When I started this collection, I was inspired by the darker aspect of the Victorian Era. When it comes to costuming, it is very easy to see the beautiful parts of history, especially when your research focuses more on fashion plates and patterns, which it normally does when researching a dress. While I love seeing the lovely parts of history, I am more fascinated by the darker parts than anything else. As you have seen before (especially in my Frankenstein dress), I have a dark side that I love to mix in to my costuming. I have made quite a few costumes that were purely historical and as pretty as I could make it, but I have decided that I should make them more in my style, rather than just historically accurate.
I love the taking historical silhouettes and ideas and making them a little different, and a little bit darker. I had mentioned in a previous post about some of the things that inspired this collection. I made four dresses, each one representing another dark side of the late 1800s. This first one that I made, which I called Through the Looking Glass, was inspired by the drug issues that were so prevalent in this era. Opium was a huge problem in the late 1800s, with Opium Dens available all around, especially in large cities like New York and London. In the US, it was the Civil War that started many addictions. Most also didn't realize how addicting the drug was, so doctors prescribed it for many nervous conditions as well as for pain. Those who didn't have money for a doctor were able to buy it from a pharmacist to solve any medical problems. Opium wasn't the only highly addictive drug wandering the streets- such as laudanum and cocaine. Arsenic and other dangerous (and poisonous) ingredients were readily available.
To make things a little worse, doctors did not know how to treat addiction at the time. Hospitals would sometimes get them addicted to a different drug in an attempt to wean them off of opium, or whatever other drug was the issue, and the patient would end up with a few addictions instead of just the one. This may be a familiar concept if you have watched The Knick. The Knick is a show set in the 1890s following surgeons in a New York hospital. It is based on a true story, and the main doctor (John W. Thackeray) is based off of one of Americas Founding Fathers of surgery and medicine. Thackeray is based on William Halstead. Halstead had a rather unfortunate life, but did incredible things for modern surgery!
In a time when surgery had a mortality rate of close to 50%, Halstead brought in sterile gloves, developed radical mastectomy, carried out the first ever successful hernia and aneurysm repairs, as well as the first emergency blood transfusion, and brought in washing hands before operations. Halstead was originally addicted to cocaine, and ended up being checked into a hospital to get his addiction under control. They introduced him to morphine, and he lived the rest of his life addicted to both. His wife, a nurse, was also addicted to morphine.
Morphine and other opiates were incredibly easy to get your hands on- morphine and cocaine injection kits (with newly invented syringes) were available in the Sears catalog. Herione was known as a remedy for morphine addiction, and one philanthropic society mailed heroin to a group of morphine addicts. Cocaine eventually was replaced by methamphetamine and amphetamine, which was used for asthma. Many countries used amphetamine during World War Two to keep pilots and soldiers awake.
Through the early 1800s, most of the opium coming to Britain was from Turkey. It was known to be stronger, and its popularity only dropped in the 1870s and 1880s for Persian import. The opium was known as a cure all, and used as such by doctors and anyone needing pain relief, etc. It was also used to quiet fussing babies, mixed with water and treacle. It occasionally resulted in deaths, and often in illnesses. Raw opium could be bought as pills or sticks, and it was used normally for women more often than men. Medications containing opium were called 'women's friends' since it was taken for 'female troubles' (menstruation and childbirth), and 'female maladies' (hysteria, depression, fainting fits, and mood swings).
Cocaine was discovered in 1860 from coca leaves, but it wasn't available for commercial use until the 1880s. However, in 1863 a chemist named Angelo Mariani came up with a tonic that used coca leaves. It was advertised to solve everything, and could be taken like a daily vitamin. The tonic was praised by Queen Victoria and Rudyard Kipling, as well as others. In two glasses it is believed to have contained 50 milligrams of pure cocaine.
The drug problem in this era affected every part of society. It wasn't actually realized to be a problem until 1920, when the Dangerous Drug Act came to be in Britain.
