Thursday, June 23, 2016

Raiding the linen closet . . . 18th century edition! A tutorial.

I love vintage and antique lace and linens.  I have quite a collection of vintage linens which I use in my home.  Most of them are printed or embroidered scarves, tablecloths, doilies etc. from the early 20th century.  Some are family pieces.  I've been purchasing vintage linens again -- only with the intent of repurposing them into 18th century accessories.  This started after I saw some extant examples of aprons and kerchiefs that had fancy embroidery and, quite frankly, I just don't have the time to do the embroidery.  Most of the examples I've seen have some sort of whitework:  Tambour, Dresden, pulled or drawn thread embroidery.  Sometimes they have a combination of these techniques.

I'd like to offer some do's and don'ts about using vintage linens to create accessories.

1.  Familiarize yourself with the styles of lace and embroidery that were used in the 18th century.  Lace was obviously handmade at that time and it was typically bobbin or fine needle lace.  There are some fine French Valenciennes laces available today, usually from heirloom sewing suppliers, that while machine made, are somewhat similar to those of the 18th century.  You will need to find which motifs are appropriate. This link is an academic article about lace that is appropriate for Revolutionary War reenactors.   It is also helpful to study extant garments to see the types of laces and embroidery they are decorated with. This link will take you to a list of links to photos of extant garments to look at.

Here are some extant accessories that are representative of pieces that may be reproduced using vintage linens:



Sleeve Ruffles

Most of these are tambour embroidery or whitework on muslin or linen.  There is also some Brussels lace on a net ground.  You will find these styles of embroidery to be fairly common on vintage curtains in particular.

2.  Consider the size of the garment you are making and the placement of the embroidery on the curtain or household item.  I have found that some curtains have the embroidery just across the bottom whereas others have it at the bottom and up one side.  You will need to take this into consideration when planning your project.  Here is an example.  I have a pair of 24" X 36" curtains with tambour embroidery.  Their small size is somewhat limiting in what I can make.  I can cut a 24" square handkerchief with the embroidery on one side.  I've shaded the area that would create a handkerchief.  I could also just cut that into a triangle.  Since I have another curtain like this which is a mirror image, I could also seam the two curtains together in the center to make an apron with embroidery down the sides and across the bottom.  It is helpful to consider this before purchasing your linens.

3. Condition of the linens.  Look at the condition and determine how much restoration must be done. It's easy to whiten linens if that is the only problem.  Years ago, I took a restoration class at the Smithsonian and they used a solution of Sodium Perborate as a whitener.  This is the main ingredient in Clorox 2 powder so I've always made a fairly strong solution of Clorox 2 powder and room temperature water.  I soak the linens in it until white, rinse thoroughly and hang or lay flat to dry. One thing to be careful of--when you are lifting wet linens from soaking, be sure to support the weight of them from underneath as the weight can cause tearing.  

Another thing when considering the condition is to look for repairs.  Many repairs aren't readily visible and others are.  Look to see if the repairs are done by hand or machine.  If machine repaired, can it be restitched by hand?  Remember that you are making a period piece and you don't want machine stitching to show.

Here are a few projects that I've made from vintage linens.  

1.  Muslin/organdy apron with tambour embroidery:

I was fortunate enough to come across a pair of vintage curtains that were 89 inches wide by 91 inches long with tambour embroidery along the bottom edge.  I cut a portion of one curtain about 48 inches wide and 30 inches long.  I gathered the top with stroke gathers and bound the top with antique silk grosgrain ribbon.  Here is what the curtain looked like:

I only used a section of one curtain and I believe I have enough left of that plus the unused curtain to make a Regency dress with an embroidered hemline and possibly embroidered sleeves!

2.  Fancy tambour kerchief:

This piece needed more restoration.  It was new old store stock that was extremely discolored.  Here is what the curtain looked like before cutting:
Close up of the embroidery

As you can see, most of the embroidery is concentrated in one corner so I chose to make a half handkerchief using the fancy corner of the curtain.  It is quite generously sized:  half of a 38 inch square.  I've decided to use the opposite corner for a smaller, simpler half kerchief.  It's waiting to be roll hemmed.

