HSF #1: Bi/Tri/Quadri/Quin/Sex/Septi/Octo/Nona/Centennia

January 13th, 2013

I wasn’t sure I was even going to participate in the first official Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge. To be honest, I don’t really have an affinity for any years ending in 13. Most of my historical fashion obsessions seem to spring from the historic houses at which I have worked. Turn of the century, yes — I’ve done Edwardian and Federal/Regency/Empire — but I’ve never made it into the teens.

It was a 1913 cutting diagram from the introductory materials in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion II that finally sold me. A description on Dressmaking Research caught my eye, and seemed to jive with the Arnold diagram.

“Skirts cut in two pieces have proved so well liked that they are one of the most often remarked models in the suit or separate skirt. No. 6658 is the newest design with just the desired width. The possibility of sloping the front edges away at the foot is appreciated, for some women like the added freedom it allows in walking. In the medium size the lower edge measures about one and five-eighth yards. There is a slightly high or a regulation waistline fitted with scant gathers or darts. The skirt may be closed at back or front and finished in round or shorter length. Serge, cheviot, wool rep, whip-cord, broadcloth, homespun, suitings, linen, pique and agaric are the materials suggested.

“A woman of medium size requires two and five-eighth yards of material thirty-six or more inches wide, Thirty-six inches is the narrowest width that may be successfully used because the model is cut in only two pieces.”

Designer, March 1913

So with brave heart and steady hand, I chopped into a length of green-and-white textured houndstooth of indeterminate fibre content (thrift store find) and started draping. The result is a little iffy, but not terrible for a first draft. I really like the two-piece construction: a pair of identical sections, each comprising half of the front and back, with a dart over the side hip and darts or gathers fitting the waist. It lends itself beautifully to the pegged tops, draping, and cross-overs that were popular in the teens. It’s also just fine as a plain walking skirt.

Unfortunately, a couple of late night cutting mistakes combined with fabric that refused to dart properly (wool will work MUCH better) add up to a skirt that doesn’t quite scream 1913. But it passes. With my second armistice blouse, plus 1930s hat and gloves thrown in, it’s surprisingly credible. Especially since I haven’t a stitch of teens underwear to help with the shaping.

1913 Skirt

Notice the wrinkles and flabbiness around the hem? They wouldn’t iron out, no matter how long and hard I pressed, nor how many vile chemical smells emanated from the heated fabric.

Here you can see my dirty little secret — the majority of the skirt’s fullness ended up in the back. These gathers are a little more than scant — shades of Edwardianism, gasp! But I think I can fix it next time by moving the side darts and using more conducive fabric. Can you tell I’m eager to explore this pattern more? And maybe even create a modern version to accompany my updated armistice blouses…

1913 skirt back

The only part of this skirt that really makes me happy is the waistband.

1913 skirt waist band detail

It provided one of those costuming “ah ha” moments when you suddenly realize that you’ve created something that looks just like a technique seen on extant garments but never properly understood. Lots of late-19th and early-20th century skirts have self-fabric waistbands faced with grosgrain ribbon. It’s a neat trick, creating a strong band without too much bulk. Common sense told me to sew the skirt to the ribbon first. Then I machine-stitched the fabric waistband to cover the join, turned the top and side edges under, and blind-stitched it to the ribbon. The result mimics period waistbands perfectly, right down to the line of machine stitching along the bottom of the ribbon!

Just the facts, Ma’am: 1913 Two-Piece Skirt

The Challenge: #1: Bi/Tri/Quadri/Quin/Sex/Septi/Octo/Nona/Centennia

Fabric: Textured Green & White Houndstooth, unknown fibre content (thrift store find)

Pattern: Custom draped based on cutting diagram in Patterns of Fashion II

Year: 1913

Notions:5 metal snaps, two waistband hooks and metal eyes.

How historically accurate is it?Hardly. Let’s call it more historically inspired. The silhouette is close-ish in a generic sense, but definitely no cigar. I need to do a LOT more research (and make some underwear) before I can feel confident calling anything I make from the teens historically accurate. I did use all period techniques — no zig-zag stitch, plenty of hand-finishing, etc. The material itself is some modern abomination, but the metal closings are pretty much accurate.

Hours to complete: Less than 10. Which is probably a speed record for me! What a difference a sewing machine makes.

First worn: This afternoon, to take photos. I briefly considered taking it out for a neighborhood stroll, but a rare California cold snap kept me huddled indoors. Thanks to a teensy cutting mistake (where I ignored seam allowances at the center front), I probably won’t be wearing this very often until the approach of bikini season inspires me to lose a little weight.

Total cost: $2.5o for thrift store fabric. The fasteners were inherited.

  • Interesting piece for sure – from the construction point at least; I’m glad you wrote about the waistband – that could come in useful one day!

    • eva says:

      Thanks Hana, I need to double check my waistband against some of the originals I was looking at, then I was planning to put together a tutorial. This is definitely the part of sewing that I love!

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