Making a Versatile 1909 Guimpe

McCall’s Magazine for June 1909 shows a pattern for a Guimpe, also called an Underwaist or a Lining – or a Slip! To modern people this might be confusing; I know it was for me, at first. But as I have been making my own Edwardian wardrobe, I have begun to see the need for a pretty, fitted garment to wear under square-necked dresses and tailored jackets.

0 New Designs in Princess Costumes guimpe

Here is the description from the magazine:

No. 2563 (15 cents). – Sleeveless waists and gowns, and those having all sorts of open necks, besides the skirts with “skeleton” waists, all of which are en regle at present, demand a guimpe or under waist of some kind. This slip has been designed especially to meet this need. It may be made of lining or silk, and faced at the neck in any desired outline with net, lace, chiffon or embroidery, which is to show through the open neck of the outside waist. Again, it may be used as the foundation for any individual style of shirt waist, the tucks being stitched in the materials before cutting by the pattern. Two styles of sleeves are given – the pretty tucked style, which is popular, and a plain leg-o’-mutton sleeve, which may be trimmed in any original way one’s fancy may dictate. It may also be used as a slip – of daintily colored lawn or China silk – to be worn under a thin lingerie waist to impart warmth. …

How I Made my Own Guimpe

I didn’t have an Guimpe or Lining pattern on hand (I have the feeling that McCall’s 2563 from 1909 is no longer available!) But I did have one of Past Pattern’s Attic Copies version of McCall’s 3139, which was published in 1910. I have used it before, so I knew that I could make it work for my new Guimpe – or Underwaist. I knew that I would piece the body together from both cotton lawn and tucked net. I wanted to embroider the yoke in a coordinating design. I have seen this type of decoration in period catalogs and antique pieces, and I hoped to replicate it. So, along with the pattern, I assembled my materials.

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I assembled my cotton lining fabric, the sheer netting, embroidery thread, buttons, and some beautiful reproduction lace, all in the same shade of off white. The net I used is imported English cotton net. Some years ago, I invested a substantial sum to buy bolts this beautiful material in both white and off-white, and I continue to enjoy using it on replica projects large and small.

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I used the Attic Copies pattern to cut out my new Under Waist, including the collar. I planned to make the entire collar of the sheer net and lace, but I wanted to have a fabric version for fitting. I double checked measurements and fit before cutting in to that valuable tucked net!

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I planned to make the yoke and the upper sleeves of tucked net and the lower sleeves of my coordinating lace. I made the tucks in my net fabric before laying out my pattern. Here is where precise pressing and stitching are so important!




6 IMG_4457I knew that the lower section of the sleeve would be a solid section of lace. I didn’t want to add the intricate fastenings that were part of the 1910 pattern. Instead, I allowed enough wearing ease that I can pull the sleeves over my hands without snaps or buttons.

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The Guimpe, Finished

I was pleased overall, with the general shape of the new Under Waist.

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For the embroidery motifs, I traced the shape of the floral spray from my lace. Then I enlarged the design using modern technology: the copier on my computer printer. I was able to pin my paper pattern behind the sheer yoke and embroider the design.

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11b IMG_5793Sometime after I finished the new Guimpe, I started to admire other dress styles from 1909, including some that had deep vee necks. Or I might someday want to wear a jacket with a vee shaped neck opening. My high, wide yoke wouldn’t work under one of those. As they might have said in a 1909 article, it would not “look well.” Fortunately, I had more or the wide lace available, so I was able to cut a section and add it to the Guimpe.

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I hand stitched the new section to the body of the Guimpe. I decided not to cut away the cotton fabric underneath, although that would have been an option in 1909.

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Here is the finished Under Waist on my mannequin. The several types of materials and trims blended nicely to create an authentic looking, but simple Guimpe.


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Finally, I was able to wear my new Under Waist as it was intended: underneath an afternoon dress, circa 1909. The neckline is open and cut in a square shape, which was one of the most fashionable styles in 1909.The yoke extends below the neck opening, so it gives the appearance of an attached piece.

I noticed that my elegant net and lace sleeves appear a bit short on my long arms… Just like a seamstress in 1909, I will probably rework the sleeves before the next wearing. I could add an edge of matching lace at the lower edge, or I can piece in another section of net with a band of insertion lace to conceal the join.

Which should it be?


Ecru Eyelet Dress, Part II

Our fictional character, Mrs. Maggie Lynde of Hillsboro, Oregon, wanted a new summer gown before Saturday. She planned to dress in style to meet her friends for shopping and ice cream.

Since I am Maggie Lynde’s alter ego, and I live in the 21st century, not 1909, I have a few more choices than she did. I have a machine powered by steady, reliable electricity instead of the treadle machine that Maggie would have used. I put my serger to work, finishing seams, where Maggie might have hand whipped them or else left them raw. And finally, I have a husband who tolerates my tendency to spend an entire Friday in my studio, where Maggie would have been responsible for preparing all the meals, doing all the dishes, and otherwise keeping house, in addition to her impromptu dressmaking project. It might have taken her all week to compete the summer dress, while I was able to start on Thursday night and wear it on Saturday morning!

