You have a basic shoe!

After this, I didn't take a lot of photos.  I was getting pretty sick of the process, and the rest of the steps are pretty self explanatory. One last note though, looking at extant shoes, I noticed they all had a strip of fabric along the sides (see here and here).  I'm not sure if this is for stability, or if there was a seam there, but they all had it.  So I decided for attempted accuracy, I'd add a bit of bias binding too.  I guessed on the exact placement, basing it on the examples I saw online.  I tucked the bottom edge under and sewed up the two sides (again with a back stitch) using the same color thread as the rest of the shoe.  I decided I liked the contrast, and I think on a couple of the examples contrasting stitching was used.  (You can kinda tell here.)

After that, I sewed a strip up the back, again tucking the bottom under and using a back stitch. And the last step was to add a bias strip along the top.  I did iron it in half and found that helped keep everything in place while I sewed it down.  And then they're done!  I sewed mine like an assembly line, one step on left shoe, same step on right shoe so I wasn't left with one shoe done and no desire to do the remaining shoe.  Sock knitters taught me about that!




Not too bad!  I actually am extremely proud of them, and can't wait to wear them.  I do have plans to add ribbon straps, as unless I'm wearing thick socks they're a bit big, and I may add some trimming later, but that can be for another challenge.

One last note, I wasn't really happy with the thin strip of the original fabric you could still see along the bottom.  The areas that were black were fine, but the pink or cream bits bugged me--they stood out too much.  So I took a really fine black rolling ball pen and colored in the cream and pink, being extremely careful not to mark the blue silk.  The photo below shows the difference.  The bottom shoe has been done, and the top one hasn't.  Maybe it was a bit overkill, but I think it adds a nice final touch.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Speelklok Museum, Utrecht

Last week Dan and I spent a day in Utrecht.  We've been there before, namely to see the Dom tower, but this time we decided to go to the Speelklok Museum.

The upper floor.  The museum is in an old church.

What is a Speelklok you might ask??

Well, 'Speel' means 'play' in Dutch, and 'klok' is similar enough to the English word that you may have already recognized it - clock (and I just tried to spell that starting with a 'k').

But the museum focuses on more than just clocks.  Their website says they're dedicated to collecting 'self-playing mechanical musical instruments', and honestly most of the objects on display didn't tell the time, but they did play A LOT of music.

This museum was by far the loudest I've ever been in, including children't science museums, and I found it to be a powerful experience.  You know when music is so beautiful and at the same time really loud that it gets your heart to beating really fast and your stomach is in your throat and your soul is tingling?  It was like that.

Not all the street organs* were going at once though, thank goodness.  The first part of our visit was a tour of several very large organs that were popular in dance halls in the 1920's.  The one below played some quintessentially 20's music, and I didn't entirely suppress my desire to do the Charleston.  We were invited by the tour guide to dance though, so that was okay.


The other part of the museum was more interactive, and very well done.  You got to experiment with different ways the mechanical instruments can produce sound, and there were a couple of interesting videos (with English subtitles, very important) about the evolution of mechanical instruments.  I also found out the interesting fact that composers (people you've heard of like Bach and Handel) loved composing music for mechanical organs and pianos, because they weren't limited by human ability.  A machine doesn't have the restriction of only two hands.

And I'll leave you with an image from their temporary exhibit on cafe music in the 1920's.  Apparently creating a mechanical violin was much harder than an organ, and they solved at least one of the problems by creating that horizontal bar you see across the upright violins to act as a bow.  This circular bow constantly rotates (thus the blurry vertical lines) and the violin is pushed up against it when the sound needs to be made. It brings violin to bow instead of bow to violin.


*Street Organs are incredibly common in the Netherlands, and they may be specific to here, as Wikipedia refers to them as 'Dutch Street Organs'.  Every weekend downtown Haarlem has at least one playing in some main walkway or another, always with a man or two holding a cup for donations, shaking it in step with the music.  And if you're wondering what they look like, Google image search has a ton of examples.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Looking Back / Looking Forward

A lot of people are writing blog posts looking back on what they've accomplished in 2013, and what they hope to achieve in 2014, and I intend to do the same.

  • We didn't move to another country this year, instead we put down a few more roots in the Netherlands and decided to stay a couple more years.  That non-move was in fact a major accomplishment.
  • I started a new job that literally pays me to browse the internet for interesting photos, and I started a volunteer position working with historic hats, though that job still has some kinks to work out in the new year.
  • We took advantage of the fact we live in Europe and spent time in Paris, Switzerland, and Berlin.  We also hosted a number of out-of-town guests, including my parents and a couple friends from Australia.

And though I'm proud of each of those things, that's not actually why I'm writing. Instead, I want to crow about all the costumes I made this year.  The diversity of range I accomplished this year hasn't been matched since I worked at the Costume Shop in college.  And it's all thanks to the Historical Sew Fortnightly 2013 - which I didn't even start until the end of May.  And once I started, I had a pretty good run; I accomplished 10 out of 17 challenges.

My favorite challenge had to be #12: Pretty Pretty Princess, which is a bit of a surprise, as I'm not a princessy person.  But with these Regency mitts I got to practice my embroidery, and the skill of looking at an image on Pinterest and figuring out how that translates to an actual garment (accessory) in real life.  I still haven't worn them to any event, but sometimes I take them out and just try them on.  They're so pretty.



My least favorite challenge had to be #16: Separates.  Well, perhaps I should say my least favorite result.  For this challenge I tried to start building my 1930's wardrobe a bit, and I made two items: a top (which I love and wore a lot this summer) and a skirt.  But the fabric I chose was too heavy, especially after I lined it, and when I walk in it, the flowy drapey panel that's supposed to move with me sticks straight out and it looks like I have a wing coming out of my knee.  I do intend to re-do the skirt at some point, I'm just not sure how yet.

This is the wing tucked in.  That lasts only as
long as I don't move.

And lastly, my most challenging challenge would have to be #13: Lace and Lacing, which turned into #24: Re-do.  I can't say much about this one, except in the end, after a long, painful journey, the collar turned out beautifully and I'm really proud of it.  I just don't have anything (yet) to wear it with.


As for next year, I'll be continuing with HSF 2014, and am really excited about it. This year there will be 24 challenges in total, instead of 26, and my goal is to finish 17 of them.  (20 seemed out of my reach, and 15 seemed like just over half - which seemed too little, so 17 it is)
I'm still pondering other New Year's goals, but that's my sewing one.  And in order to accomplish it, I'm really going to have to make some simpler things - accessories that don't take two challenges to finish, and maybe some jewelry, which I have none of.  And hats; a lady always needs more hats.

Happy New Year to all of you, and I hope your resolutions make you as excited as mine do.