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

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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.


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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

Made Again Patterns | Joey Tank Launch!!

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Today is THE day! My first official pattern for Made Again Patterns has launched - it’s the Joey Tank! She’s a simple but satisfying project - classic halter lines are combined with sleek finishing techniques to make this a fun one day project, best for advanced beginners to intermediate sewers. Joey is a PDF download that you can print at home and comes with two hem options - a cropped length with side vent and a longer option with a duck bill hem (cropped shown in these photos with the scooped version here!). Each download includes the printable pattern pieces in sizes XS-2X for both views plus a fully illustrated pattern instruction booklet.

BEST of all, this pattern is designed specifically to work with secondhand garments. The Joey Tank will work with shirting weight fabrics (like a casual button down shirt from your partner’s closet!) to a maxi skirt you’re not wearing anymore (this version is from a linen blend thrifted dress!). Or maybe you have smaller yardage of fabrics stashed up that you’re ready to use! (You can make this in a yard of 60” wide fabric or a yard and a third of 45” wide fabric!) THERE IS AMAZING FABRIC OUT THERE JUST WAITING FOR A NEW LIFE!

Guys - creating this pattern was an awesomely fun challenge and my notebook is bursting with ideas for what comes next. I cannot thank all of you enough for the support of this idea - I’ve never felt so uplifted on anything I’ve taken on before - so thank you thank you thank you. AND to my group of sewers who tested this pattern and gave me detailed and critical feedback - your time and talents are truly appreciated.

Lastly - would you help me spread the word? Have a friend who doesn’t do social media but loves to sew? Tell her! Would your daughter/sister/cousin/mom enjoy this project? Gift it to her! Just want to support another woman/mom/maker?

BUY THE JOEY TANK HERE and use code FRIENDS20 for a 20% discount!

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Jessica Sews | Navy Swiss Dot Joey Tank

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Navy Joey Tank
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Hot of the sewing machine (and just in time to wear for the Fourth of July weekend!) - my latest version of the Joey Tank! I love navy and white together and if you’re thinking this fabric looks familiar - you’re so right. It’s repurposed from a thrifted skirt and it’s actually the second time I’ve found this same piece at the thrift store! The first time I chopped it up I made this top (see it here or here)

View B of this tank works really well for a front tuck while still letting the back hang out. Kind of like the mullet version of a tank top? Whatever! I love it!

Finally - some good news!! After refining the fit and working with my amazing pattern testers over the past few weeks, I’m excited to announce this pattern will go on sale Monday morning! I have really enjoyed the process of draping, grading and writing/illustrating the instructions - it just feels like a perfect fit of my skills and passions. And it feels extra good when friends near and far are encouraging me along the way. I can’t wait to release this pattern into the world and see all of the amazing fabrics you guys upcycle and the outfits you create.

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