Two Modish Summer Gowns

Patterning the Skirt

The McCall’s skirt was a seven-gore model, which would provide a smooth, graceful fit in the printed lawn. But my fabric is an embroidered eyelet, which has more texture, so all those fitted seams might not show to the same effect. Plus, I was in a hurry, and my fabric is very wide (over 50”, which was probably not available for Maggie Lynde.) At any rate, I made the decision to use five gores instead of seven. I have made so many five-gored skirts and petticoats over the years that I didn’t need to use a paper pattern. I did, however, get out my tape measure, some scratch paper, and a pencil! I wanted to be sure that my skirt would be long enough, and the body of the skirt full enough (but not unfashionably so!) to copy the silhouette of the original design.

Skirt IMG_5589

I had some coordinating (antique) insertion, but not enough to copy all the design details from McCall’s. I decided to use the insertion primarily on my vertical seams, and to allow the embroidered stripes from the fabric to serve as the remaining bands. The detail on the insertion is ½”, and there was a generous seam allowance, so I reduced my seam allowance on those skirt sections by ¼” on each panel.

Patterning the Bodice

In 1909, McCall’s sold bodice and skirt patterns separately. The bodice was advertised as being suitable for a waist or the bodice of this dress, and the description didn’t mention a lining. This made me confident in choosing a waist pattern for this bodice. The closest commercial pattern I had on hand was the elegant Past Patterns number 406.  The PP design called for more tucks than I needed, and it didn’t allow for the decorative vertical seams. That was easily remedied when I folded those tucks out of the paper pattern before cutting and created the central section of horizontal bands.

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Bodice IMG_5596

I took my time in laying out this pattern! I double checked my measurements and seam allowances before cutting. In fact, for several areas I used my marking pen to be sure of my center points. I shortened the height at the shoulder seam because I was copying the yoke detail from the original design.

At the center front line, I did quite a bit of measuring and double-checking, to be sure that I would have enough fabric to turn under. I decided to create a buttonhole placket so I would have a smooth line at the center front; I cut that piece from the edge of my fashion fabric, where there was no embroidery.

Once I had my main bodice pieces cut, but before I removed the paper pattern pieces, I made sure to mark the tucks and the center front seam.

Bodice Center Front

I had cut out the entire gown in one evening. I folded everything carefully and set it aside for the next day. I was ready to sew!

Making the dress

The first step on a gown like this is the fussy little details. I needed to sew the tucks in place before I could attach the sections. Here’s a picture of how I prepared the back section for those long, stylish tucks. The tops and bottom were marked in advance; the top of each tuck has a small snip in the seam allowance, while the bottoms were marked with my purple pen. The fabric was folded, right sides together, and then I pressed the entire length of each the tucks. After pressing the first side, I flipped the fabric section and pressed the other side for a perfect match. Then I was able to sew a ½” wide tuck on each side.

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For the bodice front, I started by attaching the insertion along that vertical seam, first on one edge and then the other. I always work with the insertion on top, so I can be sure I am sewing close to the design. Once I had the insertion sewn into the seam, I pressed the seams with the insertion opened out.

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Here is where I took advantage of owning a serger. I let the machine trim the excess fabric and wrap the raw edges. This was so much faster than what our fictional lady would have done! She would trim by hand and then whip stitch those edge, or perhaps even roll the raw edges under and fell them down.

I made the front placket section by pressing the long, smooth fabric together (with cotton organdy, prewashed, inside for interfacing) and then making my buttonholes. After that it was simple to position the buttonhole placket and stitch it down.

Bodice front placket IMG_5605

I followed a similar process for the skirt: I sewed the insertion in place first, then pressed those sections and serged them for a clean finish. Once I had the four main gores assembled, I added the band of eyelet along the lower edge. (I did take a few very tiny tucks at the top edge of that band so that it would continue the flared lines of the skirt. Otherwise there might have been a “drop-off” at that area!) Before I added the front panel, I sewed the insertion along its outer edge. Finally, the skirt was mostly assembled, and I was able to create my center back closure. I took advantage of a very wide seam allowance (the part of the fabric that was plain) and turned it back to create the underlap for my placket. Then I was able to finish the two edges (one an extension and one turned back to the center back line). I sewed the center back seam up to that point and topstitched the placket into position across the bottom of the opening.

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There were still a few details to finish before I could wear the gown! I used a bit of beige silk, cut on the bias, to bind the neck edge. This was a typical method of finishing in 1909.

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I made the collar from the fashion fabric, lined with the beige silk and interlined with a piece of tulle. I created small channels inside the silk where I inserted modern, clear collar stays. (It’s so unfashionable when your collar won’t stay up!)

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I attached the collar to the bodice with hand stitches along the inside, with the closure at the center back.

