No, you don't actually have to sew a dress this ginormous… Unless you want to!
For… pretty much ever, I've loved historical garments. Who doesn't like giant hoop skirts, elegant fabrics, and yards of lace? Well, at least, I definitely do! I loved to imagine what it would be like to wear clothing like Anne of Greene Gables, Elizabeth Bennett, or Scarlett O'Hara. But I never really considered actually making it. I mean, I thought it would be cool, but it just had to be hard. All those new undergarments, and *gasp*… making a corset?! That's for couturiers and fancies, not "normal" sewing people. Surely one has to go to a sewing school for a while to make this sort of thing…
However, the more I learned about vintage sewing and, later, historical/antique sewing, I realized this isn't true! While some things can definitely be complicated (and expensive), it's doable when attempted step by step, in bite-sized pieces. So this is what I'm going to do! I'm delving into the world of historical sewing!
(Obviously, I'm not a new sewist. If you are, I wouldn't start with historical costuming. Get basic sewing and pattern-altering skills down first!)
At first, I was totally overwhelmed. There seemed to be SO MANY new terms, sewing techniques, supplies, and things I had never heard of before. If you're like me… Never fear! It's going to be okay! This IS possible! In case you're in this spot, too, here are my tips so far in figuring out how to start historical costuming:
Now, understand, I am not an experienced historical costumer. I just know that I've hit some walls in starting historical sewing, and I thought I'd share my tips--from a beginner's point of view--that helped me not feel so overwhelmed and confused! I hope they help!
Get on Pinterest, read blogs, look at Google images of different time periods. Pin things that seem extra pretty to you, then go back and see if a certain era kept popping up. This may be the time period you should go for first! If you like it… try it!
Another thing to consider would be what sort of historical costuming events may be happening in your area. This could be a good motivator, and it may also help determine a time period for you to work with. I'm not planning for a specific event, so I went with the first Pinterest strategy.
2. RESEARCH MORE.
Learn the nuances of the era you like. If you've figured out, for example, that you like Civil War era dresses, then start studying what dresses looked like right before, during, and right after the war. Get familiar with trends and read up on what characteristics are particular to this period. I even began to test myself on Pinterest by typing in a time range (like 1870s-1890s) and guessing specific years each garment was from in that era. (Of course, Pinterest isn't 100% reliable, but it makes you think!) This helped me sharpen my observation skills and remember what trends are common in the era I'm looking for, and how to differentiate between the years before and after it.
3. Gather ideas.
Once again, I pinned. I made a Natural Form Goals board in which I placed pictures of garments, fashion illustrations, paintings, and reproductions of Natural Form (or close) garments whose fabric, trim, or silhouette was especially lovely to me. This will give me ideas for my garment projects later and determine what kind of look I'm shooting for.
4. Figure out what's needed to create the look.
Blogs were especially useful to me at this point. Now that I knew what look I liked, I needed to figure out how to create it. What undergarments are necessary? Are there defining features of the corset or other undergarments that are particular to this period? For the Natural Form era, I learned that I will need Natural Form hoops, a corset, a petticoat, a chemise/drawers or combination, and probably a bum pad. These are going to be my starting projects. Also look into the kinds of fabrics used and what prints were common. Fabric goes a long way in making a garment look authentic.
5. Who is the expert in this era?
Find out who is knowledgeable. Look for blogs, Facebook groups, books, and articles written by experts that can help you in your journey. Especially when it comes to sewing the garment itself, look for pattern reviews or blog posts that can show made-up garments and tell how historically authentic something is. If in doubt, join a Facebook group and ask lots of questions or contact a blogger that has a lot of experience to help clarify things for you. (Though, as a blogger, I'd suggest combing their blog for relevant posts first. If you still don't find an answer, then ask!)
6. Decide what project to do first.
Take into consideration the order of your projects. It will do you no use to sew a dress if you don't have the proper undergarments. You'll have to readjust it all later anyway if you go that route (and it won't look right to begin with), so it makes sense to start with the inner layers and work out. For me, this means I'll be making a chemise and set of drawers first, then a corset. After that I'll do the other undergarments, then finally the outer layers and accessories!
7. TAKE THE PLUNGE!
Buy the pattern book. Get the sewing supplies. Get to clicking/shopping and just DO IT. Take the leap. I just got my pattern book, so this is the stage I'm at! It's time to start SEWING!
Here are some blogs and resources I found helpful as I researched:
The Aristocat - This blogger has done a lot of time periods (back to the 1600s) and creates MAGIC.
Before the Automobile - This is the same blogger behind the blog above, with more posts! More awesome history and gorgeous garments to gawk at!
Festive Attyre - Jen creates clothing from the Renaissance up to mid-20th century. I found her posts on 1870s garments, skirt supports, and corsets VERY helpful.
American Duchess - Well-known in historical costuming circles, this blog is full of good stuff from lots of eras, especially the 1700s.
The Dreamstress - She has lots of examples of period garments with careful, observant descriptions, along with several sewing projects, explanations of terms, and history. Her 1870s posts were great for me!
What other blogs/websites have you found useful in researching for historical costuming information? Have you delved into historical costuming? What eras are most intriguing to you?