Monday, November 12, 2018

I Know it Exists, but Where? (Finding the Original 1865 Pink and Lace Ball Gown)

Finally, I had all my materials gathered and I had my excuse to make this pink and lace dream of an 1865 ball gown. I could actually get started on it! I could really, truly, begin making it!

Click on the picture to go to the museum database listing of the dress
Hallwyl House

Before I cut into my fabric, however, there was one thing I wanted to do. I knew this dress was in a museum somewhere, so I wanted to find it in that museum database, look at all the available pictures of the dress, and read the description of it. There's always something to be learned from reading museum or auction house descriptions of historical clothing! Before I began my recreation of this dress, I wanted to learn as much as possible about the original. 
Also, there are an awful lot of pictures of pretty dresses out there on the internet labeled as "Original 1800's" (or whatever) that are actually modern-made movie costumes or something similar. By finding the dress I wanted to recreate in a museum database (or on an action site, or this blog, or another similar site), I could be sure I was recreating an actual period piece, primary source material, not someone else's historically-themed artistic work.

There are millions of pins of the pink and lace ball gown on Pinterest - I know I've personally pinned multiple different pictures of it myself. Every time I've come across a picture of it from another angle, or a close-up picture of it I've saved that picture to my "Historical Clothing to Re-Create" board. Then, when I was ready to make the dress, I realized that none of my several pins actually linked back to a museum database or an auction listing. They all linked to random sites commenting on how pretty the dress was - and none of those sites linked back to a museum database, or auction listing, or any reputable website about extant historical clothing.  Gahhhhhh!

In an ideal world, all pictures of historical clothing on Pinterest would link back to museum or auction sites, like this 1880's dress pin does:

If you click on this pin, you can go right to the Met Museum's page about this bustle dress. It's fabulous! Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world. Pinterest is full of pins that do not link back to their primary source. And my beloved 1865 pink and lace ball gown appeared to have missed the memo that I needed to know where it came from. Thus, I had to take matters into my own hands to find out where the pink dress resided.

I started by reverse google searching for the image.

For just about any picture on the internet, you can right-click on the image and this menu will come up. Click on "Search Google for image" and another tab will open in your internet browser listing almost all the places on the internet you can find the picture. (Unfortunately I do not know how to do this on a smartphone or tablet, only a computer.)

When the results come up, a ton of them will link right back to Pinterest, but the goal here is to find a source that's not Pinterest. So I begin by ignoring those results and just look for results that link elsewhere. In the past, when I've been tracking down extant historical garments this way, I've only had to scroll through a page or two of results before I find a museum or auction listing of the item. This dress, however, was playing hardball. Page after page of results, and not one linked to the museum database I was hoping to find.

Eventually, on page 5 or 6, I found this blog post, featuring a picture of the dress. In the blog post, I not only found pictures of the dress, I also learned all about the woman who wore the dress, Countess Wilhelmina Von Hallwyland I discovered where the dress was - the Hallwyl House Museum in Sweden.

Thus, much to my relief, it was ascertained the dress was an extant 1860's piece, not a modern make. However, helpful as the blog post was, it did not link to the museum database. I still wanted to find that and read the museum's description of the dress to (hopefully) learn some key information about the construction of the original dress.

Even knowing the name of the museum, the database was hard to find. I found a webpage for the museum, but it had no database. I was almost ready to give up, thinking that perhaps this small Swedish museum just might not have an online public database. Then I stumbled across another pin of the dress - and this one linked to a site called "E Museum Plus" - and it looked promising.

So I followed the link, and found myself here:

The website explained it was the database for the Royal Armory, Skokloster Castle and the Hallwyl Museum Collections. Finally I had found the database I'd been searching for. Now I just had to find the dress. 

The database actually has a decent search feature, allowing you to search through all three collections at once, or each collection individually. You can do a keyword search, or search a specific year span. It took a few tries, with different year spans and keywords, before I finally found the pink and lace ball gown I'd been looking for.

And the description accompanying the pictures of the dress was well worth finding! At the bottom of the page, under the "Description" tab, there are two paragraphs of information about the dress and it's construction! By reading the description, I discovered things about the dress I couldn't have learned by just looking at it - such as the exact skirt dimensions and back closure method. (Unfortunately, there were no pictures of the back of the dress as I'd hoped there would be, but the lengthy description pretty much made up for that.

