Fire in Cairo — Arrival Outfit — Part One – the guts

Now that my white Cairo dress is all done but for the finishing, I’m starting work on my arrival outfit for Belvidere Victorian Days next weekend. I’m going to be arriving a bit late on Saturday, so I want to make an entrance. Something fabulous is, of course, required.

Because I like to explore the context in which my outfits would have been worn in the period, the first question I asked myself was: “What would a lady visiting Cairo wear upon arrival?” More specifically, what would a lady arriving at a camp of British soldiers be wearing. We can assume they’re not quite in Cairo because they’re camping in a tent.

1870s80shabitwithpithhelmet.jpgAnd then I found this wonderful image in Penny Housden’s Riding Out in Style: A Visual Guide to Women’s Equestrian Dress, Side-saddles and Accessories.

I dug around in some references I have on side saddle habits and I found this one in the Manchester City Gallery of Art: riding habit 1951.423. A click here will get you a closeup of the back. And this link shows the riding habit-specific stuff that’s going on under there so no one sees your skivvies by mistake!

I thought this looked awfully similar to TV422 which, of course, we have in stock here at Reconstructing History. =)

So I ordered some khaki tropical weight wool from my supplier and waited to start.

But as we know, the success of a sewing project has to do more with the things you don’t see than the things you do.  So to construct this jacket, we start with the guts.

Since riding habits started being different from ladies’ daily wear clothing, they have been made by tailors, not seamstresses. This is unsurprising considering that, except for some shaping and boning, riding habits are essentially menswear made to fit women. This means that the jacket of a lady’s riding habit needs to be constructed like a man’s jacket. That means building canvasses.

Canvasses are pieces of stiff fabric — usually made from canvas and often from canvas incorporating the tail hairs of horses (horsehair canvas, haircloth or hairvas) — that are sewn inside the jacket to shape it into the proper form. It prevents the collapse of the jacket into the hollows of the shouder and upper chest, keeps the collar standing tall, and ensures that the lapel always folds like a knife precisely where it should.

(Today most menswear is made without canvasses and fusible interfacing has been substituted. This is why you can get a suit for $99 at Men’s Wearhouse. Fusible interfacing is surely the quicker and more machine-friendly way. Canvasses have to be sewn by hand and shaped with steam by a skilled tailor. And that’s why today’s suits make men look like unmade beds. It is an abominal practice and for the record, I am against it.)

We’re still going to interline this jacket. But it’s also going to get canvasses.

In the photo below, you can see a diagram of what canvasses look like for a woman’s suit next to the canvases for a man’s suit.  Women’s suit canvasses are much less extensive than the canvasses for a man’s suit. This is most likely because women wear shaping undergarments whereas men do not. We must also remember that a corset will be worn with this outfit and the jacket is also going to be boned along the seams and darts as was done in the 1880s.

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female suit and male suit canvasses

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the high-necked bodice pattern used to trace the neckline, then the dinner bodice pattern used to trace the pointed bottom for this riding jacket

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The canvas cut and ready to stitch

Note in the photo above that the darts have been removed without seam allowances. This is because they will be basted together edge-to-edge with a zig-zag stitch so that there is no extra bulk. These darts will likely have to be adjusted as I fit the jacket on me, but I know from previous use of this pattern that the darts for my body are larger, so cutting more away will not be a problem. If you have not tested the pattern in mockup on your body, do not cut out your darts until you do!

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the supplementary canvas for over the bust

I did not cut the bust dart out of this canvas because I don’t know how deep it needs to be for my body. I will cut it before basting this canvas to the others.

Tomorrow:   Fitting the Jacket and More Fun with Canvasses!