Historical Sewing Projects of 2021 | Corset-making, Shoe-Making, and Garment Sewing
2021 was a good year for me! I got a lot of historical sewing projects finished, even though I had a baby in late 2020. The first few months of this year were spent lazing about, researching projects I wanted to get to, and slowly getting back into a massive shoe-making project that I had started in the fall of 2020. So that is where we will begin . . .
My First Pair of Handmade Shoes - Heeled Oxfords
In the fall of 2020, I got a crazy idea. Other people make hand made shoes from home, so why can’t I? I dove in headfirst, and started on one of the most complicated pairs of shoes I could try: Oxfords, which were hand-welted, hand-stitched, and had stacked leather heels. They were even made from shoe lasts which were not my right size, and had to be built up and sanded down to fit my feet. The result? A pair of shoes that I will always love for the hard work, labour of love, and leap of faith that they represent, but which I will probably never wear again. Especially now that I’ve made two more pairs of shoes that are much “better”.
What is wrong with these shoes? Well, apart from the “roughness” one would expect from my first pair of hand made shoes, the fit is not great at all (due to the resized lasts), and these shoes are very stiff. That was one of my biggest shoemaking lessons: use thin, supple leather for shoe uppers. Also, do your very best to find lasts that fit your feet, as resizing (especially making lasts smaller) is very tricky to do correctly.
Despite all this, these shoes are still very comfortable, and feel very good to wear mostly due to the great feeling of having made them myself, and having succeeded at what seemed an impossible task.
Shifts and Chemises - Victorian and Regency/18th Century Style
Having finished my monumental shoe project, it was time to gear back into sewing. I needed some more chemises and shifts in my wardrobe, as they are the perfect under-layer for corset-wearing, and great to wear under skirts and dresses, which make up the majority of my wardrobe.
My favourite existing chemise at the time was my 1840’s chemise, so I made another one of those. I also made two shifts of a more Regency/18th century style, to go well with lower necklined garments. That gives me a total of four high quality chemises, two of each style, so I could have them in regular rotation.
I used medium weight linen rather than lightweight, and they are still holding up great and I wear a chemise every single day. Even though making multiple versions of the same undergarment is tedious, I learned the value of having beautiful handmade undergarments, especially when they are made of linen.
Hand-Stitched 1790’s Stays
I started this project as a way to kill time at the end of my pregnancy. They are entirely hand stitched, including all the boning channels. I put them aside for a while, but decided to finish them off after I had finished my shoes.
I think they turned out pretty, but the fit isn’t great and I never wear these stays. What did I learn in this project? Some tricks to making hand stitching look neat and uniform, the value of finishing projects, and the importance of a mock-up for the final wearability of a garment. I also learned that 1790’s stays are more “Regency” than they are 18th century, in terms of the bust shape they give.
Handmade Leather Diaper Bag
When my husband surprised me with a bag-making kit from Tandy Leather, I was thrilled. I had been needing a new bag, and as a DIY addict, the thought of making my own leather bag was too good to pass up. It was easy to put together, and a very rewarding project since it is something I use every day and I know it will last me a lifetime.
Some of the rivets have popped out and needed to be replaced, which is not supposed to happen, so I must not have secured them properly initially.
It has turned out to be a great diaper bag! I had worried that it would be “too big”, but with four kids, there is no such thing! This bag feels super chic to me but equally utilitarian, and I love it!
DIY Dress Form
I needed a dress form! I had been wanting to make a DIY dress form from the summer of 2020, but couldn’t at that time, because I was pregnant, and wanted my body measurements to be accurate. I am happy it took me so long to get to it (almost a year), because it gave me time to research, and helped me avoid some potential pitfalls.
I used the Bootstrap fashion dress form pattern, which is made to one’s own body measurements. I learned the value of trusting my intuition, because there were some things I chose to do differently than the directions, and those turned out to be good choices! You can read the article for more insights on what to do, and what not to do in this project!
It has been so nice having a dress form to try garments on and to drape. I am still getting used to the fact that I have a dress form, because I sewed for years without one. I haven’t yet done a lot of draping, but plan on doing more, especially for recreating historical patterns based on fashion plates.
Another great thing about these DIY dress forms: I made mine when I was four months postpartum, and my body is now smaller than I was at that time. I was able to preform “surgery” on my dress form - unzipping her bottom zipper and pulling out some stuffing! This worked perfectly, and would also work the other way as well, if one has gained weight. The shape of these DIY dress forms is more dependant on the amount of stuffing than one would suppose!
18th Century Swim Dress
This is another project which I have been contemplating for years! It is essentially a corset-dress, but made with modern stretch fabric! It was very challenging, and there were some fit issues along the way, but the result has been lovely - much better than I had hoped.
