My sister has always laughed at the fact that I have a favorite fabric.
But how can you not love linen??
It’s perfect for historical clothing.
But it’s also perfect for everyday wear.
Some of my favorite me-made pieces are linen, like this dress I blogged about the other day.
My tip for finding great-priced linen? Look at your local thrift shop! I’ve found numerous lengths of linen (3-4 yards!) over the years for around $5 apiece (silk too!). Just don’t be afraid to dig into the bins and have fun hunting.
I had so much fun doing it! And the blouse turned out so well!
I made one out of checkered cotton…
And another out of sateen!
I used a test pattern for these and there’s a newer version published, but I was super impressed with the fit. One of my favorite things about this pattern is that it comes with different cup sizes (I used the “Large Bust” pattern pieces) which makes it really easy to fit to my body.
I wear these all the time and can’t recommend this pattern enough!
I made it out of some beautifully-printed linen fabric that I picked up at Joann’s on major clearance last spring.
I picked up a ton of fabric that day and had enough to make the dress + two sleeveless tops (one for me, one for my sister) after.
The pattern was super fun, quick, and easy to make. Intended to be a breathable, cool summer dress to bum around in when it really heats up here, it really lives up to its name. I wear it all the time!
It closes with four small vintage snaps and, when I made it I was really worried that it would pop open during the day. But I’ve worn it for two summers now and it’s never happened! Those tiny snaps are stronger than they look!
The very first historical costume that I owned was a Civil War era “ball gown” that I bought off of e-bay. I was so proud of it!
It looked a lot like this one:
Except the bodice was floral, it was attached to the skirt, and there was white lace around the sleeves and neckline that I later re-purposed for my Edwardian corset.
I wore it for a few Halloweens and then for a couple of school functions that required a costume and I loved every second of it.
Then I started getting more and more into historical costuming and I couldn’t help but think about ways to improve on the design.
This was one of the earliest sewing projects I did. I saved up my money to buy an actual pattern (my very first one) that was era-appropriate. After I saved up to buy my first corset, I pulled the pattern out of it’s place of honor and cut into the dress.
I tore the whole thing apart and cut a new bodice out of one of the skirt panels.
This was before I had a sewing machine so I spent night after night carefully cutting, pinning, and hand-sewing before bed.
To this day, it’s not quite finished.
But that didn’t stop me from dressing my sister up in it and taking lots of pictures over the years!
It doesn’t have any fastenings on the bodice, so it’s held together by pins.
And I’ve since made proper under-sleeves (she’s wearing an old button-down shirt underneath in the pictures).
But this dress will always hold a special place in my heart. It helped ignite my passion and, although my enthusiasm for the Civil War era has slightly waned over the years, I’ll always remember it as my very first historical costume.
I found her tucked away in the back of a Goodwill (thrift shop) for $99 where she had been mislabeled an “end table.” I snatched her right up (and even got half off the price at the register) and prayed that the piece of tape that said “still runs” was true.
When I was cleaning her and giving her a tune-up, I relied heavily on some really great blog posts that gave tips and pointers. I’ll link some of them at the bottom, but I’m also going to go through what work I did on Frankie in the hopes that my experiences will help at least one person out there that has a ’34 Singer of their own to work on.
To begin, this is the shape I brought her home in. Dusty and stained with age, but all the parts were there and there wasn’t any major damage. Plus the decals were in pretty good shape, too!
These were the products I used for cleaning:
Flitz Polish (metal/plastic/fiberglass polish)
Sewing machine oil (Singer brand)
Pledge (furniture polish)
Water + dish soap
Gun-cleaning cloth (infused with “rust and lead remover”)
The first thing I did was gently spray dust out of the interior of the machine, out of the cabinet, and then lightly dust off the cobwebs with the microfiber cloth.
After that, the real work began.
Using a flathead screwdriver (lots of different sizes help), I took the metallic parts of the machine off one piece at a time and cleaned them.
Steel wool + elbow grease took off most of the rust and grime, except for some deep pits. Then a good polish with the Flitz restored a lot of the shine.
The two-step process worked really well on all of the silver metal parts, even the decorative plates.
For less-shiny pieces, like the feet, I used just steel wool.
The steel wool got the rust and grime off and didn’t aggravate the areas where the plating had worn off from use.
For the black body of the machine, a.k.a. the non-mental parts (which I learned is called japanning), I followed the advice of the tutorials I’d read and used mild dish soap + water to get the grime off. I tried out the gun-cleaning cloth, but it didn’t blow me away so I stuck with the suggested few drops of sewing machine oil to polish it and bring back most of the shine while leaving the decals intact. Cotton swabs worked very well for getting in the nooks and crannies. Just be careful not to rub too hard or you’ll take off the gold.