Once I found the dress, of course I wanted to save it so I could come back and reference the description later. That's when I discovered that if I just copied the url from the address box at the top of the window, and saved that link for later, it wouldn't actually get me back to the dress listing. If I used that link later it would take me to a page saying "your session has timed out" then redirect me to the database home page, and I'd have to search the entire database again to find the dress - rather inconvenient.

To save a link that would take me back to the dress listing, I actually needed to copy and save the "Bookmarkable URL" found on the page itself. So that is the URL I've copied, and saved, and used every time I've needed to link back to the dress on this blog, Pinterest, and Facebook. After as long as it took me to find the darned dress in a museum database, I am not sharing anymore pictures of it without sharing that link as well! (That means whenever I share a picture of the of the original dress, as I did at the beginning of this post, you can click on the picture or photo caption, and it will take you right to the database listing.)

Thus, after hours online, I finally found exactly what I was looking for - the Museum database listing of my dream 1865 ball gown. And I pinned the dress to my Pinterest board yet again - and this pin links to the museum database listing, just as it should.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

My Dream 1865 Pink and Lace Ball Gown - Obstacles

I don't remember exactly when I saw this dress, but I do remember I fell in love with it immediately.

1865 Countess Wilhelmina Von Hallwyl Dress 
(Click on photo to go to museum listing)
Instantly I wanted to recreate it, but there were a few obstacles in my way. 
  • First, when I saw this dress I was quite new to making historical clothing and had no idea how to go about making it.
  • Second, where would I find the materials for the dress at a reasonable price? Silk Moire is expensive and not readily available! Same with nice lace.
  • Third, I really had no reason to make an 1865 ball gown.
In the past few years, that first obstacle has completely fallen away. Over time, several historical dress projects have given me the skills needed to make the dress.

The second obstacle mostly stayed the same, but began to fall away two years ago.

And, as for having no reason to make the dress, that actually become a bigger obstacle in the past couple years. You see, I made an 1860's ball gown. And I've never had anything to wear it to (though I have loaned it out a time or two for highschool girls to wear to school history events.) I could see no reason to make a second 1860's ball gown, when I already had one I didn't wear.

Despite my concerns for the, umm, practicality, (for lack of a better word?) of making another 1860's ball gown, two years ago I sealed my fate when it came to this dress. By spending $12, I declared I would be making this dress! Eventually.

While at a fabulous little fabric store in the middle of a Mennonite community in rural Missouri, I happened across a bolt of Moire fabric, in the exact same shade of pink as that ball gown of my dreams. For only $1.50 a yard. No, it wasn't silk, it was a blend of either rayon or cotton, and something else, but it was still just what I needed. I could overlook the less than historically accurate fiber content for the perfect color and texture of this fabric. 8 yards came home with me, for a grand total of $12. 

There was now only one and a half obstacles in the way on making this dress - lace, and an excuse to make the dress.

The lack of excuse was the next obstacle to fall away. My siblings decided to take part in a Jr. High and High school production of "A Christmas Carol". My sister got cast as Mrs. Fezziwig, the host of a ball. Clearly, she would need a ball gown to wear. 

Once the play was cast, it was quickly decided that my existing ball gown would be worn in the ball scene by the girl playing "Belle", Scrooge's lost love. Thus, my sister would need a different dress to wear, and here my excuse to make my dream pink and lace ball gown was found. 

My sister and I are about the same size now. She can wear my historical dresses, no problem. So, I would make the ball gown according to my corseted measurements, and my sister could wear it in the play. 

I presented said little sister with this idea, and the picture of the ball gown I wanted to recreate. She heartily agreed to the plan, falling in love with the dress, just as I had done.

The skills were developed, main fabric was acquired, excuse was found. There was only one last partial obstacle left to overcome - the lace.