Ripper Street has been a show that I have been inspired by for this collection, and The Knick has been another inspiration. If you would like to read more about how modern medicine was started in this era, Lindsey Fitzharris has a fascinating new book out called The Butchering Art, based on the surgeon Joseph Lister's life and success in modernizing surgery. If you would like to see the images that have inspired the collection, I have a pinterest board here (all of the images are dresses. I have very dark and gruesome information that I have found through research, but I promise there are no bad images, just pretty things!). I will recommend other books, movies, and TV shows that I have gotten information from for each of the dresses. For the Jewel dress I will talk about prostitution, especially in Britain, through the late 1800s, and for the other two gowns I will talk about circuses and sideshows, and death practices in the 1800s. Most of my information focuses on London, since that is what I am most interested in, but it also moves around to New York, Toronto, and other large cities with dark underbellies.
I chose the name for this dress (Through the Looking Glass) based off of the author, Lewis Carroll. Although there is much debate, Alice in Wonderland is well known as being a drug-induced dream, so I thought that would be a perfect name for the first Dark History.
Since my Curiosities collection is based on the 1880s, I have most of my undergarments for them from my Frankenstein dress. The only things that I have had to make to go under these dresses were a bustle cage and petticoat. I could have used the bum pad that I made for my Frankenstein dress, but I wanted a more dramatic silhouette, and I have always wanted to make one. I talked about making the bustle cage in the last post, and once that was done I draped a petticoat over it. It is just muslin pleated onto a waistband with a lace bottom.
So far I have made two of the skirts, both of them are very simple. They are draped in the same way as the petticoat, I just draped them over the bustle and sewed them to a waistband.
I have been filming the progress of each of the pieces so far, so I don't have many pictures. I will put out the video once I have pictures of the final products.
I finally started on my newest project- a collection of bustle dresses! I was inspired by many things for this little collection of (hopefully) four dresses, the largest inspiration being photos from the circus throughout the ages, especially the 1880s. I also have been inspired by my tarot cards (by the artist Nicoletta Ceccoli), as well as the show Ripper Street, and some of the strange vintage photos found online. I have talked about this collection before, in my Plans and Fabric Haul video, and have finally decided on a name for the collection- Curiosities.
The first thing that I needed to make to before I started the dresses was a bustle cage. I made a bum pad for the last bustle dress that I did, but I really wanted to make an actual bustle cage, so I decided to use the American Duchess pattern for panniers, but I just made one instead of two. I also made the pattern about 4 inches smaller since my panniers are quite large.
Next up- the dresses! I've decided to start with one that is based off of Alice in Wonderland.
I finally got around to using my beautiful Simplicity pattern by American Duchess. The pattern was based off of the red dress in season two of Outlander. I didn't want mine to look too similar to the Outlander dress other than the shape, so I chose a mint green silk with patterns on it. I also used lace in the slit in the top of the bodice to make it feel a little more historical.
I ended up having quite a few days off of work in a row, and we (my mom and I) decided to make a trip up to Banff to get photos. We live pretty close, so it was easy to drive down for the night. I got two photo shoots done- one for the Green Dress, and one for my In the Mood for Love inspired dress (I will have the photos for that one up next week, as well as a video).
When we decided to go to Banff, I still hadn't even started the dress yet. It ended up taking me 3 days from cutting out the fabric to finishing it- pretty fast compared to some of my projects! During those 3 days I also had to finish the other dress that we were going to take photos of, so it was pretty hectic at the beginning of the week!
I cut the pattern out in a size 6, and that worked pretty well, although it is a bit big in the bust (as you can see with the lacing). That could have been fixed easily if I had made a mockup, but I didn't... But I think it turned out well anyway! The skirt is cartridge pleated through the back, and pleated in the front. I wore it over my shift, bum pad, panniers (what makes the shape so dramatic at the hips), and a petticoat. I will do a post on the panniers in a few weeks or so. The panniers were also from the American Duchess pattern, and they came together very easily and quickly! I am very pleased with how they turned out.
These photos were taken at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, which was opened in 1888. The hotel is beautiful, and even though it isn't the same era as the dress, I thought it was a beautiful backdrop.
As I said in my last post, I wanted to talk about how they got dressed in the 1880's, which is the era that my last project was from. Many people ask me what is on under my costumes to give them their shape, so I thought it would be good to show you all of the layers as they are worn.