3.  Fancy lace apron:

This one required a bit more work.  Here is what the original curtain panel looked like:

It was about 70 inches long.  First I had to whiten it, remove the fringe and I had to find some narrow appropriate French lace for an edging.

The lace was soaked as described above.  I wrapped it around a glass to keep it flat and to keep it from tangling then I immersed the glass in the solution.  I rinsed and dried it on the glass as well--putting the glass out on my deck table to dry in the sun.

Nice and white!

I had to choose a good place to cut the curtain--looking at the design on the lace and keeping the apron an appropriate length.  I decided to gather the lace in 5 places because it was fairly narrow--only 32 inches wide--and I didn't think it was wide enough to gather it all the way across.  Fortunately the extant piece that inspired me was gathered this way.  I made a waistband out of organdy and I will insert silk ribbon ties in the ends of the waistband which were left open.

Here is the extant apron that inspired this piece:
This piece is on muslin and mine is lace.  Some of the motifs are similar and this apron is edged with narrow bobbin lace similar to the modern lace I used.

Repurposing linens is fun and it's like a treasure hunt combing through them in thrift stores, yard sales and online auction sites.

It's always rewarding to be able to use someone else's cast offs to make a new treasure!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

18th Century Pinball -- A Tutorial

I've always loved antique sewing tools.  Over the years I've collected a few.  There's just something special about using beautiful tools when creating.  Years ago, when I was making Heirloom sewn dresses for my daughter, I made myself a Victorian chatelaine to use.  It held my scissors, thimble, needle case and it had a pocket to hold embroidery floss or thread.

The needle case and thimble holders were hand crocheted.  The chatelaine is made of scraps of silk, ribbon and velvet and it is embroidered with silk floss and glass beads with silk ribbon trim.  It is trimmed with vintage glass and mother of pearl buttons.  It has always been one of my favorite things.

A few months ago, I discovered an 18th century pin cushion online that was called a pinball.  It was made of silk, embroidered with a cross stitched monogram and trimmed in silk ribbon.  It was made to hang from an equipage.  I've always loved pin cushions because the sky is really the limit as to what they can look like.  Further research found that pinballs were often made with needlepoint or knit.   They were made of linen, wool, or silk.  Some were banded with silk ribbon and some were banded with sterling silver bands.

Here are some 18th century examples:
Red silk banded with silk ribbon

 Linen, embroidered and banded with silk ribbon

 Knit from silk

Knit and embroidered, banded with inscribed silver

Knitted and banded in silver

Queenstitch, banded in silver

There are many more of these to be found showing examples of flame stitch, crewel embroidery, cross stitch or simple forms of embroidery.  I decided that I wanted to make one of these banded in silver.  I found that Colonial Williamsburg sells the silver rings but they are quite expensive so I started looking at Ebay.  I found dozens of Christening bracelets made from sterling silver for a very reasonable cost.  I purchased one from someone in the UK for around $30 including shipping.  

Christening bracelets are adjustable and they are tiny.  This one has an inside diameter of approximately 1 3/4 inches.  After measuring the bracelet I had to decide on an embroidery design.  I thought I'd do cross stitch with my initials.  Typically I would use linen and do counted thread embroidery but I didn't think my eyes could handle it so I went with aida cloth.  I found an old cross stitch book of letters and I found a new one of coasters which had some blue snowflake like designs reminiscent of the blue patterned china of old.   

 I settled on navy blue cloth and white, gray and light blue cotton floss.  The diameter of the embroidered patterns was about 2 inches.  Here are my finished designs.

You will need to cut cardboard circles to use for each design.  These should be a little smaller than the inside diameter of the bracelet.  My bracelet was about 1 3/4 inches so I cut circles that were 1 5/8 inches. My bracelet was measured with it expanded as far as it could go.

When the embroidery was finished, I had to determine how large to cut the final circles.  Upon measuring and playing around by putting the embroidery through the silver bracelet to see how it looked, I decided that three inches would be a good size.  This is one of those things you just have to experiment with.