I saved the last few bits of sewing for Saturday morning. When I got dressed, I went ahead and put on my Edwardian underpinnings, in preparation for the new gown. Finally, after attaching the waistband, sewing on the buttons, and a few other details, the gown was ready!

Wearing the new gown

I had a marvelous, oversized Edwardian hat that I made two years ago. (This is a wonderful thing about making a period wardrobe; your clothing won’t go out of style!) I had trimmed it in a soft green silk that would go with most of my clothing, and I added a wreath of pink flowers with leaves in a similar green. The flowers can be removed later, if I decide to change my color scheme or use ostrich feathers instead.

Hat IMG_5656 close up

Because there was green in my hat, I chose green silk for a quick fabric sash. I used a vintage white mother of pearl buckle from my “stash”, and I whipped it up quickly on Saturday morning. Fortunately, I already had some green gloves to match and even a small antique fan in a soft green color, a gift from a friend. I added an antique lace neck trim. I chose modern beige shoes with a low heel and beige stockings to match. All in all, I felt quite stylish!

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The big day

The weather was beautiful; the antique store was spacious and friendly, with everyone wearing masks and staying somewhat distant. (There IS a pandemic, after all.) But shopping was a joy, and I found several treasures to bring home. Back view IMG_5659

My dear friend Lisa took photos of me in my new ensemble. Our Mrs. Maggie Lynde would have been proud to appear before her friends in such a stylish 1909 gown!

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Ecru Eyelet Dress, Part I

The Invitation

Imagine that it’s 1909, summertime, and that you are tired of everything in your closet! Like our fictional character, Maggie Lynde, you have some very definite plans for your new wardrobe. You have come into a bit of money recently, and you have already begun shopping for new fabrics! Maggie has walked to all the shops in her little town, and even made a trip to Portland on the Red Electric Line in search of the exact colors for her fabrics and trims. She knows that she will need a new summer “costume” for church and shopping trips, and she has grand plans for a nice at-home dress and later, a silk gown. In the fall, she will want a wool dress in the new princess style, plus a lightweight woolen jacket to wear outdoors on cooler days.

summer 2020 cropped

Then, an invitation arrives; her friends will be meeting on Saturday for shopping and ice cream! How perfectly delightful! But what will she wear? She feels a bit shabby in her linen jacket, even with the new lace trims. She wore it recently to meet those same friends for a picnic in the park. The white “muslin” is lovely, of course, but she has worn it every summer since 1907. And oh, how she would love a new frock!

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The linen jacket with its new lace collar


White dress with linen jacket

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White dress alone

Maggie Lynde has always been interested in the new fashions, even when she had very little in the way of funds to buy them. She subscribes to McCall’s Magazine, which offers entertaining articles and new dress designs in every issue. So, she pulls out the June issue and begins a search. What new design could she make before Saturday, using fabrics that she already has on hand? She is particularly interested in using the ecru eyelet fabric. It is so cool and summery, and it will be easier to make up since the fabric is already embroidered.


Here is a page showing Attractive Linen Frocks. The descriptions are so intriguing! That top one is described as a particular shade of violet linen, with soutache buttonholes in the same color. Even the buttons complete the scheme, being an amethyst crystal. She can imagine wearing this frock… but oh, dear! She doesn’t own any lavender linen; she doesn’t have time to search out the matching soutache braid or the buttons, or to make all those precise tucks – all before the shopping trip on Saturday! The other frock is shown in white linen, but somehow Maggie can’t imagine herself wearing a “one-sided effect” in drapery and tucks.

Attractive Linen Frocks

Attractive Linen Frocks

She studies a page showing New Designs in Princess Frocks. Those are quite lovely. She is sure that the long, flowing lines would be flattering on her matronly figure. But each of these would require many hours of applying trim. She would probably not be finished by Saturday, and then she would still be wearing her white lawn gown again! But here is something interesting: that grand hat! Since dress lines are slimmer this year, an overlarge hat seems to balance the figure somehow. Perhaps she should visit the milliner down the street to see what new styles might be found.

New Designs in Princess Costumes

New Designs in Princess Costumes

But then she takes a good look at Two Modish Summer Gowns. That first one, with its long front panel and sections of trim, plus the Gibson Tucks on the shoulders, would be very flattering. Perhaps she should purchase the pattern and keep it on hand. It isn’t exactly the thing for an ice cream outing, though. That choice would be the “attractive summer frock” with “insertions of entree-deux.” The description says that the original was a print of brown circles on tan-colored lawn, but it doesn’t take much imagination to picture it in Maggie’s ecru embroidered eyelet. Best of all, since her fabric has long, repeating bands of the eyelet motifs, Maggie will save some time and skip some of the insertion! Yes, this is the frock.

Two Modish Summer Gowns

Two Modish Summer Gowns

Maggie decides that she won’t need to buy this pattern. The design is remarkably like several others she has on hand. She will save the fifteen cents she would have paid and use it for that stylish princess frock pattern instead.