I have worn this swim dress to the beach many times over the summer, and it is as warm as a wetsuit to swim in and also looks nice as a dress to wear out and about. In fact, I have been stopped by strangers in the grocery store to compliment this swim dress when I was making pit stops on our way to the beach!
I wish it had a zipper in front though - it would make breastfeeding and getting in and out of the dress much easier.
Orange Pleated Skirt
This was a whimsical road trip project - mostly stitched by hand, with cartridge pleats. I love how flowing and comfortable it is. The main issue is its lack of skirt placket (sometimes it gapes at the closure) and its sew-in snaps are too small, giving this skirt the propensity to “pop-off” at the most inopportune moments.
Victorian Corded Corset
I love this corset and have worn it a lot. It was great for postpartum because of the spoon busk shape, but now that I have lost weight I am feeling drawn toward more flat fronted corsets, for the silhouette as well as the posture they give. Some of the boning channels haven’t worn particularly well, so they would have been better being reinforced. I love how the cording, flossing, and colour turned out.
This corset project was the subject of my online course, “Victorian Custom Corset-Making”, which guides clients through how to make a Victorian corset from start to finish! That was another “make” of 2021 for me, which was very challenging, but rewarding!
Poplin Circle Skirt
It was about August when I realized that I have never made a circle skirt before. This project was my first collaboration with a fabric company, and was made from orange cotton poplin. I love the result, and the silhouette it gives. It was my first time creating a historical skirt placket, and my second time trying a skirt hem facing. The waist is a tad small, however, and I find myself wearing it most days with the top snap undone! *Shhh*
Brown Silk Taffeta Circle Skirt
This skirt was made with the same pattern as my previous circle skirt, only with a slightly larger waist. I love the shape this skirt gives - it is amazing how much drape and body this fabric has, and I plan on making many more projects with it. This particular batch of striped silk taffeta did prove to make a couple more projects before the end of the year . . .
18th Century Zippered “Cat Corset”
These stays were made from the Augusta stays pattern, and with a cute modern print of cotton canvas. I didn’t make a mock-up, but the fit still turned out well, apart from coming up a little too high in the bust area. The zipper didn’t turn out too well however, and next time I would add some horizontal bones at the front top line to reduce ridges under clothing. I plan on making more stays in the future, as I still haven’t been able to replicate the dreamy perfection of my maternity stays!
This was my first time making a breastfeeding specific garment. It contains hidden zippers in the bust princess seams, and does allow for easy breastfeeding. However, I don’t like the silhouette of the overall dress, and haven’t worn it since. I’m also not a fan of fiddly nursing clothing alterations - I much prefer the simplicity of lower necked garments or buttons at front for breastfeeding access.
Realizing I had lots of skirts in my wardrobe and barely any shirts, I decided it was time to cover my bases. I made a gold linen tuck-in tee with flared sleeves, and a light blue waist-length blouse with a peter pan collar. Both of these were based on previous self-drafted patterns of mine, and turned out great. They were also relatively quick projects, and go really well with all of my skirts.
Simple Edwardian Tucked Blouse
This was a simplified Edwardian blouse from a self-drafted pattern, inspired by a historical pattern. It has kimono sleeves, a yoke that extends down said sleeves, and lots of pin-tucks! It has become a staple in my wardrobe, and has inspired me to try some more historically accurate, complex Edwardian blouses in the future. Next time I have to make hundreds of pin-tucks though, I will use a vintage pin-tucker attachment for my machine!
Victorian-Inspired Ballet Flats
This was second pair of shoes for the year, and I love how they turned out! I used a quicker, more modern construction method, but with a style and shape inspired by Victorian slippers. For the upper, I used the same brown silk taffeta from my previous circle skirt project. I love how these shoes turned out, and plan to wear them lots more once it is warmer!
Victorian-Inspired Chelsea Boots
I absolutely love these boots, and this project has taught me a lot about the proper selection of lasts to get a correct fit for the foot. I wear them every week, and they feel streamlined and dressy, while still being comfortable. If anything, this project showed me my need for a proper post-bed shoemaking sewing machine to make boots - my flat bed machine struggled.
Silk 18th Century Jacket
This jacket came from a pattern I draped on my DIY dress form. I love how this turned out, and it showed me the potential for draping historical bodices based on fashion plates alone! This project is also a great example of how one can take a garment pattern directly from history and wear it in the modern day.
Black Silk Victorian Corset Reproduction
I won’t say too much about this project because it is coming up in a future blog post and video, but I am thrilled with how it turned out! It was very challenging, with tons of cording, bone flossing, and hand-stitched broiderie anglais trim, but the final result has far exceeded my wildest dreams! It taught me the value of creating a historical reproduction - how copying a historical garment detail for detail can broaden our horizons and help us create something we wouldn’t otherwise have been able to.
What did you work on in 2021? Let’s talk about it in the comments section!
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