Introducing | The Kirsten Project

My pleasant company edition of meet kirsten (1986, when it was just her, samantha and molly!) from childhood plus original outfit.

My pleasant company edition of meet kirsten (1986, when it was just her, samantha and molly!) from childhood plus original outfit.

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Over the course of the past year I’ve returned to one of my childhood passions with historic costumes. It was only after going to my first Jane Austen Festival did I remember how I spent so much of my early years wearing pioneer dresses, bonnets, aprons and petticoats. Anything historic was my jam, but especially the world of old fashioned clothes. I wore braids and lace up black boots to elementary school! I have memories of running through an apple orchard in my full kit and loving it so dearly.

A huge part of my introduction to history was through the American Girl Dolls, specifically Kirsten, who lived in the Midwest in 1854. You can read my whole story of how much this doll meant to me here as a background to the new project I am dying to tell you about today.


I’m calling it The Kirsten Project and it will be a multi-month exercise in creating a historically accurate mid 19th century costume from the inside out. The first book in the series, Meet Kirsten, will serve as my inspiration. I’m even going as far as designing fabric based on her dress and scaling it to the perfect adult size for me. Because Kirsten was an immigrant farmer’s daughter living in the Midwest, her ensemble won’t the same as fashion plates from Paris, but I’ll do my best to guess what that kind of woman would have worn and still embrace the spirit of the artwork from the Kirsten series. My plan for this project is to research and plan every layer - from chemises and petticoats, to a corset, hand knit socks, period footwear all the way to her signature spoon pocket and gingham bonnet. I’ll share photos and videos of my progress, just like I’ve done with past projects.

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Speaking of sharing… the other half of the experiment is a little crowd funding proposal. I’m wondering if you’d be willing to chip in whatever you can to watch the project unfold? I have a private instagram account I’ve set up exclusively for contributors. You can support the project with a one time donation and in any amount through my PayPal. Drop me a DM and I’ll approve your follow request! All of these funds will go towards the hefty expense of making a historical costume (buying patterns from independent designers, creating my own original fabric designs and having them printed, buying from mom and pop fabric stores, supporting women owned shoe companies, knitters, and more) and will make me feel supported as an artist (thank you thank you thank you!) Think of this like a one-on-one guided museum tour through an incredibly specific part of costume history.

If you can wait until the very end, look for the full project to land here. Otherwise, watch me in real time by supporting this project!

I can’t wait to create my own historically accurate adult version inspired by kirsten.

I can’t wait to create my own historically accurate adult version inspired by kirsten.

Jane Austen Festival 2019 at Locust Grove

This time I’m the one looking beyond the antique glass at the Promenade of festival goers below.

This time I’m the one looking beyond the antique glass at the Promenade of festival goers below.

It’s no secret how excited I get for costumed events and the Jane Austen Festival at Locust Grove in Louisville is like my Superbowl. Last year I went as an observer but this year, I went in costume and loved every single second of it. In the past year I’ve made so many new friends around the country and it was my first time meeting many of them in person. So many conversations started something like “I know you… but I don’t know you, but I know your instagram!” Thank God for social media and the good it can do in creating so many friendships for such a niche hobby.

For the sake of getting these photos up onto the blog, I’m not linking to each person’s blog or social media right away but if you see yourself and would like that - please let me know! I’ll update them as you contact me! And feel free to snag any image you want with a photo credit in your post (I’m @jessicajquirk on Instagram!)

I can’t wait to see all of my costuming babes next year at the Jane Austen Festival!

Sara and I pose for a photo - follow her  here  on Instagram.

Sara and I pose for a photo - follow her here on Instagram.

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Jenn and Jessica of  Penny River Costumes.

Jenn and Jessica of Penny River Costumes.

