The Kirsten Project | Dress Inspiration

dress, late 1830s, metropolitan museum of art, daguerrotypes of women and girls in mid 19th century dresses

dress, late 1830s, metropolitan museum of art, daguerrotypes of women and girls in mid 19th century dresses

The real root of The Kirsten Project has been for me to try to untangle the mystery of how each aspect of Kirsten’s costume came together and to make my best guess on what Pleasant Company used as an inspiration, all while staying true to early photos and extant pieces of 1850s fashion.

pleasant company catalog

pleasant company catalog

Luckily, when it comes to Kirsten’s dress, we know exactly where to look… remember the early catalogs and the girl sized dresses you could buy to match your doll? On Kirsten’s page an ecru printed dress was shown with the following copy:

“This antique dress was Pleasant Company’s inspiration for Kirsten’s wardrobe. Made with loving care more than 125 years ago by a mother that took pride in tiny stitches, it’s hem faced in coordinating fabric, a practical, thrifty way to use precious scraps of material, but such a pretty touch that we did it on purpose when we recreated Kirsten’s dresses for you.”

This extant dress is also shown in the “Peek Into the Past” section at the end of Kirsten Saves the Day and in Welcome to Kirsten’s World 1854. If you look closely you can find picture credits (right behind the title page back at the front). This dress is from the Wisconsin Historical Society and thanks to a gift from Pleasant T. Rowland herself (the creator of Pleasant Company and the American Girls), the entire children’s clothing collection is available to view to the public. God bless the museums that post their collections online - it’s a priceless resource for costumers like me! It took me just minutes to scan through the collection before I found the dress that inspired Kirsten’s! The description of the dress reads:

“Ecru-colored cotton, printed with a half-drop pattern of small red and brown radishes on a ground of small scattered brown spots; hand-sewn; slightly above natural waistline, with inset self-fabric band, 1.5" wide, with pattern going the opposite direction from the rest of the dress, and piped on both seams; bodice is gathered into the waistband in a section in the center; calf-length skirt is cartridge pleated into the waistband all the way around; long and full bishop-style sleeves; 1.5" pleat taken in above hem of skirt; narrow band collar; various calicos used to line hem of skirt, waistband, and bodice; center back opening closes with 5 white cone-shaped glass shank buttons from neck to waist, and two metal hooks and eyes at the waistband.”

women and girls in printed dresses, radish print child’s dress, 1853-1857, wisconsin historical society

women and girls in printed dresses, radish print child’s dress, 1853-1857, wisconsin historical society

The signature elements I will recreate in my adult sized dress (which are also very similar to the dress shown above from The Met) are: dropped shoulders with piping on the armscye, full sleeves pleated into a cuff, fan pleating at the center front (gathered in the girl’s version), piping at the waistline, gauged/cartridge pleats to attach the skirt to waist and finally, a printed hem facing that differs from the body of the dress. I’m using a sewing pattern that has been made from an existing dress dated between 1856-1862.

Prints from an 1850’s Swatch Book

Prints from an 1850’s Swatch Book

While the original dress is ecru with a small radish print, Kirsten’s dress is described in Meet Kirsten as “patterned with little red flowers” and has a blue background. My guess is that the blue, paired with the red stripes of her traditional Swedish apron, created a very American look for Kirsten. This shade of blue was also pretty popular in the 1980s when the character was created. While there are a lot more examples of brownish tones during this era, as seen at left, some blues do survive. I’ve created my own adult sized print based on the description of Kirsten’s dress, illustrations from her series and from the doll’s original printed dress. I can’t wait to reveal it to you in the final photos of this project!

