Sunday, May 31, 2015

Military-Inspired Blue Velvet Spencer

It's clearly been awhile.  More than two months in fact.  Some of that is due to an adjustment regarding a major change in my life, but mostly I've been procrastinating on everything lately.  Case in point: My blue spencer.

This project was supposed to be for April's "War & Peace" challenge, showcasing the influence of military uniforms from the Napoleonic Wars on women's fashion.  That specific challenge was actually the one I had suggested as a theme this year, making me pretty disappointed in myself that I couldn't get the spencer done in time.  Instead of the 1.5 months I allotted, I took 2.5 months--which is a lot for a garment as small as a spencer with an already established base pattern. It did turn out to be really adorable though, so that mostly makes up for the procrastination.

So now I'm submitting it for June's "Out of Your Comfort Zone" challenge.  One reason this took so long to make is that I'm pretty (justifiably) terrified of working with velvet.  For several reasons:

1. No one is really sure how or if you should wash it.  I am a big fan of pre-washing fabrics, and found this troublesome.  In the end, I chose not to wash it, knowing that I will probably wear it once per year at most, and it will always be over something else, so I shouldn't have to worry too much about sweat stains.  If it gets dirt on it, I will spot clean.
2. Pressing velvet is a pain in the [everything].  You can't press it normally, because that would flatten out the pile (the part that makes velvet velvet).  Ideally, you should use something called a needle board, but I don't know anyone who doesn't work in a professional costume shop who actually has access to one of those.  I finally settled on one of those quick dry camping (microfiber?) towels that you buy at places like REI.  It worked really well, though the heat tolerance of the towel vs my cotton velvet were wildly different, and I had to be really careful not to put the iron on the towel (though it still has some new shiny spots).
3. (and this is the real reason I was terrified) The last time (and I think only time) I worked with velvet was for my very first job, doing piece work for a Renaissance hat maker.  Mostly I worked at her shop, but sometimes I'd take work home and sew loads of black velvet crowns to tips (sides to tops). Soon, whenever I'd sneeze, black velvet bits would come out, sometimes days later.  The air purifier I bought (probably my parents bought) specifically to counter this issue didn't do as much as I thought it should, and I still ended up with a fine layer of velvet dust covering much of my bedroom. After that, I pretty much vowed never to work with velvet again.  Why did I change my mind?  I was designing my Steampunk 1880's ensemble, and I wanted a jacket to go with it.  The store where I found all my fabric had the perfect blue cotton velvet to match my overskirt, and I thought it would work really well.  So I bought it (and ran out of time to make it into that jacket).  I also tried to minimize the velvet fluff problem by vacuuming my work table and floor after each sewing session and vigorously lint brushing myself.  It seemed to help (at least there's been no blue snot).

That's probably enough information about velvet.  On to the photos!

A couple inspiration photos first:
The image that started it all.
This spencer is actually some shade of green

I looked a lot at paintings and extant examples of military uniforms.  My blue didn't match any specific blue worn by British, American, or French soldiers in this time period, so I decided to stick with simple military-inspired instead of creating something that was more like a female version of a military uniform.

And a close up shot, showing off my prick stitching around the edges, a more accurate representation of the blue color, and the subtle texture of the lining. 

The Challenge: Out of Your Comfort Zone

Fabric: Cotton velvet, and cotton for the lining.

Pattern: Mostly self drafted, though originally a modified version of La Mode Bagatelle

Year: early 1810's

Notions: Brass buttons and cotton thread.

How historically accurate is it? I am pleased with it.  The fabric was originally destined to be a costume piece, but I do know velvet was used in the time period.  I tried to follow lines and pattern details that are shown in extant examples.

Hours to complete: As this took so long to complete, I didn't keep accurate count.  I'd like to say somewhere around 20-25.

First worn: Just photos so far.

Total cost: I have no idea anymore what I spent on the velvet. Maybe around $30? Then $15 for the lining, and $4 for the buttons.  So $50-ish?


  1. Lovely. And it's good to see you back sewing and blogging again.

  2. Very pretty. The standup collar and lapels are very nicely done. I would have been tempted to add some trim as I can't leave anything alone. :) The four buttons are perfect.

  3. Elizabeth, this spencer is absolutely fabulous and lovely, from the idea down to the fabric. I love it. :)

  4. It's me once again. I love your creations and so I have nominated your blog for an award on my site. I hope that's okay with you. :)