The first layer is called combinations. They are a top and bloomers sewn together, with a slit in the bloomers so you can use the washroom (with all of the layers worn at the time, this feature is pretty necessary). Mine are made of muslin and vintage buttons and lace. The garment was mostly hand drafted, and very loosely based on a Simplicity pattern to get an idea of the shape for the bloomers.
After the combinations, you would normally want to put on stockings (I just wore wool socks for warmth) and shoes, since it is a little difficult to put on shoes with a corset on, but I forgot to put on my shoes before the corset. The corset is next- mine is a silk taffeta in a green/mustard colour with vintage lace. The busk (the front closing) is from Farthingales, a Canadian company.
After the corset, there is more shaping- the bustle and the petticoat. Bustles came in many shapes and forms, and for this project I just made a bum pad out of two layers, to give it a 'perky' shape. The petticoat is made of muslin and ruffled lace, and is made to smooth the lines from the bustle. After making this dress, I will be making a boned bustle cage for some more projects in this era.
Finally we get to the outer dress! My dress is in three parts- bodice, skirt, and apron. The apron is the draped fabric that goes over top of the skirt. First I put on the skirt, then the apron, and the bodice last.
The finishing touches to the ensemble is the jacket (which was not made by me. I just did the heart embroidery on the shoulder), the hat, and the shoes since I forgot to put them on earlier. A proper woman in the 1880's would also wear gloves to leave the house, but since I was going a little steampunk with this dress, I thought it was okay to be glove-less.
I hope this was informative and answered any of your questions about layers in the era and how to get the pretty extreme silhouette! Keep your eyes out for more steampunk styled outfits coming up! And also for a real bustle cage!
I have finished editing the making of video for my bustle dress! I am thinking of doing more videos like this, so let me know if you like it!
I finished my bustle dress a few weeks ago, but we were not able to make it into Calgary for photos until today. It ended up being freezing! I was completely frozen by the time we got all of the photos, but I think they turned out really well! I know that I have posted a ton about this dress, but I am going to make two posts for the finishing of this- the one today will be of the actual finished outfit in Calgary (we took the photos in Kensington since it is one of the oldest places in Calgary- unfortunately Calgary isn't a very old city, so it was a bit difficult to find something that I thought fit with the dress). The second post that I will make will be about getting dressed in the 1880s, and what all of the layers look like together (including the finishing touches- a jacket and a hat).
My biggest inspiration for this dress was from Ripper Street, a BBC show that was set not long after the Jack the Ripper murders. It focuses on the police station in Whitechapel that investigated at the time. I love the costumes from the show, especially Long Susan's, so that is where I got this idea from. The show is a little bit steampunk, and the dresses are more historically inspired rather than historically accurate, which I love. I enjoyed the freedom of the outfit not having to be perfectly historical, and I already have ideas for more steampunk-styled 1880's circus/showgirl ensembles (so keep your eyes out for jewel tone fabrics and bustles!).
Because my inspiration was so dark, as was the dress itself when I finished it, I wanted a sort of grungy looking place to get photos. Calgary is a very lovely, clean place, which made it difficult to find something that looked anything like Whitechapel in the 1880s. We ended up just walking around Kensington to find the older brick buildings and any neat parts of the neighborhood. There are tons of gorgeous old houses in the area, but most of them look very high-class, which wasn't the goal for this outfit, so I guess I will have to make something more proper and go back for pictures!
Once we were properly frozen, we made our way to Higher Ground Cafe to warm up and for me to change into something a little more appropriate for the weather. We had a lovely morning in Kensington, stopping by the Naked Leaf (who has the best earl grey vanilla tea), Crave Cupcakes, and Paiges Bookstore where I picked up a cloth bound Sherlock Holmes story. It was a perfect day, even though it was so cold!
I will put up my next post soon where I will talk more about the history and how they got dressed in the 1880s (and also how long it took me to get ready in the morning).
I hope you enjoyed my post, and how the dress turned out!
If you want to see more of my making of posts for this dress, the links to all of them are in my portfolio, here
Since I spend quite a lot of my time hand sewing, I normally do that while watching a movie or a tv show. There are so many great period dramas to watch, and they are not only very well done but also great inspiration to keep sewing! I get a ton of ideas from costumes, so here are some of my favourite costume movies.
