Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Make Do and Mend

This year I am going to try my very hardest to finish the HSF'14 challenges ahead of time. Last year I would spend the first week of the challenge period waffling back and forth on what to do. I'd come up with a big elaborate project and then panic when I realized there was only a week left. Then I would have to come up with a new, simpler plan and by the time I had fabric and patterns and research done all that was left was a weekend to sew. Last year I pretty much depended on the weekend before the due date to get my project done since it was usually due on Monday. This year with the reorganizing of the due dates I no longer have that weekend buffer so I have to plan further ahead.

So with all of that explanation out of the way, I have my very first challenge project to introduce. About six months ago I found a gorgeous historic Victorian skirt at a vintage clothing store in my home town. The owner had been renting it out for events and was reluctant to part with it, and now that I think back on it I probably paid more than I should have for the shape it was in. It's still completely wearable though, most of the damage is just superficial.



I was confused at first about the unusual design with the brown top and black bottom, but I think I came up with a possible answer. If the owner was of lower class the brown fabric might have been used as a base to save on the probably more expensive black fabric. The brown base is a full skirt and the black fabric is attached on top. There was probably an overskirt or bustle that covered up the brown. The bottom decoration is gorgeous but simple, a few rows of pleating followed by two rows of flat pleats. The lack of fancier trims and a long train also lead me to believe a working class woman owned this.

Detail of the ruching

I'm not quite sure on the exact dating of this skirt. It seems to have a mixture of hand sewing and machine sewing, but that doesn't help too much since home sewing machines started being introduced in the 1860's. My best guess is that it's sometime between the 1880's and the turn of the century.

Hand stitching where the black attaches to the base

Machine stitching where the bottom ruffle attaches, the top ruffle hides this

Hand stitching on the backside of the ruching detail

This skirt is already a make-do skirt, and it definitely needs some mending. Since it was used as a rental costume it has a lot of wear and tear. The owner of the clothing store has already done a few repairs to it, but they're quick and dirty fixes in a thread that doesn't even match.

Pretty little button hole stitches

Someone seems to have ripped the button hole on the dress (a shame, look at those stitches!) and then repaired it hastily with blue thread. The mess of black thread on the top there is because they attached a hook and eye to the opening to help the weakened button hole hold. I'll probably remove the hook and eye and repair the button hole itself to be stronger.

The added hook and eye

These snaps were definitely added later

A tear also repaired with blue thread

The bottom hem of the skirt is also a raggedy mess with the original binding practically disintegrating. I will definitely be removing and replacing the bottom binding.

Ragged bottom edge

Unfortunately someone also appears to have dripped bleach onto the skirt at some point in time. I don't know how or if I could repair that. I'd be a little afraid of trying to dye the spots back, and the bleach will ultimately eat away at the fabric. It's just a few spots so I can live with it if it can't be repaired.

The worst bleach spot

More bleach damage

There are also lots of little holes, probably moth damage. I don't know if it's worth darning them all or if I should just leave them be.

Lots of little holes

One of my favorite parts of the skirt has to be the fact that it has a pocket! I always forget to put pockets in my dresses. No one really talks much about pockets when they're designing a new dress, but they are absolutely vital.


Now that I've thoroughly documented the skirt and all the repairs it needs, I turn to the historical community for help. There are a few repairs I know how to do on the skirt, but this is the first historical piece I've owned and I want to know the best way to preserve it. Any and all advice is welcome!

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