As much as I would have loved to find historically accurate silk or cotton lace, that just wasn't feasible. I didn't have the budget for it. A more modern, synthetic, alternative would have to be used. So, I went to Joann's, armed with a 60% off coupon, and set about picking something out from their bridal laces.  I wanted a net lace, with an identical wide scalloped border on each selvage edge, no beading, and no random appliqued-on 3D flowers. I found the lace you see above. Unfortunately, it does have sequins, which I really didn't want, but it ticked all the other boxes - and non-sequined lace meeting my requirements just wasn't to be had! With my cupon, the lace came out to $12 per yard - as much as the entire 8 yards of moire cost me - definitely the most expensive part of this dress, but also the most eye catching part.

The wide bridal lace would be used to trim the ball gown skirt, but I needed a narrower lace and an unadorned net to trim the bodice. 
In the Joann's special occasion fabrics I found a nylon net. While it's not silk, it does have a better drape, and is much nicer, than polyester tulle. So a yard of that came home with me for the bodice adornments.
The lace for trimming the bodice came from Hobby Lobby - it's a net lace with cotton embroidery on a nylon base - still not perfectly historically accurate, but much closer than my other trimmings!

Close up of the bodice of the original gown.
Click on the photo to go to the museum listing.

Once that net lace for trimming the bodice was purchased, I had all my materials. I could finally begin constructing this dress I'd admired for years.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

A Last Minute Refashioned Slytherin Uniform

On Sunday evening the brother requested a Halloween costume. Earlier in October he'd stated his intention not to dress up this year, and I tried to talk him out of that boring decision.  So honestly, his Halloween costume request was rather a pleasant surprise, and one I couldn't turn down.

He wanted a Hogwarts uniform. A Slytherin uniform. According to the Pottermore house quiz, my brother has been sorted into Slytherin House, and he is quite thrilled about this. Apparently Slytherin suits him. After all, the Slytherin House colors are green and silver, and green has been this boy's favorite color ever since he could talk!

Now, onto the sewing. Sunday evening my brother requested the Slytherin robe, and I agreed to make it. Almost immediately, I went "shopping" in my fabric stash. I came up with a queen sized black sheet and an elastic waist polyester skirt in just the right shade of green. The sheet had already been cut into for another project (and I have no memory of what this project was), but it looked like there would be just enough fabric left in it to make a robe. Who knows where the green skirt came from, or how it wound up in my refashion bin, but it would work perfectly for the hood lining and facings!

In my pattern stash I had Simplicity 8723, the official Harry Potter robe pattern, seridipidosly grabbed last time Simplicity patterns were on sale at Hobby Lobby.

Fabrics and pattern assembled, I was only missing one key element for the basic robe costume - the house patch, to be sewn to the front of the robe. There was nowhere in town I could buy a slytherin patch (I checked), and I didn't have time to order a patch. So, I improvised. Sunday evening, less than an hour before they closed, I dashed into Joann's and bought a quarter yard of Slytherin quilting cotton. It was covered in Slytherin house badges, perfect!

I carefully cut out a badge and fray checked the edges. It worked. The Slytherin badge had been obtained, and I could now begin making the robe.

Monday was my day off work, so first thing in the morning I began the robe construction. It took a bit of finagling, but I just managed to squeeze all the robe pieces out of the "fabric" I had. The robe front, back, sleeves, hood, and inseam pockets were cut from the partial black sheet. Nothing but scraps was left when I was done.

The front facing, back facing, and hood lining were cut from the green skirt, along with sleeve hem facings - which had not been included in the pattern, but I decided the robe needed. The sleeve hem facings are only about 2" wide, but the provide a clean finish and a pop of green whenever the inside of the large flared sleeves is visible. A much nicer finish than just a plain turned hem would have been. Once again, by the time I was done cutting out the facings and hood lining, nothing but scraps was left of the skirt.


After a quick trip into town to visit a thrift store late Monday morning (more on that later), the robe was sewn up easily Monday afternoon. There was nothing particularly complicated in the construction at all, and I never even pulled the pattern instructions out of the envelope. They simply weren't needed.  The hardest part of this project was definitely just fitting all the pattern pieces onto my limited amount of fabric when cutting!

Once the robe was assembled, the final step was attaching that Slytherin badge. I appliqued it to the front of the robe using a tight zig-zag on my sewing machine.

Then the robe was ready. I presented it to my brother once he got home from play rehearsal Monday night, and he was thrilled!

The costume was completed with basic black dress pants and shoes and a white button down my brother already had in his closet. The finishing touch was a green and gray striped silk tie I found at the thrift store Monday morning.

