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Author Topic: New to Sewing with a Historical Purpose: Need advice (maybe a lot of advice...)  (Read 4225 times)
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Paula_Maxine
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« on: June 26, 2014, 11:28:04 PM »

Hi Everyone! I'm super excited to be talking to you all about this wonderful era we all love.  Grin My parents and I have long decided that I am an old soul trapped in modern-day society. (examples: I begged my mom to teach me to crochet at 6years old, started knitting and sewing at 10, I love to bake and take care of our urban chickens, etc.)

Now that you know a smidge about me: I would like to start reenacting at Fort Nisqually (1833-1869), but I need to construct my wardrobe first..

Some background from their site: "Fort Nisqually was operated and served by Scottish gentlemen, Native Americans, Kanakas (Hawaiians), French-Canadians, West Indians, Englishmen and American settlers. Fort Nisqually grew from a remote outpost to a major international trading establishment. Local animal furs were a source of revenue for the Hudson Bay Company. Soon Fort Nisqually was producing crops and livestock for local consumption and export to Russian America, Hawaii, Spanish California, Europe and Asia. Native Americans were also welcomed at Fort Nisqually as friends, customers, fur traders, farm and livestock employees, and even as spouses!"

So with that in mind, the fort portrays life during it's peak international trading years. I would LOVE to make a wool traveling suit or dress and portray a daughter or spouse (since I'll be 21 in July) of a business family. Does that sound like a good idea?

I need help with answering these questions:
1. What is considered a good price for wool fabric? I've never ordered wool fabric before.  online store has 60"w wool blend for $5.75 a yd. Is that a good price?
2. Are there any colors that women didn't wear? So far I'm torn between these colors: Chocolate Brown, Midnight Navy, Hunter Green, and Plum.
3. Are "Hopsack" and "Gabardine" style woven material period correct?
4. Has anyone found a good traveling suit pattern? Otherwise I was planning on altering Butterick's 5543 Civil War Dress Pattern

and make it look like this traveling suit (with different trims)

she used corduroy fabric so I think wool will work...

Please let me know your thoughts & suggestions! I look forward to meeting everyone Smiley
~Paula <3
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Miss Ruth
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« Reply #1 on: June 27, 2014, 07:55:26 AM »

Hey, Paula! I'm Ruth! It's awesome to have you with us on here!  Smiley

I'm not an authority on anything, but I'll try to answer some of your questions Smiley Your persona sounds really cool!

So to the questions...

1. I haven't payed full price for wool yet, but Denver Fabrics has a really nice wool selection. I got mine for $5.99 or thereabouts. WOW $5.75 is really good. What kind of blend is it?
2. All of your colors are perfectly fine for a young lady. I am not personally aware of any colors women did not wear.
3. Not sure about what either of these are! haha A nice wool suiting is beautiful to work with! mine was so nicely slippery  Grin
4. I would not recommend that pattern. It does not appear to be period correct. I think your best bet would be to drape your own pattern. It isn't very hard. Do you have either Practical Prinkery or the Dressmaker's Guide?

Now, I have a few questions and suggestions for you!

1. Do you have your undergarments already? If not, you should totally make those first.
2. Do a lot of research! Look at originals (such as CDV's) and some of the lovely dresses the ladies on here have made!
3. What time of year do you think you will be reenacting? Because wool can be rather heavy for summer if you do not get a light enough blend. If you reenact during the summer, consider getting tropical weight wool. I've never had it myself but several people have said it is an absolutely beautiful material for summer wear!

So, I'll get off the soapbox and let some of the other ladies answer... They may disagree with me!

Ruth  Smiley
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« Reply #2 on: June 27, 2014, 08:29:55 AM »

Paula,
I believe there are some other volunteers from Ft Nisqually that frequent the forum.
They should be a big help as to what is best for that site.
Liz W.
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« Reply #3 on: June 27, 2014, 08:46:30 AM »

Hi Paula Smiley

You're in the right place. This forum is, in my humble opinion, the best stop for anyone reenacting the mid 19th century. It's especially good for those like the ladies at Ft. Nisqually, who are in an earlier time period than the Civil War reenactors out there. There's a ton of information you can trust here.

