Sunday, 17 January 2016

Another HSM Challenge complete (almost!) - Girl's 1850s/1860s underwear

This project took a little longer than anticipated but, after a few mishaps and frustrations, it is (almost) finished. Designing and making children's costumes has been on my list for some time as I love miniature things and the idea of creating a tiny outfit with all of the features of adult 1860s dress, just shorter and cuter, really appealed to me.

I was particularly inspired by photographs, fashion plates and originals like these:

From Pinterest -
Borrowed from Val's post about little girls dresses at Time Travelling in Costume
An original costume from the FIDM Museum found on Pinterest -

Modes de Paris 1855 found on Pinterest -

However, not knowing any little girls who could wear the costumes, it has, for a long time, been just one of those ideas that gets pushed to the bottom of the pile. But, the opening of my Etsy shop encouraged me to start experimenting with some girls' dresses - I may not have little ones to dress up bit hopefully others out there do!

The first step was therefore to create some underwear for the correct silhouette and these are my prototypes pieces. I learnt quite a lot along the way and made a few errors (that I can happily avoid in the future) which I will detail below. As a result, I am not planning to sell these garments at the moment but now that I've got the construction sussed, the new and improved versions will be available soon on Etsy (fingers crossed).

GIRLS' 1850s/1860s UNDERTHINGS - Drawers, Crinoline and Mock Corset Bodice 

For this challenge I have created three undergarments for a girl aged approximately six years old. There are a pair of split drawers, exactly like an adult version just a lot smaller, a hooped crinoline skirt, and in order to support this and make the ensemble more comfortable to wear for a young child, a simple bodice stitched to resemble a child's corset. The crinoline buttons onto the bodice which allows the shoulders to support any weight and prevents any discomfort around the waist. This may not be 100% authentic but, as I am developing these pieces to be worn by modern little girls, I want them to be as wearable as possible.

The Challenge: 
Procrastination. As I mentioned above, tiny little dresses have been something I've thought about sewing for a long time but I never really had any reason to. I did get started on this project just before Christmas though - I had all of my patterns and fabric and so on all ready to go, but then sewing Christmas presents and other general festivities got in the way. When I saw the theme for January was procrastination, I knew right away that this was one of the projects that I wanted to get finished.

The split drawers are cotton lawn with cotton broderie anglais trim. The mock-corset bodice is a stiff cotton twill and for the crinoline I used a remnant of poly cotton broderie anglais that, quite handily, had a deep decorative border on both selvages. Given that the skirt is so short, this meant that I could cut the front and back alongside each other using the borders as a hem on both pieces.

I used Butterick's 5901 pattern for inspiration and also as a guide for children's sizing as this is something I don't have any previous experience of. I worked quite freely though, only really using the bodice pieces to ensure the correct fit and cutting the other sections myself. I used my own methods for construction and didn't refer to the pattern instructions hardly at all. I also altered the numbers of hoops from three to two, changed the arrangement of tucks on the drawers and created my own system for attaching the crinoline to the bodice rather than having a separate petticoat underneath.

Mid-Victorian 1850s-1860s

Thread, bias binding, boning tape, 1" flat cotton tape, a shoelace for the drawstring on the drawers, 4 mother of pearl buttons on the bodice, 6 tiny antique buttons for attaching the crinoline to the bodice and boning*.

* A note on polyester boning: This is something that I have always avoided in the past, never believing that it could possibly be strong enough to hold its shape. And I was right! I had decided to use it on this occasion as I thought that it would be both lighter for a young child and more economical. I also, mistakenly, believed that the small size of the crinoline would compensate for the lack of strength in the boning. How wrong I was! The plastic boning was a complete disaster, failing to hold its own shape even without any form of skirt placed over the top of it. I thought at first that adding the second and third bones would help but in actual fact this made matters worse as the bones bent and twisted in different places and tangled themselves up in ways that didn't even look physically and scientifically possible. What's more, when I draped a thin circular cotton skirt over the top to see if balanced weight on all sides would correct the problem the whole thing collapsed!

Badly behaved boning - and that's only one hoop!

Fortunately I had some spiral steel boning on hand for a corset so I removed some of the polyester boning and tried the metal with much better results. The steel held its shape and is not as heavy as I though it would be as what I had was 7mm spiral steel rather than the wider spring steel I usually use for crinolines. I have therefore learnt my lesson and will be replacing the polyester with the steel as soon as I have cleaned it up. Unfortunately I didn't realise it was dirty until I had threaded it through the boning channel and found grey smudging all around the openings, one of the reasons that I will be keeping this set of underwear as a prototype. Especially as my sewing machine helped out by adding some oil to other seams! So once the boning has had a bath in some white spirit I will be able to replace the bones for a sturdier crinoline.

How historically accurate is it?
Overall the shape and silhouette are accurate. The drawers are just a miniature copy of adult split drawers with the exception of being longer and showing beneath the dress, a style that is often seen in period photographs, especially on younger girls. Similarly the crinoline creates the correct shape and the bodice does echo the shape of some extant children's corsets that I have seen. However, it is not actually a corset (I simply stitched lines to imitate boning channels) and I am not sure about the system for buttoning the crinoline onto the bodice. Having said that, many children's corsets did button rather than lace and it doesn't seem impossible that the crinoline would have been attached to the corset in some way as this was not unheard of in adult dress and would have made life easier for the child. As for the materials, the use of cotton for the bodice and drawers is accurate, but the broderie anglais poly cotton is not. This was a more commercial choice on my part in order to make the ensemble prettier without spending hours adding tucks and lace and so on. However, in future I will be looking at creating completely accurate ensembles as well so that people have the choice based on what they need the costumes for. It should also be noted that for a more authentic look a chemise should really be worn underneath these as well as a modesty petticoat.

A close up of the buttons and the stitched mock boning channels

Hours to complete:
In total probably about 6 or 7 but this involved a fair amount of thinking, figuring things out, experimenting and fighting with boning as well as tracing and drafting pattern pieces.

Tiny tucks and lace on the hems of the drawers

First worn:
I haven't yet found a little model this size and I don't have a child-sized dress form so the dress has only been modelled by my wastepaper basket! This is a trick I have used before when sewing an 1850s skirt for a young lady with a 24" waist. This was far too small for my mannequin but I needed to pleat the skirt directly onto a waistband placed around a body form. The only thing that I could find with the correct circumference that I could balance on my mannequin stand was an upside down wastepaper basket. And it actually worked quite well for modelling this dress. The twill bodice is quite stiff and the decorative stitching helped reinforce it to stand up by itself so I could get some good pictures.

My mannequin - a wastepaper basket balanced upside down on the feet for my dressform!

Total cost: 
All of the materials that I used were from my stash, with the exception of the steel boning. My estimated cost for these if I had to buy them is around £15, although I haven't yet completed my official calculations for pricing the items.

All in all this has been an exciting project and I'm glad that the procrastination theme encouraged me to get stuck in with this one. I can't wait to start designing and making dresses to go over these little ensembles and I am also planning to experiment with drafting more authentic ensembles with chemises and proper quilted or corded children's corsets. Watch this space!

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