I'd gone to the thrift store hoping to find a solid green tie we could paint stripes on with silver fabric paint. But such a tie was not to be found. Instead I found a tie that was already striped, resembling the official Slytherin uniform tie. Nothing at all had to be done to it to be costume suitable, and that was just fine with me!

On all Hallows Eve, as soon as he was released from Muggle school, my brother transformed into a young wizard, ready to hand out candy (and eat a few pieces himself) at my parents' church's Trunk-or-Treat event.

At trunk-or-treat, he ran into a couple small Gryffindors who groaned when they saw him and complained "Ugg, a Slytherin." The brother replied by snarling "Gryffindor" Yes, house pride was alive and well in that church parking lot. Thankfully, all students remained respectful of the Gryffindor head of house, Professor McGonagall.

Even the Slytherin!

Monday, October 29, 2018

Completing the Professor McGonagall Costume

All year long, I've known who I would be for Halloween - Professor Minerva McGonagall. All because I went down a rabbit hole a year and a half ago, wondering what historical garments Harry Potter World wizard's robes might be similar to. Then I had to make said historically inspired robe, and when I say robe, I mean a full 1890's tea gown. Thus, back in May, I made the tea gown/McGonagall robe, and I've been waiting for Halloween to roll around ever since, so I'd actually have an excuse to wear it! (And to share it again thanks to the Halloween Costume blog tour I decided to participate in!)

Well, October arrived, a Halloween-themed croquet party made its way onto my calendar, and I realized my McGonagall costume was going to need a couple extra pieces to be truly complete.

First, when the kids I nanny saw the pictures from my photo shoot of this gown, they pointed out a glaring error in my costume - Professor McGonagall wears glasses, and I was not wearing glasses! Thankfully, this was an easy problem to solve. The day of the croquet party I just left out my contacts and wore my glasses instead. Easy Peasy.

The second accessory I needed was a witches' hat - a slightly crumpled one like Minerva McGonagall wears in the movies. This accessory would require a little more work than the glasses. Now yes, I did wear a witches' hat in the photoshoot, and yes, it did it's job, but it actually wasn't mine. I borrowed it from a friend. And for this costume, I actually wanted my own hat. My own velvet witch hat. I just had to find a pattern.

Finding the pattern for exactly what I wanted proved to be surprisingly easy. While browsing Pinterest for free PDF patterns one day, I happened upon the free "Bad Witch, Good Witch" pattern by Hot Patterns (made for, and available on, The pattern was for a crumpled witch hat - exactly what I needed - so I immediately downloaded it, printed it out, and got started.

I wanted to make my hat out of black velvet, which doesn't have enough body on it's own to be a tall pointy hat, so I flatlined my velvet with cotton canvas. I cut each pattern piece out of both materials then hand basted the canvas to the velvet. For even more body, I decided to iron heavy fusible interfacing onto quilting cotton to line the hat with. I did not want a floppy witch hat - just a crumpled one.

The brim of the hat is lined with a scrap of black and gray printed quilting cotton I found in my sewing room. The crown of the hat is lined with a green cotton/polyester blend fabric - left over from a thrifted bed sheet I used for mock -ups once upon a time. There is also an internal hat band made from black twill tape.

To give the finished hat a crumpled appearance, the pattern instructions say to "gently push the crown downwards to create a crumpled look." I attempted that, and didn't particularly like the results. The hat felt unsteady that way. The crumples felt too flimsy. I decided they needed to be more permanent. So I pinched small sections of fabric inside the hat and stitched my crumples in place. This resulted in a much more satisfactory finished hat.

A very tall finished hat - but really, the perfect accessory for my Professor McGonagall costume!

And with a borrowed wand (because I didn't have time to make one for myself), the outfit was ready and Halloween croquet party worthy!

I paired the costume with my refashioned lace-up boots for an afternoon of looking fabulous (and doing much less fabulous at croquet. Turns out I'm not very good at that particular past time.) The boots were surprisingly comfortable all afternoon!

I may not have done well at croquet, but I did have a lovely time with friends and I greatly enjoyed wearing my costume!

Photo Credit, for nearly the entire blog post, goes to Art and Julea Gerhard!