I drew a 3 inch diameter circle around each design and trimmed off the extra fabric 1/2 inch beyond the circle.  Next I used a very long doubled piece of upholstery thread and ran a gathering stitch on the drawn circle.

Here is the fiddly part.  As you draw up the gathers, begin stuffing the circle with filling--either fiberfill or wool batting.  Stuff it as full as you can--literally until you can't get any more filling in it.  Place your cardboard disk over the stuffing and pull the gathers, knotting the thread firmly.  You will then need to take stitches across the cardboard all around the circle, catching as many of the gathers as you can.

Place the two cushions together, making sure the designs are lined up and stitch them together using matching thread.  I used a doubled strand of navy blue silk. Make sure you pull your stitching tightly and knot it securely when finished.

Before putting the finished cushion in my ring, I needed to add a hanging loop.  You could use a purchased jump ring but I chose to make my own.  I had some 17 ga. twisted silver wire so I bent a short piece into a half circle, bending under the ends.

I put the ring around the bracelet between the two little slider bars.

You're almost finished!  Now you need to push your pin cushion through the bracelet.  It should be very tight keep pushing until the ring is around the center covering the stitching.  It should be a good tight fit!   You are finished!

Here is my finished pinball:

Attach your pinball to a chain, ribbon or equipage.  I attached mine to an equipage along with several other necessities.

This was such an enjoyable little project.  I think I'll make a silk one next!

Monday, May 16, 2016


Fabric remnants are wonderful things.  When I first started 18th century sewing, I thought that there wouldn't be many occasions where I could use small remnants since most garments require so much fabric.  I'm finding out that I was wrong!  One can always use more kerchiefs or aprons but I'm finding other uses for them as well.

I've used remnants for my last 3 projects.  The first was a pair of pockets.  I had been wearing some children's pockets I had bought to keep at school to show the kids.  I can't believe how much larger adult pockets are!  I can fit everything I need in them.  I really wanted some crewelwork ones and one of these days I'll get around to making some.  In the meantime, I found a half yard remnant of some crewel embroidered linen blend in the home dec section at Joann's.  That along with some leftover osnaburg linen and some linen tape that I keep on hand was just what I needed.  

I used the Kannik's Korner pattern which has a number of different styles.  The last two views are from the last quarter of the 18th century in the United States.  I chose the ones with the wide opening and made them according to the pattern directions.  The opening is faced on the inside with wide linen tape which you can see above. The one place where I cheated was that I machine sewed the seam attaching the front and back pieces.  Once that is turned right side out, it is top stitched by hand so I figured it didn't matter as the seam stitches were encased.  Time was of the essence so this was quicker.  All other stitching is by hand.  I was pleased with the result.

The next project was another jacket from the J.P. Ryan pattern.  The first one I made had an overlapping front that pinned closed. I decided to do one with a stomacher this time as I purchased two remnants from Renaissance Fabrics:  1.5 yards of striped linen and 1 yard of plan buttery yellow linen.  I ended up using the striped linen for the jacket and the yellow for the stomacher.  The jacket was lined with plain white shift weight linen and made entirely by hand. 

My 21st century self told me that I had to balance the uneven stripes which I did.

The stomacher is boned and the tabs are made from cotton tape.

The eyelets were stitched by hand with silk buttonhole twist.  I marked the eyelets as indicated on the pattern but I think I need an additional one at the top as the top edges didn't lay flat when I wore it so I'll be adding those before I wear it again.

I wore this with my blue petticoat and a fancy new kerchief at Mt. Vernon for the Call of Arms event.

With my new friends in the garden at the greenhouse!  What a lovely day for a stroll!

My last project was a new kerchief.  This one is pretty generously sized--about 38 inches square.  I had a little over a yard of the my woven checked handkerchief linen that I made the apron in the picture out of so I decided to use it.  I love checked fabrics because it's so easy to cut a nice even square.  All I needed to do was a rolled hem all the way around.  Voila!  Another project done!

I love having these small projects as the big ones take sooooo long and it's nice to complete something in a night or two!  

Next up will be a big project!