Let me start off by saying that this forum has an amazing search function. 95% of the questions you have can be answered by using the search function. For example, gabardine and hopsack have both been discussed here previously, so if you search by either of those terms, you'll come up with a list of threads that you  can use to spur your research.

To answer some of your questions:

1. What is the wool blended with? 100% wool is your best bet (and I'll let you search around on here for answers to that question). I've found that standard price at fabric outlets (both online and in the flesh) to be $10.50/yard for a good wool, with occasional deals around $7/yard and the rare screaming deal of $5/yard.
2. Appropriate colors have been discussed previously on here.
3. Again, if you search these forums, you'll find out more about hopsack and gabardine, and which are the most appropriate weaves of wool. The short answer is that fabric manufacturers use a variety of terms to refer to wool weaves, and that some are more easily parsed than others; worsted wool in a light or tropical weight is generally a good bet for almost-year-round wear.
4. As Liz W. says, Fort Nisqually is renowned for its great interpretation. If you're looking to start interpreting there, your best bet would be to confer with them on what your best bet is for a dress style, pattern, and fabric. They may have needs and requirements, so best to check with them before you make investments in fabric and supplies.

As Ruth says, the best plan is to start on your undergarments first. The dresses are heavily fitted to the properly-corseted shape, and require some foundational garments. I highly recommend you purchase a copy of Mrs. Clark's Dressmaker's Guide; you will never need another pattern again, and it will answer all your questions about dressmaking. You'll learn how to get The Look, so that people think you stepped out of the past, rather than looking like a costume.

You're like the rest of us - born in the wrong time Smiley We've all been there as new living historians, some of us decades ago and some of us more recently. The best part is that we all made a lot of mistakes in the beginning (self included, God knows the monstrous dresses I wore) and we're happy to share our knowledge so that you don't have to make those same mistakes.  Smiley
« Last Edit: June 27, 2014, 09:14:50 AM by BetsyConnolly » Logged

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Paula_Maxine
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« Reply #4 on: June 27, 2014, 11:00:06 AM »

Thanks for the help! Smiley

Planning wardrobe undergarments first makes so much sense.. I wish I had thought of that! lol thanks Ruth! Also the wool was 50/50 wool/poly on fashionfabricsclub.com most are also 60"wide. The 100% wool is about $10.75. I was planning on starting in the winter since I turned in an application for summer in may and have yet to receive a response. Summer is the busiest time of the year, so they probably haven't had time to review it yet.

Thank you Liz. It's nice to know there are other Washingtonians using this forum. Smiley

I'll be sure to purchase the Dressmaker's Guide, thank you Betsy for your advice about the search feature. The posts I had read sounded like most were experienced and far from the novice level I'm at, it didn't occur to me that others may have encountered the same problems... I'm so sorry for any redundancies in my post. I'll be more vigilant in the future by researching more before I post. Smiley

Many Thanks Again,
~Paula <3
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« Reply #5 on: June 27, 2014, 11:01:04 AM »

Welcome to Nisqually!  It's a great site, and it's always good to have more young ladies at the Factor's house (Mrs. Tolmie has 7 younger sisters, so there's definitely roles available for someone your age; being a visiting American from Steilacoom City are also an option).  

Our usual interpretation year is 1855 (/1857/1859 for the candlelight tour).  If you haven't already, definitely talk to Nancy about costuming resource on site--there are several fabric reference books in the Clerk's house, and period patterns available to borrow.  There's also a very good lending wardrobe, so you can get started at the Fort while you work on your dress.  Will you be at Brigade in August?  Most people try to be there, so it's a good time to meet the other volunteers.
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« Reply #6 on: June 27, 2014, 11:08:44 AM »

Sorry for the double-post: if you want to start earlier, I'd e-mail Mike or Lane at the office and mention that you sent in an application, and are eager to start.  There's a big volunteer training day in early spring, but they also try to fit in smaller training meetings throughout the year.  When I did it, there was a 3-hour orientation (here's the site, here's what we do, here are resources to get started), and then you pick a mentor who shares your interests and shadow them a couple times.  It's lots of fun.
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« Reply #7 on: June 27, 2014, 11:36:51 AM »