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Time Traveling | Jane Austen Festival circa 1810

Regency Gown 1810
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Regency Gown 1810

It’s mid July which means it’s time for the Jane Austen Festival in Louisville, KY! I went last year on a whim and it’s what sparked my interest in historical costume. Before this I’d made historically based costumes, but nothing very researched or accurate. Now that I’m in… I’m all in! You’ve seen my 1780s looks here and here, but let’s jump forward in time to the early 19th century! Let me tell you all about it!

Short Sleeved Gown

This dress is based on an extant gown from the Fashion Archives and Museum of Shippensburg University and was found in a family attic in Pennsylvania. Could you imagine finding something like that? I would lose my damn mind! The pattern for this dress is made by Fig Leaf Patterns and I actually tried this style on at last year’s festival, so I knew it would fit! My original plan for my Jane Austen dress ended up being a huge bust, but this style came together easily in a few days!

Shorter sleeves are typically an evening look, but knowing how hot it can be in Louisville, I decided I’m ok with wearing it for the daytime. Plus - THOSE SLEEVES! They’re the feature that drew me to the pattern in the first place and in a cotton batiste fabric, I think they’re perfect.

Under the gown I’m wearing my corded stays (which may skew a little later than 1810, but not by much), a regency style petticoat (which is almost like a short bodice attached to the skirt - otherwise it would be difficult to keep up at the empire waistline) and a chemisette (which was patterned from the American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Fashion. It’s partly for modesty (strangers don’t need to see your cleavage, girl) and partly to keep the sun off your delicate skin. Interestingly, showing some skin is appropriate in the evening when amongst one’s peers. So for dinner I’ll take off the chemisette, change my hair, scarf and jewelry but wear the same dress.

Accessories

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All of my accessories are homemade, from my costume box or from the thrift store. I blocked and trimmed my hat (video here)using silk and velvet ribbons from Let’s Sew (which is my all time favorite fabric store in Evansville, IN) plus a faux snapdragon I had in my stash. The style isn’t an exact copy but I used fashion plates from the era to get inspiration. The necklace was something I made waaaay back in the day that I found in my basement! Ditto with the scarf - it was something I had on hand and has an Indian style print which was very popular in the early 19th century. My broach was 25 cents at a garage sale and my gloves are from the costume box. On my feet I’m wearing white ballet slippers, also a thrift shop find, but as we speak the paint is drying on another pair of flats that I may wear for the actual event.

One of my favorite accessories is my little pocket edition hardback book… which is actually my iPhone case! I made it myself by cutting out the interior of the book to fit my iPhone and Adam drilled a hole for me where the camera lens goes (which he actually did right after we took these photos, so there’s not an actual pic of that - sorry!) So now I can look like an accomplished lady reading in the shade of some great oak tree while I’m actually updating my instragam with photos from the day!

I’ve said this before, but there’s something about wearing historic garb that really makes me feel like me. I’ve always loved history and especially costume history and I cannot wait to spend the day with ladies and gentlemen who share the same passion. I’ve been corresponding with so many folks over the past few months that I get to meet in person tomorrow and although I’m a wee bit nervous, I’m also really excited. These are my people, this is my world. Let’s time travel, darling.

Regency Gown 1810
Regency Gown 1810

Time Traveling | Early 19th Century Corded Stays

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I’ve been on a sewing roll in 2019 and my latest project is a pair of early 19th century stays. As fashion moved towards a neoclassical influence around the turn of the century, the undergarments worn also evolved. Instead of shaping the torso into a conical shape (like my first pair of stays), the shape of the bosom was more defined by lifting and separating the bust (versus just smushing them up like previous centuries).

The construction for this new shape incorporates gussets, or triangular shaped inserts, to give more shape to the stays. To me this is probably the first version of the bra we know and wear today - from flattened uniboobs to more rounded cups.

When it comes to my historical undergarments - you know me - the more elaborate, the better! Enter the idea for corded stays. These actually fall more towards the 1820-1830s due to the cording, but I’m hoping the shape of this garment will work for costumes between 1800-1840. Plus I wanted to make something spectacular, and I think I’ve done it!