Extant examples of blue print fabric from the mid-19th century (Top LEFT 1845-1850 MODE MUSEUM HASSELT, TOP RIGHT 1867-1869, KENT STATE UNIVERSITY, CHILD’s Dress 1850-1855, Metropolitan museum of art)

Extant examples of blue print fabric from the mid-19th century (Top LEFT 1845-1850 MODE MUSEUM HASSELT, TOP RIGHT 1867-1869, KENT STATE UNIVERSITY, CHILD’s Dress 1850-1855, Metropolitan museum of art)

Jessica Sews | Made Again Patterns Joey Tank

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First things first - you guys are the best. Thanks for the encouragement on the launch of Made Again Patterns. I’m soaking in loads of good vibes and putting them to use on the creation on the first clothing pattern. And this is it!

Introducing the Joey Tank! Inspired by summers from the late 90s - a time when days were spent at the neighborhood pool, with tan shoulders and daisies in our hair, cruising around with way too many people in the backseat of the one guy who had his license, 11 pm curfews, the sound of dial up internet and managing 26 different conversations… and finally… cue the Dawson’s Creek theme song.

To me, this tank captures all of that! It’s upcycled from a men’s button down (check out that pocket in back) and so easy to throw on with a part of shorts (which do not pass the regulation finger tip length circa 1999).

So here’s where I’m at in the development phase - I have the digital base pattern created plus the written and illustrated instructions drafted. What you see here is version one. I’ve made a few updates like continuous straps and binding which will be in the final version. Plus there’s a straight hem cropped version as well! I’ll be grading it and sending out to my testers in the next week with a hope to debut in July! (if you’d like to volunteer to stitch a sample and make notes in exchange for a free pattern, you can do that here) You can also follow Made Again Patterns on Instagram and Facebook for release updates. I’m also doing some behind-the-scenes of the process there too. Until then… happy summering, sewing and spending your time doing what you love doing most!

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Stars + Stripes Throw Pillow Pattern

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You guys! I have some exciting news! In the past few weeks I have been focusing my time and energy on a new endeavor - Made Again Patterns. Here’s the deal. Y’all know I love thrifting, sewing and combining the two to create one of a kind clothing for myself. I’m also at the point in my life where I am out of the weeds of caring for teeny tiny people as a SAHM into being a mom of more independent children ready to enter their school age years. Thus - I’ve been craving a new gig with the hopes that I can spend time growing my talents, challenging myself with new skills and if I pull this off, also making some money.

To test the waters my first pattern is a patriotic stars and stripes throw pillow created from some 1980s wool skirts and a pair of elastic waist capri pants. This pattern is perfect for beginners and advanced seamstresses alike and will only take a few hours to stitch up.

I’m in the development phase for clothing patterns - draping, sewing samples, grading, and writing and illustrating instructions. I’ll also be creating how-to videos for a range of sewing techniques (so let me know what I can help you with!)

I am so thrilled to do all of my favorite things - sewing, thrifting and teaching others how to do something that has brought me so much joy over the past 25 plus years.

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Jessica Sews | Matilda Dress

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Today I’m excited to share a project that took me a while to jump into, but when I did, I couldn’t stop myself from stopping! This is the Matilda Dress from Megan Nielsen Patterns. After starting with the Dawn jeans (I know you’re tired of me going on and on about them), I decided I’d try another of Meg’s designs. This dress caught my eye. It really has the feel of something I used to wear a lot back in my NYC days and feels very me. So with the pattern in mind, I started to think about what fabric I might use.

Loads of sewers have been posting their makes using this linen blend blue and white ikat from JoAnn Fabrics. I even used it for my Hayden tee in the reverse color scheme (which I also used for my inner yolk, collar stand and waistband!) ! I’m glad I scooped up so much yardage when I did because on my last visit in store I saw it was sold out. So I have this gorgeous fabric and this multi piece pattern and my challenge is at hand: matching that pattern.

Guys - I loved it. To make it work, I had to cut out each piece individually (versus cutting the left and right at the same time while the fabric is folded) to get everything to line up just so. I started with my skirt back next to the selvage edge and went from there. To get two seams to match up just right you have to take your cut piece, fold back the seam allowance and place it down on your flat fabric. From there lay down the piece you want to match 5/8” over that pressed back SA. Place the new pattern piece down, remove the original piece and cut. And over and over and over.