Part II will show you how I made Maggie’s new 1909 summer frock!



The Lady in My House

I live in a comfortable old house on a tree-lined street in Hillsboro, Oregon. When the house was built in 1909, the park across the street was still a cow pasture, and the village of Hillsboro had a population of about 2,000 people. The Commercial District, as the downtown was called, and the new residential additions were just beginning to modernize, with paved sidewalks instead of boardwalks, overhead wires carrying electricity, water and sewer service (instead of wells and septic systems), and even a telephone exchange!

Hillsboro Main Street (2)

Downtown Hillsboro, circa 1909

The house is built in the American Foursquare style. It has a roomy front porch and an open living room, with three bedrooms and a bathroom on the second floor (with the original claw foot tub). Over the years it has been remodeled; since we have lived here my husband and I have restored much of it to its 1909 appearance.

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The house in 2020

The first owner of record was a local woman named Mary. She was born in 1846; she arrived in Oregon during Territorial days, traveling with her parents and siblings to live in this beautiful, fertile region of the world. In the course of her life she was a schoolteacher, a young wife, a mother of three, a woman of status, and then a woman abandoned by her husband when he was accused of embezzling. When he fled the country in 1886 in disgrace, she carried on. She took in boarders, went back to teaching, cared for her aging parents, and maintained her reputation in the community. By 1909 her parents and her estranged husband had passed on, and she and her son bought land in a developing neighborhood to have this modern home constructed. Within a few years she sold the house to live nearby with her adult daughter, so her time here was short. But I try to imagine her in these rooms as I go about my days.

I have always loved historic styles in art, furnishings, and clothing. Since I have lived in Mary’s house, I have grown a small business making historic replica clothing for reenactors and historic sites across the county. I have focused on the 19th and early 20th centuries, and I have gradually come to admire the Edwardian era more than any other. In fact, I have found several places and ways to wear Edwardian fashions; I dress for local historical society activities, and I co-founded The Edwardian Society of Oregon a few years ago. I enjoy “dressing” for our events and encouraging our members to do the same.

After 30 years here, I have approached the age that Mary was when she moved in! (How does this happen?) So, when I started dreaming of making a complete wardrobe, my 1909 house was the ideal setting. And a respectable middle-aged woman is my role model.

IMG_9329I know some of Mary’s story, but nothing about her taste in clothing or her personality. So, for my 1909 Wardrobe Project, I have chosen to create a fictional character, a contemporary of Mary’s. I will call her Maggie (my great-grandmother’s name), and I will give her a different backstory.

In the weeks and months to come, I plan to create this typical woman more fully, and I will provide her with a fashionable, functional wardrobe for her imaginary life in this fine old house.

1907 Edwardian House Dress

One of the best ways to learn about “what they wore” is to study a garment from the era. I am fortunate to own an antique cotton house dress, circa 1907 – 1909, judging by the style details. It’s a simple garment, with only a bit of trim on the yoke and collar. It has the silhouette of the era, with a flounce at the bottom and gathered sleeves.

edwardian house dress vintageLooking at the House Dress

The yoke is shaped in a “western” style. If you think about it, this dress pre-dates “western” movies and cowboy singers. This shape was a variation on the clothing of the 1890s through 1910s. It was only in the decades after that it became a symbol of the American cowboys.

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The lining is made of a thin, open-weave type of cotton. If you look inside, you can see that it’s a mixture of machine stitching and hand sewing. The darts are sewn by hand! And the area at the center front, at the button closure, plus the short plackets at the sleeve cuffs, are stitched by machine. The trim is sewn by machine, as well.

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The original dress was made for someone much shorter and smaller than I am, probably about 4’10” tall. I noticed that the original owner found it was too long in front; she took an internal tuck just above the flounce to shorten it.

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It’s quite possible that this dress was made for maternity wear. That tuck above the flounce and those hand stitched darts could have been added after the pregnancy, so the new mother could continue to wear the dress.

To make a copy for myself, I started with my own personal sloper for the bodice lining and a sleeve pattern from a 1907 blouse waist that I liked. I was able to draft the front and back by copying the angles and pleats of the original, but with my own measurements for skirt length and back waist. (I tend to be much longer in the waist than most patterns, so this is always an important measurement for me.)

The original bodice lining was attached in a different way than other garments I have seen: the lining pieces were sewn to the fashion fabrics so that the raw edges were enclosed. And yet, the lower edge of the lining was completely unfinished! More than 100 years after it was first worn, the lining is still holding up well.

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Making the House Dress

This was a fairly straightforward project. I used my personal sloper that I had already tested as the lining pattern. I drafted the yoke pattern freehand, based on the angles and proportions of the original. I allowed for pleats at center front and center back, just as the original seamstress had done. You’ll notice that I stitched the front of the dress to the lining before applying the yoke.