In the Mood for Love
This is a translated movie, so if you are not fond of 'reading' your movies, I would not recommend this one. I love translated movies, and this is one of my favourites! I only watched this one for the first time this summer, and I am in love with the story line as well as with the costumes. Set in Shanghai in the 1960s, the story follows to young couples that are living in the same apartment building. It is beautifully filmed, has a great soundtrack, and the makeup, hairstyles, and costumes are all spot on. Some other gorgeously done translated films are Amelie and Generation War.
This is another one that I just saw this summer, and it is more of a fantasy than a historical movie. It is set in a hospital in the 1930s, and it is about a story that a man is telling this young girl. This movie truly is eye candy! The costuming is done by Eiko Ishioka, who made some of the most gorgeous film costumes throughout the years. Some other movies that she costumed are Mirror Mirror (2012) and Dracula (1992).
This has been one of my favourite Jane Austen era movies for a long time, and I don't see myself finding a movie I love more than this one any time soon. Based on the true love story of John Keats and Fanny Brawne, this movie has everything going for it. It has a stunning soundtrack and costumes (Fanny is a seamstress, which makes it even better!), as well as beautiful cinematography.
Testament of Youth
This is another movie with beautiful cinematography, and it is surprisingly not very well known! Be warned though, this movie will make you sob. It is also based on a true story, set during WW1. My Boy Jack, Anzac Girls, and The Crimson Field are all amazing movies and shows set during WW1.
And for those who are wondering, I am almost done my bustle dress! I am just at the hand finishing stage which is taking longer than I would like it to, but I am so close! So stay tuned for photos of that once its all done.
I have been hard at work on my bustle dress lately, I promise! Instead of taking more photos of each stage of the process, I have been filming it so I haven't had much progress to post online.
I am hoping to finish this gown in September, however I do have a pretty busy schedule at the moment, and it has been difficult to balance work, drivers ed, and my sewing. However, I still have made quite a bit of progress, so there is a slim chance that I will finish it this month! Fingers crossed...
I also have a talk at a school next week about Cosplay. I am not a cosplayer, as my costumes are my own designs, but since they are inspired often by movies and such, it is a good fit! I am very excited to share some tips for making more unusual garments and for starting sewing.
For my bustle gown, I so far am very close to finishing the bodice, and I have draped the skirt and apron. The apron is just the draped part at the front and back of the dress that is the trademark of the 1880s.
All I have left to do for the bodice is put some boning in the lower half to keep the bodice as wrinkle free as possible, and to put on the sleeves. For the skirts I need to sew the sides and add the waistband. Other than that, I just have a few other things to do to finish of the ensemble!
I finished the undergarments for my bustle era dress, so now I can start the main dress! Before that, I went out and took some photos of the undergarments, which include the combinations, corset, a bum-pad, and a petticoat.
The bum-pad goes up more than out unfortunately, but I think it will look nicer once the dress weighs it down a bit. It is made of two stuffed crescent shapes, one smaller one stacked on top of a larger one. I made sure that it didn't go past my hips, since the style of the era is all volume in the back with none in the front and side.
On top of the bum-pad is the petticoat. It is made of muslin (like all of the other parts, other than the corset) and eyelet lace. The lace is from an old dust ruffle that we had. I cut the lace off of the dust ruffle and tea-stained it to match the fabric as much as it could.
The shoes that I am wearing with this are, as always, from DSign Step, a Canadian company. I also wore a pair of knee-high black stockings to finish off the ensemble.
Here are a few photos of it on my dress form, when I was still working on the petticoat.
I can't wait to get started on the dress now!
I am so thrilled because I have finished a second piece to the puzzle that is my bustle-era dress! I have been working on each section of the ensemble from closest to the skin to the outer layer- first were my combinations, now the corset, and I am currently working on the bustle and petticoat.
The corset was made entirely of scrap fabric. I was gifted the fabric that I used as the outer layer, and I thought it was stunning! Unfortunately there wasn't very much of it, but there was the perfect amount for this corset. The lace that I used is the same vintage lace that I used at the neckline of my combinations.