And I was so proud of all that matching when I discovered… I cut the wrong size. I had printed the PDF pattern, taped it up and cut two sizes too big when I put the pattern away a couple of months ago. I can’t believe my measurements would have changed so much in that time and I made the dumb mistake of not measuring twice before cutting. Luckily I was able to recut the bodice by trimming off the necessary extra and I added a couple of pleats to the skirt back (instead of taking in the CB, which would have messed up the matching) and in the end it all turned out ok.

I made a few other modifications as well. For the front pockets to get the perfect ikat repeat, I made an inverted box pleat rather than the standard pleat instructions in the pattern. I also cut the top collar as to pieces to they would mirror one another at the front collar points.

I really loved making this dress. The pattern is excellent. The fabric was really great to work with and because the ikat is woven into the fabric (instead of just printed on top) it made my matching up less time consuming than I anticipated. I really wanted to stretch this project out over a week but it ended up coming together in just 3 days. It pressed out so nicely and all of that topstitching is what I love about sewing. Perfect little straight lines give me so much satisfaction!

ALSO! I attached my buttons by machine!! I’ve never done this before. Meg mentioned it in one of her tutorials and I thought… I bet I could do that. I just set my zigzag to the same distance as my buttonholes and held it in place until I had gone back and forth 10 times. I don’t know if I can ever do buttons by hand ever again (I will…when my historical sewing gets moved to the top of my list!)

Has anyone else done a project with this fabric too? I’d love to see what you made! DM me on instagram or shoot me an email!

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Jessica Sews | Upcycled Swiss Dot + Refashioned Levis

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When it comes to my sewing projects, I usually finish them within a couple of days of starting. If it gets set aside for too long, it becomes lost in the abyss/I feel guilty and hide it with other fabric. These jeans were just about to meet the same fate until I found myself nearly caught up in my sewing agenda and thinking… maybe I can get these to work. But before I tell you about that, let me rewind to the beginning.

If you’ve seen my last handful of posts, you know I am really into harvesting fabric from thrift store pieces to remake into modern styles in my own size. I LOVE DOING THIS. There aren’t a ton of local options for fabric near me and we have a really two really great Goodwill stores in town. I’ve found typically expensive fabrics - wool, silk, linen, Swiss dots, seersuckers, eyelets - the list goes on and on.

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After making a good assortment of tops (like the one in this post!), it crossed my mind I might be able to find some men’s jeans that could be upcycled into a new pair that fit me. Raw denim is awesome, don’t get me wrong, but it takes a lot of wearing and washing to get it to fade into a soft vintage blue. And that’s what I had in mind for this pair of jeans, so imagine my crazy good luck when I found a pair of men’s Levi’s in a size 50 for under five bucks.

I wanted to try to keep some of the original elements - the red tab, big back pockets and front coin pocket all came along into my new pair. I was able to cut most of the rest of the jeans out but had to go cross grain in some places, or use different fabric all together - like the inside waistband and belt looks. But I LIKE the way all of the different elements come together. I finished the bottom edge with a raw hem and the fit on these is really relaxed. Perfect for milling about the house, working outside or whatever.

The issue that gave me trouble was using thick thread in conjunction with thick fabric. My home machine just couldn’t wing it. I finally thought maybe regular thread would work and I’m glad I did because it came through. With the extra bar tacks and top stitching I think this pair will be plenty sturdy and I don’t mind going back into mend if need be.

So both the top and denim in this post are upcycled plus the band on my self made hat! You’ve seen the blouse worn here (Simplicity 8391, out of print) and the jeans are my favorite denim pattern (Dawn Jean) from Megan Nielsen patterns (literally every pair of pants i make are this pattern. What am I up to? Eight versions?)

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