My dear reader, it can be daunting to stand at the precipice of beginning a new hobby, looking over the edge at all of the possibilities that lay before you, and freezing up because you don’t know what path to take and are afraid of messing things up from the start. Hello analysis paralysis, our untimely friend. (I’m currently suffering from this ailment in terms of getting my first garden off the ground, BUT that is a story for another time.)
When I first began historical sewing, I was just a baby sewist in 2016 trying to cobble together an 18th century dress inspired by Claire’s wedding dress from the TV series Outlander. The patterns I Frankensteined together was more 17th century pirate wench with lots of sparkly metallic machine embroidery. The petticoat wasn’t even properly hemmed and the raw edges were fraying like crazy. I had weird gapping in the bodice around the neckline. And let’s not mention how much I was lacking in the appropriate foundational garments department (i.e. my corset was a fashion corset I purchased online, my chemise was a nightgown, and I was definitely wearing yoga pants underneath it all).
As you can imaging, it was overwhelming and a bit of a hot mess, but at the time I was absolutely thrilled with result and wore it proudly to the Renaissance fair. Through this endeavor, I learned a handful of new techniques and skills that I still use in my projects today even though I don’t have the dress anymore.
As a sewing novice, you may read the above anecdote and think to yourself, ‘There’s NO WAY I’m going to tackle a project like that! There’s too much going on and quite a bit of investment in time and money.’ And that is perfectly fine.
In the place of a giant project like the one above, I would like to guide you towards a handful of relatively small sewing projects that are historical, involve a low investment of money and time, teaches you new hand sewing skills without overwhelming you, and are absolutely useful for a modern homemaker.
My dear reader, over the past year I have endeavored to create a historical wardrobe to wear everyday based upon the fashions of the 1890’s through to the 1900’s. This of course has been a slow process, but one that I have greatly enjoyed! At this point, I am ready to add a very sensible staple piece to my wardrobe, a black wool walking skirt.
In the 1890’s, you can see shift in the ‘ideal silhouette’ from the protruding bustle skirts to the puffed sleeved bodices, nipped-in-waist, and bell-shaped skirts. This was to be the era of readily available ready-to-wear clothing, female independence, the New Woman, bicycles, sports wear, the Gibson Girl, and new technologies. In essence, this was a transitional decade from the rigidity of the Victorian era to the New Century. (Franklin, 2019)
With more women joining the workforce and engaged in athletic activities at the turn of the century, these women needed an outfit that was practical, comfortable, and casual to wear. This gave rise to the skirt and shirtwaist (blouse) combination. As we look at this ensemble with our modern sense of what we deem as comfortable and practical, a long, full skirt doesn’t appear to fit the bill. However, for these women transitioning away from the bustles and hoops of the previous decades, wearing a skirt that doesn’t require either (except for some light padding to support the weight of the pleats or gathers in the back of the skirt) is very practical indeed! Not to mention, the hemline of the skirt could either be at a fashionable full length or up to ankle length for practicality.
Over the past few months I have taken up the mantle of a passion project I began several years back, to sew my own clothing and to have a nearly complete me-made wardrobe. My style preferences have changed considerably since 2016, however I believe I have found the style and era that I feel completely at home in: late Victorian to early Edwardian (roughly 1890-1910).
At this point I have already made a handful of underpinnings and several walking skirts (with more to come, of course). Now I wish to turn my attentions towards the House Dress.
As a mom to a very active toddler, its very important to me that I am able to keep up with her while still feeling comfortable and put together. At the beginning of motherhood I fell into the trap of wearing yoga pants for everything, a modern mom uniform, and I greatly wished to break free no matter how alluring those stretchy polyester pants are. In addition to my motherly duties, I spend my days as a house wife running the home, cooking homemade meals, and completing day-to-day chores, so I need these clothes to be practical and functional.
One evening I was up late scrolling through pages of sewing patterns on Etsy, as one does, when I came across this pattern for a 1908 House Dress. At once I knew this was the solution to my dilemma! This fantastic dress was the perfect marriage of form and function to clad myself in as a worked around my home and played with my daughter.