Wednesday, June 15, 2011

My Pioneer Clothing

I get to go on the pioneer trek this year!  I have wanted to go on one of these since I first heard about them for many reasons.  Just one of them is the excuse it gave me to sew myself a historically accurate pioneer outfit.  Now, trek's are more of a spiritual experience than a strict historical recreation, so this amount of accuracy isn't necessary.  But, it was something I loved learning about and doing.  For a time I wanted to be a costumer.  So, this fulfilled a little of that whim, as well. So, here it is, my Mid 19th century clothing:

The pictures are kinda small, but if you click on them you can see them larger.  First the "underpinnings".  A chemise, kind of like a slip, and corset.  The trek time period is late 1850's, so corsets with front opening metal busks were in use, but the "tight cinching for waist reduction" we all think of when we hear corset wasn't a part of it.  It was just their version of a bra.

I drafted my own pattern for the corset using duct tape.  I enlisted dh to wrap me up in it over a T-shirt.  Not one of our usual activities, I assure you!  Notice the two extra grommets.  Those are not supposed to be there.  Oops!  This thing would have also had metal boning.  Mine only has bones along the back opening edges.  The rest is stiffened with rows of "cording", tight rows of crochet cotton stitched in narrow channels.

Next come the split drawers.  The drawers were actually optional.  And despite the being split, are pretty covering.

The chemise can be tucked in as shown, or the drawers can be worn under the chemise and corset.  When worn underneath, the split feature becomes very helpful, I hear.  When worn tucked in, you get some nice boofy butt.

Next are the petticoats.

We are close to the time of the hoop skirt, but for travel, especially with a handcart, you would not wear a hoop.  What was worn before the hoop were multiple starched and stiffened petticoats.  Sometimes with flounces (multiple tiers) or tucks (stitched and folded over horizontal pleats) or with cording.

I went the cording route with 35 rows spaced in sets of 3 to 5.  The cording also has the advantage of preventing your skirts from getting caught up between your legs as you walk.

Topped with another, plain, petticoat.  I starched the petticoats, bonnet and aprons by submerging them in a mixture of Stayflo liquid starch and water, then ironing them while damp.  Took forever!  I can't imagine doing that on a regular basis with a cast iron iron I have to heat on a stove or fire.  The starch will protect them from staining and made them nice and crisp/stiff.  I now fully understand the phrase "rustling petticoats."  They literally make noise when moved!

Then the dress.  This is what modern re-enactors would call a work dress.  Coming up to the base of the neck, closed with hooks and eyes, with full bishop sleeves that can be rolled up, if needed.  A wool or silk dress would have darts, but a cotton dress is pleated or gathered, this is the latter. The fabric is a civil war reproduction print. I drafted the patterns for the bodice and sleeves myself.  The dress has piping (my first ever) at the neckline, waist and armscye (shoulder seam).  Notice the armscye is dropped off the shoulder.  This made the shoulders appear wider, creating an illusion of a smaller waist.  The skirt is on the short side, in order for ease in "trekking".  I did add a tuck to it that would allow me to drop it up to 4 inches later, if I choose.  The skirt is made of four full width panels of fabric. In order to get that much fabric gathered into a fitted waistband, a technique called gauging is used.  Two hand stitched rows of stitches are used to tightly pleat the fabric into accordian folds.  One edge of those folds are then whip stitched to the bodice, just behind the piped edge bottom, so that the skirt actually hinges off and out on the bottom of the bodice.  This looks very tidy and adds boof factor to the skirt.

Then the accessories: A fringed wool shawl, apron, long stockings, a neckerchief to protect the neckline from soiling, boots and a bonnet.  The boots are not quite right.  They should be leather with square toes, but that wasn't in my budget.

The bonnet is corded, as well, to stiffen the brim.  Some bonnets would have stiffened the brim using strips of cardboard, called a "slat" bonnet.  Since I'm likely to encounter rain, I decided to go the corded route.  The back is long enough to provide sun protection and shade to the neck and shoulders.

So, there it is.  Pioneer clothing ready to go.  Hiking in this full outfit is probably going to be miserably hot.  So, I'm not likely to go with the full set of layers, at least most of the time.  Curiously enough, I was reading a woman's account of her experience in the Martin Handcart company yesterday.  By the end of the trek, her son's pants were in rags and their feet freezing.  She then used all of her underpinnings to protect their legs, so when she finally made it to Salt Lake City, she was ONLY wearing two skirts.  So, I'm thinking she went almost the whole way with a full set of layers.


I would like to thank Elizabeth Stewart Clark's The Sewing Academy website, forum and compendium.  Also her book, Practical Pinkery. All of which were greatly helpful in my mid-century clothing education and without which the success of this adventure would have been impossible.  In addition to Practical Prinkery, I used the following to help me, most of which are links to Instruction Sheets created by Elizabeth Stewart Clark:

How to Sew a Chemise
How to Sew Split Drawers
How to Sew Petticoats
How to Sew an 1857 Sunbonnet
How to Sew a Slat Bonnet
(I adapted the information from the above two for my bonnet.)
How to Make an Apron
How to Make a Fringed Shawl
How to do Pioneer Hair