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edwardian house dress vintage & replica (29)


The original dress collar was made in two sections, with a seam at the center back. This apparently accommodated the unusual method of assembling it, with both lining sections sewn together over the back seam to cover the raw edges. I decided to adapt the pattern to my own sewing style, so the back seam is pressed open and the top collar piece is cut on the fold.

The original dress had a self-fabric facing sewn down along the front edge of the lining to carry the buttons and buttonholes. I copied this detail, which gives the dress a smooth fit over my undergarments  and prevents the white lining from peeking out. The outer layer is pleated into the yoke at center front, with a row of buttons. I copied these buttons, too.

The antique garment had several buttons at the lining closure, somewhat randomly spaced. I chose instead to space my buttons evenly. Here’s a helpful hint for positioning five buttons, evenly spaced, without using a measuring tape.

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First, locate the positions of the top and bottom buttonholes. Mark these with pins, perpendicular to the edge.

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Fold the edge in half, pinching a crease at the center point. Place a pin at the crease to mark this position. Finally, fold each of the other halves to find those centers, creasing and marking. Now all your buttonholes are evenly spaced!

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The sleeve pattern I used was from a design that I had already made and knew that I liked. The style is sometimes called a “bishop” sleeve: a full sleeve is gathered into a fitted cuff at the wrist. The original had a narrower bishop sleeve, while my copy had more fullness at the top.

Wearing the House Dress

This is a basic dress (sometimes called a wrapper or a “Mother Hubbard”) that a middle-class woman might have worn at home in the morning. I finished sewing on the last of the buttons at about 9:00 AM, and I wanted to wear it right away! I put it on over my basic Edwardian underpinnings: corset, petticoat, drawers. Under the corset I wore a modern white cotton tee shirt instead of my pretty white cotton chemise. (I was avoiding the work of laundering and ironing it.)

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The house dress was comfortable! I wore it the rest of the morning in my studio, and then through lunch and into the afternoon. It was perfect for a break on the porch swing with a ladies’ magazine (a “Modern Priscilla” from 1909). I finally changed out of it at about 4:00 PM.

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If it had been 1907, I might have put on something a bit nicer at noon to serve and eat dinner. Or, I might have changed into a street costume after dinner to go out and run errands or visit friends. As it was, I had a quiet day at home, and stayed comfortable all day long.


A Regency Picnic

We were dressed for a day in the country... in 1810!
We were dressed for a day in the country… in 1810!

One reason that I first became involved in making replica clothing was so that I could help create the romance and beauty of the past for people living today. Sometimes it all comes together in a perfect afternoon!

The food we brought traveled well: pickled vegetables, small meat pies, fresh cherries, and cool water.

Pittnick 2012-009

Pittnick 2012-005




It was a perfect day to be outdoors! I understand that our climate in the Pacific Northwest is similar to that of England. I like to imagine that Jane Austen’s contemporaries might have enjoyed a similar day wearing similar fashions.

There was more to this day than just our picnic! The event was coordinated by the Oregon Regency Society; our friends and companions were equally equipped for an afternoon of pleasure.

This picnic has become an annual tradition. We have come to expect a game of graces!

All of the dresses, bonnets and underpinnings for our little group of ladies were made by Lavender’s Green Historic Clothing. But it takes more than just the clothing to create a day like this. We were fortunate to be able to gather on the grounds of the lovely Pittock Mansion in Portland, Oregon. The Oregon Regency Society has members who, like us, appreciate the quality and style of authentic clothing, food, and manners. And of course, an Oregon summer afternoon gave us fresh air and balmy temperatures for our Regency picnic.

Recreating a Paris Gown, Part Three: The New Gown

As a historical dressmaker, I love a challenge! So, it was with great interest that I began creating a new evening gown for my client based on the key elements of her Paris original. I began with the bodice lining. I used a fine white silk, similar to the original lining fabric. The seam lines were copied from the original, but using the client’s measurements for the new gown. Like the dressmakers and modistes of 100 years ago, I used boning in the seams and at the center front to keep the dress from shifting or rolling up while it’s being worn.

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Once I knew that the lining would fit correctly, it was time apply the next layer: the underskirt. I used white silk here, as well, since the original gown had a silk underskirt. The shape of the skirt followed the 1912 lines: smooth over the front, with the extra fullness pleated into the center back.


1912 silk gown project 010 (2)The underskirt was sewn to the lining by hand, just as we found in the original. This gives the sewist more control over placement, a flatter seam, and a safe way to sew past the metal boning, which was already in place in those seam lines.

The next step was to drape the bodice sections. We had chosen silk charmeuse in a glorious coral color, similar to the 1912 fabric, but without the soft crinkled texture. Given our time and budget constraints, we had also decided not to copy the hand embroidered sections on the bodice. We created a draped bodice with the kimono sleeves, but without the gusset detail or embroidery. 1912 silk gown project 014 (2)


1912 silk gown project 015 process

The original skirt had been made in sections; so was ours. This section would have the embroidered antique bands attached along the curved edges.