This is fully boned with heavy-duty cable ties, and I used grosgrain ribbon for the boning channels. I also used the same grosgrain ribbon as a waist stay, which is basically just a strip of tightly woven fabric that goes at the place with the most stress- the waist. It keeps the corset from stretching out too much.
Although it is not historically accurate at all, I used grommets for the laces in the back of the corset instead of hand-sewn eyelets. This was partly for strength, and partly to save some time since I am very excited to get started on the actual dress. Even though they aren't accurate to the time, I think it looks quite nice.
Since I had so little of the fabric left, I only bound the top of the corset. The bottom just has a narrow hem instead.
The busk is from a Canadian company called Farthingales. They sell corset and historical undergarment making supplies, as well as other things. They were so easy to work with, and my busk came very quickly! I am so pleased with the colour that I chose as well.
I have been hard at work on my newest project, and the first thing that I have had to make is the undergarments!
I decided to make an 1880's bustle gown out of my anatomical heart printed fabric, so I have been working on the proper undergarments. The first thing that I have finished are a pair of combinations!
I am quite thrilled with how these turned out! I used Simplicity pattern 1139 as a base pattern (just for the bloomer part of it), and changed it quite a bit to make a pair of combinations that were inspired by ones from the 1880's.
I used some muslin to create the combinations, and trimmed them with some vintage lace that I was very generously gifted a while ago. The buttons on the front are all vintage as well. I thought that it looked cute with the unmatched buttons, so I didn't even try to find matching ones.
On the bottom I have a different lace that I bought at Michaels and then tea-stained for it to match the fabric. I used a light blue ribbon, also from Michaels, to tie the bottom.
These are split-drawers, meaning that the front seam is not sewn together. This was done through the 1800's so that the women could use the bathroom without having to take off their bloomers, and once combinations were created, this feature was especially important since the only other way to get the bloomers off would be to take off everything else on top of it!
Since finishing this, I have been working on the other undergarments that will go under my bustle dress- a corset, a bustle, as well as a petticoat. I will blog about those as soon as I finish them!
I am so pleased with how this came out, and I am so excited to keep working on the other pieces of this project! To see more pictures of this and other things that I have been working on, check out my instagram
I finally took a few photos of my finished Regency stays! They are three layers of cotton with very minimal cording at the front. The entire garment is hand sewn.
This was a bit of a stash-busting project, so everything except for the bias binding was from my stash. The stays were also drafted by me, based off of a few Pinterest photos of original stays from the 1810s.
The middle and lining fabrics are a brown cotton that is from worn out sheets, so it is tough fabric. The front white fabric is a white cotton that I have had for ages. I decided to bind the stays in turquoise for fun, since binding is such a long and sometimes tedious job.
Next up in my Regency wardrobe I need to make a petticoat. This will be another stash-busting project, since I have the perfect materials for it already. I would also like to make a summer spencer (basically a short coat) out of a light blue linen that I have, and I also would like to make a few changes to my dress that I posted about here.
There are a few things that I would like to change on this dress, such as adjusting the fit (it is slightly too big, something I can fix pretty easily), as well as adding another band about 2/3 of the way down the sleeve to make the sleeve have a double puff. Other than that, I am pretty pleased with how it turned out!
The front of the dress features a box-pleated panel, and I added a red ribbon along with a brooch.
My mom and I went to the Regency at the Fairmont Palliser a few weekends ago, and it was beautiful.
The hotel is old and is stunning inside, and I loved seeing all of the costumes that people were wearing.
I made dresses for my mom and I, and I have to admit that I cut a bit close to the deadline when it came to making them... I ended up finishing my dress just a few hours before we had to leave. Fortunately, I did not have to finish it in the car on the way there, which I have heard of happening in the costuming world!
I used the pattern on the left for my dress, and the one on the right for my moms. Everything that I used for this project was stash, so it didn't cost me anything.
This first one was made out of a sheet. It is gathered at the sleeves, waist, and neckline with twine, which can be tightened or loosened so that different people could wear it. We accented it with a white ribbon at the waist. In some of the pictures you can see the twine at the sleeves. The twine is hidden when the dress is worn.
I will do another post about the dress that I wore, along with some photos from the evening at the Palliser.