Monday, 16 February 2015

19th Century Swedish Commoner’s Kerchief

As one of the co-moderators of the Historical Sew (Monthly) Fortnightly Facebook group I feel it a duty to actually take part in a challenge now and then. The HS(M)F is very inspiring, and have for the past two years spurred me to sew historical things even when I didn’t really feel like it, or felt short on time – very rewarding when finished. Busy as I am though, the items I do for the challenges are more often than not quite simple. This is one of those things. But a simple thing can still be well made and well researched.

I am always on the lookout for fabrics and other things that will fit projects I’m working on or am planning. As I have had a very narrow income for most of my life, I’ve got in the habit of waiting for a thing to show up at a price I can justify, rather than getting what I want when I want it, or accepting poor alternatives. This is especially true of periods I don’t commit fully to at the moment. It’s not an ideal way to go about costuming, as it can take years - decades even - to stumble on the right things, but what can you do if you’re a poor perfectionist...

Fabrics for women’s clothing during the 19th century (lower to middle class) is one of those things I’m always looking for, and smallish checked tablecloths can be very good to pick up, as they are often of the right size (ca. 70-100 cm depending on the year) and often have woven in borders that were typical of  head- and neckerchiefs. 

This is how you see them worn all over the country, 
but there were also other, more regional styles.

Simple checked kerchiefs were worn by all ordinary women, as the wearing of hats and bonnets were often looked upon as dressing above one’s station. The group pressure in the countryside was severe enough in many places that this informal rule was usually adhered to right through the century and into the next. In towns and cities it was less rigid, but many couldn’t afford other headwear than kerchiefs anyway. There were other kinds of kerchiefs as well, but I won’t go into that in this post.


How these checked kerchiefs looked changed over the 19th century. In the early years they were made from linen, with blue, yellow and/or red checks on a white base. As the century wore on they were often made from linen/cotton and then cotton. Darker shades, often with red and light blue checks on a dark blue base, appeared. The season also affected the colours: lighter colours were worn in the summer and darker colours in the winter. Sometimes you see two kinds of borders on the same kerchief, so when folded into a triangle, depending on what half you showed off, it would be proper for different occasions, one often being simpler and the other brighter, or more elaborate.

These kerchiefs were often woven at home, sometimes in greater quantities, to be sold on by the weaver, or, more often, by peddlers. In some parts of the country it became tradition for brides-to-be to weave kerchiefs for their friends.

This one I got for a small price at a charity shop a few years ago. The colours and border look enough like period kerchiefs to make me quite glad I found it. I cut of the tied fringes, and hemmed the square by hand with blue linen thread, just like in some originals. 

Tada! a finished challenge. In the pictures I’m wearing it with the Insanely Pieced Dress

This style is seen in the county Skåne (Scania), alongside the other.

The Challenge: #2 Blue
Fabric: Cotton
Pattern: none
Year: About mid to late 19th century
Notions: Linen thread
How historically accurate is it? Pretty much.
Hours to complete: About two.
First worn: For the pictures
Total cost: Between 10-30 SEK ($1,19-3,57; £0,77-2,32; €1,04-3,13), for the fabric I think, and a little more for the thread, though that came from stash.

Eldvik, B. Möte med Mode - folkliga kläder 1750-1900 i Nordiska Museet. Stockholm: Nordiska Museets Förlag.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Mending a Petticoat

I often wear some sort of petticoat under my skirts and dresses. I like the feeling of layers; it makes the skirts fall in a nicer way, and prevents my legs from getting tangled in them. One of the ones most frequently worn was made from an old curtain with a pinked flounce, which I picked up at a charity shop several years ago. 

Once it looked this pretty.

The pinked hem has literally been worn to shreds, and I’ve been meaning to do something about that for a while, but as it’s hardly ever seen, mending it would be so boring compared with making new things, and so it just never got done. 

And then life happened. Disgraceful.

But then I joined the Facebook group Garderobsutmaningen (the Wardrobe Challenge), where you are supposed to update your wardrobe by every means possible, except by buying newly produced clothes, as a means to do both your appearance, your bank account and the environment a service. Re-purposing fabric, dyeing, embroidering, altering, swapping, mending and so on is encouraged. As I’ve seen all the other things people have mended I felt more ashamed than usual about my own unsightly petticoat hem, and decided that enough was enough. So today I cut of the worn piece, and made a simple turned hem instead. I chose to do it this way, as it protects the pinked flounce still there from being torn.

Ready to be worn again, without shame.

So that’s one meaningful thing done today. Be prepared to hear more about this challenge - my wardrobe do need a bit of work. Fun as it is with period and fantasy clothing (I haven't come across anything that can beat it yet), it's also nice to look good when going about ones day to day business...

Monday, 9 February 2015

Plaid Dress with Matching Skirt

The dress I wore for my Winter in the Shire photo shoot is one I wear on a regular basis. It’s not made to be a costume, but something practical that I can do housework in, play and cuddle with the children in, is easily washed, and still feel feminine. Those who have followed me for a while know that I make a lot of my skirts and dresses myself (though not all of them make it onto the blog – ordinary photo shoots are just not much fun…) because the mainstream fashion of today is very dull. I want my skirts and dresses rather full and long, but not so much that I need to hold them out of the way to prevent fatal accidents when carrying a child up the stairs. I also want them to send the thoughts to past times, or fairy tales, without them being copies of any particular style.  
Sorry about the poor photo quality - this is the work of the 
 self timer on my camera, sitting on the bed, in which the baby was sleeping. 
A proper photo shoot is not always possible.

I really like to re-purpose fabrics, for both economical and environmental reasons. Old curtains and tablecloths have a lot of fabric in them, and are often very cheap – just saying ;) This dress is made from old curtains – Maria von Trapp would approve, I think.

This is how I usually wear the dress at the moment, with a tricot top. As it is winter I often wear a cardigan over it as well, but I couldn’t do that in the pictures as it would hide the dress… I believe a thin blouse will work well with it as the weather grows warmer. The contrast between the sturdy dress fabric and delicate blouse could be charming.

As mentioned, the matching skirt was made quite a long time before the dress, so it’s faded a bit, but I don’t mind it that much actually… To prevent the dress and skirt separating in front I have sewn thread loops to the skirt, and corresponding hooks to the dress bodice. It works very well.

As I’ve said before, I need to make better support to be worn under the dress (it will make it sit, oh, so much nicer!), but everything that needs to be fitted takes a lot of time to make right now, as I need to find some quiet time when I won’t be interrupted. I’m sure many a mum can relate.

I’ll probably put a panel behind the hook and eye closure in the front, but other than that I’m pretty well pleased with it, and might make more dresses in this style, as I really like it.