Are you ready to see all of the new Halloween costumes on the DIY Sewing Pattern Blog Tour? Me too!! Go ahead and follow along with us!

October 8th: Seams Sew Lo
October 9th: Momma Newey’s Makes
October 10th: Itsy Littles
October 11th: Aurora Designs
October 12th: Mijn 11jes &ik
October 13th: Seams Sew Lo
October 14th: My Golden Thimble
October 16th: Duchess and Hare
October 17th: A Rose Tinted World
October 18th: Cute. Sew. Make
October 19th: Custom Made by Laura
October 20th: My Golden Thimble
October 21st: Crafty Curly Couture
October 22nd: Malounami
October 23rd: Seams Sew Lo
October 24th: A Rose Tinted World
October 25th: GYCT Designs
October 26th: Crafting Through Time
October 27th: Aurora Design Fabrics
October 28th: Sew Couture by Kathy
October 29th: The Sewing Goatherd
October 30th: Manning the Machine
October 31st: Seams Sew Lo (Roundup)

Thursday, October 25, 2018

A Wonderful Wool Winter Wear Peacoat

Let me tell you about a very exciting text I received earlier this year. It was from my aunt. She was at an estate sale. And she sent me something along these lines: " I found a box of wool fabric. Do you want it?"

My response was quick:"Yes! Yes, Yes, Yes! Wool is one of my very favorite textiles to work with!"

My wonderful aunt brought the box of wool to me the next time she came to town, and I enthusiastically explored the contents. One of the first pieces of fabric I pulled from the box was a length of thick, soft, twill-weave, turquoise wool coating. Instantly, in my mind, it became a warm, casual, winter coat. All I had to do was actually turn the material into that coat.

As mentioned, wool is seriously one of my very favorite materials to work with, and I have a great fondness for making outerwear. So, clearly this was going to be a fun project. As soon as I actually got around to making it that is. To be honest, if left to my own devices, this coat probably wouldn't have been made until nearly the end of winter, like sometime in February. It would have been one of those projects constantly put off because of "more pressing things" such as Christmas Carol Costumes, or Christmas gifts, or Christmas dresses, or other such things. You get the picture. However, I was not left to my own devices to make this coat, instead, I joined the Winter Wear Designs "Outerwear" blog tour - just the push I needed to actually take the time to make my fabulous teal coat with that amazing piece of wool.

As soon as I found the Provence Pea Coat pattern on the Winter Wear website I wanted to make it. The coat has an absolutely beautiful shape and some great details. The eye catching seaming and yoke on the back drug me in. This was the coat my teal wool would become.

As far as good, heavy, warm, winter coats go, I have two - my torn up, bleach stained, and usually dirty chore coat, and the wool dress coat I made myself last winter. I definitely needed something in between those two coats. Something more casual than the dress coat, but nicer, and more socially acceptable, than the old chore coat. The Provence Pea Coat filled that gap perfectly.

Unfortunately, once I received the pattern for this coat and opened the PDF file, I was disappointed. The sleeve pattern was meant to be cut on the fold, meaning the front and back sleeve head would be symmetrical. To accommodate this, the front and back armscye were also the exact same shape. As my upper back and upper chest are not identical to each other, and human arms naturally hang slightly more toward the front of the body than the back, these symmetrical shapes were just not going to give me a well-fitting coat. Some pattern alterations would be necessary. So pattern alterations I did.

Now, let me just say real quick, over the past 6 months I have made an awful lot of Winter Wear Designs patterns, and I have been very pleased with them. They have been well-drafted and yielded good results for me. This is the first Winter Wear pattern I've had an issue with, and it's an older pattern, due for an update. I talked to Suzanne, the designer, and she told me this pattern is on the list to be updated, and once that is done it will have "anatomically correct" sleeves. As, at the time of the writing of this blog post, the update has not yet happened, I opted to alter the sleeve head and armscye pattern myself for my version of the coat.

The easiest way to "fix" the sleeves would have been to just trace the different front and back armscye shapes from a different pattern (such as the Button Up Top, or Fashionista Jacket also by WWD, and both with good sleeves and armscye shapes) onto the Provence Pea Coat pattern, and trace the sleeve head from the same pattern onto the pea coat sleeve pattern. But did I do things the easy way? No, I did not. And (for once) I had a very good reason for that.