1912 silk gown project 016Like the original, this skirt layer was open in the back. The overskirt drape would cover the selvedge edges.

1912 silk gown project 019 full lengthThe draped section had to be exactly long enough to carry the antique bands. In addition, it needed to gracefully span the gap between the center back and center front openings. I experimented with the placement to find the “just right” proportions.

1912 silk gown project 020 full lengthThe original underskirt facing was long gone, possibly removed by a previous owner for an art or home decorating project. Rather than try to recreate it, we chose to cover the underskirt section with matching silk charmeuse. This would also be sewn in place by hand.

1912 silk gown project 024Now we had the basic gown made up in new fabric. It was time to incorporate the antique sections that we had been able to save.

1912 silk gown project 015I had sewn the embroidered bands onto the main skirt by hand before pinning it to the form. I gained a deep appreciation for the detailed artistic embroidery that those long-ago modistes had done!

1912 silk gown project 017The overskirt drapery was mounted to the lining slightly above the natural waist. The sash would cover the last of the lining and all the hand stitched sections.

1912 silk gown project 018Here I have recreated the draping of the original skirt layers. The top layer would be tacked in strategic areas as the original was, but for the most part, the draped skirt stays in place because of its weight and the clever design.

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1912 silk gown project final 008

1912 silk gown project final 010

1912 silk gown project final 011It is rare to be able to examine a Paris designer gown like this one; it is even more unusual to be asked to take it apart! Normally, I would prefer to keep the entire original intact for future study. In this case, though, with the original starting to break apart and some of it already removed, it had already lost much of its value as an antique. I am glad that I was able to document its deconstruction and the reconstruction, and that I could share it with you.

Recreating a Paris Gown, Part Two: deconstructing an antique Paris gown

Paris was an exciting place for the fashion industry at the beginning of the century. The House of Worth in the late 19th century had created an image of luxury, style and exquisite needlework for wealthy customers not just from France, but from the Continent, England and the United States. The industry included not just employees, but contract seamstresses, embroiders, and finishers in little ateliers throughout the fashion district. Some of these capable women went on to create their own reputations and their own clientele.


Inside the bodice is a customized stay tape at the waist.
Inside the bodice is a customized stay tape at the waist.

Inside the gown that I was to reconstruct was this label, which led me to discover one of these innovative fashion houses: Callot Soeurs. You can find out more about them at these links:


Here is an image of another of Callot Soeurs gown. (Source unknown)
Here is an image of another of Callot Soeurs gown. (Source unknown)
Photo of embroiderers from Les Creatuers des Mode, 1910; I do not know if these women were working on gowns for the Callot sisters, but it is possible! Many of these ateliers were on the upper floors of buildings so that they could take advantage of natural daylight from the skylights overhead.
Photo of embroiderers from Les Creatuers des Mode, 1910; I do not know if these women were working on gowns for the Callot sisters, but it is possible! Many of these ateliers were on the upper floors of buildings so that they could take advantage of natural daylight from the skylights overhead.


Beautiful embroidery, damaged fabric
Beautiful embroidery, damaged fabric

The Callot sisters were known for the use of gold and silver lame and poly-colored embroideries… On this antique bodice the metallic threads have torn the silk fabric. But the wealthy patrons never expected the gowns to last 100 years, so it didn’t matter to them that the metallic threads might damage the silk. These gowns were expected to be ephemeral things, worn only once or twice in the presence of a circle of friends, then packed away, possibly to be brought out again on a voyage or at a resort. The styles changed so quickly in this era that by the next year the lady would order another gown featuring some new and novel design.

The silk embroideries have lasted, so we are able to re-use these lovely pieces.

Silk embroidery on the original gown, shown against the skirt lining. Inside the elaborate darpery I found a straiht pin, left there by a long-ago seamstress in Paris.
Silk embroidery on the original gown, shown against the skirt lining. Inside the elaborate drapery I found a straight pin, left there by a long-ago seamstress in Paris.

One of the typical features in many of these late Edwardian gowns is the insert at the front of the bodice. These vestees are often the most distinctive and artistic section of the gown, repeating and embellishing the overall theme. On this gown, the silk backing the vestee has been shattered and broken apart, but the metallic lace was intact.

I carefully removed the intact embroidered bands, revealing the original vestee.
I carefully removed the intact embroidered bands, revealing the original vestee.


The silk organza backing was shattered.
The silk organza backing was shattered.

The “S-curve” silhouette is another trademark of the Edwardian era. You might look at those early photos and wonder how they puffed their chests out like that! This glimpse of the supporting ruffles may answer the question. These ruffles were made of substantial silk satin, gathered to the lining and allowed to support the outer fabric. You can see from the photo that the edges were pinked, not hemmed, and that this section of the dress is still like new after 100 years.

