Thursday, December 26, 2013

Work In Progress: Early 20th century Skating Skirt

Emily, here!

A week ago I was invited to attend an even called "Holiday Nights" at Greenfield Village, the open-air living history museum adjacent to the Henry Ford Museum. Holiday Nights is an amazing adventure into the past. The Village itself is an amalgam of historical buildings and "places", all arranged neatly along streets to provide a literal walk through history. There are houses and workshops, and even a factory originally owned by Thomas Edison, seated comfortably next to his workshops which you can tour.

If you're a history nerd like I am, this place is heaven! Holiday Nights is their wintertime celebration during which they offer live music in various settings around the village. You can snuggle next to a bonfire and listen to fife, crowd the foyer of a 19th century manor to hear hammered dulcimer and glockenspiel, follow the traveling carolers and more! There are "street vendors" selling roasted chestnuts, hot cocoa and warm cider, as well as lanterns and wreaths. It was so beautiful. Everywhere you looked were people carrying little lights and lanterns, and people were laughing and singing all around the village (except for one of the houses. One of the houses belonged to a very conservative family, whose religion I have forgotten, who did not observe Christmas...) and the end of the night was led by a parade of noise and lights to the town hall where all of the visitors caroled as fireworks were set off over the village lake. Holy cow. I haven't had good educational fun like that in a very long time.

I've had this idea for a vintage-inspired skirt tickling the back of my head ever since that night and over the past few days I've been able to really get some work done on it. I want desperately to make one of those warm woolen skirts that you see women wearing for figure skating both in the 1910's and again in the 40s.

Ideally I'd like it to be the kind of skirt that you can pair with a fancy muff or a muck fork, depending on where you are! The biggest challenge for me was definitely coming up with something that is practical as well as elegant.

I spent an entire day pouring over my vintage/antique patterns (and Pinterest, of course) in order to come up with just the right cut. Finally I settled on one of my favorite patterns from "Past Patterns" which is a 1915, six gored skirt with a sort of "yoke belt". I used this patter as my base and altered it slightly to give it a slightly more 40's silhouette and length, and unless I'm sorely mistaken the result is going to be spectacular!

This pattern is a perfect example of how to find yourself in over your head with antique sewing! The pattern has a scant 4 lines of directions and was originally unprinted, leaving a series of perforations to be carefully deciphered by the seamstress or tailor. The "yoke belt" is nearly impossible to figure out, and in the end I decided to wing it. It was only after I finished the top of the skirt that I figured out how I should've done it, as it ended up a bit bulky, but it still looks fantastic when it's on!

The fabric that I had the pleasure of using for this was a heavy Italian wool. Don't get me wrong, I'm really not the kind of gal to go and splurge on some over-the-top luxury fabric, but last year I visited the Fabric Warehouse over in Warren, Michigan and stumbled across this amazing fabric for $12.99 a yard, when it had originally sold for $50-60 a yard in New York City fashion houses. Holy Moly, right? It's the most luxurious fabric I've ever sewn with (though I have a couple of other gems in my collection waiting to be used) so there was a lot of pressure to make it into something special. This project has proved to be the perfect excuse.

I have yet to add the buttons, hook-and-eyes and hem (which I am just realizing I've never actually done an invisible hem – maybe I can get away with hiding a plain-stitched hem in an embellishment at the bottom as pictured on the drawing...) so there will be plenty of photos of this babe when I'm finished. I'll be finishing the hem at a shorter length than was typical of the Edwardian period from which this pattern comes simply because I want it to be a working skirt, or the kind of skirt that you'd wear when skating on the local pond. It needs to be short enough that my wellies don't get caught up in it as I'm trudging out to feed the livestock, but ideally it should be long enough to allude to the modesty of the era.

Stay tuned for more photos!