Sleeves and shoulders are two things I've always had issues with when it comes to clothing - both in ready to wear clothes and clothing patterns. I have wide shoulders (and/or a broad upper back?), inherited from my father, and clothing just isn't made to accommodate that. You may have noticed, by reading this blog that I make my own clothes. Thus, I can easily just make my shirts, dresses, jackets, and coats with wide enough shoulders, right? Well, sort of, but it turns out getting the right shoulder fit is much easier said than done. In the past, I've messed around with the shoulder width on patterns, and made my clothing to fit better than store-bought. However, I've never quite gotten the "perfect fit". The, less than ideal, cut-on-the-fold, sleeves in this pattern forced me to really evaluate all the shoulder and sleeve fitting issues I've had in the past, and get them truly fixed for once. So, in the end, I wound up with the least movement-restricting coat of all time.

To correct the armscye and sleeve situation, I curved out the front armscye a bit, and added more of and angle to the front shoulder. For the back piece I slightly straightened out the curve of armscye. And, while I was altering the pattern I also did a broad back adjustment to accommodate my annoying shoulders. Then I moved onto the sleeves.

As the sleeves were meant to be cut on the fold, I essentially just had half a sleeve pattern. So the first thing I did here was trace that half of a sleeve onto some scrap paper, then tape the two halves of s sleeve together.

Just like with the armscye, I added a bit more curve to the front of the sleeve, and slightly straightened out the curve on the back of the sleeve head. This change of shape allows for normal arm movement.

With my pattern alterations done, I made a quick mock-up of the coat before cutting into my wool. The shoulders fit amazingly. The sleeves hung nicely. I thought I'd done it, altered the pattern to fit me perfectly. Then I tried moving my arms around, and discovered my range of motion was still limited, just as it always is for me in sleeved garments with no stretch. So, as I'd already altered the pattern some, I decided I might as well do a bit more. I just had to figure out what exactly I needed to alter. 

 I began to google how to fix this range of motion issue which happens to be the bane of my existence. After reading a couple articles, and watching a youtube video, I came to the conclusion that by lowering the sleeve head on my pattern, I would have a better range of motion. So, I lowered the sleeve head by at about two inches, made one more mock-up, and was thrilled to discover I could actually move in it!

I've finally discovered how to alter patterns to actually fit me! From here on out, I will be doing a broad back adjustment to just about everything, and lowering sleeve heads. After years of shopping and sewing frustration, I've finally got it - a cute coat I can actually move in!

My arms can go all the way up!

And all the way forward, with no discomfort at all!

I have literally never been able to do this in any cute, tailored, coat, but in my Provence Pea Coat I can actually move!!

So, the current cut-on-the-fold sleeves of this pattern may be less than ideal, but, they forced me to, finally, actually tackle the fitting issues which have plagued me since forever.

The rest of the peacoat pattern is great, and required absolutely no alterations. As soon as the pattern is updated with new sleeves, I will heartily recommend it. As it is, I still recommend it, just be willing to adjust the sleeves and armscye as necessary for a good fit. The sizing for this coat, as with all Winter Wear patterns, is spot on. I cut my size according to my measurements, and it came out fitting just as it should. The sleeves fit perfectly over other clothing without being baggy! (And I made no adjustments whatsoever to sleeve width.)

The pockets are excellent.

The back seaming is gorgeous.

The double-breasted front was the perfect place to use these beautiful buttons I found on clearance at Hobby Lobby months ago.

And I got to line the coat with this printed lightweight satin I found at an Amish store last winter - it features a bunch of people walking all sorts of dogs. How fun is that?

This coat was a great one-weekend project, and I absolutely love it.

Thanks to this blog tour, I now get to go into Winter with my wonderful, warm, teal wool Provence Pea Coat, and I am super excited about that! Now, for more fabulous Winter Wear Outerwear, check out the rest of the tour! Suzanne has several more jacket patterns featured on this tour, and I'm tempted by all of them!

Fall in love with every stop on the tour:

October 22
Ilse of Sew Sew Ilse

October 23

October 24

October 25
Meriel of Elli and Nels
Jessica of Jot Designs USA

October 26
Livia of Liviality