The original ruffles supported the "S-curve" shape.
The original ruffles supported the “S-curve” shape.
The bodice lining, fromthe inside, reveals much about couture construction techniques.
The bodice lining, from the inside, reveals much about couture construction techniques.

I was reminded of a different approach to garment construction as I studied the lining of this gown. If you look closely at the photo, you will notice that the shoulder strap section is sewn by hand to the body of the lining. The edges were hand hemmed first, and then the entire section was whip stitched along the connecting edges. Our modern method would be to machine these pieces together along a standard seams line, but this couture method gives the designer much more control over the final fit.

I have sometimes read ladies’ complaints about the endless time spent in fittings at the dressmaker’s in journals and letters of earlier times. As we examine the careful attention to a perfect fit, starting with that innermost layer, we can see why the fittings were necessary. This also helps me to understand some of the exorbitant expense of a designer gown. This dress was not pre-cut with dozens of other dresses and then sewn together by machine in an assembly line! This couture gown was created, customized and crafted for only one client. Of course she (or her husband) would pay for that sort of detail!

An underarm gusset was added for better fit and then embroidered to blend into the overall design.
An underarm gusset was added for better fit and then embroidered to blend into the overall design.

Note the underarm gusset… Madeleine Vionnet originally worked at the Callot Soeurs house, where this gown was made – imagine her learning to work with this element here, to be carried on later in her revolutionary bias cut gowns?

It’s a strange sensation to disassemble a piece of history. My usual inclination would be to preserve it. But, the client wanted to wear the gown, not merely look at it, and it was not wearable in its present state. It would be too small to fit her, and there would have been the constant threat of further damage. Plus, of course, a large part of this gown had already been removed from the skirt. We can only imagine how grand that section must have been!

I was privileged to be able to take my time in the process and to take clear photos every step of the way. As I worked, I learned.


Next post: the new gown

Recreating an Antique Paris Gown

Vintage garments are our windows to the past. In them we can discover the techniques of early designers and dressmakers. Since I value each garment as an original source for research, I am reluctant to do anything to an original vintage garment that would destroy that information. However, some time ago I had a client approach me with an intriguing project: could I replicate a Paris original, circa 1912, salvaging the primary elements that made it a true work of art?

The original Paris gown with modern silk for the replica
The original Paris gown with modern silk for the replica


The dress was beautiful! The skirt had been draped cleverly in a novel style, and several sections of the gown were embroidered with metallic threads. There was a heavy, luxurious silk tassel at the front of the skirt. With all the draping and embellishment, it was clearly of the era. The shape of the skirt was slim, yet there was a graceful train. There was a high waist to the bodice, but a structured lining beneath it all. The most significant design detail was the square neckline in front, with a rich vestee of metallic lace, and a corresponding vee shaped section at the back closure. We have seen this line in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion, and of course, in the elegant dinner gowns in films like “Titanic” and shows like “Downtown Abbey.”

The original Paris gown
The original Paris gown

However, this particular garment was damaged beyond any change of wearing or even exhibiting it. The bodice had worn away on the shoulders. Sections of it were in shreds, probably due to the weight and roughness of the beautiful metallic embroideries. Sometime in the past, someone had cut away a section of the skirt, probably to use the rich embroideries as a home décor item. The skirt was ruined. And finally, the client wanted to wear it but couldn’t in its current condition. It was a size too small.

IMG_3447 The tops of the sleeves had worn away.

The silk in the bodice was shattered.
The silk in the bodice was shattered.

I agreed to take on the challenge. Along the way I documented the original gown as well as I could so that I would have a record of the 1912 Paris couture techniques that were used in the original. Here is what I recorded.


The hand embroidered trim continued into the lower back sections. I thought of those early Parisiennes, spending their days under skylights in ateliers to create this gown.



The front of the gown, with its intricate draping and ornate tassel, was one of its most beautiful features.
The inside of the bodice showed 19th century contstruction and boning.
The inside of the bodice showed 19th century construction and boning.


The shoudler straps had been attached by hand, using whip stitches... probably after a fitting.
The shoulder straps had been attached by hand, using whip stitches… probably after a fitting.


Close=up of strap interior
Close-up of strap interior


The inside of the sleeve shows the layers of fabric and the method of slip stitching them together.
The inside of the sleeve shows the layers of fabric and the method of slip stitching them together.


The outside layers of the bodice were constructed over the boned foundation, giving the appearance of a soft kimono sleeve over the lace insert.
The outside layers of the bodice were constructed over the boned foundation, giving the appearance of a soft kimono sleeve over the lace insert.


Under the arm, a gusset gave additional wearing ease.
Under the arm, a gusset gave additional wearing ease.

In my next post, I will share the step by step process of recreating the 1912 gown, using new materials where necessary and the original luxurious fabric where possible.