For my base pattern, I worked with the Laughing Moon Mercantile 115 and chose a white coutil (a tightly woven fabric made for corsetry). I made a quick mock up in size 16, determined I could size down and got to the business of cutting and cording my pieces.

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For my cording design I used extant museum pieces (specifically this one) as my inspiration. I first drew sketches of the overall look and then moved to creating them on my paper pattern. I then taped my fabric and cording design to my windows and traced them with a water soluble pen. The design I started with is far less intricate than my final design because I just kept adding, adding, adding channels (even after front and back sides were joined) but I’m really glad I did. This is an intentionally softer style corset (there’s way more breathing room than my earlier pair) and isn’t meant for major waist reduction like mid 19th century - 20th century styles. It does provide posture correction and some shaping, but my rib cage can expand so much more than a heavily boned version. There are only four total boning channels, plus the front busk pocket so all of the extra cording gives the garment more strength. Plus I think it’s really beautiful!

After the channels are sewn, loose tails are threaded into a needle and taken to the back side. Every single stop and start of a stitching line! After a while I altered my technique a bit so I could sew one whole section (like 4 parallel lines) without cutting my thread. It can get mighty messy with all of those threads on the backside. Once they were pulled to the back, I tied the bobbin and top threads together and cut them near the knot. Then comes the fun part of actually getting the cording into the channels.

I did this using a combination of large needles, needle nose pliers and a fierce determination to carry on even when my fingers were so sore! You need the pliers to grab the needle and keep it from slipping as you gather the thick fabric and push the needle through. I can’t imagine even getting one channel complete without them! For the majority of the channels, I used a blunt tapestry needle, but I also used a long (4-5”) sharper needle to quickly get me through shorter channels. I had to be very careful to not puncture my top fabric with the needles and keep the cording (I just used cotton yarn) in place.

After the gussets were sewn and flossed (part embroidery, part stabilization), I moved onto the back eyelets. Those are all hand sewn and call me crazy but I LOVE doing them. They’re so cute and strong! Finally, after the straps were sewn to the back, I did bias binding around both the top and bottom edges. This is another thing I really love! If you’re precise, it looks so crisp and amazing. During that process I also added a drawstring channel to the top of the front so I could draw in the excess space created by the bust gussets.

The center front busk is a flat wooden piece inserted into a pocket. In my early construction phases I just used a freebie paint stick (as many a historical costumer has recommended online!) but wanted something a little more special and straight (there’s a small indentation about 2” from one edge on both left and right sides I didn’t want showing through my stays. Adam was able to run out to his woodshop and brought back a gorgeous ash version (wood leftover from our dining room floors!) in under 5 minutes! Thanks Adam!

This project took about seven working days to complete (during weekends, while kids are playing or at night). My pattern, fabric and lacing were a gift from my mother in law - thank you Mary!!!) and I harvested old steel bones (creepy!) from a corset I’m not planning on wearing again.

In the end I’m excited to add this piece to my costume closet and start making regency style dresses to be worn over it. If you’d like to see more behind the scenes, check out my Instagram Highlights to watch the process!

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Time Traveling | 18th Century Snow Day

Red Chintz Gown
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Red Chintz Gown

It’s been a while since I’ve gotten gussied up in my 18th century gear! With a gorgeous snowy morning as my backdrop, I pulled out my red chintz Italian gown and styled it for a wintertime scene. I wore my dark red petticoat, a 1970s silk Dior scarf as a fichu, a black silk wired ribbon and pair of long black gloves. I powdered my hair and arranged two feathers in it. I went a little more dramatic with makeup (please tell me I don’t look like a badger?) and I felt so beautiful posing for these images!

Georgian Red Winter Gown
18th Century Snow Day Red Chintz Gown
Red Chintz Gown
Georgian Red Chintz Gown Snow Day