The basic mechanics of the machine are surprisingly straightforward. If you’re nervous about fiddling around with the inside, don’t be! It makes a lot of sense once you slow down and take a look.
My machine had an issue with the presser foot – it wouldn’t raise or lower when I moved the lever on the back. Opening it up, I applied some penetrating oil where the presser bar (the one on the left) goes through by the body of the machine and waited half an hour. It didn’t help; the foot still didn’t budge.
So, at the advice of my father, I placed a brass screw-type-shape thing (it’s apparently softer metal, so it won’t ding anything) on top of the bar and tapped it lightly with a hammer until it freed. Then I worked some sewing machine oil into the joints and it’s moved freely since then!
The next step was to oil all of the moving parts machine with sewing machine oil at the suggestion of the original manual (see the bottom of the post).
That whole thing was the dirtiest part of the whole job!
At this point I plugged the machine in and held my breath, hoping that it would go.
Well, it went…very, very slowly.
The first thing I looked at was the pedal. I opened it up, following a really helpful guide I found online (see bottom of post for link), and found that there was a small brass piece missing and another piece had been inserted backwards to compensate for it. The piece was like a nut, but it also apparently completed the electrical circuit inside the pedal itself.
I started looking at pedals to buy online so I could get a replacement part, but my dad had the idea to open up the “extra” motor that was mounted inside the cabinet that was attached to the knee pedal. Sure enough, it had the missing part inside! Since I don’t plan on ever using the knee pedal (the wires are badly frayed) I swapped it over to the foot pedal and gave it another try.
It still ran extremely slowly.
So it was time to take a closer look at the electrical guts of the machine.
One of the features of this model was that it offered a built-on motor, apparently called a “potted motor,” instead of a separate one that sat at the back on the base. If you take the cover off, this is what it looks like – I was very scared to touch it.
But I had to figure out why it sewed so slowly.
I found an original troubleshooting guide online (see bottom of post) and started going through step by step taking the motor slowly apart to make sure all of the pieces were working okay. All of the wiring looked perfect, so it was difficult to figure out.
One of their suggestions was to take out the brushes (one on top and one on bottom, under big, black screws) to make sure they’re still good. I got about this far and then took a break for the night. It was a lot of intricate work navigating around the motor (you even have to take off the wheel to get at the good parts) so I spent rest of the evening browsing the web for replacement motors, just in case.
Well, one of the things I noticed while browsing spare parts was that the new brushes (on the left, above) were square on the bottom. The ones in my machine were very curved (on the right, above). I had thought they had been designed like that on purpose, but the website got me thinking. I ordered two new ones for a much better price ($15.89, including shipping) than buying a new motor (~$80, not including shipping).
A few days later, I popped them in and gave it another whirl.
The machine runs perfectly now.
The brushes are needed to complete the electrical circuit, so the worn ones weren’t making enough constant contact to keep the machine going at its regular pace.
As for the cabinet, the top needed a lot of work. Apparently, it had been sitting a long time with a doily on top, and possibly some potted plants, judging by the circles where the finish came off.
I started by going over the whole thing with furniture polish. Much to my surprise, it took the dark shadow totally off the top. What I had thought was deep discoloration was actually just a thick layer of grime!
This is now it looks now. I’m still doing some research on what it takes to refinish the top, so it’ll stay like this for the time being. The wood is very soft.
The rest of the cabinet is in much better shape, save for some nicks and small water stains. I tried out a couple of wax/marker “furniture-fillers” but I couldn’t find a matching color so I didn’t go forward with any of the products I tried.
And that’s what I did to restore Frankie and get her into good working order.
So, on to some bonuses!
Inside the cabinet is a set of drawers for storage that held a few treasures. Namely, the original operating manual! Oh my gosh, I was so excited when I saw it. It was a real help to have on hand when I was oiling the machine and threading it.
There were also a couple more surprises in the drawer: a very skinny foot (zipper?), some machine needles, and spare pins.
Strapped in underneath is the original bottle of oil, still half-full.
And I had even more of a surprise when I tilted the machine back to dust underneath it and found a lot more goodies inside! A couple more feet, more pins, needles, some scraps of old projects, and the bobbin case with a bobbin in it!
I don’t know what the previous owner was sewing, though, because there are half a dozen colors of thread wound on the bobbin.
Something I found amazing was how little the basic design of a sewing machine has changed in almost one hundred years. My modern-day bobbin is on the left and the 1930’s one is on the right in the picture above. The parts are so similar, in fact, that I’m able to use a modern-day bobbin in the vintage machine so I can leave the original intact with its myriad of threads.