I'll be sure to purchase the Dressmaker's Guide, thank you Betsy for your advice about the search feature. The posts I had read sounded like most were experienced and far from the novice level I'm at, it didn't occur to me that others may have encountered the same problems... I'm so sorry for any redundancies in my post. I'll be more vigilant in the future by researching more before I post. Smiley


Someone else asked me about this recently. The Dressmaker's Guide is the handbook for sewing in the mid-19th century. It includes information for beginning sewers as well as advanced sewers. While most sewing techniques remain the same today as they were in the 1850s/1860s, some techniques have changed, or their application has changed in the ensuing 150 years. Using The Dressmaker's Guide will teach you to sew the 1850s way, rather than the modern way.

If anything, you have an advantage - you don't have to unlearn modern sewing techniques. Smiley And if you find something mentioned on here that you need more information on, and there's nothing in the Dressmaker's Guide to help you, all you have to do is ask.

Edit to add: You'd be surprised at how much step-by-step sewing info you can find online. I've yet to seek out a technique for which I couldn't find any help.
« Last Edit: June 27, 2014, 11:53:16 AM by BetsyConnolly » Logged

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« Reply #8 on: June 27, 2014, 12:52:36 PM »

Also the wool was 50/50 wool/poly on fashionfabricsclub.com most are also 60"wide. The 100% wool is about $10.75.

For accurate portrayals, Paula, you will want to use 100% natural fibers. wool/poly blends did not exist in the 1800's  Smiley They can also be quite dangerous around campfires as polyester is prone to melting if it catches fire! Just thought I would mention that! I hope you have a lot of fun delving into the realm, and be sure to post pictures of your finished projects!  Grin
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« Reply #9 on: June 28, 2014, 06:55:34 AM »

From one Paula to another,
Welcome to the site.  Another resource that I don't think anyone has suggested is you are in luck Liz is coming to Nisqually this October to do a weekend long workshop all about sewing and fitting period clothing.  Registration is open now so you may want to check it out.
Paula
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Paula_Maxine
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« Reply #10 on: June 28, 2014, 02:48:01 PM »

 
Another resource that I don't think anyone has suggested is you are in luck Liz is coming to Nisqually this October to do a weekend long workshop all about sewing and fitting period clothing.  Registration is open now so you may want to check it out.
Paula

I have always liked meeting other Paulas <3 My mom wanted to name me Pauline Maxine after both of my grandmas, but my dad said "that is too big of a name for a baby". They agreed on Paula Smiley

Oh wow!  Shocked It looks amazing! Maybe I can convince my parents to contribute to some expenses as a birthday present? Otherwise I will see if I can save up by then. Paula, I just bought a bolt of muslin after reading on another post that is what you do. Cheesy Such a good idea! Overall, it is cheaper than buying by the yard so I justified it... Now waiting for it's arrival so that I can start on undergarments.. Smiley

Is it ok to start out with a cheep costume hoop skirt and then upgrade later to a higher quality? Is there a favored hoop size? I think I read on a post no more than 100"? I am assuming that it changes with height? I am 5' 7".

~Paula <3
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« Reply #11 on: June 28, 2014, 03:07:57 PM »

Welcome to the forum, Miss Maxine!

I would very strongly suggest that the Dressmaker's Guide be one of your first purchases.  I learned so much from it!  I even read it from cover to cover when I first received it, and then went through the various sections that I needed Smiley.  When I made my first dress, I considered using a Simplicity pattern, another of "The Big Three".  After some more research, I was convinced that this would not be the best choice.  These articles from Abraham's Lady, helped me greatly before I found the Sewing Academy -- this one particularly.

With that said, I think it would be much better for you to make your own patterns from the Dressmaker's Guide.  It is a lot of fun, and will require no modifications to make it period correct.