Comfort and Style at Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse

Skilled interpreters at historic places consider their audience, the setting and the story they are about to share. The historic replica clothing they wear should be chosen for authenticity and appropriateness. At a site that is open throughout the summer season, the interpreters’ clothing is generally lightweight and appropriate to the weather. But many seasonal parks open in late spring and stay open into fall. This is the “shoulder season,” a time when mornings can be chilly and cold rain can challenge the interpreter and the audience.

Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse
Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse (Mackinac Island Images)

Recently I worked on a project with Craig Wilson, the Museum Historian at Mackinac State Parks in northern  Michigan. You may have heard of Mackinac Island; it’s a place where automobiles were banned almost as soon as they were invented. There are still no automobiles on the island today. People get around on foot, on bicycles, or by horse-drawn conveyances. You may have seen bits of Mackinac Island, including the historic Grand Hotel, if you watched the romantic film “Somewhere in Time.” Mackinac City is on the mainland, one of six local park sites.

Mackinac Island, Michigan in summer
Mackinac Island, Michigan in summer (Mackinac Island Images)

In the wintertime the region is cold and covered with snow. But starting in early May, the summer visitors begin to arrive. Mackinac State Park welcomes them with historic sites from several eras, including the 1889 lighthouse.

Mackinac State Park Lighthouse

Here’s what their website tells us about the history:
“A point in the storm and a guiding beacon since 1889, Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse helped passing ships navigate through the treacherous waters of the Straits of Mackinac. There’s just as much to see from the top of the tower as inside the original buildings. Authentically restored quarters and exhibits, including the original lens and an audiovisual program, Shipwrecks of the Straits, make this “Castle of the Straits” a true gem of the Great Lakes.

The lighthouse is located in Mackinaw City, Michigan. It is closed in the winter and will reopen May 5, 2014.”

Problems in clothing the interpreters

Craig Wilson wanted to provide something that was both warm and authentic for the primary interpreter during the cool spring and fall days. The women interpretive guides usually wear skirts and shirtwaists from the era of 1910 to 1915, mostly in neutral summer colors. Some days, those cotton blouses just aren’t enough protection! Lavender’s Green worked with Craig to research and create a jacket that was both warm and authentic.

Designing the jacket

Fashions were changing rapidly during the ‘teens, the time represented at the lighthouse. A review of fashion plates and photos shows a wide range of styles that might have been worn in the big cities and by the wealthy vacationers at Mackinac Island.

October 1916 Russell's Standard Fashions, publ. by Dover Press
October 1916 Russell’s Standard Fashions, reprint published by Dover Press


Dorothy Minto, photographed in 1912 by Bassino
Dorothy Minto, photographed in 1912 by Bassino

However, a lighthouse keeper was not among the well-to-do classes, and the lighthouse keeper’s wife or daughter would probably not wear a high-fashion suit on her daily rounds. Instead, we looked to examples provided in contemporary paintings. These were scenes from everyday life, and they helped us to see what a woman might have thrown over her clothes in her home or garden.

Amer Edmund Tarbell (American painter, 1862-1938)  Josephine Knitting
Josephine Knitting by Amer Edmund Tarbell (American painter, 1862 – 1938) shows a simple separates look for at-home wear.
Another classic jacket is pictured in the 1915 painting, Portrait of E N Glebova by Russian painter Pavel Filonov.
Another classic jacket is pictured in the 1915 painting, Portrait of E N Glebova by Russian painter Pavel Filonov.
A slightly later painting, The Garden Bench, painted in 1920 by American Rae Sloan Bredin, shows a similar jacket in a summer setting.
A slightly later painting, The Garden Bench, painted in 1920 by American Rae Sloan Bredin, shows a similar jacket in a summer setting.

We chose this basic style, with a high waisted belt and some flare over the hips, as a typical style of the time. We had measurements for Helen, one of the long-term interpretive staffers. I started with a pattern from Folkwear Patterns, which is now out of print. Folkwear’s “Equestriennes Riding Habit,” (copyright 1994) was a copy of a three-piece 1920 linen riding habit, unlined. I began with that jacket, simplified the pockets, and added a silk lining.

Fabric and color choices

Craig wanted the new jacket to be a dark color that would coordinate with the existing wardrobe at the park. Skirts in the collection were tan, black and other neutral shades. I selected a nautical blue wool flannel based on its warmth and the beautiful color. I was able to discover a 1907 painting that showed that exact shade being worn in a casual, watery summertime setting.

Lady Rowing a Boat by Lilla Cabot Perry (American 1848 - 1933)
Lady Rowing a Boat by Lilla Cabot Perry (American 1848 – 1933)

The wool jacket is lined in white china silk, similar to what you might find in a vintage garment, and a useful extra layer against the Lake Michigan wind.

blue 1913 jacket 008 blue 1913 jacket cropped

The finished jacket

Senior Lighthouse Interpreter Helen wearing the jacket
Senior Lighthouse Interpreter Helen wearing the jacket

While it may not be high fashion for 1915, the new jacket is certainly an authentic and practical addition to the lighthouse interpreters’ wardrobes.