And that’s it! It seems like a lot when I write it down, but it took only about a day and a half. I had a ton of fun working on it and definitely foresee more projects like this in the future!
This is what Frankie looks like now – all nice and shiny and running like a charm!
Now I get to pick out my first project to sew on her!
But, before I go, I promised to list some of the resources I found supremely helpful.
Although it may not be obvious from what I usually post about, I actually do sew quite a few modern garments for myself.
And the time has certainly come for summer dresses! (Well…mostly. It’s still a tiny bit rainy still her in the Pacific Northwest.)
Most of the dresses currently hanging in my closet are me-made and, considering the size my fabric stash has grown to, I hope to complete several more by the time summer and sunshine are through.
As I was sewing this one the other night, I thought back to when I worked with this pattern last summer and wished I had written down my notes. A year later it was like I was starting all over again and the only thing I had to go off of was the pattern pieces I’d already cut out. (I couldn’t even find the instructions.)
So this series is born out of a desire to share some of what I wear everyday and to keep a record for myself.
The bodice is Simplicity 1418 and the skirt is just a large rectangle gathered and sewn on. I made the proper version of this pattern last year out of purple linen and it’s been a staple in my closet since. This time I wanted something less streamlined, and more floofy, so I gathered as much fabric as I could into the skirt.
And I’m so pleased with the result!
It’s sparkly and billows when I twirl – what more could I ask for??
Material: 3 yards printed cotton
Pattern: Simplicity 1418 for bodice (size 18), none for skirt
Time to complete: 10 hours, give or take
Notions: side zipper
Likes: volume of skirt, fit of armscye, length of skirt, height of neckline
Dislikes: waist can be taken in and lengthened 1-2 inches, neckline gapes slightly
So here’s to the start of summer! May everyone wear great outfits and have great fun! What are your sewing and/or travel plans?
Today I took my first foray into self-portraiture and the complexities of using a remote shutter control in order to take some pictures of my latest sewing project.
It involved a lot of running back and forth in the woods (and hiding from hikers behind trees) but they came out pretty well for my first try!
This dress was born out of curiosity a few months ago when I was scrolling through Italian renaissance portraiture on the internet and it struck me how, basically, those painted images are the only visual source we have left to study. There are very, very, very few extant garments left from the late 15th/early 16th century.
By having only those paintings, what we have to go off of (from the perspective of historical garments) is, for the most part, stylized versions of the upper class’s best clothes. So what about the rest of the ladies?
This dress is the first step in a long journey to try to answer that question.
Conceptualized as a work/day/house dress for a lady who was middle class or lower in station, I whipped up a chemise to go underneath it. I’m still deciding on the design of the sleeves so those will come in time.
I relied heavily on a book called “Dressing Renaissance Florence” by Carole Collier Frick in my research for this ensemble. It had a ton of fantastic information in it and was super helpful. I’ll go into more detail about my research and the actual making of this dress in a later post.
But, because I found so much inspiration in her research (and the primary sources she cites), I’m putting this dress down as my entry for the Historical Sew Monthly challenge this month – “Literature.”
I wore it to Disneyland, under my Cadaver Danielles outfit, for about 6 hours and it started to cave in about halfway through. I didn’t quite understand what was going on while I was wearing it, so I snapped some pictures when I got back to my hotel to try to figure out what happened (you can see my pretty petticoat!).
The back started bowing out right at my waistline, which you can kind of see in the picture. I laced it pretty loose that night, but the sides pulled it all wonky.
On the left it’s bowing out, on the right it’s doing what it’s supposed to.
And you can see it even better here. I still have my bum pad on underneath (which gives my some crazy hips!) but the sides are certainly not in the right spot!
And this is what it did to my waist. Not the most comfortable…
When I tried it on after making it, the sides were fine. And it was okay when I wore it around the house to break it in. Some of my theories:
I tied it too loose that night.
Too high up under my arms (it rubbed a bit), so maybe it bowed whenever I bent sideways.
Too weakly boned. I used zip ties purposefully, to keep it light but that might not have made it supportive enough.
Any more ideas? Insight? Wisdom? I really want this corset to be wearable in the future.
For Halloween this year my sister and I went as witches.
Real, authentic, 17th century, running-from-Puritan witches.
Enter: 1693. You know, the period that (for me at least) is notoriously hard to find accurate information on.
So, enter: flying-by-the-seat-of-my-educated-guess.