The Dressmaker's Guide includes instruction on making a hoop skirt, too Smiley.  I started with a costume hoop skirt (the kind with fabric between the suspended hoops), and would not recommend it.  Firstly, they are too long.  You are about as tall as I, so I think this would be a problem for you, too.  Secondly, making one will cost you quite a bit less that a pre-made one that you have to modify.  You will need to start with your chemise, drawers, and corset before making your cage, though.

And congratulations on purchasing your muslin bolt!  I'm was so excited about mine, and should have done it a lot sooner Smiley.
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Paula_Maxine
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« Reply #12 on: June 28, 2014, 03:21:30 PM »

I would very strongly suggest that the Dressmaker's Guide be one of your first purchases.  I learned so much from it!  I even read it from cover to cover when I first received it, and then went through the various sections that I needed Smiley.  When I made my first dress, I considered using a Simplicity pattern, another of "The Big Three".  After some more research, I was convinced that this would not be the best choice.  These articles from Abraham's Lady, helped me greatly before I found the Sewing Academy -- this one particularly.

With that said, I think it would be much better for you to make your own patterns from the Dressmaker's Guide.  It is a lot of fun, and will require no modifications to make it period correct.

Allison, Thank you for answering my questions so quickly! Smiley I forgot to say I am waiting on the bolt of muslin and my copy of the dressmaker's guide. The problem is that I have the same level of excitement as a child in a candy store... Since I already have a costume hoop skirt, I thought I could adjust it while I waited for the real goodies to arrive.

~Paula <3
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« Reply #13 on: June 28, 2014, 04:36:28 PM »

Since I already have a costume hoop skirt, I thought I could adjust it while I waited for the real goodies to arrive.

I have a thought (again, this is exactly what I did Smiley), instead of modifying your hoop, you could "transform" it.  I removed the hoop wires from mine and, per the Dressmaker's Guide, suspended them from 1" cotton tapes, and these last into a waistband.  It is working quite well for me.  I wouldn't, however, set your tapes permanently until you have your corset finished.  Your torso shape will affect how the cage hangs.

Congratulations on getting the Dressmaker's Guide. Smiley
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« Reply #14 on: June 28, 2014, 05:00:34 PM »

Do note that for Fort Nisqually you'll need both styles and fabrics from 6-7 years before the Civil War, the era for which many of us here re-enact.  I strongly recommend checking with the Fort Nisqually folks before buying or making anything (including patterns).  Chemises, drawers, petticoats are fine, but I wouldn't go beyond those without making sure that what you're buying or making fits their standards.  EKorsmo points out above that they have a lot of in-house resources.  

There's nothing more frustrating than putting time, effort and $$$ into items that turn out to be unsuitable.  Been there, done that!  Sad
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« Reply #15 on: June 28, 2014, 08:19:21 PM »

I wouldn't worry about a hoop just now, at least not at Nisqually.  They only let us use them every 3 years (when candlelight tour is set in '59); since we're normally in '55, we're at nearly the last possible year in which hoops aren't appropriate.  You'll want a corded petticoat, with some nice starched pettis to bell it out.
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« Reply #16 on: June 29, 2014, 03:31:50 PM »

Welcome Paula!!!  I'm so excited for you!  I know it's a bit overwhelming at first, but let me echo what a bunch of the other ladies are saying and tell you to do undergarments first.  You would be AMAZED at how much confidence you gain just by starting from the inside, and knowing that whatever goofs you make as you learn will not ever be seen by others than yourself.  I was raring to go when I started and began with my dress.  I did all right, but when I actually did the thing properly it felt solid and oh-so-good. 

I actually am one of those crazy people who like the comfort of a lot of petticoats without the hoop.  I actually feel prettier in the whole swishy thing than in the bell-like hoop. 

Another thing about wools is that you actually don't have to get as much as you might think, seeing as they are averaging 60" wide.  I don't reenact 1850s, but I believe there is less fabric to the skirt in that period than in the 60s.

So start in on your chemise and have fun!  You can do that immediately as Mrs. Clark has a free pattern on her site (thesewingacademy.com) that you can use immediately.  And get some lace or do some embroidery and it and have fun. 

-BethT
 
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Gen. 3:21
The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.
 
Thus began fashion.
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