One thing I knew for sure: of the most important pieces of my outfit this year was going to be my stomacher. Last year I ran short on time and didn’t have time to trim the dress I wore for our pirate-themed year. As such,the center front was a few inches short on either side and it was a real struggle to sew myself into my dress the night of and get it to close. I had to lace my stays really tight but it closed (although it looked terribly messy).
So this year, my resolution was to follow the wisdom of our ancestors and create an outfit that could be worn easily no matter how loosely I wanted to lace my stays.
Brief blurb about stomachers, to give a bit of background:
Stomachers were most popular from the 16th to the 18th century. Usually triangular in shape, they covered the front opening of a lady’s bodice and were worn by women of levels of society. Easier to make and more cost-effective than a whole new ensemble, they were a good way to bring variety to a woman’s wardrobe and they also accommodated her changing shape over the course of her life. See some examples.
I searched long and hard to find original source material that I could base my design on and one of the closest (and one of the only) pieces of artwork I came across was Mrs. Elizabeth Freake and Baby Mary by Anonymous.
Painted sometime around the 1670’s, it showed fashions a bit early for what I was aiming for but it was a good starting point. Analyzing her outfit, the key details are her short, rolled sleeves and the ladder lacing across what I had to assume was her green stomacher.
I looked up a few secondary art sources and drew inspiration from them, but relied most heavily on the details of Mrs. Freake’s outfit.
To make the stomacher, I started by drafting the bodice pattern and then the stomacher pattern on top of it. I apparently forgot to take a picture of that part.
But here you can see the shape. I sandwiched a single zip tie between two layers of cotton duck and zipped around the edges on my machine.
I had the idea to make it reversible, so I cut out a layer of fabric that would match my skirt and bodice and a layer that would match my purple petticoat. I stitched the brown layer down in the car on the way to my grandma’s house and added four tabs made from some tan twill tape that I randomly found around the house. Then I stitched the purple layer on on the way back from her house.
With and without creepy makeup
I laced my stays fairly loosely that night. My bodice was made to lace closed at the bottom, but it was very comfortable – and looked good – open all the way down.
I pinned it to my stays with straightpins and it didn’t budge an inch all night. I had toyed with the idea of adding a waist tape, but I’m glad I didn’t. Here it is at the end of the (very long, very wet) night.
I wore the purple side for Halloween – it felt much more witchy – but I definitely want to do something fun with the “Puritan” side. Hopefully a photo-shoot (or something) once I’ve had the chance to make some accessories to go with the outfit. I didn’t have time to make any for Halloween night, but I found this time period to be really interesting and definitely want to revisit it once I’ve had the chance to do more solid research. Until then, here’s to Mrs. Freake! Thanks for the inspiration!
Fabric: White cotton duck, purple linen, brown linen blend Pattern: Self-drafted Year: c. 1680s How historically accurate is it? I haven’t a clue. I was really just guessing on this one. Hours to complete: About 3 or 4, altogether First worn: Halloween 2016 Total cost: All leftover fabric from other projects, so cost was very minimal
In the spirit of Throwback Thursday combined with the first day of fall, I have some fun photos to share from my earlier days of sewing.
But first, a brief background:
In 2012 I was a student at the University of Washington, living at college in a dorm with my wonderful sister. When Halloween rolled around that year we found ourselves without any plans so we gathered some friends together to go to dinner. Three of us decided to make our outfits 1920’s-themed.
In the time-honored college tradition of procrastination, what better thing to do than give yourself four days to make three dresses from scratch?
This was at the start of my sewing career, when my sewing machine was less than a year old, so there was almost no technique to what I was doing. I made my 1920’s pinterest board and used it for inspiration, not caring much about historical accuracy.
I started with my sister’s dress when I was home for the weekend, drafting the base on her and sewing a bunch of squares that I moved around until we agreed on a final design we could agree on (#3).
Next I made a dress for myself (my mom helped sew it) and finished it up by hand when I went back to my dorm.
And then I did the same for our friend, Molly!
All three dresses were really simple but effective. They were done in plenty of time for Halloween and we had a great time going out! We went out for dinner at the Cabbage Patch Restaurant which is rumored to be haunted although we didn’t experience anything while we were there.
After our food we explored the town a bit, visiting other supposedly haunted locations, taking pictures, and admiring all the cute trick-or-treaters that were running around.
Looking back at these pictures brings back a lot of really fun memories. The dinner was delicious and it was great going out for an event in costume! That’s something that I’ve been wanting to bring back in to my sewing lately. I make really fun things but I don’t usually do anything with them. I’m realizing now that they don’t do me much good (or much fun) just hanging in my closet once they’re finished.